Contrary: My Renegade of Choice
I'm excited to announce that I’m joining Contrary as a General Partner to build out a later stage investing practice. The world of venture is changing and I’m excited to work with the team at Contrary to be a part of that change.
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Last year I found myself at a turning point. I was just starting into my 30s, I was about to have my 3rd kid, and I had experienced one of the craziest startup markets I’d seen after almost 10 years in venture. I had worked at 3 different venture firms and worked with folks at countless others.
People had been saying the music was going to stop since 2015 and been wrong every year. But then we started to see the first inklings of a correction in early 2022. I knew great firms had been built up by investing out of the ashes of difficult times, like a16z after the financial crisis or Paradigm after the crypto winter of 2018. It felt like a similar moment was coming where belts would be tightened and people would get more focused. I saw a more trying market as an opportunity to help build a fund that was inventing the future.
I spent the next several months talking to dozens of VCs, learning about different models, and exploring the fundamental weaknesses of the existing venture model.
I learned a lot chronicling the renegades of venture, but more importantly I honed in on what innovations in venture I was most excited about.
My Renegade of Choice
I sat down and made a list of all the things I thought a venture fund would have that was purpose built for the next 50 years rather than to slot in to the model of the last 50 years. As I wrote out the list I realized there was one firm that already had the same ambitions I had put on paper: Contrary.
I had known Eric Tarczynski since he first started Contrary 6 years ago. In all those years nothing stuck out to me more than his relentless ambition for building an engine to identify the brightest people in the world.
Contrary was built around a key insight that you can build a lifelong platform to invest in a person even before they start a company. I've written about about the incredible pool of talent that exists in tech today unlike any other time in history. New talent vortexes are getting built but they’re few and far between.
The evolution of venture has bent towards individuals. By building that people-centric platform Contrary can change the way people think about investing in future innovation.
What does that look like in practice? Contrary represents a community of hundreds of the brightest people in tech everywhere from undergrads to operators with 10+ years of experience. This isn't a scout network. This isn't an internship. This is a life-long community of people with a bent towards building.
For early stage founders and people early in their careers Contrary provides a community that invests both time and money in you even before you start a company. For later stage founders and world-class operators we provide a direct link to hundreds of talented future builders who want to work with you first as they progress in their careers.
My Next Chapter at Contrary
I've spent the last 6+ years at firms like TCV, Coatue, and Index primarily focused on later stage investments (Series B and beyond.) A lot of what Contrary is known for is investing in great companies primarily at the pre-seed and seed stage. But Contrary's core ethos isn't stage specific. "Identify and invest in the world's top talent." That top talent may be seed-stage founders but they're also early employees at later stage companies or working in larger tech companies. Contrary's model is to build a platform for them regardless of the stage of their career.
My focus at Contrary is to build out our later stage investing practice. Contrary has already invested in stellar companies beyond the seed stage like Ramp, Hallow, Synthesis, and Anduril. My focus is on continuing that great work. The Contrary community represents hundreds of future builders. For those who aren't ready to start companies yet we focus on connecting them to the strongest talent vortexes that exist. Our later stage portfolio has been, and will continue to be, built out of the relationships that come from the great companies our community members help build.
"Contrary is our secret hiring weapon. They've built a remarkably unique firm, and are easily one of our most helpful partners." Karim Atiyeh, CTO of Ramp
I'll be working closely with Megan Kao, who recently joined Contrary from DoorDash to identify the incredible companies with a tendency to attract contrarian builders. And then bring those companies into the Contrary community.
The Innovation: A People-Centric Model
In my writing I've described the "renegades of venture capital" as "any fund or investor who is disrupting the status quo in venture and aligning their offering to optimize for a founder's needs and odds of success." Contrary certainly fits the bill in tackling a new way of doing things and is my fantasy venture fund pick come true.
Eric is our fearless leader. His primary responsibility is not dictating to anyone how to do their job. His focus is on establishing the north star vision we're all building towards. He's been doing that for years by rallying the team around this core idea. At the root of every iconic company is one thing: extraordinary people. Eric has been preaching the evolution of venture towards people-centricity for years and it has continued to prove true.
"Talent is really the only thing that matters these days." Fred Wilson
The creation of Contrary's product offering has revolved around talent, community, and capital. That vision is what has created the contrary flywheel.
The Contrary Flywheel
I've written before about the ways that almost every venture fund pitches an offering that all feel the same. Having an articulate vision of what we are (and sometimes what we aren't) is how we focus our efforts. Contrary has a specific flywheel that is built around the points at which we identify the best and brightest.
Everything we do is about better identifying the brightest people and building product offerings for different phases of their career to most effectively support them. If founders just want cash? We're probably not the best fit. We think of the members of the Contrary community as our customers just as much as we do our portfolio company founders. Why? Because one day we hope they’ll be both.
A Value-Centric Org Chart
Unlike a traditional venture fund Contrary doesn't march to the beat of whatever drum the investing team decides to pound. We have functional leaders internally within data science, content, finance, design, product, and engineering.
Our key driving question is not, "what does the partnership want?" Our focus is on identifying and investing in the brightest people and then doing whatever we can to support them relentlessly throughout their career. Our org chart is structured around that and I'm excited to be a piece of the puzzle we're solving.
What Does This Mean For Venture?
The dynamics of the startup market are forever changing. My decision to join Contrary revolves around a desire to be a part of that change. Changing the way we support people. Increasing the diversity within the pool of what it means to be an "exceptional person." Changing the bar for what VC "value-add" looks like. Pushing every investor to be more honest about what they are, and sometimes more importantly, what they're not.
Founders have access to an increasingly detailed collection of best practices. What will always be a difficult process is identifying the right people and helping them find the right problems they're most suited to solve. Regardless of stage or sector. And Contrary is building towards that vision. It takes a bold builder to tackle the hardest problems. But that isn't a problem for us. We back the bold.