Semil Shah

Investor via Haystack Fund

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON June 06, 2017

Discussion

Semil@semil · Product, Swell
Hi Everyone, Semil here. I am an investor and writer based out of Silicon Valley. I created and invest out of a small fund called Haystack, which is proud to be an early investor in over 70 companies, including Instacart, DoorDash, Hired, and Managed By Q (see full portfolio here). I am also Venture Advisor to GGV Capital, and am proud to serve on the Advisory Boards of StrictlyVC and The Alpha Network. Ask me anything!
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Community Lead, Product Hunt
Where do you think the most interesting opportunities are in the cryptocurrency & blockchain space?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@bentossell I focus on two areas: 1/ Who is rebuilding S3 and what are their backgrounds? and 2/ Smart hedge strategies as most people don't know what will work over time.
Nick Abouzeid 🕴@nickabouzeid · Social & Growth at Product Hunt
How do you feel about the rise of ICOs as a fundraising mechanism for young companies to circumvent traditional fundraising practices?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@nickabouzeid It's great! Time will tell how sustainable these are. I also expect both the SEC and IRS to monitor.
Patrick M. Hodgdon@patrickh · Storytelling & Go-To Market Strategy 💡🚀📈
What's the deal that you wish you could go back and do that you passed on at the time?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@patrickh It's important to caveat this by saying these are ones I had access to but didn't act in time or didn't see it: Coinbase. Casper. Numerai.
Ayrton De Craene@ayrton · Code @ Product Hunt
What is the number one piece of advice you ever received?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@ayrton In a work context, that only the paranoid survive; in a personal context, to focus on being grateful for what we have vs seeking out other things and desires.
Nick Abouzeid 🕴@nickabouzeid · Social & Growth at Product Hunt
@semil @ayrton Can you expand on when it's productive to be paranoid? Interpersonally?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@nickabouzeid @ayrton my belief in work, especially in the Valley, is that everyone around you is smarter than you, and that people are very innovative, so the best chance for survival is to be hyper aware of that dynamic and let that infuse how you work. Can't take anything for granted.
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · Words @ProdcutHunt & @AngelList
Hey @Semil! Thanks for joining us :) How did you get started with angel investing? What were your first few deals like, how did you know those were companies/founders you should invest in, and what have you done that's worked particularly well that helps you get into deals?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@nivo0o0 I started my first fund, my first investing activities ever, in Q1 of 2013. I started investing other peoples' money in a fund because I couldn't get a real job at a VC firm. When I started investing, I didn't know what I was doing, to be perfectly frank. I knew a lot of founders and had some intuitions about people and products I was drawn to, and I had some intuition about looking for certain patterns, and I just started to ask to invest and since I was early and small, people said "sure, OK." Here are some of the seed investments from my first 18 months of investing: Hired, Instacart, Hashicorp, HelloSign, DoorDash, Envoy, Navdy, Pillow, AltspaceVR, BlockScore, Cambly, Narvar, and Giphy. Some of these could be billion-dollar outcomes. One could be really really huge. I was very fortunate, now looking back.
Sherad Louis-Charles@slouischarles
@semil @nivo0o0 That's impressive especially for the first 18 months. What do you think made you successful?
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · Words @ProdcutHunt & @AngelList
@semil wow, quite an impressive list. Love the 2nd line "I started investing other peoples' money in a fund because I couldn't get a real job at a VC firm." 👌
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@nivo0o0 That's the truth. I tried for 18 months and eventually hit rock-bottom. Luckily, I had some friends who encouraged me to try this and then I got lucky.
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@slouischarles @nivo0o0 not sure if it's successful yet, but if I had to isolate one thing: reading people.
DRFarrell@d_r_farrell
What are some areas or problems you wish more people would try to solve with some real business opportunity? Anything very specific?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@d_r_farrell I want to co-found a Calendar startup!
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Community Lead, Product Hunt
Hey Semil thanks for joining us today! If you were to be a youngun starting out in tech today where would you focus your energy?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@bentossell First, I would try to learn how to invest. I don't mean VC investing, just any kind of investing. Just to develop that muscle.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Community Lead, Product Hunt
@semil I like @naval and @nivi 's post http://venturehacks.com/articles... - are there any others you'd highly recommend?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@bentossell @naval @nivi I would just read all of Naval's back catalog and tweets and his podcast interviews. All of his content could be a book or college course. I don't have much to add.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Community Lead, Product Hunt
@semil @naval @nivi I thought that may be the case
Seth Williams@sethbwilliams · Designer, Product Hunt
What does success look like for you?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@sethbwilliams In a work context, to earn the respect of founders and investors I respect; in a personal context, to control my schedule and pace of work so I can create opportunities for my family to spend time with each other during the precious years we have together.
Radial@radialtt
Hey Semil, we're struggling with focus right now. When you can go after 2 different markets (consumer vs corporations) with a product, what framework should we use to decide who to choose?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@radialtt Hard to know without context, but in the absence of that, let the market decide?
Ellie Li@li_ellie · Co-Founder@Projections.io #DidYouSeeThat
How do you think your product experience at Swell have helped you evaluate investment opportunities as a VC?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@li_ellie Well, I don't really invest in mobile, so that's one! Mobile distribution is hard. I also don't really invest in "AI or ML" the way it's being thrown around. We did that, too, we just didn't call it that. It was a feature of a larger solution. So, I don't think it really informs anything I do today other than just avoiding certain areas, like investing in SDKs.
Venkat Mocherla@vmocherla · analyticsMD
What is the best way to build a network in the bay area?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@vmocherla Help people and follow-up. Take a pen and notebook. Ask others if they need help. Then, go help them or find those folks who can help them.
Venkat Mocherla@vmocherla · analyticsMD
@semil Thank you!
Rishi Athanikar@arishi_ · Product Manager. Cofounder of Beander.
Hi Semil, thanks for joining us. What would you say is the biggest mistake founders make when trying to raise seed capital?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@arishi_ They're too casual about the process.
Meka Este-McDonald@meka012 · Product Manager, Entrepreneur
What signs led GGVC to believe in the impending value of the Chinese tech market before the rest of the SV investor community?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@meka012 I can't really speak for GGV in this respect. GGV was started in 2001 with a core thesis that the world's two dominant economies -- US & China -- would be intertwined, and building a partnership that invested across these regions from the same pool of capital could empower the partnerships to build unique insights and translate that into winning investments. In short, it was the right thesis and it worked.
Meka Este-McDonald@meka012 · Product Manager, Entrepreneur
@semil makes sense, so it was about China's prominent position in the world and the continued interconnected and interdependent future of the US and them. That said, if you were to build a US - Region X dual model today, what would that second region be? For example, Africa has a similar GDP and population as China did 12 years ago, but is obviously fragmented politically and is not currently "dominant" in the sense that China was in 2000. I don't know if there is a dormant tech sector in a superpower waiting to explode, but there is definitetly emerging markets that may have similar upside in tying an investment thesis to them early.
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@meka012 Great question, one I'm afraid I'm not qualified to answer, but your logic makes sense to me. The continent of Africa just seems to be brewing with all sorts of leapfrog opportunities and a hunger/desire to win. Ironically, it has been Chinese investors to date who have been most creative investing in Africa.
Snah Desai@s_haverford · Operations Analyst, ServiceTitan
Do you wear a watch every day? And if so what watch do you wear?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@s_haverford I used to since I was a kid, but stopped about a year ago. I tried Apple Watch but didn't like it. So now, nothing: http://blog.semilshah.com/2015/0...
Sherad Louis-Charles@slouischarles
Food delivery startups, many whom received funding have started to die. Why do you think that is and what factors do you think trigger this in an industry where a clear leader begins to emerge? Also do you see this in the near future for any other industry?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@slouischarles I should note here that I was an early investor in both Instacart and DoorDash, and both companies are doing very well. I am also friends with Bastian from Postmates, Tri and Conrad from Munchery, Gagan from Sprig, Jeff from OrderAhead. These are outstanding founders and very talented. There are many reasons why there's pressure on the space, some briefly listed here: - UberEATS rollout - Tightening growth capital post Q1 of 2016 - Many consumers perceive these services to be interchangeable (except Instacart) - These companies started before a proper 3PL network (third-party logistics) rolled out - These companies started before automation and robots took over the kitchen and delivery
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hey Semil! If you were starting from zero, what couple of things would you do that would lead you closer to becoming a well-known investor?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@theo_dimarhos "well-known" in what regard? I am not sure I understand the question. Could you be more specific?
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
@semil Sorry if I wasn't clear. Essentially, what would one need to show an investor to be included in one of their deals without a long track record?
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Thanks for taking the time. How can a business development professional help investors achieve their goals?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@theo_dimarhos Help build a process around a deal pipeline.
Patrick M. Hodgdon@patrickh · Storytelling & Go-To Market Strategy 💡🚀📈
Have you seen any interesting new(er) startups in the talent development or employee engagement/culture space?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@patrickh There are lots here. Probably too many to list. I'm an investor in Workramp. Another good one is BetterUp. I really like the founders of both of these companies so perhaps I'm biased.
Alex Hardy@canthardywait · Former investment banker
What are your favorite organization / productivity techniques?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@canthardywait Because we have 3 little kids and we both work, once a month I leave town Tue-Thur and just get a hotel away from founders and investors and just work in isolation, without interruption.
Hong@quan · Mechanic, Karmic Bikes
@semil @canthardywait you mean with the family or by yourself?
Semil@semil · Product, Swell
@quan @canthardywait oh by myself! haha. no one else around.
Kaitlyn Hanrahan@kaitlynhanrahan · Simply.Digital
@semil @quan @canthardywait So then does your partner also get a monthly retreat?