My New Path: Spero Ventures

I’m delighted to announce that Shripriya Mahesh and I are partnering to lead a new $123MM fund at Spero Ventures.

I can’t say enough good things about Shripriya. I see in her a remarkable balance of product expertise, optimistic futurism, and empathetic leadership. Shripriya’s execution as global head of product at eBay during their most dominant growth stage is an essential resource. She has a wealth of firsthand knowledge about building online marketplaces, and a deep network of connections to the talented people who will build the next generation of technology companies.

Shripriya also brings to the table something extremely rare, especially among VCs: she spent over a decade as a filmmaker. All the best founders I’ve worked with have a strong appreciation for people with artistic sensibilities, because those people can do more to help them express their vision than almost anyone else. As Paul Graham articulated in his book Hackers & Painters, the connections between hackers and artists is rich. Both learn through the process of doing the work, and both do their best work when they can clearly empathize and express others’ point of view. The art of venture capital is exactly that, an art, and Shripriya’s artistic background helps her thrive as an investor.

Over the past year, we’ve built a lot of trust together as we envisioned the type of firm we’d like to build together. As part of that, I’m joining a truly astounding team: every day, I’m delighted to work with Sara, Marc, Jonathan, Stephen, and Brandon. This group has incredible energy, and everything they do is infused with their genuine enthusiasm for founders and their missions.

At Spero Ventures, we are building an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in the things that make life worth living, specifically: well-being, work & purpose, and human connection. We believe these areas are brimming with opportunities to build enormous wealth while making the world a better place — so I’m proud to commit to Spero’s mission.

Spero is also a good fit for me because we are focused on late Seed to Series A opportunities. This is a company-building stage in which I feel I’ve thrived in my career as an investor. It’s that exciting period when you have a product and a vision, and now as a founder, you need to figure out how to transition from building the product to building the company that builds the product. I love this phase of startup building and have partnered with dozens of founders that have flourished through this stage. In the art of venture capital, I improve only through practice — and I can’t wait to partner with the next generation of founders through this stage as we figure out this messy process together.

As for me, it’s been a year and a half since I was last gainfully employed. I left Spark Capital unsure of what I’d do next. I was happy (and privileged) to have space to explore what I wanted to do with infinite degrees of freedom. The first couple months I felt like I was wandering the desert, often easily distracted by shiny objects without the constraints of a job, which was simultaneously exciting and scary.

I’m deeply grateful to the community at South Park Commons (SPC). I joined the community in mid-2019, and the people there really inspired me. SPC is a community of makers and builders who want to take the space and time to explore what’s next together. Some members go on to found companies, others write books, others push the boundaries of knowledge in academia, and others join the next generation of fast-scaling growth companies.

At SPC I explored a couple different directions, and after a few months found a niche that made me feel great about how I was spending my time: helping aspiring founders through early challenges. I counseled founders on how to raise capital, how to establish a good initial relationship with a newly formed Board, how to balance power between cofounders, how to navigate cofounder breakups, and how to hire and fire your first employees. By navigating through fallow time without pressure to find my next thing right away, I was able to once again fall in love with my calling: supporting founders. I feel deeply indebted to the community at SPC for the support they provided me, and I’d highly recommend anyone at a similar stage in life consider joining.

With a renewed sense of purpose in how I enjoyed spending my time professionally, I started to explore the kind of firm I’d want to build. I was excited by the idea of really shaping the future of a VC firm — a new challenge I hadn’t sufficiently explored during my last 14 years in VC. That’s when Shripriya and I reconnected, and we were struck by how strongly aligned we were around the type of firm we aspired to build. We spent the rest of the year (a surprisingly productive quarantine) talking about the types of founders we loved to partner with, the purpose-led businesses we were certain would thrive in the future, and how to help build the future we wanted to live in.

Shripriya has built Spero with the support of our limited partner Pierre Omidyar over the last 5+ years, and he continues to support us in the fund we’re announcing today. While learning about the early days of eBay (in part through the great book The Perfect Store), I was struck by how Pierre exemplifies the curiosity, grit, and values of the types of entrepreneurs we partner with at Spero. Pierre and Pam continue to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems via The Omidyar Group, and we are privileged and humbled to have Pierre’s support.

Thank you to everyone at Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures for supporting my career to this point. VC is an art best learned through apprenticeship. You get the opportunity to watch those mentors who practiced the art before you, and, if you pay attention, you can pick the best ways in which they support founders and try to assimilate those into your own style. Both Spark Capital and USV have had a huge hand in shaping my approach to partnering with founders, and I’m grateful for the opportunities they gave me.

The biggest thank you of all I reserve for the founders who were willing to take the risk of partnering with a young tech geek early in my career. Without your faith that I’d be a good partner and board member, I’d really be nowhere. Faith is probably too small a word for the confidence necessary to take that risk. I’m in awe of what you’ve built and the problems you’re solving, daily. It’s only through your continued endorsement and referrals that I’m able to continue on my road.

I’m excited to return to my calling in supporting early stage founders. I’d love to hear from you. As always, I leave my email published on my personal website, and my DMs are open.

“Seeing ourselves clearly is the project of a lifetime.” -The Nix