Welcome to our Member Spotlight series where we give a profile overview of our many diverse members. For this deep dive, we spoke to Daniel Gulati, Managing Director at Comcast Ventures.
Tell us about your firm. What makes it different?
We are a multi-stage consumer and enterprise focused fund. We differ from traditional VCs because of our connection to Comcast, NBCUniversal and Sky. That link brings advantages to the companies we invest in. We are different from corporate VCs because we are a partnership investing for financial returns, not a business unit serving strategic needs. It’s a best of both worlds fund.
What defines your portfolio?
We look to invest in incredible founders with a unique perspective, and who have chosen to build a business in a promising corner of the universe. Sometimes we back those founders on day zero, and sometimes we enter into the picture a bit later. We have different investment styles within the fund. Some partners are theme-driven- they will pick off a sector, like fintech or blockchain, dive deep and build a group of investments. Others are more traction-driven, where you dial into a company’s performance and generate insights. I tend to be founder-driven and opportunistic. Different approaches work for different people, and the goal is to double-down on our authentic individual investing styles while complementing and balancing each other as a group.
Why is it important to you to invest in “outsider” founders?
I have had the most success with founders who have come from a completely different industry to the one they are operating in, who grew up in a far flung area of the world or who overcame extreme adversity in their life. These founders have non-learnable characteristics that are incredibly valuable to starting and scaling companies- they are tenacious, they think independently and they usually have something to prove. They can bend the startup odds in their favor.
How does venture benefit from partnering and working with “outsider” founders?
The next big thing doesn’t look like the last, and is unique to a moment in time. That means we have to constantly look under new rocks and be open to novel approaches. Outsiders are more likely to come up with non-continuous innovation because of their vantage point and who they are.
How is the firm different today than when you first started?
In 2014, we were more focused on later stage investing in areas a bit closer to Comcast, like media and ad tech. Since then, we have really broadened into a multi-stage firm with a generalist sector appetite. In a Monday meeting, we are discussing a consumer marketplace, followed by HR software, followed by a healthcare company. That tilt towards backing phenomenal entrepreneurs across many different markets has been exciting.
Why is your firm a part of NVCA?
We value the community that NVCA has cultivated, and enjoy engaging at various levels with a fantastic group of peers. It has been great to see the NVCA leading the charge in policy reform that encourages and supports innovation.
Tell us about the current VC landscape in your geography/region.
It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur. There has been an explosion in the availability of seed capital, and once something is working, you are going to get multiple funding offers. That competitive dynamic has led Valley VCs outside the geographic bubble- looking for opportunities all across the US and via the Shenzen Shuttle and obvious places like that, but also digging into the next tigers, like Indonesia, Australia, or Kenya. The barriers to starting a company have come down, and the next unicorn could be born anywhere. We are in an era of “jump on a plane” venture capital.
In terms of other trends, we are seeing significant stage drift from mega funds looking to buy ownership earlier, and seed funds that have graduated and now have to deploy more dry powder. We are going to see over the coming years whether these strategies are sustainable, and whether they are a net positive for the ecosystem. And finally, you have more and more companies getting funded that are operations-first, where technology is more of a sideshow. Anticipating the economic profile of these companies at scale is critical- unicorns are great, but not if it takes $700M of capital to get there, and not if the curves never intersect.
What’s ahead for your firm in 2019?
This year we have already seen a number of the companies we backed early go on and raise large rounds of funding or go public, and many will be iconic franchises. That’s really exciting, and when we look at our pipeline, we expect the momentum to continue through the summer into fall. Firm wise, we have added several consumer and enterprise investment team members, and are constantly looking for the next generation of outstanding investors to bring on board.
Describe your firm’s culture in 5 words or less.
Collaborative, curious, diverse, fast, and fun!