Costanoa Access Fellowship Spotlight: Javaughn Lawrence

As a first generation college grad and immigrant, Javaughn’s drive and intelligence immediately caught our attention. Originally from Jamaica, Javaughn attended Yale University before consulting at Bain and working at LinkedIn. He is incredibly passionate about entrepreneurship (dreams to start his own company) and loves technology (specifically AI/ML). Here are some highlights from his summer so far, in his own words:

What have you found most surprising in the venture capital business?

I’ve found the high caliber of entrepreneurs that I’ve met on a daily basis to be the most surprising thing about venture capital. Throughout the summer, I’ve gotten to sit in on pitch meetings with entrepreneurs and meet portfolio company CEOs, who both are passionate about building companies to improve the way work gets done. Their ability to vividly see the future and have the courage to build it is really inspiring.

What have you found interesting working at a boutique VC firm like Costanoa?

Working at a boutique VC firm feels like working at a very well run start-up. Because of the small team size, everyone gets large ownership and the opportunity to add value across multiple areas of the firm. On any given day, I can be doing due diligence on a potential investment, evaluating a market or collaborating with a VP of a portfolio company to refine their a go to market strategy. This breadth of experience creates ample learning and growth opportunities.

The mission of the Costanoa Access Fellowship is to give someone access to the first rung of the venture capital ladder. What has that felt like to you?

As a first generation college grad and immigrant, I’ve been far luckier than most in getting a full shot at the American Dream. This has been through excellent public schools and organizations, such as Questbridge and Ron Brown Scholar Association, that have given me the resources to succeed. I count the Costanoa Access Fellowship as one of these enabling resources that can help someone of fulfill the American dream. It has provided me with unbridled access to networks and knowledge within the technology and venture capital ecosystem. This fellowship has reaffirmed my conviction in pursuing my American Dream — that of starting a company — and repaying this country for its investment in me.

Right now is an interesting time for the VC industry with the news about inappropriate conduct by VCs. How do you directly feel about it? How do you think of VC as an industry? Do you see any solutions?

I’ve been pretty surprised at the news of the inappropriate conduct by VCs. It’s been encouraging to see the bravery of female entrepreneurs who have spoken up about their experiences; moreover, the widespread condemnation of these acts by many leading male VCs has been an incredible mark of allyship. I believe that VCs are stewards of technological and ultimately societal progress. To optimize this, we need to have diversity both in the ranks of investors and funded entrepreneurs. I’m optimistic that we’ll get there.

I think these acts are not unique to the VC industry, but this news presents a unique opportunity for this industry to lead on these issues on a national scale. I think the biggest driver of this behavior is due to the lack of diversity in the VC industry. In 2016, About 8% of investing partners are women, and female entrepreneurs received only 19% of capital deployed. These numbers are likely worse for women of color. There will need to be diversity both on the investor and entrepreneurial ranks for any of this to change. I hope we see more top female operators start investing and provide access to mentorship opportunities. On the entrepreneurship front, we can increase the diversity with more women and people of color (POC) in the pipeline and bring awareness about unconscious bias in investment decision making process.

What are your impressions on the different aspects of VC: the investing, operating, and entrepreneurial roles?

It has been interesting to see these aspects of the VC ecosystem. Costanoa has been a great place to learn about all three and how they overlap. On the investment side, I have learned the value of approaching diligences with a balance of analytical rigor dissecting a business model and of deliberate thoughtfulness in evaluating entrepreneurs. In addition to this, it’s been great to see how Greg/Neill/Bucky/John aim to add value to every entrepreneur we encounter.

On the operating side, Mark, Martina and Jim have shown me the value of elevating functional and organizational best practices across our portfolio. Also, their questions during the diligence process often provides an interesting perspective into what it will take for a company’s business model to scale.

You’ve been at Costanoa for a month, what do you want to get out of your final month?

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the applications of AI — Neural Nets, Bots and Voice Computing as a co-organizer of Bots and AI NYC. Like other general purpose technologies (e.g. electricity) before it, AI will have transformative economic, society and geopolitical implications. The AI-first companies formed in the next five years will be huge category winners. I hope to spend the rest of my time at Costanoa building the networks and frameworks to help to pick or found one of these winners.