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Building a Future for Everyone: Re-capping No BS Breakfast with Spero Ventures

For the last few months, our Bay Area Early-Stage team has been hosting a “No BS Breakfast” for a small group of founders and investors. Most recently, we were fortunate to be joined by Shripriya Mahesh and Ha Nguyen, Founding Partners of Spero Ventures. Spero funds early-stage founders who are building a future that belongs to everyone.

Below are the top 5 things to know from our conversation with Shripriya and Ha:

1. What is the story behind Spero Ventures?

Spero Ventures launched earlier this year with a $100M fund that spun out of Omidyar Network. Spero invests primarily at the Series A. We look for mission driven companies that have the potential to reach venture scale. We fundamentally believe that business and tech can be a force for good. To that end, we focus on the following three areas: i) Well-being, ii) Work and Purpose and iii) Human Connection. People often ask how we came up with our name; Spero is Latin for “hope”.

2. What are some aspects that set you apart from other Silicon Valley VCs?

First: we are an evergreen fund and are fortunate to have Pierre Omidyar (founder of eBay) as our sole LP. This structure allows us to take a long-term view of technologies/startups we want to invest in without the pressure of having to deliver short-term results. Second: 4 out of the 5 team members are women, and we are trying to do our part in bridging the divide that exists for females entrepreneurs and founders from underrepresented groups raising venture capital.

3. What advice do you have for founders when they are out pitching?

First: we feel it’s really critical for founders to frame their startups according to the Problem Space (i.e. what customer problem you are trying to solve) and the Solution Space (the product or market offering, and why this founding team / technology is best suited to tackle this problem). Building a story around these two themes will really help drive the value proposition of your startup to early-stage investors.

Second: it’s really important to be able to demonstrate Traction. Revenue is the easiest metric to show but if you are a pre-revenue company then you have to find a proxy for product-market fit such as i) growing engagement/repeat usage metrics, ii) accelerating month-over-month user growth, iii) customer willingness to pay, or iv) customer feedback that you are addressing a real pain-point. Just keep in mind that the applicable proxy metric will vary from sector to sector.

4. Ha, where do you spend most of your time as a Product Partner and how do you work with your portfolio companies?

I have a 16 year career as a product leader, starting my career at eBay during its earliest days and then running product & design at several small and mid-stage startups. As a co-founder of Product Leader Summit and Women in Product Board Member, I also have an extensive network of product leaders and have experience building product communities. My focus is on helping our companies i) find product-market fit (if they haven’t already), ii) with network introductions and screen & hire for key positions, and iii) instill the discipline of product management into their startup’s culture. One of my favorite things to do is to run a design sprint (similar to what GV developed) with our portfolio companies where we deep dive on customer discovery, employ design-thinking principles, prototype solutions and validate our ideas with our target customers before building anything.

5. Shripriya, can you highlight a recent investment that you did and why?

We are really excited about what Tim Swift and his team @ Roam Robotics are building. We were an early investor in the company when the product was still in the prototype stage and didn’t have any revenues. Tim’s vision for the future of mobility really resonated with us, and we knew that Tim was the right founder to start Roam Robotics given his prior experience as a robotics engineer at Ekso Bionics. Plus, we want to back founders that not only have a big vision for the world, but ones that we are excited to spend the next 10+ years with as they build this future. Tim is exactly the type of quality individual that we are excited to back.

The No BS Breakfast is an exclusive monthly event for a small group of clients in the SVB community. We hope to create a space that allows our founders to connect and engage with VCs and fellow founders who are at a similar growth stage. Stay tuned for the next recap of our No BS breakfast in October with Niko Bonatsos from General Catalyst. If you are interested in joining future sessions feel free to reach out to me (jwilson@svb.com).