Periodically, we feature a member from our Team to provide a behind the scenes look at the people that make it all happen at the firm.
Featured This Month:
Adam Dawkins – Investor, Sierra Ventures Investment Team
What is your role and focus at Sierra Ventures?
I’m an Investor on the Investment Team and focus primarily on AI applications, ML infrastructure, enterprise SaaS, and blockchain.
How did you get into Venture Capital?
While completing my undergraduate degree in Texas, I cold emailed over a hundred VCs on the West Coast. My University, Texas A&M, has a small venture and entrepreneurship community (less than 10 active VCs have studied at A&M) so my network was essentially non-existent. One of the firms I emailed, Benhamou Global Ventures (BGV), was gracious enough to offer me a summer internship after graduation.
I moved to sunny California two days after graduation, with two suitcases and a few short-term couches I could sleep on. Fortunately, two months into my internship, I found a full-time investor role at a seed fund in Sunnyvale and a year later I met Sierra Managing Partner Ben Yu at a holiday party. I just completed my two year anniversary with the firm!
What are two interesting things you’re working on right now?
- I believe blockchain technology is still in the first of many innings and I’m excited about companies applying blockchain technology to markets that have historically required third parties, complex ownership, and provenance tracking, and/or had to rely on novel methods to incentivize users to engage in a market or community. We’re seeing a re-imagining of the financial system through decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols and applications enabling market participants to move capital quickly and cheaply, while also creating new types of financial instruments.
- Voice user interfaces (VUIs) are becoming increasingly important to enterprises as a way to eliminate costs associated with human support while providing the customer with consistent, high-quality service. Realistic, customer-facing VUIs are contextually aware and can sufficiently convey brand personalities and tone. Additionally, general enterprise AI solutions can harness VUIs as a way for employees to search for data in a natural, speech-based form. I made an investment in this space and am excited to meet more companies working on this technology.
What are the top three things you think about when looking at a potential investment?
- Do the founders have a compelling story that will convince potential investors, customers, and employees to get involved?
- Are the founders selling the equivalent of a “vitamin” or a “painkiller”? “Vitamins” will be the last products purchased and the first ones to go in a downturn, whereas “painkillers” are mission-critical products regardless of market conditions.
- Are the founders thoughtful in how they run their fundraising process? This interaction gives us a look into how they prioritize their time, communicate with potential partners, and is ultimately a gauge of their decision making as they select who they want around the investor table.
What are the top three pieces of advice you have for entrepreneurs?
- Be honest with investors. Trust is everything and even a minor exaggeration or misrepresentation (different from marketing yourself) can be the deciding factor in whether or not a VC makes an investment.
- Treat time as your most precious resource and constantly re-evaluate how you spend it. Don’t hesitate to tell people “no” when they ask you to share some of your time.
- Do your homework to understand what motivates a particular customer, employee, or investor. People respond well when your asks are framed in the perspective of why it benefits them.
If you had to recommend one book to an entrepreneur what would it be?
Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. This quote sums up Gladwell’s thesis well: “Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” It provides a good reminder that there aren’t many true “overnight” successes. Most of the work it takes to reach that point isn’t glamorous or recognized, but it is the fundamental building blocks of success.
What is your best “life-hack”?
Be maniacal about getting and remaining organized. When you eliminate physical and mental clutter, it enables you to focus on the work that’s most important to you.
Anything else you want to share?
I’m a huge fan of Bunny’s Buddies, an organization that rescues dogs from the meat trade and gives them a second shot at life. More info can be found at https://bunnysbuddies.org/.