Dreamers VC | Supporters Fund | Venture Capital Investment Fund
Vik Sasi

"I don't think you can ever dampen innovation no matter which way the world goes"

- Vik Sasi

Vik outlines what he looks for in a start-up

Talk Takeaways

Vik Sasi, Partner of Dreamers VC, a fund co-founded by Will Smith and Keisuke Honda, sat down with (JP) Jeffery Potvin to discuss innovation and cryptocurrency and the varying impacts they bring to a country. Vik also shared the process that they do in Dreamers VC and how they bridge early-stage US companies to Japanese corporate investors.

About

Vikram (Vik) Sasi was previously on the investment team at AmFam Ventures. He began his career as an Analyst for the Clinton Foundation’s Health Access Initiative and as a Strategic Advisor to the Haitian Ministry of Health, with additional stints in investment banking at Morgan Stanley and venture capital at Healthbox. Vik is a former state chess champion, FAA Private Pilot and speaks Spanish, French and Haitian Creole. He holds a BA in Biology from Washington University in St. Louis and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery:
Well welcome. It’s very exciting to have you here today vik! You’ve got an impeccable background, so i’m excited to dive in and learn a lot more about yourself and share that with our community. But to kind of start it off the best way would be to share a little bit about your background kind of where you’ve come from, where you’re going, where you’ve landed, and then we’ll dive right into it from there.

Vik:
Yeah right on. So yeah so first off, thanks for having me. Yeah it’s an honor to be here and i know we met sharing that panel way back when during the the height of the pandemic. So it’s good to reconnect. But yeah so Vik Sassi. I grew up in Milwaukee Wisconsin which is now i think currently under like two meters of snow. And i certainly can’t yeah — i’m very grateful for that but glad to be in sunny California but i grew up you know the first generation immigrant family of my heritage Indian. So my mom, dad, brother, and sister were all MD’s, medical doctors. And so luckily i had black sheep i was noticeable actually from a very young age and knew i was you know going to be a little more but i think more of a wayward journey, more of a wayward person. So i did my undergrad down in biology and you know soon after i graduated from college i just i really wanted to have impact in my career, i wanted to be out of my comfort zone. i didn’t want to be a doctor much to my parents dismay and so that basically set me on a path working abroad. So i spent about a year and a half in east and central africa doing work for nonprofits and ngos and i spent three and a half years in haiti working as an analyst for President Clinton’s foundation and then later actually being poached by the government of Haiti to finish our project which was working on the national HIV program after the earthquake. So it was you know radically different than what most VCs you know sort of come into after like a two-year consulting or banking program or something like that. Non-traditional is basically my middle name and after i finished in haiti i knew grad school was the next logical step in my career and business school enables you to totally reinvent yourself and was fortunate to go to university of chicago and their full-time program, was exposed to a number of different sort of hard finance internships and experiences and ultimately joined a fintech and insurtech corporate venture fund straight out of school that did it was backed by a fortune 300 legacy insurance carrier. So i did a lot of you know i became a licensed insurance agent just to sort of speak the language which was, it’s a an interesting endeavor just by itself but specializing in blockchain, crypto, agtech, and then some of the core fintech venture tech parts. And then more recently i spent about two years at that fund and then i’m now coming up on two and a half years at Dreamers which is an early stage generalist fund based here in LA. Most notable aspects
that were co-founded by Will smith and Keisuke Honda a major japanese soccer player. What’s interesting is that we’re not a traditional celebrity fund or an offer to the family office, we’re structured like a two and twenty venture fund and capitalize with all japanese limited partners. So nomura the big investment bank is our anchor and then we have a pretty diverse competition at the rest of our capital base shiseido, mitsubishi, asics, densu, all make up our LP bay. So yeah that’s where i am today and how we got here and happy to delve into you know more about our fund or whatever else i can answer for you or your listeners.

Jeffery:
For sure well all very exciting. I love the fact that you decided to diversify from the family background, i’m sure everybody’s pretty happy with the move. You can always go back and be a doctor at 50 or something. So in this process i think what i hear and what i love about your
background is that you’re very diverse and that you got to work in these other countries so maybe talk a little bit about that experience and how that’s actually folded into what you’re doing in this diversity fund because i think that really probably speaks well to why and we can dive in a bit in a bit as well to why will smith and family kind of partner to jump in with you.

Vik:
Yeah so you know i would say you know one of the biggest things i learned from my experience, experiences, really abroad is — you were so much closer to the end user and whether that means like literally the detritus that comes from western developed countries and like these like old t-shirts, you know super bowl champions that never were and things like that. But also just in terms of like you know all the hand-me-down like those nokia phones that we you know were our first phones are now making their way you know around and sort of just being really you know experiencing going through life and serving that end user actually helped me sort of pitch and it’s like look like i can actually empathize a lot more with you know future consumers especially ones in you know whether it’s emerging markets frontier markets to even just being you know from wisconsin and working at a fund that had midwestern routes. We certainly did a lot of investing on both coasts and clearly the valley in new york and boston are power centers for venture but at the end of the day you know what i tend to found or what i really like to select for with startups was you know which ones can actually cater to that middle market to sort you know to fly over country to the 80 percent of americans that live that whose you know incomes in aggregate are far greater than you know what then like that those small pockets on the coast where the disposal incomes are higher and they have a lot more spend and so that’s always been something that’s that’s driven me whether to you know starting my first job in the democratic republic of congo to even now looking for things that you know everyday consumers can actually enjoy. And really it’s about you know one thing that i think uber really demonstrated was this idea of consumer surplus where the consumer is deriving or getting so much more value than so much more than what they’re willing to pay which i think you know we all find as much as we can you know may complain about surge pricing and all these things like it’s still far better than waiting in a street looking for a cab or you know trying to hail one down or something. So consumer surplus matters a ton to me i’ve seen it in developing countries and i basically apply that same sort of you know framework as to how would this impact the you know the end user even in my day-to-day investing right now.

Jeffery:
When you’re working there you’re working in the congo or working for in haiti did a lot of that did you get into the ground side of things where you’re really focused on that end consumer or did you get to see a lot of it just because there’s containers coming in every day trying to help a community build and rebuild and you start looking at this and say you know what there’s got to be other solutions here, there’s got to be startups that can jump in and fill the voids here and fix this and how can we get the startups starting in this country and then hey wait maybe we can invest from our country into these areas and maybe that’s a better way of helping them grow?

Vik:
Right yeah so you know when i was abroad, i should note that this was very much pre-sort of like my career now in tech so everything we were doing and especially honestly the poorer the country the more low-tech. Your idea or the project or anything likely should be given that they have rolling blackouts you know power is you know can’t be taken for granted. i work for the ministry of health and so you know one thing that like i can remember so fondlyis how the world is dealing with this vaccine roll out because i remember having to maintain a cold chain nothing
to the extent of don’t get me wrong i mean i’m not even putting myself near the shoes of the frontline workers and all the others that are that are getting this out but i just remember it’s like okay like we got to have like specific igloo coolers we can’t have and oh you know when we go to a site it’s like of course they they have no power and their generator is broken and there’s a fight over who should pay for the gas which means the fridges can’t hold anything and so you know a lot of times and so at the time you know we’d see a lot of sort of like tourists come looking for tech solutions like how can we bring like a crm so that you can track all these things and it was like look we’re using computers you know that still run on dos like we can’t instant you know we don’t have reliable internet so it doesn’t even matter if the crm is you know god’s gift to tracking patients you know we don’t have connectivity. So at the time i was actually not not bearish but i just wasn’t as excited about introducing a lot of sort of like things we take for granted in the everyday world today and now having in venture there’s nothing i would love more than to sort of marry the two but it’s it’s really hard to talk to a lot of my friends that are still working in development and you know it’s slower than i think we all would like but it’s like that for a reason because so many so much more dollars have been wasted and burned trying to bring some of the more high-tech solutions to some of these emerging countries and everyone looks at the mobile phone as how africa leapfrogged the landline and went straight to mobile and it was like yes that’s true and we’d love to see that a number of other things, unfortunately i’m not sure anything’s come that close though who knows where we’ll be with granted i guess you know the loon project isn’t it doesn’t exist but if starlink or something comes to fruition really you know empowering connectivity all over i think that can really be a leap frog there’s also some really interesting crypto technologies. But anyway i’ll stop rambling but i still remain as hopeful as ever just a little more clear-eyed and less jaded.

Jeffery:
Well i think what you’re you’re putting this into context is that a lot of these startups that are branching in north america and they’re going into these third world countries that really need the tech but there’s a lot of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of how the society is operating and functioning so they’re going in there with this fintech payment that’s going to run this way and then when they get there they realize man they can’t even support this they i can only do text or running off dos and i think there is a lot of lost dollars and lost mindset to the fact that what being on the ground really makes a big difference in your startup and how it can actually start to get into these rural regions or areas that can’t support things. i think even you mentioned from with the COVID piece one of the 30 lowest GDP countries in the world haven’t even got plans yet, 29 of them don’t even have covered roll out plans because they can’t one afford it, two they don’t know what the direction is or three how to do it so imagine going in there with all this tech and saying hey we’re going to run blockchain off your back end of this and this and everybody’s going to be like what we’re just trying to get our phones to work like we got black notes and you know that’s what we went through 20-30 years ago they’re going through and way higher impact today and it changes the landscape and as a global investment firm when we’re trying to look at these globalized initiatives you really do need people that are on the ground there that are working within those communities to better understand what the tech is that’s there and how it can be enhanced and how it can be supported because it’s going to be a costly endeavor regardless so i think that’s some great insight on how you saw it and how much it hasn’t really shifted or changed a lot in that time either

Vik:
Right and you know one thing that’s interesting just as a minor side is so much of diplomacy and foreign aid is tied to politics. and so in the same way how you know a startup can have a great contract going with the big enterprise and there’s a new ceo or a new business unit leader and they’re like whoa we’re gonna do you know zero cost budget, zero day budgeting and then it’s like we gotta start from new and it’s like oh geez like that can happen with new administrations with new ambassadors with new heads of you know agencies for international development and so you know in all because of some you know someone high up changing they’re like you know what we want to cancel all these projects and so yeah it’s a shame that sometimes like the direct beneficiaries are at the behest of politics even though it’s thousands of miles away but you know it’s all it’s part of the game that they unfortunately have no idea that they’re a part of.

Jeffery:
So yeah it makes sense and again money talks and drives everything unfortunately so there’s not much you can do about that right. How much of this experience that you’ve had now shifts into with the big tech like the blockchains of the world and things like that are going on — does that create more opportunity or are you finding it that it’s just muddying the waters because the tech is so damn advanced that even north americans haven’t figured out how to use it but people are talking about trying to implement it around the world so has it kind of changed that whole dynamic you’re the first person i’ve got to interview that has a ton of stuff on blockchain i love it but i’ve struggled with how anybody’s even using any of this because it’s so advanced and people just can’t figure out how to tie the two together so i’m curious.

Vik:
Right. Yeah no i mean it’s funny because crypto i mean look obviously they’re like lots of people at startups it’s like a meme now to say that you’re changing the world with your like wi-fi connected juice machine you know bringing like democratizing access to nutrients and supplements or something. I mean you’ll find these crazy sort of sublines. But i mean nothing more so than blockchain crypto for good and you know i look i i think everyone was for the most part fairly well intentioned and then i think they were also trying to sort of i think i mean at least you know i’ve been in the space for now a couple years i’m not one of these OG bitcoin millionaires or maybe now billionaires by now, but to me it was like two you know to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail to them it was like blockchain or crypto can solve everything. And it was like you know and pesa has was obviously one of the most groundbreaking and really almost pioneered especially compared to the west of you know sort of this mobile money or digital wallets but it took a great amount of sort of like behavioral change behind the scenes and that had to happen that that doesn’t work through google and facebook ads like most people think like the cost of acquiring a customer is very different and i’m by no means an expert on this as opposed to you know just like ramping up your facebook ad spend using some certain keywords then assuming you’re gonna drive you know growth that way it’s as inorganic as it comes so but to go back to what you were saying in terms of blockchain crypto yeah i mean it certainly leads back to the folks like you know people are basically plugging their phones in wherever they can get juice. and so to be like hey you know they have a lot of distrust in the system lots of folks you know don’t vote as much because yeah just distrusted institutions and all these other sort of like external factors and then to sort of come in and like parachute in and say like hey like you know this like macroeconomic problem that you’re you may not even be aware of like guess what like like they don’t i i’m not trying to generalize but i just don’t think like hyperinflationary like the facts the fact that bitcoin has a fixed money supply like really plays into the day-to-day decisions of a lot of folks in some of these target countries and and i think it’s just they they miss the forest for the trees i think you know as they were trying to build these and so the other thing that i’ll also say and this is a little more controversial is you know when i generally see startups for-profit startups that are you know that are kind of like bringing the violins out and all this stuff i’m like why aren’t you a non-profit and look i completely understand and i very much you know i find peter thiel’s politics far more different i mean they’re certainly not like a cup of tea but he has this theory that like you really want to change the world you start a company and a for-profit company and i think there are a lot of elements of truth in that and but at the end of the day it’s like if you’re a for-profit company like you respond to your shareholders like your customers your customers but don’t try and like you know sort of like muddle the two and i think a lot of times i get personally annoyed because i’m like well i mean be a non-profit then. like it’s i mean you really want to change the world you really want to like don’t you know

Jeffery:
That’s it. You want to change the world or you don’t want to change the world figure out which one you’re on which side of the track and run it right

Vik:
Yeah or just be honest that like you want to enrich you know yourself your employees and all these things for for good reasons in addition to doing this. but don’t you know say that this is like the sole reason for this company’s you know being. that that kind of drives me a little little bonkers.

Jeffery:
No i can imagine. So on the blockchain front and crypto obviously it’s all taken off, it’s it’s moving well. i would say that crypto side’s kind of going into a bubble at the moment but is there do you see the value in what it’s bringing to the world and is it really an investable area anymore? i know four or five years ago it was the hottest thing to invest in which is anything blockchain, i haven’t really seen any like real takeoff blockchain companies — okay there’s a couple like there’s a couple of everything — but is there is it still an area that you focus on is it an area that startups should really dive into or is it kind of a do it on the side while you’re building your company?

Vik:
Yeah and i still remain fairly bullish. And look i think you know just you said we’re likely in a bubble i mean we have unbelievable appreciation though then again given the bizarro world of public markets too it’s like nothing is nothing’s — everything’s fair game at this point. I mean i wouldn’t be surprised by anything. But yeah i mean i think it’s actually been a slow crawl and so you know during the roller coaster of the ICOs in 2017 to the all-time low or not all-time lows i should say but you know the lows of december of 18 and all these things. The most impressive founders the ones that have been committed to crypto for forever have always been heads down throughout like they don’t check the price, they’re not day traders, they are long-term you know hodlers and they just fundamentally believe in the technology and they’re like this is gonna do it. And those companies i think have thrived and those are the ones of the most recent assets that have probably been added to coinbase’s platform they’ve seen unbelievable appreciation to their earlier investors and it’s been a slow you know sort of rise in terms of like the amount of value so the amount of i guess wealth that and not wealth i guess purely dollars i guess that have gone to d5 or decentralized finance. i think in terms of like cross-border finance and just giving the various sort of like rules and regulations on a country-by-country basis and given we’re in this increasingly globalized world despite the you know what politics may be telling us i think there’s a ton of really interesting innovation that’s about to come out, it’s about to actually shift product. That’s going to be really exciting and then you have you know that juxtaposed with the fact that india is trying to ban cryptocurrency. And it’s just you know china’s about to roll out it’s a digital yuan. They’re already doing these pilots. i mean it’s really it’s almost i think it’s it’s almost going to be like an arms race not too far in the future. So i still remain you know very bullish i would i would never discourage an entrepreneur from you know trying to build something into space but also you have to remember that you’re also competing for airplay or air time rather with you know just like like there are certainly some strange like eccentric folks in bitcoin and crypto and so they’re they’re gonna dominate the oxygen for a little bit simply because of bitcoin reaches you know across 50k today or something so. Just tread lightly but you know if you really do believe that like a lot of us that we’re basically creating a new sort of foundation foundational layer of the internet then i mean dive head first.

Jeffery:
So do you think with this new layer of the internet that’s coming out with this do you think it’s kind of you called it like the in our new arms race, but do you think it’s because people want to innovate faster than anybody and ever any other time in the history of the world that the rush
is to innovate so fast that we’re not looking at any sort of implications that are going on with the rest of the communities and the rest of the world, it’s we need crypto and it’s now. So everybody’s just running and going as fast as they can. Cryptos are going through the roof. On the cost side and on build side and everything else, but it’s just almost like we haven’t figured out a way to really use it yet but let’s just get this stuff out there and make sure everybody has it and we’ll figure it out after. It kind of feels like it’s so rushed because if i don’t get there faster then the internet 3.0 is going to beat me to it. So like what do i do and is that kind of the the role that’s going on right now

Vik:
Yeah and i guess i should probably clarify like with arms race i guess i sort of mean i think you know china having already gone through the central bank digital currency exercise and roll out digital Yuan. i think that and in what i read is likely their quest to move the world off of the dollar as the global reserve and you know make the Yuan — so i think all of these countries if one there’s this there’s always going to be internal competition from country to country. And then there’s also within the country it’s like how important of a role do we want our central bank to have and if we wanted to have an important role we’ve got to get a digital dollar, we have to have a digital euro and all these things versus letting you know other people use cryptocurrencies and doing stuff like obviously we still need to have some elements of big brother. In terms of an actual armed arms race i mean i think there’s a lot more pain that can be inflicted with something like AI and i mean you know if you read about what eric schmidt has been doing you know serving on the defense innovation advisory boards and all these things and he is like look like there are going to be two internets. There’s going to be the Chinese internet and maybe another you know the global one assuming we don’t you know she you know assuming like there’s no more further splintering and then you talk about ai coming in with like you know on the battlefield and stuff and so i you know as i’m a little more scared of of that world, of like answering those really important questions. and then there’s also stuff that’s like you know i worked in insurance at an insuretech fund and you know like the late the biggest innovation to come into scoring someone’s auto insurance other than telematics which actually tracks your driving is simply like your credit score. And that was like in the 90s that they started taking that into account. and so you know right now there’s all sorts of really i’m sure underlying bias that’s taking place that we’re not realizing because a lot of the stuff is you know caught within a black box. So i’m a lot more worried about like fundamental algorithms that are now being introduced and iterated upon that may have underlying biases that are affecting us in ways that we won’t realize until you know it’s like years too late and then we have to sort of go and like start building these things foundationally again. So that’s more of a personal like given the amount of you know as we’ve seen sort of like entrenched you know their social justice issues etc and so like even though we know where we’re you know like i just hope we’re not making the same mistakes as we of the past.

Jeffery:
So does this create kind of an infringement on personal information data that’s being collected but on the same instance that if you take out big brother and you add in this layer of decentralized markets and having everybody get a new business now you’ve got big-time investors diving into this saying hey i gotta be here. Elon musk comes out and says that they put in a billion dollars which again i don’t know how they get away with telling everybody all the stuff that they’re doing which just drives everything back up in price. So does it does it kind of influence and change the way people are looking at things or does it kind of stay like this for the next three to four to five years and no one’s really too worried about their privacy issues and decentralizing will again branch across the next two chinese internet and the world internet that they’re all going to just keep floating up higher until something bigger has to give? What’s your thoughts around that?

Vik:
Yeah. Now i mean this is stuff that i mean i hate the use of the term above my pay grade but no i mean as to where i think this is all heading i yeah i mean you’re right it’s like tesla you know he announces they put a you know one and a half billion into bitcoin and then boom like they both pumped the next day. And i mean this whole dogecoin thing while ins, i mean how i mean it’s so outrageous it’s hilarious. That you know he and you know a few others can post about it and then boom it’s like this thing is like you know 40% by 50%. There is some market manipulation and i understand the SEC because they’re like look we’re just here to protect the consumer and it’s just a bunch of competing priorities it’s like well if you’re going to protect the consumer then maybe you could also like democratize access to private securities by easing the threshold of the accredited investor which they have done to some extent with with this new with their most recent batch of revisions but yeah as to where this is all heading i mean i think we actually you know you know the US and just maybe some of the more even you know some of the more developed nations have you know that are currently brewing sort of war right now for free speech. And so you know obviously every you know most americans will believe certainly do believe in the first amendment but then it’s like yeah okay you also can’t you know you can’t yell out fire in a movie theater and all these things but you know as we saw with the deep platforming of you know former president trump, it’s like there were folks who were incredibly progressive and leftist supporters that still found what was going on very disconcerting. And and i get it. And then and also this is where it’s like well hey if we actually did have decentralized you know ways to sort of that can’t be censored or anything this is what blockchain is all about it’s like there you go, it’s like well i guess that kind of solves it but then it’s like well what about when they’re you know fostering all this hate and like insurrections and all this stuff it’s like don’t we want to have a way to turn it off and so yeah I don’t know any —

Jeffery:
Some sort of control features right? Everything seems to be going to this. We all want to be the same. we all want access to be able to invest we want we want to do whatever we want and then but make sure that it’s regulated on the back end so some systems watching it but not the cops or not this security exchange. i don’t want anybody monitoring me. i want it to be self-regulated. And i want to do what i want and then when it fails i’m going to come back and be mad at you because you shouldn’t have let me do this why didn’t you put more measurements and regulate this and control it better. You shouldn’t let me throw my money into this. So it’s yeah it feels like this democratization and decentralization i think they’re good, but there still has to be some sort of forum management in there because it worries me that we all want to be the same without the same experience. So i demand that i want to be an investor and it shouldn’t matter how i invest or when i invest but then if it’s i have no learning i’m going to learn as i go but if i fail then i need to blame somebody instead of taking accountability from my own actions. But if i win then i’m gonna tell everybody that i was smarter than the rest. So it’s that i guess it’s but it’s an interesting world because the whole markets are driving up so high that who knows where that end goal or end point is. And then if you throw in this openness and decentralizing everybody and allowing everybody to do what they want does it change the way startups get invested in and does it change the way that next startup actually creates a company.

Vik:
Right. i mean my view is that any like i don’t look at innovate i don’t think you can ever dampen innovation no matter which way the world goes or whether that’s a positive or negative you know whatever decisions you agree with there are always going to be ways to improve upon but no i mean you bring up a lot of good points. i mean the thing that i think most people don’t realize well i’m sorry i’m making very broad generalizations but you know there is this deep dark web like 99 of what’s on the internet is not searchable on google. You know like like we’re all sort of living in our so we’re already like kind of self-censoring by just choosing to not you know using a tour, the onion router and go down like some in you know ridiculous rabbit holes to search out what truly can’t be censored and so you know i wonder maybe that’s going to become a little more commonplace and then you know people can post whatever they want and instead of having to go to gab or parlor or something they can just you know you go down to deep dark web. But yeah i i think it’s i mean it strikes me like the the principalist you know that you know of like these american ideals and the constitution like i think it’s a net positive to you know to provide all these options you know when it comes to free speech when it comes to our you know when it comes to our rights but there’s gonna be i feel like a lot of malintent that goes alongside as these things grow. And so maybe that’s the price of it it’s you know it’s kind of like if we could go back to 20 years ago and turn off craigslist because there would be a craigslist killer like you know would we do so? And you know all these terrible things that happen on the internet it’s like yeah but it’s still been an extremely net positive force for good and so maybe you know actually adding some you know features of decentralization you know mixed into this privacy debate and free speech, Ii think it’s a net positive but maybe it may not be as such a slam dunk cases you know as other things.

Jeffery:
Totally i was watching a video the other day on it was aUK video on commercial for the smart home back in the 70s and they’re like i should be able to walk in the room and the light will turn on because i walked in and i’m sure they were looking at that going wow that is freaky. And then today people are like why the hell isn’t the light turned on? Like it’s we’ve customized ourselves based on the way marketing and the way people have pushed startups and push business it’s transformed every day how an experience is it doesn’t matter from walking into a store to talking on a phone to listening to the radio it’s all transformed right. And it continues to push the line like when family guy came out everything was moderated you couldn’t say 99 of the things that they were pushing to say. And then that all changed right. So i think the envelope continues to push forward, i think innovation’s amazing, and i think startups are really coming out of the woodwork these days with more innovation things which i think is helping. They’re not just innovating on the current stuff that keeps being innovated on, there’s way more facets of verticals that they’re coming into which is making it exciting. And this kind of shifts us into where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing lately and i heard lots of great things about the fund and will smith and all this cool stuff so we would be it would be terrible if i didn’t jump in and talk about this even though i was enjoying this deep dive worldly view of how things are really functioning and working but maybe you can share little bit more about the fund and what you guys are doing
today?

Vik:
Yeah yeah sure. So you know so we’ve got these two we’ve got Will and Keisuke this Japanese LP base. So we launched fund one at the end of 2018 which is when i moved down to help launch it. We’ve been incredibly active, we’ve done 60, we just did literally yesterday our 61st deal in two years in a couple of months. So you know investing at a breakneck pace we had basically done 50 up until covid and then since then we’ve obviously cut you know 10 or 11 checks but yeah it’s been super fun. Our investment approach is basically bifurcated into two main buckets. The first is our seed or pre-product market fit where we tend to write checks the size of 250k flexing up to 500k and then a second bucket for series a’s and b’s where we can do a first check of up to two and a half million. So as you can probably tell by our investment pace we’re not leading deals out of this fund, we’re just pure play co-investors but the flip side is that we have no minimum ownership threshold. So we can afford to be as flexible as we need to in order to earn our way onto a cap table. And when it comes to the family you know our two biggest value propositions you know the first is very straightforward the smith family has north of 150 million unique followers across all the various different social media apps and platforms and whatnot. And i think that number is actually that was a pre-covered number and since then obviously with rising screen time and all the new content i think that number has actually pushed forward quite a bit. But and i should say that that’s not just will it’s jada jaden willow who each appealed to very unique demographics and their icons in their own right jaden certainly in the climate change movement, willow was really pushing the you know pushing the boundaries for you know an 18 19 year old woman, so you know if you’re a direct to consumer startup or trying to build a brand they’re really great folks to have quote unquote around the cap table . you know there’s one element which is they obviously have you know millions and millions of followers if they post about something the end that customer converts that obviously brings the marginal cost of requiring the customer to zero. which is you know certainly helpful at a in a day when you know folks are spending and when startups are spending an insane amount on acquiring customers. The second thing that we just realized with one of our portfolio companies is that you know they like even just mentioning will smith or you know someone someone else as prominent as him in the press release as to like banking for teen startup or whatever, it gets picked up by a lot of media channels that traditionally don’t aren’t part of the normal like press circuit. And so for us in this investment called step you know we were picked up by essence, and then that got picked up by a bunch of other sort of you know media focused for african americans which is yeah i mean much harder to reach you know i guess for for the valley you know traditionally hasn’t been that great at it and so you know we can basically turbo charge that by simply adding will to that press release or making an investment. and so that has turned out to be equally compelling as you know whether it’s a post or you know whatever it may be so yeah we’re very pleased on that front as well.

Jeffery:
Awesome and how did how did this the whole connection thing get together for you guys to be able to work this forward it’s it’s very exciting. i was talking to a another investment group in the in the US, and they’re they were heavily focused around oh my god reed and from linkedin and his airbnb investments and all those things and they created a company and they’ve
created a fund so it was pretty exciting to learn about that and what they’re doing. And they were all tied in all these individuals are tied into this business. that tied into this business and they all connected so always exciting so how did how did this all come about?

Vik:
Yeah, yeah. The genesis of the fund is — it’s pretty interesting. So Will and his family office really they’ve been investing in startups for you know well over a decade now direct investing i should say. So you know he’s and the family office and the investment the folks behind him have always been very accustomed they understand the value the value of getting in early, and you know there are a bunch of examples you know of that and then Keisuke you know he japan i don’t think has as many athletes on the global stage as you know something like the us and so he was such an accomplished you know athlete in his own right that he was and he and he was such a you know folks just turn into fanboys and fangirls when they see him and it was basically a marriage of each family office that was saying you know will like i have the deal flow especially at a moment when you know there’s this this is an unverified statistic that 30 to 40 percent of venture dollars actually trickle their way back to google and facebook for ads so it goes to that you know it’s like lp dollars to the venture fund to the startup to that startups marketing department and then into just ad spend and so when you think about this rise of influencer marketing it coincides perfectly and it’s like okay like having influencers and real talent on board can can drastically help a company get off the ground. So that was one. and Then Keisuke was like look i actually you know have really good relationships he’s actually been an angel investor in his own right and done very well and so marion sort of like will’s being a honey it will be a honeypot for deal flow with this japanese corporate capital and these are some of the largest and you know largest institutions in the world they’ve been around two to three hundred years. And they could always use you know fresh eyes and ears on what’s going on in silicon valley and so japan is still the third largest economy by gdp you know tons of and even sometimes a little more tech forward in certain industries like gaming and crypto and so yeah it was it was a wonderful marriage it took a little while to get all the to get you know everything signed because it was such an interesting hybrid investment vehicle but you know we’re very happy with where we are and about to go raise fund 2 and and see what the future holds.

Jeffery:
Awesome and is there a specific focus that you guys are on the fund on types of investments like the companies or the verticals or is it pretty open-ended?

Vik:
Very open. Yeah we’re by design generalist and really we’re as opportunistic as it comes so it’s not that we’re you know a lot of funds and certainly my former fund you know we’ll have like sort of thematic investing buckets or they’ll just have a thesis on the way they think the world is going to go and look for companies that fit it. We would much prefer to follow a lot of the smarter funds out there into what they’re investing in. And so and that’s backed up by data it’s not just sort of around it’s like with Theranos. Like yeah that’s how things got that’s how things got out of hand everyone’s just following you know quote unquote smart money. Though one i should add that there were actually no like top-tier silicon valley funds i mean lots of valley folks have actually if you ask around like they passed on it because they were like yeah i went to walgreens and they weren’t you know like they were just lined their presentation or something they didn’t they weren’t actually you know using the fingerprint. Anyway i i totally digress you know to us 90 of returns in venture accrue to the top 10 percent of the funds and so what does that mean it’s like okay well if i want to do like one okay it’s probably best to be an LP because i want 80 of the profit not 20 if i’m a GP. But if i am gonna you know play in the direct investing game then i’d like to have a seat at the table i want to be in those rounds now obviously i’m never going to be able to win a lead over an andreessen well you know you get my term sheet went out sequoia et cetera great law because you were just same with reid but if we can you know prove our value enough to co-invest alongside them then we can still have a profitable you know business model as a fund basically rivaling a fund of funds to some extent because they have to still give up fees on fees. So that’s basically how we’ve been sort of operating it’s like you know let’s talk to the you know like let’s be friends like you know no sharp elbows, play nice with everyone, we’re not trying to muscle anybody out of a round we’re just trying to prove our value and you know keep us in the game and yeah right (inaudble) and look there are a lot of other funds it’s competitive you know will’s not the only celebrity that’s that’s you know gotten the venture game but we think we’ve got something a little more differentiated with our japanese angle but the second part of our value prop i should say is just business development for the country as a whole. So given there’s still a third largest economy by GDP and they’re very hungry for innovation you know we have a number of examples to point to on both those funds.

Jeffery:
Brilliant. I worked with the startup maybe eight years ago and it was in Will’s early investment period. And i guess he was in Toronto, he was working with a marketing agency and they managed all of will’s social footprint at the time. So they were i can’t remember we were working on building a platform for them so i didn’t have a direct conversation with Will but i was part of that whole kind of atmosphere. And it was kind of neat to know that he was so heavily like an action picture was so heavily involved in the startup community as i was working inside of it as well but not to the extent that they were so it was pretty fascinating to kind of see that how much it’s progressed over the last 10 years.

Vik:
Right yeah no it’s exciting and hopefully a lot more a lot more to come in the next 10.

Jeffery:
Agreed, agreed. All right so one of the things that we’re gonna jump into right now is rapid-fire questions. And because i close the template down i’m going to go off by heart here. So first question to jump in and dive into this is what got you started in working with early stage companies?

Vik:
i think it was probably and then i got to make these rapid it was just the the biggest and most
influential companies and people were all venture-backed and have all sort of fallen followed this you know tried and true path. And so to even be you know look like the most trite thing to say as an investor is like thanks for having me along for the ride and like it’s been so great but like i understand every time i see those on linkedin or wherever as somebody rings the bell at the you know at the NASDAQ or New York stock exchange and and i get it and even and look that’s obviously public like i feel an unbelievable outcome but even for the smaller wins when they get acquired and you know just seeing these founders go from every startup is a rollercoaster i don’t care even if your clubhouse now or whatever but seeing them go through these trials and tribulations and just like come out for the better and meanwhile you know i’m like sitting i’m like you know on the couch like taking their call as they’re by their vp of engineering quit and they’re crying and whatever but like there’s nothing more fulfilling i think other than actually being a founder which you know may or may not present itself someday.

Jeffery:
Awesome. What’s your favorite part of investing?

Vik:
It’s probably… my favorite part of investing is probably when they get when the momentum shifts. Because when folks go out for their you know for their first round when they’re doing their process it’s a ton of no’s it’s a ton of like oh my god like you know are we doing something wrong like what am i doing like i mean am i gonna lose my family and like all these things. there’s so much second guessing and then the second they get a term sheet or the second they get that yes and then all the others that were sitting on the sidelines start like piling inand they’re like stalking the founder or something, it’s like when that light flip light switch flips. That that’s like the most exciting. And you just get a text that’s like such-and-such like we just got a term sheet and it’s like boom like obviously again you are by no means out of the woods it’s just you know it’s another milestone but that to me is so satisfying.

Jeffery:
Yeah. Wow. i love that part. How many companies do you invest in per year?

Vik:
We’re probably gonna do i mean i’d say about 20 to 25.

Jeffery:
Okay, awesome. You mentioned the vertical side, so on the due diligence is there anything that you look for when you’re diving into a company?

Vik:
Mostly it’s finding out what perspective the thesis of the lead partner. So whoever has like look at the end of the day you literally have to put your money where your mouth is in venture investing. And the leads are the ones that are putting the most money at stake and you know in theory they have the most conviction or you know similar amount and so understanding why they do have that and where they think the world is going by backing that startup is the most
important piece of any investment.

Jeffery:
Okay. What’s your timeline for an investment like beginning from a first phone call to the close.
How long does should take?

Vik:
We have never exceeded two weeks.

Jeffery:
Man that’s fast!

Vik:
Well so the other thing i should add is that we i it’s like we’re basically forced to. Likeit’s a function of our investing so most of the times we’ll get calls we have 100 inbound deal flow they’re like —

Jeffery:
You guys are doing side cards. Side cards tend to be all the work’s there people already investments are ready to go and you guys are coming in and making that investment.
So…

Vik:
Basically yeah there’s a second closing two weeks after the first we get intro you know right around the first closing then it’s like okay we have to run our process otherwiseyou know they’re gonna leave us leave us behind.

Jeffery:
i love it. Are there any things that you like to really emphasize on in your research is it on the team is it on the product the ceo like is there anything that you really just drive into ?

Vik:
There are a number. I mean yeah like at the early stage it’s team product and market or team tam and moat. But honestly so much i mean we’re living in like just bizarro world right now. With
speed and this pandemic valuations have never been higher i think actually through this year like we’ve doubled the amount of venture capital to date compared to last year which again is only like five or six weeks and it’s probably over represented by some super concentrated investments. But i mean the way things are going it’s really exciting. The one thing i will say of one thing that i think separates the good from the greater the one common trait that every successful startup that i’ve seen has i capital efficiency there are a bunch of ways to measure that when you can do it you can do it by valuation or by dollars raised you know equating to revenue or whatever metric you want to choose but ultimately like that input of you know input to output in terms of capital efficiency is such a defining characteristic when a startup reaches reaches that point.

Jeffery:
Agreed, agreed. Do you have any preferred terms that you invest on prep shares common shares safes?

Vik:
Oh. no i mean we’re well totally indifferent asking whether it’s a price round convertible note or safe. As for i mean preferences and non-productive i mean yeah we are as typical as it gets. so one we don’t you know we don’t give term sheets so we’re always following what the real investor. Is that said i we have never in the 61, i mean have done anything with anything participating that’s either a bad company or a bad investor for the most part i mean it’s it’s it’s hard to find — there’s hair on every deal but when you see something participating there’s it’s hairier than it should be.

Jeffery:
Fair enough. Do you do follow-on investments?

Vik:
We do try and double down in our winners as much as we can.

Jeffery:
Awesome. Do you take board seats?

Vik:
No board seats. We’ve got a couple observer seats but early stage companies you know you’re not putting on a suit you you know opening up doing a two hour zoom or something honestly with early stage companies you’re always kind of you’re on an informal board expand how close you are with the founder so that’s kind of where we sit.

Jeffery:
okay two more questions on this side so because you guys are the way your fund structure works do you guys do anything outside of it you mentioned in japan where you’ve got open up markets are there other things that you do outside of just financing? like are you doing marketing campaigns for them are you doing ways to really get that product out there and help bolster up your companies?

Vik:
Yeah and you know so certainly there’s there’s the will side and family it’s like the power they bring if they do choose to do you know to post buts i mean they also have you know what i would describe as a media empire behind them. So you know he’s got a huge content and social media team they have like a tv and movie studio i mean a whole — just big operation that’s going on. And so to the extent that any startups need any guidance as to like you know what does this make sense is this kind of campaign make sense to activate you know this such and such or should we be targeting this cohort is we have a number of folks that they can talk to that are doing some of the biggest and best deals. Certainly every movie he does Ryan Reynolds latest show things on snap and all the new sort of media mediums that are out there so that and certainly the japan side too is you know it tends to favor later stage companies but if you’re looking at targeting an international global growth market with enterprise acvs that can match us japan is a very great place to go.

Jeffery:
Awesome I’m a big fan i love japan. Yeah i’ve been there a couple times but especially in — it’s amazing mountain’s awesome too. So we kind of like to shift things into before i get to a little bit more personal side, the one question i have is i’m always looking for those real heartfelt heartstring pulling type of startups that you’ve come across where you know they if on the brink of destruction or they’re on the brink of breaking through on success and then something occurs and they’ve had to struggle their way through but just to show people what it really takes it doesn’t matter what corner of the world you’re in. What it takes to be an entrepreneur. Something that comes to mind that just kind of like yeah this lady did this and it was amazing or whatever it might be just yeah anything to come mind…

Vik:
Man i there are so many to choose from. I mean it’s actually hard to to yeah to really get one i’m trying to think i mean i’ve done like same day there have been financings for companies that weren’t about to get done where i had to wake up at like 4 AM. i was in madison wisconsin drive to o’hare through a snowstorm. not even sure if my plane fly out to LA to do a full day basically help one of our portfolio companies pitch to get a term sheet otherwise they were gonna have to like turn off the lights basically they had to start shut — doing the wind down that night because their lawyers were like we cannot in good conscience or in good faith like you know like do our duty if we don’t tell you like you need to start shutting things down. That same day and now i’m tugging the strings because we were putting our dog down that day it was like miserable and i’m certainly not trying to get you know any sort of sympathy towards my side but especially for the founder it was just like such a harrowing time. Anyway we did it and we wouldn’t find out until until the following or like later that night or something when i was on the plane back but i like sprinted back to LAX to go back to this still snow storm in chicago and then you know my drive back i was like thinking about my dog. They did end up getting it that company is now i should say faltering and like they’re looking for a soft landing. But i i mean to be honest it’s like look anyone can i mean the things that actually really i’ll say that that things that i’ve been humbled by are you know especially in the valley there’s such a over selection over optimization for pedigree. you know i mean if you have a stand like it’s just assumed that if you went to stanford you could probably go raise a one or two million dollar seed for whatever you do or something. And the thing that i really like love to see are those folks and it’s certainly represented in you know lots of up-and-comers but even folks that went in you know quote-unquote non-target schools or did things non-traditionally prior to you know doing venture or doing a startup because it reminds me of that book range but i i think they’ve had to work and this is something that’s that’s very true and band-aid about with african-americans like you know you’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far and i think that’s true for folks that didn’t you know that that you know grew up you know not with as many as means as a lot of others or you know going to these non-target schools just having to sort of like work their way up. it’s like you went to like some state school and wherever like what are you doing at this like glorious tech company surrounded by ivy leaguers and and you know and everyone’s fairly well off and so yeah to me like that’s still and look we the valley and the whole tech industry has a long long way to go but there’s nothing personally for me that’s more reassuring than seeing someone like pull themselves up by the bootstraps, teaching them to code while they’re doing it while they’re like working you know two jobs. i mean it’s like it’s unbelievable what people put themselves through just to get to just to get to a place where most others just kind of walk into and so yeah i mean that to me is the most reassuring and really it’s just for any aspiring founders and VCs out there it’s like look you don’t need you don’t need to go to a fancy school you really don’t need you just need sort of like a really unique way you know perspective on on the way you think the world is going and a product to you know to fit that world. So yeah that to me that’s what keeps me going that’s what’s the most exciting even in you know crazy times like during an insurrection and just we’re at the most polarized i think since i’ve ever been alive but there’s way more hope and optimism than there is you know lead cynical and pessimist so that’s what

Jeffery:
i love it. Well said, well said. All right we’re gonna jump into like three four questions. one question i should ask at the beginning but we’re gonna jump into these more personal side of things so first question is what’s one thing about you that nobody would know.

52:04
Ooh so like what’s not oh okay yeah i’ve got one. 10 years ago i was living or 11 years ago summer of 2010 i was in living in Uganda and the world cup was happening the final and we had a reservation at the chadondo rugby club with a couple of our friends we’re gonna go watch and things like netherlands italy i want to say anyway at halftime we heard what sounded like the largest firework i’ve ever heard. and and we didn’t think anything of it were like oh it’s the world cup like nothing happened oh sorry sorry i’m god i’m screwing the story up we had a reservation the rugby club they lost our reservation and so we went to a restaurant across the street and at halftime we heard this like big firework or whatever didn’t think anything of it right as we got to the 90th minute we heard what we were sure was a bombing and the whole restaurant just like erupted and there was like a little aftershock which is when we definitely knew and so we got out of there and the bombing actually happened at the rugby club where we were supposed to have dinner. 65 i mean i think 65 people died that that firework that we thought happened in halftime across the city was also a separate place that had been bombed so i’m not saying like it’s like i was like one of those people that missed a plane that ended up crashing like it was a huge it was across this rugby pitch but certainly dodged some in you know crazy crazy yeah violence that’s for sure.

Jeffery:
That’s crazy okay well that’s one thing that people wouldn’t know. You’re hitting it well on that one. That was a tough story but it sounds like well you made it out that’s all matters

Vik:
Yeah

Jeffery:
Second question favorite sports team

Vik:
Favorite sports team oh probably the green bay packers. Grew up in wisconsin i mean that whole i’m a shareholder so i get to call myself a team owner thanks. i spent 350 bucks eight years ago and they opened it up but yeah no i love what they’re about you know it’s got that small town feel you know you got the ice bowl way back when and it’s just they’re such a lovable team. And now the cubs won and that curse is broken i think the packers you know should hopefully you know hold that all americans should hold them in the highest regard.

Jeffery:
i agree. Yeah that’s good. They’re they’re an all right team. all right now this is the big one favorite movie and the character that you’d play in the movie

Vik:
Oh man. Wait. Okay so now i gotta choose which character i want to play in you know i what is my favorite movie well okay so there’s like a real answer which i’ll give is apollo 13 because i would love to be jim lovell aka tom hanks i mean i think that’s just unbelievable what they what they went through but my fun answer is beverly hills cop three and i would love to be eddie murphy as axel foley in that movie.

Jeffery:
Ah that’s awesome. Yeah he was phenomenal. i’m actually i’m writing this down because
i know i have to watch this movie

Vik:
so yeah i mean it’s just it’s it’s just so fun. it’s such a hilarious such a ridiculous movie but love eddie murphy obviously so

Jeffery:
yeah oh and i thought you were gonna go into like a will smith movie or something and i actually just watched what’s that one where i am will or i am sam or whatever it is

Vik:
i’m robot yeah robot yeah?

Jeffery:
Is that the no no i saw that one before it was the one where he’s the only one left on earth that he thinks and he’s trying to find the cure contagion

Vik:
i know what you’re thinking of i’m ah wow should have looked over his filmography before this
what is it it’s not irobot. it’s damn it

Jeffery:
i thought it was i am something but i watched it literally like three weeks ago i probably should have watched the start of the pandemic but i had seen it already and i thought i don’t want to watch this but when i watched it the other day still a great movie anything that can get you kind of entrenched in what’s going on in the world and it did a good job so

Vik:
Yeah I am Legend. Independence Day by the way is a great if i had to choose a will movie 100 percent independence day. But yeah i am legend, i am legend.

Jeffery:
Yeah absolutely that’s the one. Yeah or MIBs good too. He’s done yeah man we could do a whole whole interview just on will smith in his movies but yeah he’s he’s done a lot of great things so well mostly the best thing he’s done that’s a great thing is he created a fund so that’s all that matters. All the other stuff is okay but the fund thing that’s what keeps the world running and moving forward so i love it

Vik:
Absolutely. Yeah he’s a beast.

Jeffery:
Well Vic. I appreciate all your time today phenomenal we went through an amazing journey i got to finally pick some brain on blockchain and find out where the world’s going and i think at the end you know what you provided a ton of insight it was awesome. Big fan of your movie selection. i’m gonna go watch that one. but the way we like to end our shows is we want to provide you with the last words so the last thing that you’re gonna get to say to start up or to invest or whatever thing you want to share that’ll help them through tomorrow or through the next day i turn it over to you to give the last word.

Vik:
Yeah no thanks for that and first time again like thank you for having me i’m you know this is this has been by far the most fun podcast i’ve had. And i actually always appreciate when folks you know either making a conversation or just go off the beaten path then like tell me about your you know most favorite deal and it’s like you know so very much appreciate that. And as far as you know i get any advice to start you know one is actually like trust your gut a lot more than than like VCs like me. We will never understand and this is like such a shame of of like the power of capital formation and allocation in this world. But you know a lot of folks like just don’t get bogged down don’t you might have a have a friend that’s a founder that was able to raise money a lot easier than you might be able to but yeah i guess you know the one thing that i just i really like to say is like run your own race. You know there’s always going to be someone younger and smarter and and you know with more experience and you know there’s always going to be another competitor coming out of the woodwork and it’s like just focus on doing what you told your investors and we’re like on what you want to do and on what you want to build, don’t the rest is just riff raff and it’s just noise and as long as you execute on things that you you know you promised yourself and you promised your team then you know you laid it all out there and not gonna rehash the teddy roosevelt in the arena thing but like all those things are generally true but sincerely yeah no i mean i wish everyone the best of luck and then my email is i’m sure you’re gonna put this in the show notes but it’s vik@dreamers.vc. I respond to every single email, i try to. i hate the fact that you know so like the importance of a warm intro is so necessary you know other other folks will just send it to the trash can if it’s cold or something like i think that’s the it’s a terrible way to live and it’s really unfair and so i’m not saying that you know like you’re getting a term you know you’re getting money or a check or something but the least we can do is be decent and courteous you know in this world so yeah i mean please do reach out and and thanks again for having me.

Jeffery:
That was awesome. Yeah a lot of fun. Like he said provided so much cool stuff there with vik.
i loved it man trust your gut and run your own race man that’s impactful because that’s what startup world is all about it’s figuring out where you want to be man create your own world and then live in it take the insights take the info and drive it but yeah they’ve got a really cool fun they’re doing a lot of great things they’re following on and they’re helping make lots of investments and big fan of the whole will smith space and what they’ve done too so thank you again Vik and everybody for joining in

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