As a kid growing up in Lithuania, and later Brooklyn, Vlad Loktev wanted to be many things. A sci-fi writer. An actor. A singer. A professional gamer. After college, he considered a career in academia, before carving out a path as a trader, a founder, and later a product manager.
Today, most people know Vlad as one of the main operators at Airbnb. From 2012 to 2022, he worked alongside founder Brian Chesky to build and scale one of the most innovative, transformational companies of the 21st century. With his diverse background and interests, deep operating expertise, and extensive network in the consumer sector, you’d have a hard time finding anyone better positioned to support the next generation of founders.
That’s why we couldn’t be happier to announce that Vlad has joined the Index Ventures investment team as the newest partner in our San Francisco office.
Vlad’s track record of operational excellence speaks for itself. At Airbnb, he was instrumental in driving the company’s growth strategy and scaling product and operations. As Airbnb grew from a few dozen to more than 6,000 employees, Vlad led nearly every product team at the company. Most recently, he led Airbnb's core hosting business, which drove a majority of its revenue.
As a partner and connector, Vlad brings a vast network that includes many of the Valley’s most influential product leaders and operators. His contacts in the consumer space, in particular, add a new dimension to Index’s already-strong support system.
Since day one at Index, we’ve prided ourselves on taking a global perspective—not just in terms of where we come from and where we operate, but in how we specialize and where we provide expertise. From San Francisco to New York, London to Tel Aviv, we invest in exceptional entrepreneurs across all categories—companies like Figma, Scale, Cohere, Wiz, Discord, and Revolut, to name a few. Bringing Vlad on board is a testament to Index’s strength as a leading global VC firm, with talented, experienced, sector-driven expertise across all our offices.
We caught up with Vlad to not only celebrate his arrival, but to learn more about his personal background, his professional journey, and why he’s so excited to join Index.
What was your childhood like? What did your parents do for a living?
I was born in Vilnius, Lithuania. My mom was a teacher, and my dad was in the military. We immigrated to the United States in 1994 and settled in Brooklyn.
When we got to the U.S., none of us knew any English. I actually learned English by playing video games and watching TV shows like Family Matters and Saved By the Bell. My parents took whatever jobs they could get, and also started taking programming and English classes at night. Within a year, they both had programming jobs. They’ve worked in tech ever since.
How has your experience as an immigrant shaped how you view the world?
First, I’m just thankful for how things turned out for us. Things don't stress me out. Because at the end of the day, whatever happens, I know things will be fine.
I’ve been an outsider for a long time. As an immigrant, you’re basically stuck between cultures. You never quite fit in. I never fit in with the Russian community, and I never fit in with the American community either. Being an outsider your whole life, at some point you stop trying to fit in. You realize the only thing that matters is being accepted for who you are.
"If you’re lucky, you meet people along the way who help you, who take a chance on you. And you never forget. You realize how important it is to help other people when they’re in need, especially when they’re most vulnerable."
— Vlad Loktev, Index Ventures
The other thing you learn is how to survive. It was tough when we got here, but you do what you need in order to survive. Everything around you is changing all the time, and you have to learn to adapt at all costs. You have to show up every single day and work your ass off and put yourself in a position to take advantage of opportunities.
If you’re lucky, you meet people along the way who help you, who take a chance on you. And you never forget. You realize how important it is to help other people when they’re in need, especially when they’re most vulnerable. Because that was yourself, not too long ago.
You had an interesting career before Airbnb—as a trader at Morgan Stanley, as a founder, as a product manager at Zynga. How do you look back on those years?
I was just curious about many things. And I wanted to try and explore different things that were interesting to me and that I felt passionate about.
Trading was something that was always a hobby, ever since I was a kid. I loved the intellectual challenge. I got into derivative trading—it was very fast, you had to make split-second decisions every minute. There was so much intensity, and the learning was astronomical. But after a while, the learning plateaued. I decided it wasn’t for me, and I quit.
As an undergrad, I had worked in the emotion and research lab at Carnegie Mellon. I worked with PhDs and professors, and I got really interested in the work they were doing, studying how emotions impact human behavior. I started a social survey company to solve the challenges I faced as a researcher in the lab. There are so many hurdles researchers have to go through. I wanted to help the research community by creating a product they could use.
I ended up at Zynga because I love gaming. And through my own startup, I had learned about product management. I didn’t know it was its own field; it was just something I did naturally as a founder. But after my wife and I moved to San Francisco, I learned there was this entire function called product management. It sounded fun, and I loved gaming, so I thought, ‘Why not put these two things together and learn to do this at the next level?’
What was your experience like at Airbnb? What are some of the most important lessons you learned there?
When I joined Airbnb in 2012, all the technical functions would get into a single room and have a standup where everyone goes around saying what they did last week and what they’re going to do this week. You could see almost the entire company in that single room. Every six months, I got to reinvent myself because we were growing so fast. The learning was incredible.
"...setting ambitious goals pushes us outside our comfort zone and helps us tap into a creative part of ourselves we wouldn’t have found otherwise. If you can suspend disbelief, suspend constraints, it’s possible to do things you never thought were achievable."
— Vlad Loktev, Index Ventures
Number one, I learned how to simplify. Fundamentally, as organizations get larger and businesses scale, complexity creeps in, and you lose sight of what’s important. There’s a temptation to create complex roadmaps, solutions and these huge documents full of information for every meeting. It gets hard to untangle. Simplifying things to their core essence is a real skill that takes a long time to develop. At Airbnb I learned that it can take many passes to simplify an idea, but eventually you get to very clear and simple reasoning that can facilitate constructive conversation.
The second thing is the value of seemingly unachievable goals. People may disagree, but in my experience setting ambitious goals pushes us outside our comfort zone and helps us tap into a creative part of ourselves we wouldn’t have found otherwise. If you can suspend disbelief, suspend constraints, it’s possible to do things you never thought were achievable.
What lessons will you take from working with Brian Chesky to help you identify and support the next generation of founders?
Brian showed me the importance of having an exceptionally high quality bar for everything you do. And he showed me that when you set a high quality bar, you can keep that same high standard for everything, and you never need to apologize for it.
I love founders with very high standards, who are shooting for the moon, and who aren’t afraid to fail. I think to build an enduring company that’s going to transform the world, you need to have a very long-term and seemingly impossible vision, and then have insanely high standards, with absolutely no fear of failure, on your path to realizing that vision.
"I love founders with very high standards, who are shooting for the moon, and who aren’t afraid to fail."
— Vlad Loktev, Index Ventures
What inspired you to make the shift from operator to investor, and what excites you about it?
I’ve always had many interests and been pulled in different directions. So for me, being in a position where I can go on multiple journeys with multiple founders and think about different problems in different domains—that’s incredibly exciting.
As an operator, you have to stay focused on one thing. You may have many teams, and you may be working on different problems, but they’re usually all in the same domain. As an investor, you still have to stay focused, but part of the job description is being torn in different directions, following different interests, learning as much as possible.
Fundamentally, I love working with other people, and I get inspired by meeting founders who have seemingly impossible dreams. I hope that I can be helpful on their journey.
Why Index? What about the firm attracted you most?
It’s all about the people. I felt an instant connection with everyone I met here. And that was consistent with everything I’d been hearing over the past six months talking to entrepreneurs. I heard phenomenal things from my founder network about Index being there for them and helping in a real way through hard times. Over and over, they shared that the integrity and authenticity of the people at Index is second to none.
"I’m excited to help founders however I can. Whether it's building an initial growth gameplan, diving deep into product, helping build a world-class team, jumping into a Figma file together, or stepping back to look at the big picture, I think my experience will help me support founders in many areas of building, scaling, and leading a business."
— Vlad Loktev, Index Ventures
How are you excited to support founders? Where do you think you can provide the most value?
Entrepreneurship is an emotional rollercoaster. Every part of the journey has its own challenges. At a certain scale, the hardest thing about building a company tends to have something to do with getting everyone to work well together and figuring out how to inspire people to do the impossible every day. For many founders and operators, during that rollercoaster, it's really important to regulate your own emotions and remember that the highs aren’t as high as they seem and the lows aren’t as low as they seem.
I’m excited to help founders however I can. Whether it's building an initial growth gameplan, diving deep into product, helping build a world-class team, jumping into a Figma file together, or stepping back to look at the big picture, I think my experience will help me support founders in many areas of building, scaling, and leading a business.
... and finally, a few "fast favorites" with Vlad
Published — Nov. 6, 2023