April 16, 2024

Venture capital used to be a cottage industry, with very few investing in tomorrow’s products and services. Oh, how times have changed! While there are more startups than ever, there’s also more money chasing them. In this series, we look at the new (or relatively new) VCs in the early stages: seed and Series A.
But just who are these funds and venture capitalists that run them? What kinds of investments do they like making, and how do they see themselves in the VC landscape?
We’re highlighting key members of the community to find out.
John Frankel is the founding partner of ff Venture Capital.
Frankel founded the firm in 2008 and has been a seed and early stage investor since late 1999.
Prior to founding ffVC, Frankel worked at Goldman Sachs for 21 years in a variety of roles that involved technology development, reengineering and capital markets. At Goldman Sachs, he worked closely with some of the world’s leading hedge fund managers and developed a keen understanding of emerging technologies and portfolio risk/return management. 
Frankel started his business career in London with Arthur Andersen having earned a Master of Arts from New College, Oxford, where he studied Mathematics, Philosophy and Logic. He is a Fellow Chartered Accountant of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. He also sits on The NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s Board of Overseers.
VatorNew: Give me the larger picture about ff Venture Capital. what you’re all about, where you fit into the ecosystem, what’s your philosophy and your methodology is in terms of investing?
John Frankel: So, ff Venture Capital is an institutional quality, early stage venture firm. We’ve been around 14 years, and all we do is invest at the earliest stages, and help companies go from four or five people and a pitch deck, maybe pre-revenue, maybe post-revenue, to being a company of 40 or 50 people and being substantial. That is the philosophy, that’s the approach. How can we optimize, how can we derisk these early stage companies? Because there’s a tremendous fall off rate between seed and Series B.  
We have approaching 20 people, we have two main offices in New York and Warsaw; we set up our Warsaw office four years ago, and we were really proud of the team that we put together in both locations, and that we operate as one single firm in our approach. We’ve been doing this long enough that we have some of the mythical creatures in our portfolio, even though we start at seed; so we have some centaurs, we have some unicorns. About 10% of our portfolio gets to $100 million revenue run rate, which is about 10 times the average in the industry, and about half the companies we fund at seed go on to raise a Series B, which is about five times the average in the industry. So, we resolve for higher survivorship and, unlike a lot of funds that start small and get bigger and bigger and bigger, we like running relatively small funds because we see tremendous opportunity in that space, and there’s just a depth of capital that. In conjunction with this, we have core US funds, we have a Warsaw fund and we recently announced that we were launching a Ukraine focused fund, in fact the first US VC to have a Ukraine focus fund. That’s targeted at $ 50 million, so it’ll be one of the largest funds dedicated to the early stage in Ukraine.
VN: I’d love to do a deeper dive into why youdecided to launch the Ukraine focused fund, and how exactly that fund works.
JF: Let’s deal with the why: the best question when I’m asked, “why?” is, “why not?” Why wouldn’t you do it? Let’s think about that: you had increasing amounts of venture capital invested in Ukraine, Ukraine was getting a disproportionate amount of Central and Eastern European capital over the last few years, and it’s because there’s so many talented individuals there. There’s over 240,000 graduate engineers in Ukraine, over 100 R&D centers for US-backed companies, like Nvidia and Google. Large unicorns formed in Ukraine, companies like WeChat, People.ai, GitLab, and the like. So, it’s a really interesting space, capital is going up; in fact, last year, $832 million was invested by VCs in the space. Now, some of those were Russian VCs and, clearly, no more Russian money’s going in. And some of them were international VCs, particularly at the later stages, like Andreessen and other storied VCs. 
But what’s happened is, since then its risk-off; now, its risk-off in VC, generally, but particularly within Ukraine. Meanwhile, entrepreneurship doesn’t stop because of wars, we actually believe it accelerates entrepreneurship. So, just as when you have recessions and downturns in a peacetime economy, that creates enormous opportunities, change in use behavior, cheap assets, and great companies to start in downturns, in the same way, what we’re seeing is the war is strengthening the resolve of Ukrainians and founders, and they’re like, “What can I do to help?” They can clearly go to the front but, if they don’t want to be in the front, they apply their skills to helping grow the company, because they know that helps the economy be strong. So, we think there’s a paucity of capital focused on Ukrainian founders. Now, our fund will invest in Ukrainian founders, whether they’re based in Ukraine or outside, and we’ll be deploying capital for many years. We hope that all this war will be over in a matter of months but you never know, so, in the interim, we want to help Ukrainian companies grow and become significant. And the nature of venture is exponential growth, so the company that raises $1 million dollars in one year, a couple years later is raising $5 or $10 million, and a couple years later is raising $20 or $50 million. And all of that has spin off effects with regard to employment and stimulating the economy and growing Ukraine’s place in the world.
VN: What do you like to invest in? Is that different when it’s the Ukrainian-focused fund, or when you’re investing in Warsaw versus the US? Are the categories the same or are they different based on geography?
JF: We have a thesis, which is that want to invest in companies where the growth isn’t tied to economic growth, that the drivers are not cyclical drivers but secular drivers, where the addressable market is huge, where we believe the team can build a dominating company in that space, and where that space itself is growing in interest. You have your back to the wind, a big market, a great team, and if the economy slows a little, it shouldn’t impact the company until it’s so big that it becomes economically sensitive. 
Across all our funds, we have focused more on enterprise than consumer in the spaces of FinTech, drones, robotics, and applied AI within enterprise. So, about 80% of our business is enterprise and drones are an important space for us: we’re hosting a big conference, with about 300 to 400 people signed up, for next Tuesday in New York. Anyone who wants to come it’s open to the public and we’re bringing some really great folks together. It’s an example of us saying, “if you’re thinking drones and robotics, think ffVC.” 
So, now coming to Ukraine: clearly, Ukraine is strong in all those areas. We’re believers that necessity is the mother of invention and so the areas that have been put under pressure are around defence and around cybersecurity, we think there’ll be some very interesting companies that come up. We see Ukrainians as an entrepreneurial community and they will think of new ways to solve problems and turn those into businesses, so we’re going in eyes wide open, we don’t just have narrow blinkers on. We think there will be new spaces, new companies, new ways of doing things that will come out of this, that will be fascinating. In 2019, we invested in a company called Respeecher that clones voices, in what you could describe as the deep fake audio space, so I talk and you hear Tom Hanks in a real time conversion. The company has won Emmys for work they’ve done on the Mandalorian, they de-aged Luke Skywalker’s voice, they de-aged Darth Vader for the Book of Boba Fett; they’ve done a lot of work with Disney, some is public, some is not, and they’ve done work for other studios. They want to enable any creative who needs a voice in a certain style, and the like, so it’s not just celebrity voices. And you go, “well, okay, so why would the celebrity want to have their voice cloned?” Maybe they’re the kid who does Peppa Pig’s voice and they get older, maybe they’re in the tail end of their career, and it’s a way for them to steal all the equity they built within the community around their voice and how they sound, they can earn money from that whilst they’re sitting on the beach. It has to be done in the appropriate, moral way and this company is doing phenomenally. They had a Russian aggression plan, we worked with them on it, the war moved a little faster, about 40% of the team is still in Ukraine today, and they’re growing like gangbusters. They’re hiring, they got a big fundraising round coming up, and the company is going from strength to strength, despite all the adversity. Now, when you do Zoom calls with the CEO, the only light on his face is from the screen because they don’t want to attract the bombers, they’ve got heavy curtains up and the like, notifications are silenced on his phone but, outside of that, at some strange level it’s business as normal. At the beginning of the war he sent his wife and his child out of the country, then things calmed down and so he called them back; humans are adaptable, we get used to a lot of stuff. You can’t normalize the murder and death and sadness and everything else that’s going on there, but people live on, and they’re doing what’s right. Meanwhile, he and his team are driven to make this company incredibly successful in order to strengthen Ukraine and we see that as something we can help with this fund. 
That’s an example of very deep tech, the best team we found in Ukraine, they’re going gangbusters and the war comes along and they don’t miss a beat. This is what entrepreneurship is about: entrepreneurship is taking all the bad news and turning it into good news, somehow. 
VN: What are the macro trends that you’re betting on. I guess you already talked about what those are in Ukraine but, outside of Ukraine, what are some of the other trends that you’re seeing that you’re betting on right now?
JF: I was at Goldman for 21 years and last 11 years on the sales and trading floor, covering hedge funds, and so I’ve talked to a lot of macro guys. So, it’s like some of that’s a little bit in my blood. My expectation is the stock market’s going to take out its lows; I feel the technicals are weak and I think that informs. We can talk about the why’s but there’s a lot of pressure with regard to the economy right now and there’s been confusion between prices going up and inflation; they’re not the same thing. Supply and demand disruptions are reverberating their way through the US, the war is causing energy disruptions, and then China has put itself into a box, because they never had an effective vaccine and the virus is getting more contagious and more potent and the way to solve it is shut things down, which is causing more supply chain shocks through the system. But, whatever the reason, the stock market is going to have some air let out the ties and that will bleed through into venture, it’ll bleed through into psychology, though over time the psychology less so, but, ultimately, medium and longer term, growth has been at a premium and growth will be at a premium. If you can double revenues every year, you will get a better premium than if you only grow revenues 10% every year, it’s just the nature of it, and there’s a ton of capital that will look for growth. And so, I do believe that investing in technology, and the best way to invest in technology is venture, and the best way to invest in venture, I believe through the cycle, is early stage venture, is going to continue to be a good place. Will there be quarters where we mark things down, where we mark things up, where we mark things sideways? Absolutely. But, fundamentally, if revenues continue to grow, and businesses are not driven by the economy, but secular drivers, then you end up with growth powering through. So, that’s like the big macro. 
The only thing to understand is VCs have a lot of dollars and they can only sit on their hands for so long, people are not that disciplined and so, at some point, you’re going to start seeing the capital working its way into companies. There were companies that raised a lot of money last year when money was very cheap; if they can use that money to continue to grow and get to profitability, they’re not going to be raising. So, the large companies raising now are the ones that need to raise and they will break terms and they will break the price if needed, they’ll do down rounds if needed, and they will carry on but the capital is there. Good companies will continue to power through and if they can really grow and build out against the secular drivers that they have, then that is going to be very powerful. I’ve read that there were 1,000 companies that raised north of $1 billion dollars that had sub-$20 million in revenues; I don’t believe that but, if that were the case, there’s a world of hurt that will happen because multiples have compressed way down from that, and that hurt will bleed through into a lot of the VC funds that backed companies at those valuations. But it will work its way through and in a year or two we’ll be talking about other stuff.
VN: What you see happening with the market, does that affect in any way the way you like to invest?
JF: We’re very deliberate in our investing so, yes, it will have an impact. We’ve looked at all of our companies, we have 89 active portfolio companies and said, “How many of these are under funding duress?” And we said, “probably about 10,” and I think half of those will be fine, and the other half may or may not be fine, there’s a lot of luck in venture. If this stress test on our portfolio results in a 6% failure rate, that’s bearable. Now it may be bigger, who knows? You never know. When things start to decline, you don’t know what they’ve declined to, you don’t know how long the funding gap will be; we’re assuming a few years but you don’t know how that plays out. But we were very fortunate that a lot of our companies raised considerable sums last year, we already had about 15% of our portfolio being profitable, we’ve had a portfolio that’s been tilted towards non-cyclical growth, so we haven’t done a lot in restaurant tech and travel tech and the like. In fact, we saw very strong revenue growth over the last couple of years and multiple expansion; now we’re seeing strong revenue growth, and multiple contraction. So, for us, very little. Some of the late stage valuations our companies get will be more muted, but we’ll see. I mean, we’ve seen a number of operands this year, so we’ll see how that plays out. 
At the earliest stages, I like to use this analogy, that if you think of an ocean, at the top of the ocean you have a storm, and that’s the public markets, and the winds are blowing up and the waves are noisy; as you go deeper in the ocean, it gets more and more muted. And then at the early stage, the impact of a lot of the frothiness we saw over the last couple of years was more muted for the type of companies we invest in. Now, there were $100 million pre-seed rounds, we just didn’t do that. As I said, we tend to be deliberate and disciplined but there was some buoyancy to pricing and some of the air is being led out of that now, but if you were the VC who was chasing these valuations on the belief that, “:I’ll pay 20 times because someone’s gonna pay 30 times, or I’ll pay 40 times someone’s gonna pay 50 times,” you’re in a world of hurt now, but that’s not our approach. Our approach has been very value driven, we’re looking to generate very high multiples on our winners, 50 times, 100 times, 150 times, and that gives a lot of insulation. If you got something that’s up 150 times, you only make 50 times your money, there are worse things in the world. So, that’s our approach: high multiples on companies that can win through.
VN: What’s the size of your funds? And how many investments do you make per year?
JF: We’d look to make about 10 or so investments a year, but we’re not the, “we have to make investment in this month, what’s the best investment?” so they do tend to bunch up. It really ebbs and flows. We look at about 3,000 companies a year and if we invest in 10, then that’s great. So, we unfortunately say no to a lot of people, it’s not because they may not be great companies, it’s a matter of finding the right mix and the connectivity, we like founders where we’re completing each other’s sentences if we can. Regarding the fund size, in this Ukraine fund, we’re looking to win about 20 or so companies, follow-on deeply in subsequent rounds, and bring them into the US VC community, and bring other strong VCs into subsequent rounds. So, we see ourselves as a bridge between Eastern Europe and Europe in general, and the US.
VN: What stage are you actually investing in? So, is that seed or pre-seed?
JF: I hate those terms. For our US fund, we tend to put in somewhere around about $300,000 to $700,000, and that used to be seed and now they call it pre-seed, whatever. In our European funds, we tend to start a little bit later, probably the next stage later, when we put capital to work, so that’s probably a $5 to $10 million sized round, as opposed to a $2 to $3 million size round. And then, in both cases, follow-on up to a certain level and then stop. We don’t believe you get good portfolio construction by investing in Series seed, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, within the same portfolio.
VN: Talk to me about traction, especially because you’re investing so early. At that point, are there specific numbers you want to see from companies in terms of ARR or number of customers or anything like that? Or is it too early for that traction?
JF: It really depends. For some companies, the CEO walks in the room and says, “this is the idea that I want to back,” and we go, “Oh my God, we’ve been thinking about that” or, “that makes so much sense,” and we become a believer. In those situations, you don’t really need traction. It’s like, “okay, great, we get it, we want to back this.” In most situations, they’re coming in with some group of business model, early revenues, early customers and the like, and there it’s less of a religious investment and a little bit more numbers driven. It’s very idiosyncratic. So, we back the company called Manna out of Dublin, and they do last mile food delivery. They believe they can deliver food sub-$5 of delivery, maybe as low as $1 delivery, at a full blown scale. If you use UberEATS, or any of these other delivery companies, their costs are really close at $10 to $12, and they can only do that if they batch up orders, and then it takes you half an hour to get your soggy hamburger. A drone delivering it, and in sub-three minutes at a cost of $1 is revolutionary, not evolutionary. So I met the CEO about six months before the company was actually founded, we led the seed round, and he’s telling me what he wants to do and I go, “this is ridiculous on, like, seven levels.” Will the regulators allow it? Will the consumers want it? Will the merchants want it? Will it be too noisy? Will it fall out of the sky and kill people? I said, “even though it’s ridiculous on seven levels, I think you can address all seven of them.” And so, we backed it with zero traction, just an idea; today, they’re 100 people, up and running, doing 150 deliveries a day in a suburb of Dublin. They’re looking to launch in the US next year and they’re on a pathway to get that cost below the costs of DoorDash and UberEATS and the like, with a much higher customer satisfaction and a much better product. So there’s many reasons why it makes sense, but there was no traction. Other companies we’ve invested in, we’ve seen some initial numbers, we go, “okay, this makes a lot of sense,” and then we’ve dug in and done due diligence and we’ve backed them at that stage. 
VN: When I first started doing this column, I would ask VCs,” what’s the most important thing, especially at the early stages, to invest in?” And every single venture capitalist who answered that question said, “the team.” Is that the case for you? And what do you look for in that team, in that entrepreneur or that founder? What do you want to see from them to make you want to invest in them?
JF: We used to have someone on our team who was very task oriented and he was like, “Okay, let me create a checklist and then I can just go out and, if companies hit the checklist, then I know we should invest.” And I was like, “yeah, no, that doesn’t work.” It’s like pornography, you know it when you say it. I said, “if there’s a checklist, let’s say there’s 12 items, every company is going to fail on two or three items that we ended up investing in, it would just be a different two or three.” At the early stage, it is very qualitative, not quantitative, so when you have a founder comes in, you clearly want someone who’s a leader, someone who you want to work with, and wants to work with you. You want someone who can sell because, ultimately, the day they start a company it’s an idea and they’re saying to someone, “give me $100,000 for 10 percent of this company,” and suddenly it’s worth $1 million dollars. They have to convince someone to hand it over, so you need people who are going to raise money, who can sell customers, who have a vision, a direction where things are going. If you’re going to a money manager and you’re going to give him money to manage, you go, “do they make good decisions? Do they have a good process? Will they make all those small little decisions to take the money I give them and make it bigger?” In the same way, when you go to a founder, you go, “are they going to make all the micro decisions that make sense?” So, yes, it is very people driven but we also want something that can be a business, not just a science experiment. So, some founders come in and they’re very technical and they go, “we’ve got this great technology that can be used for 10 different things, give us money.” And we’re like, “okay, but which is the first thing? What are the metrics? How would you make that into a business where you spend $1 and you get $3 back.” So, we’re a very numbers driven firm. CEOs tend not to be CPAs, for some reason, but we really like them to understand contribution margins, product line P&Ls, the management accounting side of their business; we think that is an essential skill set. And if they don’t have it, can we help them and train them and get them the service providers to do that? 
We want them to be people who listen. We like them to listen to us, every now and then we have a good idea, but listen to the marketplace. So, early revenue is important and if you have the CEO who goes, “no, I’m going to build it and in four years this is going to be great. And then we can think about how to monetize it,” you’re probably not the CEO for us. So, we like early revenues, not just because it’s a cheap form of capital but the information content is incredibly high in revenue. “Oh, you like this and not that? I’ll do more of this and less of that.” It’s incredibly instructive as opposed to someone who says, “I’ll spend $5 or $10 million building out something and then turn it on,”” and no one really cares.
VN: Let’s talk about ffVC and your differentiation, starting with LPs. Are you going after the same LPs as other firms? And what’s your pitch to them to say, “here’s why I should deploy your capital”?
JF: Someone once put it to me like this, “a VC is a fundraiser who, every now and then, gets to invest.” So, the VCs are the lifeblood of this business and there are people who invest in many funds, maybe there’s a few who only invest in one fund, but they’re fairly small. So, generally, you’re talking to the same LPs. Now, fund size is important; if you have an LP who can only cut a $15 million check, you don’t go to him or her with a $40 million fund. So, you have to find the ones who play in the area you like to play in, that understand what you bring to the table, that works for their particular investment schedule right now, that they have a bandwidth for, that they’re interested in. So, there’s a lot of courtship in fundraising and that’s fine. It’s just the nature of the beast but it does take a lot of time and energy. It’s their hard earned money that they’re trusting us with so we want to give them as much transparency into how things are performing, access to the companies, access to subsequent rounds and the like because we think that’s important. We built the organization around that aspect. 
For this Ukraine fund, we’re taking a slightly different angle: we found in our early socialization of it, we would go into a room and either the LP would just get it and say, “where do I send my check?” or they would say, “I don’t get it,” and we’re of the view that if you don’t get it, great, we’ll come back for the second fund or the third fund, by which point you may or may not get it. But this Ukraine fund is resonating in a way that we just have not seen in other fundraisers; it’s emotional for people, they want to help, and they understand that they can help. They don’t have to send money to charities; they can, but they may not want to be buying mortars and uniforms and other things charities are doing to help Ukraine. They can help Ukraine and generate a financial return. Someone on stage at SALT, a Ukrainian founder, said, “investing in this fund is the best impact investing you can ever do.” I told her after, “I’m going to steal that term,” because this really is impact investing. There’s no two ways about it, this is going to help Ukraine in so many subtle ways that we’re just not going to be able to understand but we’ll know we’ll have done a little bit to contribute to this. 
VN: It’s interesting that you said that it’s more of an emotional thing than it usually is in venture. But, obviously, it’s not purely emotional. 
JF: To be clear, this fund is not a charity. I’m putting my capital in, other partners are putting capital in, this is to make strong financial returns, we think very fair prices, into a market where other capital is drawn out. But understand, this is a good cause. Helping Ukrainian companies is helping the winning team, it’s morally the right thing to do. You want to cast things in terms of good and evil, it’s a good thing to do. And so, it is impact investing but totally with a financial objectives and the like. And some people just get it. They go, “okay,” and they see the four things alone, they go, “great, where do I sign up?”
VN: I feel like it’s rare to have that in venture, make those financial returns but also to do good. Not that people aren’t doing good in venture; they’re investing in companies and obviously there’s a positive impact there, but to really have that kind of positive impact in venture seems to be a pretty rare thing.
JF: As a team, we’re humbled to be able to do this. We’re the only US VC that has an office in New York and in Warsaw, we’re is a natural bridge into Central Europe. This comes along, and my partner Mariusz Adamski goes, “let’s create a Ukraine fund.” I have a great belief that things don’t happen without the force of will and so we’ve done this, and we looked around and said, “we’re uniquely placed to help,” and this is how we can help. So why would we not? We started talking to people, and we got tremendous reception; we’ve got $30 million of anchor LPS into this, we’re open on about another $20 million, and we think this is going to be a very significant impact that we can bring to bear. It’ll be slow, but it’ll be slow and deliberate and compounding, like most other things in venture are and, at the same time, people can feel that they’re getting a strong financial return and doing the right thing. Again, we walk into the room, the LPs that get it just get it, They’re like, “I want in, how can we participate?” and we think that’s great. It is unusual. 
VN: What about your differentiation from the point of view of the entrepreneurs? I feel like entrepreneurs especially now have a lot of optionsa And they can go to a lot of different venture capitalists, especially the really good ones. So, what’s your pitch to them?
JF: Our pitch to entrepreneurs is very simple: we go, “we can tell you we’re the good guys and the good girls, we can tell you we walk on water, but that’s boring. Let’s pick three or four of any of our founders and talk to them.” I shared a stat with you earlier that if we invest at the seed stage, you’re five times more likely to get to a Series B. So, what’s that mean? Let’s look at numbers: if there’s 100 seed stage companies, 30 raise an A, 10 raise a B, one goes public. In our portfolio, and we have 14 years of data, 75 raise A and 50 raise a B. So, we say to the founders, “look, if we’re on your cap table, you’re five times more likely to get to Series B than that we’re not. So, go talk to some founders and they’ll tell you what we did, the unnatural acts of things we did that got you to B.” So, they start telling them the things we did and we’ve had situations where companies called us up and said, “Hey, I can’t make payroll,” and we’re like, “here’s a quarter million dollars, now let’s sort out the round.” If you know VC math, everyone expects a third of your companies to fail, a third to be boring, a third to generate some returns, and 10% of your portfolio to generate 85% of your returns. They expect it to be very constrained. So, if someone calls up and says, “I’ve got a problem,” VCs are busy so they go, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” We sit on boards, we lead rounds, we’re highly engaged with the companies. We bring them to the right accounting firms, we embed them in our community, we organize 100 to 200 events a year. We get them in front of other VCs, we help them mentor, we get the right service providers for them. There’s just a whole series of things we do. That’s why we have a relatively large team, we invest in our companies. So, we’re not the VC, or rarely the VC, where the CEO calls and says, “Hey, we’re closing a round this week, are you in?” We’re the VC who says, “let’s talk about how we need to structure the financing. What’s the right type of round? Who are you going to go to? Let’s introduce you, let’s review your deck.” And then, God forbid something awful happens, I broke up with my founder, my COO has been arrested, or whatever the story is, we get involved, and we tend to help. Now, sometimes we step back, we’re not in charity business, we’re in the business of helping build great companies, but great companies can trip over their shoelaces. And what happens is our founders tell the prospective founder, “if you want to work with ffVC, this is what they like, and this is what they’ll do and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.” And then they come back, and then we talk about us participating and if they don’t like to hear that, like, “nah, VCs are just money,” that’s a piece of diligence for us and we should never work with them. We want to work with people who want to collaboratively help them. And if that’s not what they’re looking for, then that’s not what they’re looking for.
VN: You mentioned earlier that you started out in Goldman Sachs and worked on Wall Street and in the finance world. What was it that led you to get into venture? And what are some of the things that you’ve learned since becoming a VC?
JF: Oh, gosh, I’ve learned so much, that’s what I love about the job, I’m constantly being educated. When I was at Goldman, I worked in an environment where, on the trading floor, you’re at the far end of the number of bell curves. And it was a unique environment: everybody’s smart, everybody’s educated, everybody’s driven. Culturally, it was just a very rarefied atmosphere and I thought that would never be replicated. And yet, I get to work with some of the smartest, most driven people in the world who are having a real impact around them. I mean, to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be delusionally optimistic, you have to believe that millions of people are going to adopt your idea, that organizations are going to change what they do because you said they should change what they do. It’s delusionally optimistic but not everyone who’s delusionally optimistic makes a successful entrepreneur. I love being on the optimistic side, I love working with companies trying to do things. So, I come in the morning, and I’m thinking about the world one way and I leave that evening with a completely different mindset, because someone’s just come in and just blown my mind about how the world should work. I mean, that’s amazing stuff. 
VN: What’s the part of the job that you really love the most when you go to work every day, as a VC, what really motivates you to do this?
JF: It’s seeing entrepreneurs be successful. It’s very simple and it takes a long time, it can take a decade, but you come in and you work with someone over a long period of time, and they just become mature, capable, successful individuals, and you materially impacted their lives.
VN: Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
JF: We have a newsletter that goes to about 33,000 people, it’s part of our giving back to the community. We call it our Gives / Asks / News, where we give things to the community, we ask of the community, and it goes out twice a month.  

MEC invests in cell therapy, gene therapy, regenerative medicine, synthetic biology, and AI
Genoa Ventures invests at the intersection of biology and technology
Distributed Ventures funds startups in the fintech, healthtech, and insurtech industries
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