I’m pleased to announce that we have raised Hustle Fund 1 and are actively investing in pre-seed software startups!
One of the things I’ve learned over the years as a founder and investor is that investing is not just about money. It’s much bigger than that. When I was raising money for my startup LaunchBit many many years ago, I went into my fundraise process mostly with the attitude of “I’m going to raise this money, and then I’m going to put it to work.” I didn’t think very deeply about the type of people I wanted to raise from and what they might be able to provide outside of money.
But looking back, that was a mistake. Fortunately, I coincidentally ended up working with a number of very value-add investors, who over time, became mentors and friends of mine. These are people who are current/past operators who have not only helped me build my network but have also given me great advice time and again about company building. It’s these relationships that have helped me grow personally and professionally well beyond my startup.
And so I want to use this post to talk a bit about who we are at Hustle Fund and what we are trying to accomplish. For today, I want to tell you about my business partners, Eric Bahn and Shiyan Koh, my fellow managing partners at Hustle Fund.
I’ve known Eric for a long time — for almost two decades. But, I really got to know him well a few years ago. In 2013, I was in Puerto Rico trying to take a vacation from my startup. In typical founder fashion, instead of relaxing, I ended up thinking of new ideas. In 2013, coding bootcamps had become really popular here in Silicon Valley. The mantra had become “Everyone! Learn how to code in order to start a company.” This is a perspective that I completely disagreed with. As an engineer by training, I do applaud anyone who wants to learn new technical skills, but I think it’s completely possible to build a large business without knowing how to code, and today there are countless examples of unicorn companies with non-technical founders. So, I wanted to start a contrarian side project — one that would help non-technical founders start their businesses without knowing how to code. What if you could provide these founders with tactical tips on how to get started — jumpstarting marketing and sales and customer acquisition before you even have a product? I didn’t want to do this side project by myself, so I randomly called up Eric and roped him into helping me with this new conference idea called Hustle Con.
Photo courtesy of Lesley Grossblatt
I called Eric, because 1) he wasn’t technical, and I thought that would add credibility. (If a sociology major could build a successful business, then anyone could! 🙂 ) And, 2) I was so impressed by how he built community at his startup Beat The GMAT (acq by The Daily Mail 2012), a social networking site for aspiring MBA students. In the early days of Beat the GMAT, whenever someone posted a GMAT question on his website, he would make it a point to answer that question within one hour. What impressed me in particular was that he did this even in the middle of the night! Aspiring MBA students from Asia would post GMAT questions at 3am Pacific time, and Eric would wake up and answer those questions. He did this for a whole year until he had built up the community at Beat The GMAT to answer their own questions quickly.
I think this is very telling of who Eric is. He works so hard — not only for himself but for the founders he backs. You will get a response from him pretty much within minutes most of the time. Not just friends of his — random people too. I’m not really sure how he is on top of email so much, but somehow he is.
My other business partner Shiyan Koh is also a long-time friend of mine and most recently an executive at NerdWallet, where she joined as employee #10, bootstrapped the business to $50M revenue run rate and grew the company to $100M+ revenue. Fun fact: we actually met at reading class in summer camp when we were five years old. I remember this, because she made the effort to extend her friendship to me when I was a shy little girl. She was pretty much my only friend that summer. This interaction is actually pretty representative of how we are today, because Shiyan is still one of the most avid readers I know, and she is also one of the friendliest people I know. People who don’t know Shiyan become instant friends with her, and she’s always connecting random people together. Case in point, I recently had a BBQ at my house with a small group of friends, and she brought her childhood piano teacher over. That was great (her piano teacher, by the way, is wonderful), though most people would be too shy or reticent to mix different groups of people together. But, Shiyan is one of the most inclusive people I know — making sure to connect different diverse networks and people, and this is a value that we hold deeply at Hustle Fund. Shiyan has recently moved back to Singapore, her home country, and will be focused on investing in South East Asia startups.
Photo courtesy of Meredith Narrowe
These one-off anecdotes are really the best way for me to describe my business partners. They both are first and foremost, open and welcoming people. I wanted to partner with down-to-earth people who have been there in the trenches of startup building at the earliest stages and can be helpful to our companies with great advice and connections as past operators. But above all, they are kind people and treat others well whether or not we decide to invest.
As for me, I’m probably the least social of the three — you will mostly find me sitting behind a computer typing posts or emails like these. Like Eric and Shiyan, I’ve also been in the trenches with many failed side projects as well as with my startup LaunchBit that I raised some seed money (~$1m) for and sold in 2014 to an adtech company on the east coast. It’s from these experiences, I’ve learned over years how to do sales, lead generation, and email marketing in scrappy ways.
One of the things that drives us at Hustle Fund is a big vision to change how startup investing happens. We’re not just starting this fund for the sake of starting a fund. A premise that we all believe in is that early stage investing is a black box and is not accessible or merit-based to all founders. And we want to change this.
We are working towards making the startup fundraising process:
- Open, transparent, and understandable
- Accessible to all founders globally
- Execution / merit-based
This is a 20-30 year plan for us that has multiple parts, and today, we are just tackling small pieces of this. And Hustle Fund won’t be able to tackle everything — this is a big mission that a small team cannot accomplish alone. But, if we can encourage others to start organizations or collaborate with funds or companies to further these goals, then we consider that a win in our larger mission.
If you’re a startup and if this all resonates with you, we would love to hear from you.