I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining Unusual Ventures as Partner, where I’ll be using my expertise in growth and product to invest in and scale the next generation of great consumer products.
Specifically, I’ll be focused on marketplaces (Airbnb/Uber), network effects businesses (Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn), subscription services (Wealthfront), and content platforms (Quora), although I’m open to other types of consumer startups as long as the founders are building best-in-class products and services.
Fifteen years ago, I got my first job at a startup shortly after I finished college. I got that job by emailing the CEO directly. Thankfully, he saw something in me and gave me a chance. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working on growth and product at a standout group of consumer technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Quora and Wealthfront — where I was most recently the President. You can’t anticipate where your career will take you, especially in startup land. It’s hard for me to express how appreciative I am of the unpredictable path that unfolded for me. That said, unpredictability can cut both ways.
In April of 2018, I had a sudden medical scare with my heart. I spent the night in the emergency room, and the following two months conducting a battery of tests to understand what was going on. The good news is that I’m now healthy and able to move forward with my life and career. The downside is that I had to step away from day-to-day operations at Wealthfront, a company that I love. Like the CEO of the first startup I joined, Wealthfront’s CEO, Andy Rachleff, decided to take a chance on me over five years ago — and he groomed me into the executive that I am today. I’m forever thankful to him and Wealthfront, and remain a long-term shareholder and staunch believer in the role that it will play in making sure that everyone has access to world-class financial products and services.
The time I spent shoring up my health also provided space for thinking through what I wanted to do next. It was during that time that the unpredictability of life cut back in a positive direction and I met John Vrionis and Jyoti Bansal of Unusual Ventures. I learned about the venture firm that they were building, the values underlying the firm, the vision they had for it, and the opportunity for someone like myself to play a role in building the consumer investing side of the firm.
A few specifics stood out to me the most. The first is that Unusual is changing the early stage investment model by working directly with entrepreneurs to do some of the early company-building work via their Get Ahead Platform. For example, if a portfolio company needs to hire engineers, Unusual’s in-house recruiters will do that for them. The firm also works with portfolio companies to develop their go-to-market strategies in addition to providing sales support to land their first customers — which is the hardest nut to crack for enterprise startups.
It’s not enough for today’s VCs to simply provide capital and occasional advice over email. This is a shared belief for everyone at Unusual. Now, I get to play a role in building out the hands-on services for consumer startups to match what we already have on the enterprise side. It’s an ideal setup for me because it means that I get to roll up my sleeves and work alongside entrepreneurs as they build and scale category-defining products — something I was fortunate enough to experience several times in my career. I never wanted to be an investor that solely provided access to money, so the fit with Unusual was a no-brainer.
All of these services are enabled by a team defined by servant leadership. It’s a value that Partner John Vrionis talks about a lot, and that I subscribed to even before I had the words for it. From a values perspective, Unusual is the most entrepreneur-obsessed firm I’ve encountered. Everyone at the firm works as a team rather than a collection of individuals. I love how much relationships matter in all of the work we do. The team cares just as much about one another as the founders we support. I saw an immediate match for my own values, and the behavior that I’ve tried to exhibit and reward throughout my career. .
One last thing that made me certain this was the right move: Unusual chooses to generate investment returns for people and institutions that don’t typically get to participate in Silicon Valley wealth creation. The firm’s LPs consist of nonprofits and historically black colleges, including Hampton College and Spelman College, as well as the United Negro College Fund. Diversity is not only being baked into the team from day one (50% of the team is female), but into the recipients of their investment returns as well. As someone who has always strived to work for inspirational purpose, I was quickly compelled, and I could see how my prior experiences were setting me up for this next step — to help lead a firm that makes purpose part of the every day.
I got a taste for the virtues of venture investing through advising and investing I did on my own time with startups such as Poshmark, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Opendoor — just to name a few. Watching passionate and talented people build new technologies is exciting, and assisting in their success by sharing the collective wisdom of all of my startup experiences is very fulfilling. Now, I can couple my knowledge of growth and product with significant capital to give entrepreneurs even more leverage to make their visions a reality.
As Steve Jobs once remarked, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” Right now, those words seem especially insightful. I’m thrilled that I get to help the next generation of company builders, and even more so that I get to do it at a firm like Unusual.