Kauffman Fellows Community, it is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of our dear friend, Tyson Clark, of Kauffman Fellows Class 21. Tyson was a truly incredible human, an inspiration, and the embodiment of all things good in this world. We feel honored to have spent the years we did with him, and know that many of you reading this feel the same way.
Tyson was thoughtful, generous, and everything that any of us aspire to be. A former naval officer and father of three, Tyson infused his desire to serve and support others into his work as a VC. He worked for more than two years on a nuclear submarine and learned technical skills, but other facets were valuable as well, including relationships and a growth mindset. He valued this community enormously. “There’s something about the folks that you meet in the military, the friends that you make there that just endure,” he said.
Being an officer on a ship is essentially running an organization, and there’s a lot to learn as a newcomer. Similar to VC, Tyson took it all in stride. “You have some seasoned people on your team who have experience and you’re supposed to lead them. You can show up on day one acting like you know everything, giving people orders and directions — or you can sit back and learn. Focus on taking care of people, think of your troops, and make sure they’re okay.”
It was this selfless nature and attitude that defined who he was: a servant for others. “What’s authentic to me is being humble; a humble servant. If you’re going to be a successful officer, you need to be a humble servant for your troops.”
While Tyson’s scholastic and professional background was nothing short of legendary (from Stanford to Harvard, McKinsey to Morgan Stanley, and eventually landing at top VC firms including Andreessen Horowitz and GV), Tyson humbly described his journey as “incremental progress” and was focused, determined, and intentional. “Each step in retrospect seems like a logical next step. But at the time, I had some plan, just taking the next gig that seemed like it made a sensible story.”
Not only did he forge a successful path for himself, but he lifted so many others up along the way. He was quick with advice and generous with his time, advising those new to VC to forge their own unique path: “The takeaway from my experience is there are multiple ways to get in. Don’t take any one person’s advice. And if you really want to break into VC right now, you should go that path, just recognize that it’s always tough.”
Tyson spoke very openly about being one of the most prominent Black VCs in Silicon Valley. He took this responsibility seriously and put everything he had behind advancing opportunities for others. “How many other Black VCs are out there at funds as big as GV who are general partners?” he said. “Not many. So if not me, then who?”
He connected the dots, he took the time, and so many of us are where we are today because of his guidance and leadership. “You can teach how to invest. You can teach how to interact on a board. But you can’t teach a network. You show up with your network.” And show up he did.
Tyson had immense respect for the founders he invested in. Many have shared how grateful they are for his support, mentorship, and most of all, trust (the latter being a key piece of the puzzle in what can sometimes be a complicated relationship between investors and founders).
Tyson deeply believed founders should steer their own ship and was a constant source of steadiness: “Their knowledge base will be more up-to-date than your knowledge base, no matter what your background is. That doesn’t mean you can’t give advice but you have to be aware that you’re working with founders who know more than you about the space that they’re offering, and your goal is really to take care of them, to advise them to make sure they succeed — make sure they have what they need.”
A man of morals, character, and commitment to all who were lucky enough to be in his orbit, Tyson worked to build a better world. He led with love, empathy, and gratitude. May we all continue in his footsteps.
We extend our deepest condolences to Tyson’s family and loved ones. To those closest to him, we hope there is solace in knowing how much of an impact he had on this earth. No one whose life he touched will ever forget his commitment to helping, nor his generosity of time, spirit, and encouragement.
Rest in Power, Tyson. We hope to make you proud.