Why I’m moving into venture — it’s Obvious!
The next big ideas will come from founders with a deep, profound sense of purpose. Whether improving the way people live, driving forward societal good, or changing our earth for the better, the next wave of human advancements will arrive as a consequence of solving hard problems — often times solving ones we don’t know about yet.
These things are easier said than done. It took us several millennia to discover fire, master agriculture, harness electricity, and digitize the world. It took decades to chart the entire globe and take us to space, let alone bring us to the brink of AI superpowers. Every time I wake up, I can’t help but imagine and dream about the future; to dare to explore and take risks to advance; to be patient, but also invest in what will fundamentally change the future of human society.
The constant restlessness to learn about the future is what pushed me to take the next step in my career. I’ve joined Obvious Ventures as an investor, and am so excited to tell you why.
Founded by Vishal Vasishth, James Joaquin, and Ev Williams (Twitter Co-founder & Medium CEO), the team set out to invest in companies that fundamentally change our world. The thesis? That [purpose + profit]-driven founders will create the most disruptive companies in the next millennium. And that’s a big, bold statement I truly align with.
This belief that coupling profit with purpose was the founding principle of Obvious Ventures, and has since been validated by other leaders like Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock. We take this principle to heart — we even take it a step further by actively evangelizing it on Medium:
The Obvious family is also a very special place — from arcades and Mars paintings in the office to the $123,456,789 flagship fund, the firm had always evoked a sense of creativity, curiosity and fun. We also put in the effort and time to disengage ourselves from the everyday status quo of being a venture capital firm — for example, even going the extra mile to help their portfolio companies codify their values and commitment to inclusion, sustainability, and paying it forward via the World Positive Term Sheet. The result of all of this: investments in companies like Medium, LTSE, Zymergen, Gusto, Diamond Foundry, and Beyond Meat (congrats to the team on the IPO!).
The positive sense I get about the firm is as clear and unanimous as others have said it: the people at the firm are incredibly intelligent, sincere, and supportive. With a collaborative team-first mentality full of energy and passion everyday, there’s no other firm that gets me as excited as Obvious.
Throughout my studies at Stanford, I’ve always wanted to be a part of what’s new, what’s next in innovation. My early days of being a Sequoia campus scout, interning at General Catalyst and being a KP Product Fellow taught me that being an investor helps you to learn about new industries. But before taking that leap, I wanted to learn the ropes of being an operator first. That’s how I decided to pursue a career in product management, from a startup at FiscalNote to Uber and Dropbox.
My years in product have taught me a ton about championing our customers, focusing on problems, and organizing a team together towards a vision. But more often than not, I couldn’t help but to be drawn back into investing. The passion even got one of my best friends and I to start our own pre-seed fund, where we invested and advised several companies in addition to our full-time jobs. It begged the question: when am I ready to go back into investing? As I reflected more deeply on why I’m so passionate about VC, I realized it came down to three things that bring me the most joy everyday:
- Connecting with People: I love people, and I especially thrive off of working and building relationships with founders. I also enjoy being behind the scenes, living vicariously in their shoes as a supportive agent. The role as a venture capitalist is more often to listen and engage, be their sounding board and extension, and help them grow as partners. It’s especially a privilege to lend a helping hand as a former operator and be a small part of their long journey as entrepreneurs.
- Intellectual Curiosity: I find myself always toying with the latest products — whether it’s in beta or the latest gadget released, I can’t help but to always get the newest thing before everyone else does. The innate desire to learn about everything new is a foundational element of a venture capitalist. No matter what I do, I can never seem to detach myself from waking up everyday, excited about the next big thing — it’s in my DNA.
- Sharing Ideas: I love thinking, writing, and finding ways to share that knowledge to the world. A core part of a product manager’s job is to devise ways to build influence and direct a team forward to one common goal. Part of a venture capitalist’s job is to articulate well-defined theses that will serve as the building blocks for investments. But the difference is scale; in VC there are unlimited possibilities and many ways of having an opinion — the art of predicting the future is limitless and exciting.
Additionally, as a former operator I plan on carrying all my learnings and past experiences as a PM into the investing role — from advising on building and growing products, to thinking through disruptive markets. In terms of areas of interest, there are two key sectors I am particularly passionate about and plan to invest in:
I. The Future of Work (Enterprise Tools):
I believe the future holds true for thousands more SaaS companies to come. Incumbents like Apple, Microsoft, Google, AWS, Adobe, etc. once had its foothold as the only workplace, productivity and platform tools in a trillion dollar industry. However, with the advent of mobile, cloud, and now AI, each niche use case in the modern work stack is being unbundled, unlocking new types of businesses as a result (e.g. Coda, Notion, Figma, Airtable, Superhuman, Affinity, Retool, and more). Obvious’s investments in Visor and Incredible Health are also perfect examples. My time at FiscalNote and Dropbox (and Uber, where I was a Platform PM) sheds light to how quickly work is improving to be far more efficient, intelligent, and creative, and how it’s helping us solve hard problems as a result.
II. Transformations of Transportation (Mobility):
Driving inspiration from my time at Uber, I have a deep understanding of both marketplace dynamics and the changing landscape of transportation — and yes, that includes micro-mobility (scooters, bikes, even mini-pods or rickshaws!). I’m fascinated by how our streets will evolve 10 years from now — for example, autonomous ride-sharing will run continuously on roads, meaning fewer parking lanes and higher utilization rates than personally owned cars today (a single car is being used on average 4% daily!). Flying taxis (e.g. eVTOL) will become a real concept, decreasing the number of active cars on roads even further. More room on streets will pave the way for increased micro-vehicles, pedestrian sidewalks and perhaps newer kinds of transportation marketplaces (after all, Tesla wants your car to make money for you). Obvious’s investments in Lilium and Proterra are examples of why we believe in this future.
Thinking about different markets, being curious about our world and learning from the best people in the industry is what I would do during my free time, even if it wasn’t my job. It’s always been my dream to get back into venture, and felt like a natural calling — it’s what makes the best version of myself. And that’s why I can’t think of a better time to become a VC than now.
It’s been a month since I started. How’s it like so far?
Nan Li at Obvious once said to me that “you’re always kind of in the moment in venture.” It’s true — I’ve already been meeting with founders, sitting in on board meetings, catching-up with friends in venture, and visiting former coworkers. I’m having a blast.
But outside of work, I still continue to pursue my hobbies including surfing, cycling, writing, visiting my parents in LA and hanging out with my brother (currently attending Berkeley’s School of Optometry). I’ve also been spending quality time with my girlfriend and her Lab, Max!
It goes without saying — if you have ideas / startups to share, or would simply like to grab coffee or beer, don’t hesitate to hit me up. Follow me (@dcliem), read more about me (danielcliem.com) or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!