#5 Nnamdi Iregbulem
Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, a multi-stage VC focused in Enterprise and Consumer sectors with $10.5B+ AUM and exits like Mulesoft (acq by Salesforce for $6.5B) and SNAP (IPOed)
A self-taught programmer and lifelong technology nerd, Nnamdi Iregbulem has built computers, coded up websites, and found ways to game Google search since his teenage years. Nowadays, he spends his time working with neural networks and statistical analysis in Python, experimenting with open source software, and advising startups on product and growth initiatives.
He is a Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, a multi-stage venture capital firm focused on accelerating disruptive innovations and trends in the Enterprise and Consumer sectors. Over the past two decades, the firm has backed hundreds of entrepreneurs and helped build +400 companies globally, including AppDynamics (acquired by Cisco for $3.7B), Zscaler (IPO’d March 2018), Mulesoft (acquired by Salesforce for $6.5B), Nutanix (IPO’d September 2016), Snap (IPO'd March 2017), Affirm (fintech lender with +$500M in revenue and a $2.9B valuation) and Vinted (the largest online C2C marketplace in Europe dedicated to second-hand fashion with +180M products live on its platform and 25M registered users in 12 markets), among others. Lightspeed currently manages +$10.5B AUM across different platforms with investment professionals and advisors in Silicon Valley, Israel, India, China, Southeast Asia and Europe. Prior to that, he spent 4 years investing in growth-stage technology businesses at ICONIQ Capital, a privately held investment firm with +$43B AUM, where he led investments in leading B2B software and internet companies like GitLab, Epic Games (Fortnite), ezCater and Brightwheel and helped drive investments in others like Fastly (NYSE: FSLY), Alteryx (NYSE: AYX), SurveyMonkey (NASDAQ: SVMK) and Uber (NYSE: UBER). Last but not least, he has recently been included in the 30 Under 30 Forbes list for Venture Capital 2021, where the magazine recognizes the best young investors spotting tech's next breakouts.
Nnamdi graduated from Yale University with a degree in Economics, doing internships at JPMorgan (TMT investment banking team) and McKinsey & Company. After that, he earned his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. While at Stanford, he worked as a Product Manager for companies like Confluent and served as Co-President and VP of the Venture Capital and Tech Clubs, respectively.
👤 Brief intro: self-taught programmer, dev focus, VC
🥇 Win: being born in the USA with tons of opportunities
🚫 Fail and lesson: no offer after 1st internship, fire to hustle
🚀 Ideal founder: deep in problem and product, technical, urgency
💸 Ideal investor: contrarian, not just money but support focus
📈 Markets: software developer productivity tools
And now, let’s take a closer look !
Could you give us a brief intro about you and your origins?
I am currently Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, where I am focused on early-stage investments in enterprise tech. To be honest, I’ve been focused on coding since my early days, I remember I built websites and computers to get some money out of it. I always knew I wanted to either work in tech or invest in tech.
I also worked at ICONIQ Capital, where we invested in companies like GitLab (developer tool), Fastly which went public last year, Epic Games (Fortnite, Unreal Engine). Also did a brief stint in product at Confluent.
I just love investing in people building technical tools.
What would you say has been the biggest win in your life?
Being born into the family and the country I was born in. Both my parents are Nigerian immigrants and as a result of their background, they did not have as many opportunities. Thanks to their coming into the US, I am able to have millions of them. Being born in the States is a blessing, there are many opportunities here! On a good day, I feel I have no limits. It’s a very good place to be.
It is an unfair advantage to be born here and work from Silicon Valley. I didn’t choose my parents but glad they choose me!
Related to the above, and your biggest failure?
I struggle to answer because it is not easy to pick just one. One that felt big though, while being a Yale undergrad and having an amazing time, there was this significant invisible pressure that made us feel that by being at a North Eastern Ivy League school we all had to choose and succeed in consulting or investment banking. I had the opportunity to intern at McKinsey during my sophomore year, which was one year before most of the people, but at the end of it, I did not receive an offer to return.
Felt devastating as I thought I had failed to get my first real job, that I wasn’t meant to be an important person nor have a high power job or belong to that kind of role. Looking at it now, it didn’t matter that much!
In the end, this experience gave me perspective, drive and fire to go to the next thing. Fire. That is very good for progress.
What is your ideal founder profile?
In early-stage you have to be careful to talk about having ideals, as what you didn’t think was the ideal founder becomes the next billionaire. I try to be agnostic.
Realistically, I tend to gravitate to people relatively technical, that understand what the product is going to do, know the product space very well and are familiar with the consumers or people consuming their product. I like when founders face the problem themselves or have seen it very closely.
People that feel it in their bones that they are the ones to tackle the problem, and that has to be now.
What is your ideal investor profile?
In general, to me it is about people who aren’t just in it for the money. Some Silicon Valley investors are in it for the money, the money is good (don’t get me wrong) but I don’t do this for the earning potential but rather to support incredible people building incredible companies. Not just money, not just glamour, not just “being cool”.
Someone that doesn’t mind being wrong nor disagreeing with what other people think, a contrarian.
What present and future markets are you most interested in?
Super interested in the full set of products and technical services that enhance the productivity of tech workers, especially developers and data scientists.
Every company is becoming a software company, a software factory of sorts. To me, this is a new different kind of industrial revolution. During the industrial revolution, labor was not paid well, not treated well, not well educated as opposed to now where software developers are paid very well, oftentimes well educated and are highly skilled.
Any tool that makes this scarce resource more productive is interesting.
Could you share with us 3 startups you like and why?
I will share companies I am not associated with, that would be cheating otherwise.
Pulumi. Within the infrastructure as code space, provides the ability to spin up cloud infrastructure in a very pragmatic way, benefiting from others laying the groundwork. Pretty interesting approach.
Tecton. Founders came out of Uber, where they helped build Michelangelo (Uber’s Machine Learning Platform), and they built a feature store, providing core inputs to train and build machine learning models. There is a shocking lack of tooling for getting data in the right form and presenting it in the right way for machine learning use cases. Super interesting.
Gremlin. A chaos engineering platform, if you are spinning up infrastructure supporting various applications or services, the company helps you proactively test infrastructure to ensure that if something goes wrong, the system can correct and self-repair ahead of any actual failure. So it screws up your infrastructure, checks how it responds, and helps improve it. Interesting antifragile angle.
Could you share with us 3 investors you like and why?
Again, I won’t mention those with whom I have worked with.
Keith Rabois, General Partner at Founders Fund, widely known for his early-stage startup investments and his executive roles at PayPal, LinkedIn, Slide and Square. Good example of a true contrarian that doesn’t mind being wrong some times in pro of winning big. Some people don’t like him very much, specially his Twitter presence, but regardless of that, he has earned the right to be himself. He’s had 6 or 7 IPOs this year, a super impressive track record.
Mike Volpi, Partner at Index Ventures, has done very well in dev centric areas of investment like infrastructure, open-source, and AI. He is an investor in Confluent, where I used to work and has a tone of good deals. Definitely, someone that I would like to emulate.
And the last one is not really an investor today but Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about being antifragile, betting on fat tails, which applies to VC - you lose small amounts most of the time and you get big wins sometimes. He is a contrarian, advocates extreme patience and feeling dumb for a long time before eventually being vindicated. I like that thinking a lot.
What are the 3 books you feel everyone should read and why?
All of them are from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, you get so many insights from him about philosophy, investing, economics, markets… Even more about modern human life, he only gets more accurate over time.
I’ve re-read these 3 or 4 times, everyone should read all of them plus he is also hilarious. So funny!
Big thanks Nnamdi for sharing your views with us !
Big thanks to you, reader, for your time and interest !
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And one more thing …
… at the end of this crazy 2020, we want to wish you a Merry Christmas full of love, peace, health, prosperity, and a bit of some extra Views on tech, startup and VC!! 💙