Ash Fontana
IMPACT INVESTING

Ash Fontana

#70

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Early stage technology investor and author

Transferring empathy from entrepreneurship to investing, Ash Fontana

“It makes sense to me for a Founder to look at funds that have invested in companies that they think their company can benefit because if you can get those type of investors and you can get them on board to see how your technology, your company, your service offering can benefit all of their portfolio companies — you’re now selling them not just as an investor but as a customer”

ABOUT

– Venture capital investor in intelligent systems at Zetta, the first firm focused on AI and backer of dozens of AI-First companies.

– Author of “The AI-First Company”, the definitive playbook to putting AI first in every business conversation. The playbook is an executable guide for applying AI to business problems, made for real companies, with real budgets, that need strategies and tactics to effectively implement AI.

– Launched the business side of AngelList

– Started companies and invested in private/public/many markets.

REQUEST INTRODUCTION Arrow

THE FULL INTERVIEW

Ash Fontana

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery: Well like, we like to do we just like to jump right into things, Ash. So again, thank you very much for joining us today. Welcome to the supporters fund Ask An Angel. I’m your podcast host, which is Jeffery Potvin, and let’s welcome, Ash, to our podcast today. So welcome Ash! Thank you for joining us.

Ash: Thank you very much for having me.

Jeffery: And I’ve been pretty excited because, I will tell you that you have the longest Linkedin profile that I have ever read, which is amazing.

Ash: Wow.

Jeffery: Yeah.

Ash: Wow, okay.

Jeffery: A lot of content.

Ash: Okay.

Jeffery: Secondly, you have a lot of great audio and video, a lot of material on yourself. So it’s been delightful being able to go through and learn so much about you. So I’m glad for that, and your book is fantastic! So..

Ash: Thank you very much! It’s very nice of you to say.

Jeffery: Big fan. I will write a review for the book, eventually.

Ash: Yes, please do that. Amazon reviews are the most influential, are some of the most valuable currency in the world. Especially from (inaudible 1:03).

Jeffery: I could imagine, I could imagine. But it honestly, it’s a great read.

Ash: Thank you.

Jeffery: I will- but just to start off, just to kind of jump us right into it. Before we dive into all of this amazing data on yourself and the things that you’re doing, I’d like to see if we could share a little bit about your past, your background, a little bit about where you are today, and then one thing about you that nobody would know.

Ash: So I have been very interested in pulling apart computers and pulling apart companies. Two very different things for a very long time and for very different reasons. You know, interested in pulling apart computers because I just got curious. You know, I grew up at the time where you know computers started being in people’s homes and so, I had one at home and used it for more and more things, and found little ways to make money by helping older people with computers when I was much younger. And that was all very fun so I just wanted to learn more and more. I was interested in pulling apart companies because my, and this gets the one thing that people probably don’t almost certainly don’t know about me is that, all of my family are entrepreneurs. My mom, my dad, my brother, and all of my grandparents. All started their own businesses separately. They also work together on some things but they all separately started their own businesses, and so I just sort of grew up thinking, ‘well that’s just what you do’. And so, you have to understand how to do that and you know, the conversations at dinner in the evening were about all the things involved in starting companies. And so I was interested in learning what makes a good company and one way to do that, of course, is trying, which I did, and started some companies. Another way you do that is by reading, which I did, and you read books but another is by investing in companies. So I started doing that pretty early on. Anyway, fast forward, this has led to various things, you know, one working as an investor across different asset classes, public equities, growth investing, and then for the majority of my career by far venture capital, and then also starting companies. I started a company that managed data for big hospitality companies like the biggest hotel company in the world IHG, the biggest airline in the world, United or biggest allied loyalty program in the world, we built software for them. I- we sold that company. I helped start the biggest fundraising platform in the world, Angellist. So when I got to Angelist, there were just five engineers, and the founders, and the designer, and I put together the first deals that happened through Angellist so the syndicate platform and everything else and that now sort of manages billions of dollars. And then my partner, Mark, started and then I joined a year in, and we launched together the first venture capital fund focus on artificial intelligence and that has led to working with a whole bunch of pioneering artificial intelligence companies, like Kaggle, Clear Bit, Lilt, and Vania Domino, etcDomo. And we have worked with lots of those companies and accumulated a bit of knowledge about how to run such AI first companies, and put that into a book, which you kindly mentioned called, “The AI First Company.”

Jeffery: I love it and before we dive in, one thing about you. I know you mentioned there’s one but maybe there’s some other things that you can share. But what’s one thing about you that we wouldn’t know?

Ash: Oh that’s what I shared which is all of my family are entrepreneurs. Every single one of them.

Jeffery: Oh okay, yes. I was always thinking about something else. That’s brilliant.

Ash: Another thing is, I have, it’s an insight into my personality. I have 10 different ways to make coffee in my kitchen. So you know, I’m a highly caffeinated individual. There you go.

Jeffery: That’s an interesting one. I’ve never heard that analogy. That’s brilliant. So to kind of, before we jump into the book and all these other things, I kind of want to go back to some of your past and being in the data company, working in banks, having a family of entrepreneurs, how much of that lifestyle really shaped who you are today? Do you believe that a lot of that early stage learning really shaped how you were gonna invest the types of companies you went after, the areas you got into? And was it part of that growth part that you needed to be in the bank, you needed to learn the process, you needed to learn about how data worked, before you got into entrepreneurship, before you got into seeing and learning what your family was all about? How do all those things kind of help deliver to where you are today? Do you work off those past experiences?

Ash: Well, I don’t mean to sound facetious but, of course, I do. Like, and to be philosophical for a moment, how else do you learn? That’s a contentious statement but I think people underrate their experiences, their own experience as informative of what they should do next, and sort of overrate the experience of others. That’s certainly a belief I have and therefore, I certainly d