First movers take it all: Mamoon Hamid on Box, Yelp and survival of the fittest in Silicon Valley

Mamoon Hamid
Mamoon Hamid

Mamoon Hamid

Mamoon Hamid, who spoke at the Bitspiration tech conference in Poland this month, led investments in Act-On Software, Box, Castlight Health, Supplyframe and Yammer for US Venture Partners, and is now a general partner at early-stage Palo Alto VC Social+Capital Partnership (S23P). Most recently, S23P let a $16 million investment round in tablet software maker CloudOn).

Bitspiration‘s Ilona Grzywinska caught up with Hamid, on behalf of VentureVillage, to find out what makes Hamid tick – and how he keeps ahead in the fast-paced, fiercely competitive world of Silicon Valley VC.

How did you get involved in finance?

I worked for a technological company for six years – my background is engineering. When I was working for this company, I started to help our corporate VC arm with investments. When I left for business school, I was curious about VC so I did a summer internship during the business school.

What do you consider your biggest success?

Venture capital is a long-term game… for example, so-called seed investments take five to seven years to mature. My first investment as a VC was Box and that was in 2007. Five years later I can see it’s doing well – it’s still private, but doing very well, which makes me happy. I’m excited about all of my investments but we still need a couple of years to see how it goes and call it a success.

What do you look for in an investment?

I look for a great team. What is a great team? People who have insights about the market, nuance knowledge about customers and build products that are needed. Also, people who are persevere and have a pursuit for something big, who inspire you to give 500 per cent for the project. Those people are hard to come by. Beyond that, what is important is the market. We might have the best team working on an innovative project but the market still needs to grow or is immature and takes time to change it.

What is your biggest regret?

Early on in my career I had an opportunity to invest in my friend’s project. It was Yelp. Unfortunately my firm didn’t want to make this investment so in the end I became an advisor for Yelp. It just went public this year so that’s great. But I did not invest as a VC and that’s my regret.

Who or what inspires you?

You know, I would say no one in particular inspires me. I view people as a big shopping cart, you know, you go to the mall and you pick up from shelves the products that you need or like. Similarly, you pick up different characteristics from people that you admire. I admire things about my partners that I work with. With partners it’s important to have complimentary skill sets. One of my partners thinks big and is aggressive in thinking big and that helps both me and our company to go further. Other than that I admire my mother for her perseverance and resilience.

How do you focus or prioritise your workload?

I try to respond to every email even if it’s a quick “no”. How to prioritise that? Well, you need to have a system. What I try to do is not to fill my calendar totally, keep some time open so I could do things that might be a priority for me next week.

Can you give us a catchphrase/motto that describes you?

It might be childish but when I was in high school I had to give a speech at my graduation. I was the youngest kid in my class, I was 16 when I graduated and I had two things in my speech; one was Darwinism and survival of the fittest, second was the quote “work, work, work and you’re bound to succeed”. Now, I would modify this quote by saying: work smart. It’s very important to think when you work not just run around.

What are you excited about in terms of future tech?

There are loads of things that will change in healthcare and education and I’m excited about that, it’s pretty interesting.

One of your friends says you’re less aggressive than the average VC – what are your thoughts?

That statement was more from the beginning of my VC career. I think what he means here is that I may have more of a soft-demeanor approach than most finance-driven VCs. That’s just my personality. I can’t change who I am as a person.

If you could change one thing about the investment ecosystem in the US, what would it be?

Investing in bigger problems as opposed to investing in what the group thinks is cool. Every year there is a trend, whether it is local, social or mobile. And everybody tries to invest in yet another company that goes with this trend although everybody knows that only two to three companies will survive and all the others will fail. It’s becoming even more prominent in this economy, when the first takes almost the whole market. So try to be unique with your investments.

Bitspiration is a new international tech conference that takes place in Poland, focusing on business, VC and startups, organised by Chris Kowalczyk (HardGamma Ventures) and Andrzej Targosz (Proidea Foundation). Image credit: Bitspiration

FOR FURTHER READING CHECK OUT

The six bloggers shaping Poland’s tech blogosphere

Lars Hinrichs – 10 things I know

Arguing with journalists is “like the Catholic Church debating with Martin Luther” – CrunchFund’s Michael Arrington talks tech, truth and media detractors