10 Questions w/ Ian Rountree & Amee Kapadia @ Cantos Ventures
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Cantos invests in near frontier tech that will change the world… and just might save it. We back deeply technical founders at inception across climate tech, TechBio, aerospace, and next-generation computing. Learn more & get in touch @ Cantos.vc
Ian Rountree started making angel investments in 2012 while on the early teams at SoFi and then Invisible Technologies. He founded Cantos in 2016 to continue backing world-positive startups at pre-seed & seed stage. In 2018, Cantos went all-in on “near frontier” startups across cutting edge hardware and wetware with a focus on billion-dollar opportunities in mitigating disease, climate change, poverty, conflict, and existential risk. Cantos typically invests $500K to $1M and prefers to be a startup’s first investor.
Amee Kapadia covers bio @ Cantos and is particularly fascinated by systems approaches to engineering biology or what we fondly refer to as TechBio. Prior to joining Cantos, she co-founded a breast oncology startup and interned for Alix Ventures and BIOS. She holds a BS & MS in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins where she focused on immunology.
We sat down with Ian & Amee to ask their viewpoints on everything from top founder portfolio traits, seeking mentorship, to advice on preparing for fundraising…
What are the top 3 common traits of founders in your portfolio?
“Magnetism (for talent, investors, and partners), ethics, and curiosity (which in turn breeds growth and ingenuity)”
How does your investment criteria change in a recessionary environment?
“Stricter valuation tolerance but that’s about it. Maybe we reserve a little more.”
How has your worldview evolved since you first started your VC career?
“I started by investing in founders and little else, then over-complicated underwriting the business, tech, and market. Now I’m back to mostly focusing on the founders with a heavy helping of more nuanced diligence.”
Outside of operating experience & higher education, what is one seemingly random thing you look for in a founder’s background?
“They started something when they were young — even a lemonade stand! Nothing signals hunger and gives innate understanding of operations than running even a simple operation at a young age.”
Outside of investing, what is one seemingly random activity that helps make you a better VC?
“Reading. It’s easy to get caught in an information storm, but if you intentionally curate the content you are consuming there is a lot to learn. Reading venture history has been especially insightful to see how great companies get built, even if they didn’t seem like great companies at the time.”
What has been the most helpful piece of advice you received throughout your career as a venture capitalist?
““It’s not about the ones you didn’t do but about the ones you did.” Everyone has wild anti-portfolios. Over-focusing on that is distracting and breeds FOMO. Venture firms are built on the founders they partner with. They should be your focus.”
As an early stage investor, we often pick companies whose directions change. Can you talk about pivoting vs. staying the course?
“There’s a difference between tacking and pivoting. Outright pivots are much more difficult when building bio or hardware startups. We don’t count on them. Tacking, however — making slight adjustments continuously in product, go-to-market, and sequencing priorities — is essential.”
As a founder building something new in the world, you are often in need of knowledge you don’t possess. How would you recommend founders go about seeking mentorship?
“Find mentors who are a few steps ahead of you, are willing to give you their time and energy, and want to see you succeed as a person and as a founder. As a sidenote, it’s incredibly helpful to find founder friends who are at similar stages as you in your company building journey. Trade notes with them, laugh with them, celebrate with them, cry with them. The community aspect other founders can bring can be a total game-changer.”
How does your evaluation process change when it comes to backing first-time vs. repeat founders?
“We’re willing to pay more for the latter and less for the former.”
How do you advise founders in your portfolio to prepare ahead of time for future fundraises?
“Run a tight process. Keep groups at a relatively similar point in the process so you’re not in late-stage discussions with one firm while just getting to know another. Be laser-focused on talking to potential leads at first. The rest of the round will come together.”
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Alix Ventures, by way of BIOS Community, is providing this content for general information purposes only. Reference to any specific product or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by Alix Ventures, BIOS Community, or its affiliates. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by Alix Ventures employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alix Ventures, BIOS Community, affiliates, and content sponsors.
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