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Featured on Sep 19, 2011

Jonathan Betz

"Do more, faster."


I was a senior in Computer Science and Cognitive Science at CMU in 1999 when I woke up one morning and realized I didn't want to spend the next seven years pursuing a Computer Science Ph.D; that was the beginning of a love affair with startups. I lived in the Valley from '99-'03, then came back east in '03 as one of the first engineers in Google NYC. At Google, I started the group focused on search over structured data, which created the technology behind products like Google Squared and powers a substantial set of enhancements to core web search. I spent a couple years in AdWords and display advertising, before leaving Google in '08 to dive into the NYC startup scene. Since then, I've been at a few great startups in the city. This summer I joined up with Rent the Runway, where I'm having a great time solving the problems in scaling, recommendation, personalization, and operations that are going to turn this into a billion-dollar business. I'm very fortunate to have carved out a role where I get the fun developing and operating a team, while still churning out loads of code every day.

You are part of the Hudson River Angels, which is an angel investing group composed of Googler and Xoogler engineers and product managers.  What types of startups are you interested in when looking at potential investments?

HRA is what you'd call a "strategic angel" - we take a pretty small stake, then work closely with entrepreneurs to help build the business. When you need to hire an engineer, we tap our personal network of engineers we've worked with in the past to help fill that spot; when you need help building systems in areas like search, information extraction, or storage, we do a whiteboard talk with your engineering team to run through the basic issues and design choices involved. That means we're looking for startups where we feel we have some unique insight or ability to help with the business, we don't just spray money into some area that's "hot". Our ideal entrepreneur is someone we've worked with in the past, though a sterling introduction can be just as compelling. But the most important thing is that we need to have some ability to help with the business, particularly the technology piece.

What have you found to be the biggest difference between working at a company like Google and a startup like Rent the Runway?

In a lot of ways, Rent the Runway in 2011 reminds me of Google when I joined in 2003 - there are loads of exciting ideas just waiting for someone to build them, there are a lot challenges of growth and scaling to be solved, and we have the privilege of being incredibly selective in our engineering hiring. I love Google, and it remains a fantastic company, but I ultimately left because by 2008 it no longer felt like a place where one motivated person could impact the company. I often describe the difference between Google and any startup like this: at Google, if you leave work at 5pm, the company will continue to succeed, it will keep printing money regardless, but at a startup, every extra hour you put in at the end of the day will create new value for the company immediately. That's an exciting and engaging feeling, and it keeps me coming back every day.  And, of course, Google never had models coming in to the office for photo shoots - I'm still getting used to that.

Everything about you on the Internet is fairly engineering/work related.  What do you like to do for fun when you’re not in front of a computer?

That's a funny question to me, because I have a very love/hate relationship with computers - I love building software, and I genuinely believe that if someone guaranteed my kids' college educations and my retirement would be paid for, I would just build software for free because I wouldn't know what else to do. On the other hand, by the end of the day, I usually get pretty burned out from staring at a screen all day, so I think I have a lot more off-line time than many engineers.

When I am offline, I spend as much time as I can with my wife and my kids, Charlotte (6 1/2) and Jeremy (5). I couldn't ask for more wonderful children. I try to do as much as I can to volunteer with my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, where I serve on a couple of boards. Other than that, I'm a fairly avid runner, and I once got so into hang-gliding as to buy my own hang-glider and become a certified pilot. But mostly it's time with the family.

SVP of Engineering