How learning velocity can make or break a startup

Posted by: Team Outlander

Posted on 05/28/2024

How learning velocity can make or break a startup

Wisdom from Venture Visionary Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed Venture Partners

Welcome to Venture Visionaries, a brand-new series brought to you by Outlander VC. Hosted by Paige Craig, Managing Partner at Outlander VC, join us as we sit down with some of the most influential investors in the industry, uncovering the secrets behind their success and learning how they navigate the ever-changing landscape of investing. 

This month, we had the pleasure of talking with Mercedes Bent, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners! Bent is not only an incredible investor, but a 2X founder and managing team member who has helped startups grow from the inside from $2M to over $100M in revenue. Since her early days sitting at the dinner table brainstorming fun hypothetical inventions with her father, she has lived and breathed innovation. 

Bent invests in consumer, FinTech, EdTech, LATAM, & multicultural regions and founders including Flink, Outschool, Stori, and more. In 2016, she was named a “40 Under 40 for Tech Diversity in Silicon Valley” and in 2021, WSJ named her one of 9 “Women to Watch in VC“. She has an MBA and a Masters in Education from Stanford University and an AB from Harvard University. She is an African-American of Bermudian, Grenadian, and Colombian heritage and in her free time she enjoys playing board games & off-roading in her Jeep.

Below, we’re going to unpack one of the key traits that Bent looks for in winning founders – a trait that can be crucial in the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship in order to build a successful business. Beyond what we uncover here, there were so many more gems in our conversation that it’s worth watching the full replay. The 1-hour chat flew by and holds incredible insights & tricks for founders and investors alike. 

Let’s dive in!

Mercedes Bent’s Top Key Trait for Founders: Learning Velocity

As Bent points out, the only constant in startups is change and “you have to be able to scale yourself faster” than your startup to grow. 

“The best founders in the world are thinking that every meeting, every opportunity that they interact with someone is a chance to learn,” Bent told us. Founders with this approach can accelerate learning cycles to quickly scaffold up their learning level. When repeated over and over again, this learning compounds and can dynamically help founders keep up with the scale of their businesses. 

For best practices in steepening a founder’s learning velocity, Bent walked viewers through a great educational framework:

  1. Consume – ingest as much information as possible
  2. Analyze – think critically about what you’ve learned
  3. Create – build or do something with this new knowledge
  4. Teach – the highest form of learning is teaching others

In the real world, this could look something like:

  1. Consume – Reading articles on an interesting topic or idea
  2. Analyze – Reaching out to specific experts and forming of opinions
  3. Create – Building, tinkering, testing, getting feedback
  4. Teach – Writing informative blog posts, joining as a guest on podcasts

For Bent, learning velocity isn’t just a checkbox either – it’s a mental metric that she actually tracks when speaking with founders from conversation to conversation. To illustrate an example, she highlighted Pamela Valdes – the first Teal Fellow from Mexico and founder of

When AI was having a resurgence in 2022, Valdes approached Bent saying, “okay, here’s how we’re going to incorporate AI into our product” and literally “a week later, she had hit up all of the top experts at OpenAI and Anthropic and showed me an actual prototype that she had built with a new feature and the product.”

A fast-learning, action-oriented founder can simply go so much further in a shorter period of time. And often, fear of failure holds a founder back significantly more than if they could simply fail quickly, learn, and iterate. 

So how can founders develop a stronger learning mindset? 

  1. Cultivate curiosity – founders tend to be naturally curious, but a good indicator of a curious mind is when a founder “can go on and on and on about [a random topic like] roses or about kiteboarding or beekeeping” says Bent. To cultivate this more deeply, Bent encourages founders to go down the rabbit hole more and treat any conversation with anyone as a learning opportunity. 
  2. Embrace vulnerability – Bent specifically highlighted the perceived trade-off that founders often feel between confidence and vulnerability. That mindset of “I have to go in there and sell my investors, sell my future teammates, sell the product. And I have to show confidence, I can’t show any vulnerability.” But, as Bent pointed out, this fear of showing any perceived gaps and cracks can actually inhibit learning. So when a customer or an investor asks a question that a founder may not have an answer to, she encourages them not to “bluff your way through,” but rather to candidly admit “I’m not exactly sure. This is how I would think about it. How would you think about it?”
  3. Practice Advocacy – the greatest founders are often also true advocates for their customers, ensuring that their voices are heard and their needs are met throughout the product development process. “Do they understand what that customer does when they wake up in the morning, what their fears and hopes are like, what their motivations are?” Bent asks. This means actually talking to customers and really getting inside their heads.

When a strong learning mindset is present, it can touch everything and everyone in a business. A genuine obsession with learning is infectious and can translate in pitches and conversations to help founders pass what Bent calls the “time test” (how long since she checked the time during a pitch). When we, as humans, feel like we are engaging in an exciting educational exchange, we lean in, ask questions, and can’t wait until the next conversation. 

There are so many other incredible insights from our conversation with Lightspeed’s Mercedes Bent, including diving into other key founder & investor traits. Be sure to check out the full replay and sign up for our next livestream event, an interview between Outlander VC’s Leura Craig and Tim Young, the co-founder & general partner at Eniac Ventures

You can RSVP for the 6/25 live interview now!

Team Outlander


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