Member Spotlight: Roble Ventures
For this deep dive, we spoke to Sergio Monsalve, Founding Partner of Roble Ventures.
Tell us about your firm. What makes it different:
Roble Ventures is a thematically focused, early-stage venture fund that is 100% focused on investing in human enablement technologies. This means we support entrepreneurs who care about building new innovations for a new kind of worker. Instilling a culture of lifelong learning. More efficient, meritocratic workplaces. Jobs that aren’t your typical nine-to-five, and data and communications systems that tie it all together. Our firm was started with the notion that VCs should have a point of view on the impact they influence, and in our case it is all about socioeconomic opportunity for the broadest set of people.
I’ve been working in this theme for over a decade and as a VC for over 15 years, and I’ve never been more excited about what we’re seeing today. Still, that experience — as investor, operator, and board member for a unicorn from zero to IPO — allows me to be a measured, thoughtful advisor and mentor to our entrepreneurs.
We tend to invest early in a company’s lifecycle, usually seed or post-seed, because we believe it’s important to help guide our founders through the process of building a robust, diverse, and complimentary BoD and senior team — which can have huge consequences in later funding stages.
What defines your portfolio?
All of our companies are focused on human enablement in some shape or form, whether by creating new types of job environments, new types of upskilling or reskilling education, or by cultivating a more transparent, equitable workplace. Some are focused on workflow, others are data-driven, but all are application-layer software companies that cater to the enterprise or the consumer.
Diversity — of thought and background — is also significant to us. Over 80% of our portfolio companies have a woman as a founder, and over half of our CEOs are women. This isn’t by mandate, but by the fact that human enablement tends to resonate more with those who are interested in bringing different experiences and backgrounds to a founding entrepreneurial team, which makes a company more agile and resilient in the long run.
Lastly: you might notice that our portfolio is very concentrated. We tend to co-lead or lead our seed deals, so our disciplined approach gives comfort to our follow-on coinvestors that the company has passed a strict diligence process. This high-conviction selection has led to proven returns in this theme — Udemy, Kahoot!, and Workday’s Adaptive Insights, for example — while
still allowing us to remain open-minded and optimistic about who can fit under the umbrella of human enablement.
Tell us about the current VC landscape in your geography/region.
As you can imagine, the promise of artificial intelligence has changed everything. In the realm of human enablement tech, we are seeing an incredible transformation of what we envision ahead for humanity in the next two decades. In our view, “AI” should really stand for “augmented intelligence,” and such tools should exist primarily to help humans continue to do what we do best — innovate, create, and connect with the world around us. We’re very interested in how recent developments in technology can make companies and institutions even more customer- and learner-centric than before.
We’ve made two new investments in human-enabling AI in the last few weeks, and we’re excited to announce them soon.
What are the benefits of being an NVCA member?
Everyone in VC — and by extension, all of the entrepreneurs in our portfolios — benefits from the incredible work that NVCA does. In many ways, the NVCA and Roble both share the same goal: to enable socioeconomic empowerment for workers of all backgrounds. Their work in public policy, the network available to members and their companies, and their cutting-edge research is shaping the ecosystem of venture capital in the U.S., enabling us to have the opportunity to make the biggest impact possible. It also shows the founder of the next unicorn that we care about doing well and doing good.
It’s all about the promise of the American dream powered by entrepreneurship, innovation, and purposeful risk-taking.
What’s ahead for your firm in 2023?
We’ve created market roadmaps that allow us to create a point of view on the next 10 to 15 years. We not only take a snapshot as a “market map” but we also try to predict the next few innings in sectors like EdTech and HRTech. We then discuss this with entrepreneurs to influence their own product roadmaps. Right now we’re using that process to flesh out some subthemes for human enablement that we’re very excited to explore. Until we’re able to publish in full, I encourage my fellow NVCA members to reach out to me to discuss what we envision for the next phase of our tech-facilitated world that we’ve all been catapulted into.