Amit Sharma is the Founder & General Partner at Black Jays Investments where he is responsible for sourcing, evaluating, and ultimately investing in early stage start-ups.
Prior to founding Black Jays Investments, Amit was a strategy advisor in London advising incumbent media, telecoms, and technology clients on matters of corporate strategy, M&A, and digital transformation.
Quip, Naadam, Fi, Hatch Collection, Oula Health, Our Place, Grayce, Spark Grills, Coterie, The Inside
I came to VC after spending the early part of my career as a strategy consultant. While I liked the rigor and analysis of corporate advisory work, I was drawn to the innovation taking place around the incumbents we were typically advising. Startups were driving this innovation, and I realized that’s where I wanted to focus. After helping broker the sale of an OTT video service to a large retailer in the UK, I moved to New York and started Angel investing. Over three years, I taught myself early-stage investing, made a bunch of rookie mistakes, and realized some positive outcomes. With those learnings, I raised my first fund – Black Jays.
My most significant learning since I started Black Jays has been around how to evaluate founding teams more successfully. A few things we look for include:
● Vision – what are you trying to fundamentally change in the long term?
● Credibility – do partners see you as someone they can count on, and will future investors see you as a responsible steward of capital?
● Leadership – will you be able to inspire top talent to join you on your journey?
● Coachability – are you open to listening and learning from others? When I first met Simon Enever @ Quip, I knew right away he was the prototypical founder we wanted to back. His angle on the category he wanted to disrupt was clear and believable, he was keen to engage and respond to challenges/concerns, and I was confident he had what it takes to build and lead a team.
I want founders to think of us as the ‘smart, helpful, friend’ in their social circle. We aren’t often Lead investors, which affords us some latitude to take a more informal approach with founders, but that’s also very much a part of how I like to operate as a professional. I want our portfolio founders to feel comfortable sharing problems they haven’t yet figured out, ideas that are still half baked, hires they’re starting to think about making, and other formative challenges crucial to their growth. When we’re able to build that kind of connection with a founder, I think they get the most out of us and vice versa. I’ve also noticed that I have my most productive relationships with founders who are thorough in their quarterly updates and actively solicit our input.
Ben West @ Spark Grills is a great example of a founder we’ve been able to develop this kind of relationship with. When he was raising his Seed Round, we spoke almost daily covering everything from raise strategy to presentation style. Jonathan Bensamoun @ Fi is another founder whose style really matches up with mine – his investor updates are legendary; honest and thorough, they provide an understanding of the business that lets us immediately understand how/where we can help.
I don’t like the framing that ‘pitching’ sometimes implies - it introduces a form of division or separation between founders and investors that doesn’t sit naturally with me. It also literally means “to throw or fling roughly or casually” - I would never want to have a meeting between us and a founder thought of in that way. If you’re a founder meeting with us be honest about what excites you about what your building as well as the challenges you’re thinking about. This provides helpful texture to the discussion and lets us think through things together.
Another piece of advice I’d be remiss not to mention is to really think through the financial ‘ask’. Specifically, this means aligning your operational plan with your capital requirements and ensuring you have a very clear idea of what you need to achieve to raise your next round of financing successfully.
Matt Scanlan @ Naadam is a good case in point. Our initial meeting felt like a fireside chat… punctuated with his very clear command of all the key metrics an investor would want to interrogate in an early stages D2C business. In all credit to him, he has remained as easy to talk to now as back then despite the enormous success Naadam has seen.
My mission is centered around helping ambitious founders build businesses that challenge the status quo. Born to first-generation immigrant parents, I learned very early on the value of hard work and treating others with respect. I am humbled by founders that decide to partner with us and strive to work with them in a collaborative, frank, and honest way. With respect to investing, we have a very high bar for integrity and are looking for founders who are hungry and collaborative by nature.
I don’t think I could have started Black Jays anywhere other than New York. This city is unique in so many ways. It is home to thriving industries (media, fashion, finance, technology), fosters incredible energy and can-do spirit, cultures a strong risk appetite, is commercially sophisticated, and has developed a diverse pool of tech talent. From an investing perspective, though, what I like most about New York is the range of unique startup ideas that we see on a weekly basis. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I am very bullish on the future of NYC Tech. I’ve seen it mature pretty significantly (over the past eight years) and believe that we’re still in the early innings of seeing NYC develop as a top global technology ecosystem.