Spotlight: Nadia Eghbal `09

To kick off the Jumbo Ventures blog — where we showcase what fellow Jumbos are up to in the startup world — we’re shining the spotlight on Nadia Eghbal (AS `09). After the tough decision to wind down her startup Feast, she was recruited to join seed stage venture firm Collaborative Fund as a (San Francisco-based) Principal in May.

1. In one sentence, what defined your time at Tufts? What activities or studies were your focus?

Pushing my boundaries. College is a great place to try new things in a safe environment. My junior year abroad in Germany was one of the best years of my life, and I’m so glad Tufts encourages students to do that.

2. You co-founded the startup Feast in 2012 (creating an online bootcamp of cooking lessons) and entered the prestigious 500 Startups accelerator. What was the spark to go all-in on that company and pursue it full-time?

Honestly, there wasn’t a spark, and I think that’s a big reason why we decided not to keep going with it two years later. It was a problem my cofounder and I were excited to tackle, but in the end, passion (or lack thereof) won out. I think before anyone decides to start a company, they need to ask themselves, “Do I see myself working on this in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?” You don’t have to actually be at your company for the rest of your life, but you want to know that you’ll go to bat for what you’re doing.

3. How important do you think it is for a first-time entrepreneur to go through an accelerator like 500 Startups, Techstars, YC, etc.? Should they take it as a major warning about the quality of their business idea if they aren’t accepted?

Definitely not. I don’t think accelerators are for everyone, and they can also lead to a false comfort about the state of your business. Also, each accelerator is different, both in its focus/thesis (ex. 500 focuses on growth and distribution) and how they structure the program (ex. 500 founders work all together in one office, whereas YC founders work on their own). It’s important to familiarize yourself with those differences before applying and match that against what your company actually needs to move forward.

4. You’re new to the Collaborative Fund and the VC world. What has surprised you most about the first few months of your life on the investor side of the table?

So far, I’ve had as many ups and downs as an investor as when I was a founder. Because investing is a relationships business, when things don’t work out, it can feel much more personal than when things don’t work out for your company. The best investors are hustling all the time to identify and get in on the best deals. Your reputation is everything.

5. What startup trends most peak your interest as an investor?

I like companies tackling unsexier industries like healthcare, insurance, and fintech. We focus on companies that are making consumers’ lives easier, but a lot of people forget that that includes things like how we get a loan or sign up for insurance. Also, companies that are experimenting with interesting business models and monetization structures — I see it as a more implicit form of innovation.

From a more personal standpoint, I also like learning about companies that are making the internet a more democratic, decentralized and peer-owned place.

6. You inevitably see thousands of pitches from entrepreneurs wanting your interest. What’s distinctive about the ones that actually excite you?

I get excited by founders who have a compelling hypothesis on how our culture is changing, and demonstrate how their company fits into that picture. I also prefer having a thoughtful back-and-forth to a one-sided Q&A. Founders who stand for something often signify a strong brand.

7. Throughout the startup blogosphere entrepreneurs can find the advice to build relationships with VCs before they need to fundraise. At the same time, it’s important to make a strong first impression. When is the best time for an entrepreneur to get on your radar?

The best way to get an investor’s attention, I think, is through a warm connection. Not only because the recommendation will be coming in through someone I trust, but it also suggests to me that you’ve put in the work to figure out how to get in touch — and that says a lot about your dedication otherwise. Lowercase Capital removed their online contact form for this reason. It’s hard, but that means less people are doing it, so you cut through the noise. Similarly, people who build a relationship with me through my writing, Twitter, or a real conversation at an event.

8. What’s one simple thing you think alumni in Silicon Valley could do to create a stronger Tufts startup community?

Make themselves available as resources to others in the community who are trying to learn. I owe, and continue to owe, everything to people who are willing to take a chance on me, and I try to pay that forward. Everyone is busy, but one-to-many methods like blogging or speaking at events are other ways to share knowledge and resources.

You can read Nadia’s blog (helloimnadia.com) and follow her on Twitter (@nayafia) for more of her thoughts as an entrepreneur and investor.

You can get plugged into the community of Tufts University alumni and students in the startup world at jumboventures.squarespace.com.

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