AN INTERVIEW WITH SAKIB JAMAL, SENIOR ASSOCIATE AT CROSSBEAM VENTURE PARTNERS
Sakib Jamal is a Senior Associate at Crossbeam Venture Partners. He is a member of the Investment Team and serves as a Board Observer for eight different companies in the portfolio. Prior to Crossbeam, he was an investment banking analyst at J.P. Morgan’s Industrials Group. Sakib also founded The Capsule, a South Asian news aggregator / podcast that has over 23,000 subscribers across Instagram and email. Sakib received a B.S. from Cornell University, where he served as a teaching assistant for classes in Entrepreneurship (NBA 3000) and Equity Research (NBA 4120).
You started your career in investment banking at JP Morgan before moving to Crossbeam Venture Partners; what attracted you to venture investing?
I have always been interested in startups. When I was a sophomore at Cornell, I was drawn to Professor BenDaniels’ course, but it was only available to juniors and seniors. For the first three class periods, I sat in the back row observing the class and I was persistent enough that Professor BenDaniel agreed to let me into the course. I then served as his teaching assistant the following year, and for an additional year with subsequent professors.
My career switch to venture really grew out of my relationship with Ali Hamed, another Cornell alumnus who founded CoVenture, an asset-backed credit fund, out of college. Ali spoke to my business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, and we continued to stay in touch thereafter. While recruiting in New York City, I crashed on Ali’s couch once and left him a book as a token of appreciation, a gesture I later found out had made a positive impression on him. Ali ultimately wound up co-founding a venture fund in 2020 (Crossbeam), and I joined as the first full-time hire.
Can you describe your investment thesis and what areas of FinTech are most attractive to you in the United States, or even globally?
We invest in a few key themes – mostly around lending / origination businesses, given our history and expertise with credit. We also focus on platform economies i.e. technology startups built on top of other companies, often re-inventing tomorrow’s economy by enabling small businesses of tomorrow e.g. YouTube creators, Amazon and Shopify sellers, Roblox creators etc. While this includes the creator economy, it goes beyond this to underscore our philosophy that small businesses are moving off main street and onto platforms such as YouTube, Roblox, and Spotify. Lastly, I personally spend a lot of time looking at global startups as well, particularly in South Asia where I have built a thesis around infrastructure plays in the market (i.e. logistics, healthcare, payments, ecommerce enablement etc.)
You sit as a Board Observer on multiple company boards: what is your advice to founders who may experience a setback?
It is difficult to generalize answers since different companies should be approaching a downturn differently. A well-capitalized (> 1 year of runway), cash flow positive business should be treated differently than one still running experiments around product-market fit. My Partner Ali recently published a great blog post that summed up our team’s approach.
In broad strokes, my first suggestion for startups is to lean on resources that might not be obvious – you’ll be surprised how much other founders in related or unrelated sectors, advisors, and investors are likely to help you.
Moreover, companies should be aware of proper cap table and dilution management; raising at high, unsustainable valuations can create down rounds (which lead to signaling issues in addition to dilution). At times like this, it may be smart to look for other options of non-dilutive funding and identify levers to increase liquidity and bolster your cash profile.
What are some considerations young professionals, or more specifically Cornell students, should take into account when thinking of joining (or founding) a start-up right out of school? What resources should students capitalize on at Cornell to prepare them for careers in start-ups or venture capital?
My advice is to be wary of your personal situation if you are looking to join a startup directly after college. Entrepreneurship is hard and with survivorship bias, many people lose sight of the difficulties that come with it. Think of startups as running multiple experiments until you see what works and will gain traction; this can take a significant amount of time and energy. If you are looking to become a founder, identify novel areas where you have a distinct advantage.
There are many Cornell resources accessible to students which introduces them to startups and venture investing. Students should sign-up for the Entrepreneurship list serv, explore Big Red Ventures or, if you are an undergrad, the Cornell Venture Capital Club and Delta Sigma Pi. Students can also leverage organizations like eLab, Launchpad and professors like Ken Rother, Tom Schryver, Steve Gal (all of who taught me an incredible amount) and others.
Article by Grant Rowlands, 2021-2022 Fund Manager at Big Red Ventures