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Giving Thanks to our Global Community
Almost five years and 300 investments into The Fund we have a lot to be thankful for. What started out as a small local experiment to support founders in New York has turned into a truly global platform. The pandemic put a lot of stress on the planet, but for antifragile things like community, it only made us stronger. We scaled The Fund from $5M to $50M of assets under management over the last few years because we all saw something more powerful in the community than we did in isolation, and that propelled us forward.
The fundamental shift I’ve seen over my 11 years in venture capital is how borders are blurring, and investing internationally has become the norm. The flattening of information has facilitated fast replication of business models that work. The commoditization of capital and return-seeking has driven investors to look farther afield to find differentiated problem solving. And infrastructure now enables global relationship management better than ever.
What’s clear is that talent is everywhere, and the opportunity to solve meaningful problems is even more salient in less developed markets. Moreover, there is close to $300 billion ready to be deployed by a select number of VC firms, and there simply isn’t enough happening in the US startup ecosystem to absorb that capital. International market opportunities and valuations will attract more and more sophisticated growth investors. We might continue to be “surprised” when big-name firms write meaningful checks into emerging markets, but this will become normalized as regional winners will generate the biggest returns over the coming decade.
When I started in venture capital in 2011, I was told that VCs could invest early-stage and local, or late-stage and global. “There’s no way to have the network to invest early and everywhere,” people warned. Venture capital is about sourcing, selecting, and winning entry into the best deals, and it’s clearly hard to do that on all sides of the planet. What’s changed in the last decade though, are the communication platforms that allow for authentic global connection at scale. Today it’s genuinely easier to forge friendships across a dozen countries than it is to commute to lunch, something I encounter on a weekly basis.
Personally, this evolution has been empowering. Domesticity was always at odds with how I self-identified. I grew up hearing stories of my father’s childhood in Saudi Arabia and Havana, with his family trips to places like Jerusalem, Baghdad and Damascus, and I spent six out of my seven years in college and grad school living abroad or with international students. As soon as I could apply to anything, I applied to everything that would put a pin on the map and a story in my pocket. When I worked at Google after school I convinced managers to let me launch teams in India, and as a VC partner on Sand Hill Road I managed our earliest investments in China.
But my international endeavors were always against the grain. When the US State Department began inviting me on entrepreneurship delegations to Malaysia, Senegal, Turkey, and Algeria I knew I couldn’t get official approval, so rather than ask for permission I simply began to take more “vacations” where I’d sneak off to speaking engagements. I told bosses I’d be at the beach as I boarded red-eyes bound for Cairo and Dar es Salam. I had chargers stolen in Dakar and ended up in a hospital in Algiers, but when I got home I’d smile and pretend I’d been in Europe.
When the White House took me on as an Innovation Fellow and later invited me to Kenya on President Obama’s delegation, the Wall Street Journal reported on it, but my Silicon Valley venture firm thought it was a fundraising distraction, and asked me not to talk about it.
I haven’t changed but the world has, and now funds like Bond Capital and General Atlantic are beginning to write nine-figure growth checks into “risky” companies we helped launch or pre-seed many years ago. So as we continue to double down across the globe, backing talent no matter where it sits, I’m optimistic about the future. And as the world of institutional capital wakes up to the brilliance and power of global entrepreneurs, serious fuel to the fire is coming.
The power of The Fund is our community, one that humbly started in New York but grew roots across the planet. Now nearly 1,000 founders strong there is no city or market in which we don’t have a dozen connections, so investing everywhere has become a fait accompli. We don’t hide behind narrow mandates that rationalize a stale worldview to appease the past; we will follow the human relationships that thread and stitch their way across a borderless patchwork that is the future.
Great founders and ideas come from everywhere, that’s where you’ll find us. The Fund is doubling down, and gone global, because we never believed otherwise. Our roots began in New York, but what is New York but the most cosmopolitan place on Earth, a place where people of all walks of life convene and connect. It’s a city of everyone and everything, and so it’s only natural that we follow it radically as it unfurls itself across the globe. This week, and always, we’re thankful for you, our community, our peers, and for the deep optimism we will continue to create together.
Scott Hartley is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of The Fund.
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