VC Corner Q+A: Maha Ibrahim

Maha has been involved in the venture capital and technology industries for over 15 years, developing a stellar reputation for supporting entrepreneurs through all phases of the start-up cycle. She also mentors women of all ages in entrepreneurship.

Maha led many of Canaan’s investments including Kabam (acquired by Netmarble), an innovator in the gaming industry; and Virsto (acquired by VMware), the creator of the first virtual storage architecture. She invests in a range of companies with current focus areas in enterprise/cloud and marketplaces, and luckily for us, she found time to give us insight into her industry experience and thoughts looking forward!

Please enjoy this Q+A with Maha Ibrahim.


What is your / your fund’s mission?

Canaan is an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in visionaries with transformative ideas. While we love speedy success, we’re acutely aware that greatness comes in many forms and at different times. That’s why we’re not afraid to break the mold to bring something spectacular to life.

What is one thing you are excited about right now?

Venture investors make the most money during massive foundational shifts (eg — web, mobile, virtualization, cloud). Right now, the biggest shift I see is a behavioral one. Gen Z is consuming content in a completely different way. Traditional forms of content — prepared, scripted, highly-produced, lengthy — are still relevant, but are being supplanted by esports and amateur celebrities. This moment is creating a whole new crop of destination sites, conversational/storytelling media, engagement tactics and sports leagues.

Who is one founder you think we should watch?

There isn’t just one and there isn’t just one type of founder. Diversity matters.

What are 3 top qualities of every great leader?

1. Drive — having the energy to push down barriers

2. Dexterity — having the intelligence and aptitude to see and go around barriers

3. Vision — having the ability to see (and make others see) the dream, not the barriers

What was your very first investment? and when?

In 2000, I invested in a mobile point-of-sale company called Apriva. Apriva’s solution combined hardware and software — a card-swipe attachment to the Blackberry (which was a pager-like device at the time) with a backend inventory management system. The Blackberry was very popular and had the ability to be so much more than a messaging device. I saw that merchants could use this mobile system to take payments outside of the confines of a store and/or to replace their archaic point-of-sale systems. I made a bet that the build-out of cellular systems would be much faster than what transpired. It was Square, but more than a decade too early.

What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?

Are these the right market conditions to allow this company to be HUGE? Timing means so much in our business.

What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?

Is this an investor who will make me and my company better? Remember that the investor/founder relationship will be a long-term partnership. While an investor has a choice to invest in you and your company, remember you have a choice to take that person’s/firm’s capital. They will be on your cap table until an exit. The investor needs to be a key thought partner and advocate through the startup roller coaster ride.

What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?

1. Sustainable and agile growth of revenue

2. Sustainable and agile growth of team and culture

3. Sustainable growth of customers who NEED (not just like) your product

Favorite business book or podcast?

I don’t read business books. They are pretty dry.

What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

I am an avid crossword puzzle person, and a very old-school one. I only do the NY Times Sunday puzzle and I only do them in pen. I’ve been into crossword puzzles since high school. I now save them up to complete during my sons’ lengthy baseball games. They help me pass the time.

Who is one leader you admire?

Serena Williams. I am a huge tennis fan. Her grit, drive and fierceness have always inspired me.

What is one interesting thing most people don’t know about you?

I love to teach. Long before entering venture capital, I aspired to be a professor of International Economics, but decided that it was, at the time, too solitary of a career for me. Fast forward two decades, I scratch my teaching itch by guest lecturing in some of my more academically-minded professor friends’ classes at Stanford and Cal. I also recently joined the board of trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an independent, global think tank in DC. That work helps me return to my teaching roots on a more regular basis.

What is one piece of advice you’d give every founder?

Founders make sacrifices — personally, professionally, financially — that most of us cannot imagine. I often make the analogy of poker game, with founders being all-in and the rest of us just putting in a few chips. It is a hard, lonely journey so the idea/mission of your company should mean more than just something to you; it should mean everything to you.

Check out below video featuring Maha + Emily Chang at our Global Conference 2018, and be sure to join us next year!