hiring an entrepreneur in residence (republished on LinkedIn)

I've been MIA on an amazing summer vacation these past few weeks so apologies for the delay in posts. However, I did recently publish a post on LinkedIn which I'm resyndicating here. If you enjoyed it, please do share from my blog. Thanks! :)

Target is one of the most innovative retail companies today. They pioneered high-end designer collaborations at an affordable price, introduced City Target for urbanites and even created an art gallery in NYC.

So why are they hiring three entrepreneurs in residence?

The retailer recently announced the addition of three EIRs for their Innovation Center in San Francisco. While this is a relatively common role at venture firms, it’s a new initiative for companies like Target.  While Target may be known for its retail innovation, they aren’t known for their technical innovations. As shopping becomes increasingly digital and mobile, Target and other retail companies will need to evolve. EIRs are certainly one approach to creating new models in this space. But, what exactly are these EIRs going to do and how can they do it successfully?

As a newly-minted EIR at Redpoint Ventures, here are some things that I’ve learned about myself and the role that might be helpful for Target’s new EIRs.

Know Thyself

Unlike most roles, the EIR usually is a contract with a fixed end date where the end goal is to develop an idea. In such an unstructured role, it’s critical to be introspective both about yourself and the expectations you have of the venture firm that you’re working with. What are the things that you are best at? How will you use that knowledge to further the company in its mission? As an EIR at Target, this becomes even more critical because the role is full time at a public company with a singular commercial focus. Moreover, given that there are three EIR roles, it’s important to know how each person will contribute their unique skills towards new and innovative ideas.

Ignorance Is Your Best Friend

I sit in on as many pitch meetings as feasible. Most of the time, my knowledge of the space is limited so I try to ask questions that help me learn about the company’s products and industry. I’m often googling on the fly so that I have the basic knowledge and then probe into areas where I feel I know as little as possible. Where this turns out to be most valuable is in how people show their knowledge. Entrepreneurs who have a deep understanding of the space engage well at clearly and concisely explaining the building blocks of their company and the inherent decisions in creating them. As an EIR at Target, I think this translates to engaging in all the areas of the company, whether that’s supply chain and warehouse fulfillment or new mobile e-commerce apps.

Find the Pattern

Working with venture firms feels like an intellectual candy shop because there are so many great entrepreneurs doing interesting new things in areas that I never even knew existed. As I’m exposed to new companies on a daily basis, it’s helpful to draw on my own experience in different spaces and find the problems that we both faced. More importantly, understanding the thought process behind the solutions gives me real insight into what strategies can solve problems that at first might look very different. As a result, if I can offer feedback to a startup, it often comes from a seemingly unrelated place. As an EIR at Target, using non-retail experiences can lead to new and compelling ideas for retail solutions.

Last but not least, EIRs can create value in being a relationship bridge internally and externally. As an EIR at a venture firm, this might be an introduction to a new entrepreneur, or a selling point to close an investment. As an EIR at Target, this is all about creating great teams and great products. Finding ways for Target to compete with the Ubers, Slacks and Googles of the world to hire the best engineers, product managers and designers might be the most important thing that anyone can do. Whatever happens, I’m excited to see more companies creating EIR roles and to see how they evolve in the future!

And here it is on LinkedIn Pulse.