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:
Tej Kanani – Investor, Sierra Ventures Investment Team
What is your focus at Sierra Ventures?
As an early-stage investor, my primary focus is investing in the boldest and most ambitious entrepreneurs, regardless of sector. That being said, cybersecurity, developer-first, and core AI / ML businesses excite me the most.
How did you get into Venture Capital?
My journey to VC, specifically Sierra Ventures is quite interesting. I worked at Redlock, a Sierra Ventures portfolio company that was acquired by Palo Alto Networks. During my summer there, I had the unique opportunity to present my work to Sierra Ventures Managing Partner, Mark Fernandes (at the age of 16). I was up until 5 in the morning fine-tuning my one slide presentation. I was incredibly nervous when it came time to present to who my high school self considered to be “a real-life shark from Shark Tank”! I made it through the presentation and have kept in touch with the Sierra Ventures family ever since. A college diploma and few career steps later, I found my way to the investment side of the world, and coming to work at Sierra was a no-brainer.
What sectors or trends are you excited about right now?
- Cybersecurity is the gift that keeps on giving. Enterprises continue to invest in software to solve security threats that keep multiplying. Attackers find new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in enterprise environments and as a result, new startups emerge to solve problems that existing solutions cannot. With the shift to cloud, remote work is here to stay, and the increasing number of applications / APIs within enterprises will continue to make security spending a priority.
- Social is starting to pick up once again. We had the first wave with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and now we are approaching social 2.0. This phase is more centered around collaborative content creation. Whether it’s sharing an audio chat forum with fellow industry experts on Clubhouse or texting in a group chat about the hottest Robinhood trades, Millennial and Gen-Z consumers want to use applications where they can collaborate. Even within the enterprise, there is a big focus on open source and community-driven platforms. It’s all about social together going forward.
What are the main things you think about when looking at a potential investment?
- Number one is always the quality of the team. In today’s world, if you have a startup idea, there are likely at least 4-5 other teams working on it already. I start with thinking about why you are the right team to build, execute, and scale.
- A clear view of how your company becomes the “next big thing”. I look for founder conviction that no matter what, their company will become a $B+ business.
- Does the story inspire me? Because if it does, it likely will inspire other investors, customers, employees, and key stakeholders.
What is your advice for entrepreneurs?
- I’d caution against building a “Jack of all trades” business. Find 1-2 real problems and solve them. Your sales pitch should be a no-brainer for the customer to buy your product.
- It’s okay to ask. Whether it’s for customer introductions, capital, or just someone’s time. No one got anything without asking for it first.
- Have fun! You’re sacrificing a lot of time and energy as an entrepreneur, so celebrate every small win.
What book would you recommend for entrepreneurs?
Choosing just one is difficult, but I’d pick The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. It’s a captivating story of nine Americans in pursuit of a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The story reveals the power of teamwork – people with different personalities and backgrounds coming together for one common purpose. A must-read for entrepreneurs.
What is your best “life-hack”?
Do something fun for yourself every single day. It can be as simple as making time for your favorite TV show, FaceTiming an old friend, or hiking a local trail. Whatever it is, find the time to do things that make you happy. Life is too short not to.
Anything else you want to share?
I’m an avid coffee drinker. Any coffee bean recommendations are always welcome!