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The man who knows how to work with start-ups

We recently had the opportunity to interview Derek Distenfield, COO of GSD Venture Studios, that establishes partnerships with top tech talent across the globe. Unlike traditional investors, they take senior operational roles in these companies, capitalizing on their trusted reputation, experiences, and network to drive explosive growth. At GSD, Derek is the operational mastermind who brings a variety of resources together to best serve each portfolio company.

V. Derek, for those who missed your presentation today, what can you say in, maybe, three sentences? What is the main idea of your presentation?

D. The main idea is that lower management should be eliminated, that leaders should focus on empowering their teams and not backlogging them with bureaucratic challenges. And the other idea is: you should get comfortable with ambiguity in times of crisis. When things are hard, you can't wait for 100% of the information to make a decision. You have to empower your team to decide with much less information like an emergency room doctor does, not a precise scientist or neurosurgeon.

V. You said that every team should have a hipster, a hustler, and a hacker. Can you elaborate on that?

D. The main premise is that design should be a part of any organization. You can't just have a strong engineer with a strong business leader. You also need to have someone that designs how it looks, how it makes people feel, how customers interact with the product. And I think what's important is not only do you have that designer, but they have an important role in all organizations.

V. Do you think it is enough for a startup company to only have three people?

D. Of course, it varies from stage to stage, but I think what you do need is a business guy with a strong engineering background coupled with strong design. You need to have all three.

V. For example, we're looking for good interns with a good background in the media and education. How can we find really good interns?

D. One of the hardest things for any organization or city is to attract and maintain the best talent. And I think that's true for senior executives and true for interns. But what it starts with is the storytelling and the design of your organization and that's what attracts people. And I think it's very important to think about those things and to empathize with who you're trying to attract.

Well, my co-founders Gary and David Young ( have been able to recruit and maintain lots of talents in Russia. Because they developed a strong brand, and people want to work there. And the other thing that I think is important is finding a way to properly incentivize your team, meaning, finding ways to give stock options and giving everybody the chance to be a part of the ROI (return on investment). I think it's something that Silicon Valley companies have learned, and it's what I recommend for all startups to consider.

The storytelling and the design of your organization — that’s what attracts people.

We hope that these golden nuggets of wisdom serve you in your future endeavors and success. You can find more video and audio talks with Derek Distenfield at

Originally published in English Magazine

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