Welcome to the season premiere of a very special new season of the Kauffman Fellows podcast, produced in partnership with Mighty Capital.
Last week we gave you a glimpse into what you can expect this season: authentic conversations with world-class investors and a rare glimpse into the personal narratives of some of the world’s most esteemed innovation leaders.
Throughout this season, we challenge our guests to hang up the superhero cape and get real about the sacrifices, failures, and inflection points that each investor goes through to become the best version of themselves, in order to best serve the entrepreneurs they invest in.
In an exciting new format, we’ve collaborated with select Kauffman Fellows who host a dynamic range of mini-series, interviewing some of the world’s top leaders in capital formation. Covering various themes like VC investing while simultaneously diving into areas like empathy, intellectual curiosity, and self-awareness, together we unravel what truly makes a great VC investor.
First up in our collection of mini-series, Kauffman Fellows CEO, Jeff Harbach, kicks off the season drawing upon the themes presented in the Kauffman Fellows Four Pillars — a distillation of the traits, characteristics, and behaviors that we’ve learned over the years from the best investors.
In each episode of this mini-series, Jeff speaks with Kauffman Fellows who personally exemplify these pillars on a daily basis and have successfully leveraged this framework for success in venture capital.
Ep0: SC Moatti — What to Expect this Season
In this season primer, Jeff Harbach sits down with SC Moatti (Kauffman Fellow, Class 25) to discuss what listeners can expect this season. “As a Kauffman Fellow, I am honored to co-produce this season of the Kauffman Fellows Podcast as part of my thought leadership project. Mighty Capital invests in the best products and I believe this show is one of them. My favorite part was getting to know the Fellows who raised their hand to host a mini-series!”
During their conversation, SC also shares the three-step process she used to develop her Zone of Genius. She calls this process Join, Shape, Drive. When you first join an industry, you’re relatively passive. You are learning and joining conversations. Some will progress and begin to shape the industry. They raise their hands, share their perspectives. A select few will advance again and begin to drive the conversations in the industry. Those select few have found their zone of genius.
Operating in your Zone of Genius feels like you’ve rigged the system, and you have an unfair advantage; you can’t believe you’re getting paid to do this type of work! You’re in your flow state. The Zone of Genius isn’t a superhero power one is born with, but rather a skill or set of skills cultivated quietly through consistent practice and learning.
By relying on her zone of genius and following her intuition, Mighty Capital is finding success with a radically different approach to venture capital, “It’s been exciting to see this idea of the best product wins, which most investors see as a myth. We’re working to turn it into a reality.”
Ep1: Sujay Jaswa — Talent Environments
As an incredibly relationship-centric business, venture capital requires building and maintaining deep relationships built on trust. Jeff Harbach sat down with WndrCo Founder & Managing Partner, Sujay Jaswa (Kauffman Fellow, Class 13), to discuss how he built a firm that focuses on building those crucial relationships with the entrepreneurs behind their portfolio companies. “We’re there for the entrepreneurs, whenever, wherever they need us.”
When Sujay started WndrCo, he wanted to start a holding company, not a fund. He understood that by focusing on the people and the long-term success of their businesses, they could build highly valuable relationships and companies. He says, “Most people in the fund business, especially if you’re starting a fund from scratch, your objective in fund one is to be in a position to go raise fund two and then fund three. You’re thinking about the evolution of the businesses that you invest in ifund one with an eye to fund two and three, which isn’t necessarily the right thing for the businesses.”
Sujay flipped the script and built WindrCo with the intention of prioritizing the businesses and founders they invest in, “We’re there for the entrepreneurs, whenever, wherever they need us. Some folks use us heavily and some folks use us as sounding boards from time to time… I get to work with founders in the best way possible, which is to be supportive.”
Sujay has a unique empathy for the needs, concerns, and pressures his entrepreneurs face because he is an entrepreneur himself. WindrCo has venture buyouts, which are companies that they actually own, “We don’t just have operating experience from five or 10 or 15 years ago, we actually have operating sprints from today and yesterday, because we’re responsible for these companies that we’re the majority shareholder in every day of the week.”
By developing deep and trusting relationships with their entrepreneurs, Sujay and the team at WindrCo are able to not just invest in a company, but help it grow and develop along the way, “[When] there’s a founder who’s got a big idea and is pursuing a big mission, we create the company with them.”
Ep2: Lisa Feria— Unique Investment Thesis
An investment thesis is more than defining a sector or market based on experience or interest. Top investors tailor their passion and convictions to a thesis that guides every investment they make. Stray Dog Capital General Partner & CEO, Lisa Feria (Kauffman Fellow, Class 22), sat down with Jeff Harbach to share how her investment thesis has evolved into what it is today.
By relying on her experience and knowing her strengths, Lisa boldly blends her passion with her purpose: “I finally stopped trying to be a square peg in a round hole. I finally stopped being okay with being in roles that I could do well and succeed, but that didn’t fulfill my desire to do something meaningful and something that mattered. I didn’t want to die and know that I sold everybody one more roll of Bounty paper towels. I want to die and realize that I was a small piece in a big system that helped us change our path.”
Today, she guides her firm as they invest in early-stage food and biotech companies that deliver financial rewards and positively impact people, animals, and the planet. “I don’t want to hand over a world on fire to the next generation. I want to be part of the solution. Once we started funding these amazing companies, including Beyond Meat, people and investors started to see what kind of impact that could have on people’s health, choices on the environment, and animal welfare.”
Coming Up This Season
Kauffman Fellow co-hosts cover topics ranging from Women in Deep Tech (Maddie Callander) to Veterans Turned VCs (Wayne Moore). They dissect growing venture ecosystems in places like the Midwest of the U.S. (Maggie Kenefake) and Emerging Markets (Pachara (Pinn) Lawjindakul). They discuss verticals ranging from Climate Tech (Rokas Peciulaitis) to the Age of Product (SC Moatti). Our co-hosts also discuss the importance of conviction in winning a deal (Renana Ashkenazi), the human side of venture investing (Mohammed Almeshekah), and what it takes to build an enduring venture firm (Code Cubitt).
We think this group of Fellows perfectly captures the diversity of the Kauffman Fellows network, with various themes of VC investing, geographic regions, sector, and focus being represented.
Beyond the balance sheet, the deals won, and the exits achieved, it’s their commitment to self-growth and investment in entrepreneurs (beyond merely providing capital) that is especially noteworthy. Reflected in the conversations held this season, we give listeners a rare peek into the personal narratives of some of the world’s top leaders in capital formation.