BRV Fund Manager: Umang Methi
Umang: Hi Tom, thanks so much for meeting me! Really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to speak about your career path and experiences at Differential Ventures.
First off, can you discuss your path into VC?
Tom: Sure, I’d love to. I’d say I took a nontraditional path into venture capital. I studied English Literature at Vanderbilt University down in Nashville, Tennessee as Vanderbilt did not have business majors, only minors. I felt that the English major would hone my ability to break down complex ideas and relate them to nonobvious concepts. I think venture was always intriguing to me but candidly, there wasn’t a lot of transparency in how to specifically break into this industry. I instead pursued roles that enabled me to learn and solve a variety of business and technology problems, which is basically the heuristic that guided a lot of my early career decisions. With that framework in mind, I joined the inaugural class of Lenovo’s Future Leaders Program, a rotational leadership development program. While at Lenovo, I rotated through delivery operations, sales and revenue operations, and marketing teams. Two years after that, I moved up to New York to join a proptech called Latch on the Business Operations Team. There I got first-hand experience at seeing a hyper-growth startup operate and grow through an intriguing pre and post Covid world. I worked with a lot of intelligent folks and stayed there until the firm’s IPO and left in November 2022. I ended up joining Samsung’s Consumer Electronics Strategy Team overseeing the home entertainment, home appliance, and display businesses. I really enjoyed my time there, but still felt like I could go even broader and work on more things more quickly and so I spoke to a few friends of friends in the VC industry and ended up joining Differential because they struck me as the most compelling from a thesis, theme, and culture perspective.
Umang: Awesome and that’s actually a perfect segue because I want to learn more and dive deeper into Differential Ventures’ investment thesis and how it differs from other firms. Can you tell me more about it?
Tom: Absolutely. Differential is a New York City based pre seed and seed fund investing in technical founders building data-centric companies. We look at 4 major areas of investment: AI Powered Business, Advancing the Machine Learning Tech Stack, Future of Engineering and Infrastructure, and lastly, Responsible Data Management. I was really excited by the prospect of joining Differential as I believed AI would be the next major tech unlocking event for humankind. The past year’s advances have been really affirming for both my and my firm’s perspectives on the transformative potential of AI/ML.
Umang: So moving more towards an evaluation basis, what metrics or criteria do you find are most important for a startup to succeed? What is most critical to success?
Tom: From my perspective, the notion of making the not obvious the obvious is paramount for pre-seed and seed stage companies. Teams need to have a clear narrative as to how their experiences have led them to what they are doing today. I like to believe founders are doing their life’s work so to the degree they are able to offer that narrative in a real and authentic way is compelling.
Umang: That’s a very unique take, thank you. What advice would you give for individuals looking to start their careers in VC? I’m very curious to hear your perspective specifically because of your nontraditional path.
Tom: First and foremost, take career risks early on. Don’t be afraid to pursue ideas and opportunities that may not be 100% de-risked. It only gets more challenging to take risks as you get older and have more responsibilities. Second, play your own game and spend less time comparing yourself to others. I think you’ll find that your definition of success and what you prioritize as important will change over your career. Third and finally, just understand that progress in life is not linear. There are always going to be peaks and valleys, just ensure that you are nudging up through consistency and grit.
Umang: I love that advice. Before we end this interview, I want to end on a fun question: What’s the coolest company Differential Ventures has invested in that you’re really excited about (and can publicly disclose)?
Tom: I’d be happy to talk about Metafold, a deal we did earlier this year. Their founders are really awesome and come from a super interesting background in computational geometry, a field I didn’t even know existed. Basically what they’ve done is taken these complex geometric formulas and created lattice structures that can be manufactured in 3-D printing or additive manufacturing. What’s funny about the structures they’ve created is if you use a traditional CAD or CAM software to articulate or express these shapes, they would crash your computer because of the mathematical complexity. So what they’ve done is taken these structures, packaged them and built a software solution that enables computers to actually process and build these structures and implement it into customers’ product development. They have a broad set of customers who are interested in what they’re building and the clients range from luxury fashion brands to aerospace and defense firms.
Umang: Well thank you, Tom, those were all the questions I had and I really appreciate you making the time for this interview. Have a great rest of your day!