Today is my official one year anniversary in Venture Capital.* I am a recovering mechanical engineer making it up as I go along and if I didn’t know any better it seems to be working.
August 14, 2017
PUBLISHED BY Nathaniel Krasnoff
I wrote this article on a bench in my favorite bakery, Vive La Tarte, in San Francisco. I spend most of my days in San Francisco here split between feeding entrepreneurs and listening to all the other startup pitches at the surrounding tables. My days in the Bay this year have been limited as I have been traveling about 2 weeks a month since I formally joined Venture; my travel is mixed purpose between meeting companies and getting out into the fray to mingle with experts in Wildcat’s respective areas of interest both core and exploratory, and we have quite the stable.
Fintech, edtech, insuretech, quant marketing, enterprise iOT, consumer marketplaces, retail/logistics, digital health, AI/ML, and workforce innovation
VR/AR, robotics, and eldercare
When you are tracking on 13 spaces things can get a bit rowdy. To get smart on a space I have typically tried to find and meet as many people smarter than me as possible and across 13 verticals that is a lot of experts you need to shake hands with. To go find these folks that takes you on some trips, 22 in fact, and for the first time in my adult life I have airline status, which means that I am both getting old and also traveling WAY too much.
So far it’s taken me around the world and back:
New York x 5
LA x 2
San Diego x2
Vegas x 2
London x 1
Charlotte x 1
Austin x 1
Denver x 1
Davos x 1
New Orleans x 1
Seattle x 1
Boston x 1
Salt Lake City x 1
Pittsburgh x 1
That is a lot of trips and a lot of business cards acquired. So much so that we had to hire a Task Rabbit for 3 full days to help me organize that mess!
So, I took all those trips and ate all those Vive la Tarte cheesecakes** and what do I have to show for it? Well, that story really starts by way of how I got my Associate role at Wildcat. I started as an intern after coming off of a very painful startup experience that I’m happy to share if prodded over a beer. That internship came to be through the sage guidance of my longtime mentor and Chief Talent Officer at Wildcat Elizabeth Patterson and a meeting with Bryan Stolle, one of my 4 General Partner’s at Wildcat. After sending him a deck on a now retired exploratory thesis of ‘Frugal Innovation’ (example for anyone curious), Bryan took a chance on me, and I’m forever grateful for it and he’s been regretting it ever since ; ).
I culminated my internship with what has become Wildcat’s exploratory thesis on robotics, which ultimately got me my full time offer. Short story on the outcome is that we are pro enterprise robotics applications that apply to our verticals and are anti science experiments, which is one of several reasons why we haven’t pulled the trigger on anything yet.
After diligencing the daylight out of the space focusing on the potential for systems of intelligence (robotics, AI, etc.) to augment and automate large swathes of the workforce, I ended up at Davos and was blown away by how behind we as a workforce are ready for its automation. After some Jon Snow level brooding in the Swiss Alps two main theses were spun out:
- We are setting our liberal art students in the US up for failure as they are graduating with too much debt and too few applicable skills to give them a real shot at joining the workforce in a capacity that has long term upward growth potential.
- Companies aren’t ready to deal with losing a large chunk of their employees to automation.
One of our newest portfolio companies, Green Fig, came out of point 1. My GP Bruce Cleveland currently chairs Green Fig and it was actually spawned from his non-profit Bend Poly University in Oregon. I wrote a ton about this in the spring and you can track those articles here.
The more I thought about point 2, combined with my own experience with mental health issues, I started to reflect about what people value fundamentally to define who they are. So, like any engineer worth their shorts, I conducted a test. I started asking friends to introduce themselves to me as if they didn’t already know me, and then started pressing random people to see if there was a real ‘there there.’ Try it for yourself- next time you’re in a situation with a bunch of new people, ask them to tell you who they are. It might sound ridiculous, but after their name, the first or second thing people say will inevitably be what they do for a living. The question of what will happen to people if they no longer have a sense of identity if they no longer have meaningful work is a doozy.
A natural break here is to dive into Universal Basic Income, but in my opinion UBI deserves it’s own piece so I’ll provide some food for thought instead:
This mess (automation aftershock not UBI) won’t be as big for people early in their career, but for a 40+ year old blue collar worker with minimal training and education that has been in the same job since they were 22, this will be a big issue. In thinking about the fallout from people losing their identity when they are no longer working, I came to conclusion that wide spread mental health issues could become a pandemic in western economies. It might seem far fetched, but the early days of it are already happening (WARNING: WSJ paywall). This issue, when combined with our strong background in digital health, led me to start exploring Mental Health and AI mostly around how we deliver care, treatment, and prevention. I started looking at this about two months ago and fortunately CB Insightsagrees with me that this is a thing and needs to be a thing. We haven’t made an investment yet here, but I am actively searching, so if you know a great company or entrepreneur, holler.
That’s where the last 18-ish months have taken me, but the calendar year is far from over. 2017 is going out with a bang with trips to Black Rock City, Big Sur, New York, Morocco, Boston, South America, and others lined up in the coming months along with additional work on Digital Health and the newest technology bubble of Blockchain/Cryptocurrency***.
If you want to get together to chat about any of the above I’m pretty easy to get a hold of: send me a letter, stalk me on LinkedIn, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org , and be sure to mention the article.
Finally, a shoutout to the entire Wildcat family. The last year has been incredible and it’s been so much fun having the opportunity to both form an opinion about what the future should be and also have the hunting license to seek out and work with entrepreneurs that share that same vision.
Thanks for reading!
*I started as an intern on May 7th 2016, but who is counting…
** I promise, the ‘Venture 30’ is worse than the ‘Freshman 15.’ Also, Vive la Tarte has the best cheesecakes, and they are not helping the cause.
***Not going to lie, I am actually very bullish on Blockchain as an open source software infrastructure, but that is for a later post