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Obvious Ventures, the venture capital firm cofounded by Twitter’s Evan Williams, announced the close of its very first fund today.
Guess how much it raised? $123,456,789. No joke.
The close of this fund follows a public SEC filing that revealed that the firm had raised $77.7 million in March. Consider today’s announcement an update.
Obvious Ventures’ mission, according to the firm’s site, is to fund companies that offer “positive social and environmental benefits with every dollar of revenue they earn.”
We sat down, metaphorically, with Obvious Ventures cofounder James Joaquin to learn more [abridged for clarity].
VentureBeat: So why the 123456789 number? Am I missing a reference? Is it just the obvious joke?
James Joaquin: [laughs] No, for us it’s — I think — we just wanted to have a little fun with it. So many people hide their form D filings. We thought, why don’t we make a really interesting form D filing?
VB: So did you ask your last LP to fill out the extra few thousand or so?
Joaquin: We had many friendly LPs, but one in particular allowed us to pick those last six digits to get the number right.
VB: OK, so, broadly, there’s a social mission here?
Joaquin: When we announced the fund in December of 2014 we talked about this on our website, and we talked about “world positive investing” — that term was coined by Biz Stone.
Since we’ve launched, I get a lot of questions saying, “Hey are you guys doing social impact?” We’re actually very different than this “social impact” category. We want to fund big for-profit businesses that make great financial returns for our LPs.
VB: What’s the most high-profile example of a company like this?
Joaquin: To give you some examples, we’re investors in this LA company called Beyond Meat. They create products that have the same taste, texture, and mouth-feel as chicken or beef, but they are made 100 percent from plants. We think that’s an interesting company … Every time they sell a package of Beyond Meat, they’re selling protein that’s 10 or 20 times more calorically efficient than how animal meats work … The more successful they are, the more CO2 and methane they offset.
VB: I wonder if you can make similar arguments about a lot of companies. Like, say, Uber, which can help drivers earn more, but also has pissed a lot of people off?
Joaquin: I’m not an investor in Uber so I can’t comment — I don’t know the company well enough. But if you step back and look at the whole category of on-demand services … we think that there are aspects of that are incredibly positive … we think there are some great things happening there, but we also worry about the 1099 economy. The jury’s still out. We see pros and cons to it.
VB: I guess a big thing there is you guys trusting your gut?
Joaquin: When we talk about world positive, we talk about world positive entrepreneurs. Some of our investments are certified B corps — it’s a way to bake in all stakeholders, not just financial stakeholders.
We try to screen for that in the people that we choose to give money to. The key thing that is not always obvious … We’re not doing philanthropy. We’re not doing social impact investing. We’re doing early stage venture. Our thesis is that the best returns are going to come from these world positive companies.
VB: Can you clarify how Obvious Corporation and Obvious Ventures are related?
Joaquin: The most important tie is my cofounder Evan Williams. This is really the third chapter of Obvious for Ev. The first chapter led to the creation of Twitter. The second was when he left an operating role and … they were doing a mix of incubating ideas and investing in companies under the moniker of Obvious Corporation. … When Ev went back into the full-time CEO role, he started a conversation with me and my cofounder Vishal Vasishth.
That’s what we spent most of last year putting together.
VB: And what’s your role specifically? A traditional partner?
Joaquin: We recently added an additional partner named Andrew [Beebe]. Vishal, Andrew, and I are the three directors that run day-to-day investing. Ev is a cofounder and a special partner, but he’s not involved in day-to-day investments.
VB: Leo’s an advisor!?!?
Joaquin: Oh yeah, you missed that when we launched in December. Leonardo DiCaprio is an advisor and he is one of our LPs — he’s an investor in the fund. You may know him for acting, but we actually connected with Leo through his environmental activism.
VB: So you have 11 portfolio companies?
Joaquin: A couple more will be announced soon.
VB: Is there a certain amount per year that you’re aiming to invest?
Joaquin: Our typical initial investment is between $1 million and $3 million … We like to act like a cofounder — help build the management team, help build the go-to-market strategy, and help grow the business.
Today we're celebrating the number 123,456,789 ;-) http://t.co/psYRBr5lpg
— Obvious Ventures (@obviousvc) May 21, 2015
Updated at 12:56 p.m. PT with an interview with Obvious Ventures cofounder James Joaquin.
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