Investor Sumeet Shah is passionate about doing the right thing…passionate enough to punch you.
Sumeet Shah is number two at Brand Foundry, a VC specializing in consumer products. While things you can hold in your hands are less en vogue in our app-crazed marketplace, Shah and his boss, Andrew Mitchell, are bringing the dusty old commerce into Millennialworld. One look at their gorgeous website, and that's easy to tell.
While his products might be old school, his politics are not. Shah is extremely passionate about more gender equality in entrepreneurship (and that's maybe putting it lightly, as you'll see below). He's also dead-set on a new, more holistic approach to investing—one in which power comes with responsibility. He is fed up with the sort of integrity-less power-trippers that at one time dominated his industry.
Luckily, Shah has another outlet for his intense drive. He's a pugilist—a fighter in charity boxing matches that help raise money for cancer research. He's fighting for progress in two big ways, and we were curious: what do they have in common?
So it’s all consumer products—you’re not investing in any apps?
Correct. It’s all about tangible consumer goods. It could be anything from apparel and accessories, food and beverage, health and beauty, all the way up to the internet of things.
I noticed you have a tampon company on your roster.
Yeah! Lola—it’s our largest investment. It’s actually a good thing you brought that up, because of the investments we have, sixteen of them are founded or co-founded by women. That wasn’t planned, but honestly I believe that women are building better consumer products start-ups than men.
Why do you think that is?
The completeness of the founders. There’s a lot more methodical attention to detail. It’s nothing against male founders in general. To be quite frank, it’s just pretty cool that investors are actually giving a shit about female founders now. It’s one thing to invest in what you know and who you know, but if you’re not willing to invest time in women, then you do not deserve to call yourself an investor. You’re doing a disservice to the industry.
"What’s your unique plan? How will you handle the blows you know are coming?"
Why do you think so few female start-ups have become “unicorns”?
Honestly, I think that terminology is bullshit. I think it’s hilarious because a lot of so-called unicorns are really looking like houses of cards. The Silicon Valley mindset where a lot of these “unicorns” are coming out of also keeps looking to be male-centric. It still boggles my mind. There’s a much better system that fosters female founders in the investor space in New York versus Silicon Valley, in my opinion.
Also, this is very important and I forgot to mention: when you look at a lot of the top tech companies that have come through, unicorn or not, you see a lot of women who have taken powerful positions and are changing the futures of these companies. For every Mark Zuckerberg there is a Sheryl Sandberg. Many women founders we have worked with are so operationally focused that we view them more as architects of the brand. I’m not saying that there aren’t women whose faces are part of the brand; you have the Marissa Meyers, Meredith Perrys, the Emily Weisses of the world. But I personally have not found one female founder who I have been disappointed with.
What does it feel like to be in a position to make or break someone’s career every single day?
A big thing for us is that if we pick and choose whom we’re going to help, we might as well get out of the investing business. I’ve seen more than enough of these prominent names get on their high horses, led by their egos, deciding who gets the money, the resources—it’s just mind-blowing to me!
What do you mean? You are choosing who to invest in right?
Yeah we choose who to invest in, but we try to help everyone we can. Just because we don’t choose to invest doesn’t stop us from opening doors. Why can’t you open a door as an investor? I’m willing to risk my reputation to see founders succeed, because the start-up world is a very daunting one. When we look at the mainstream, there’s never enough of an overlap between people on the inside and those on the outside.
I worked as a service provider (a consultant to be specific) for 5 years; I know what it’s like to be constantly pitching. We can only invest in so much, but, as a key, I always ask those who come in my office, regardless our decision, how I can help. Like—Please. Fucking. Bother. Me. There quite frankly is no reason why people in my shoes can’t you be willing to open doors. If you have the connection, make a connection, and if you do make the connection, do not expect to get a cut if it works out!
What do you look for in a pitch?
I’m looking for a sustainable business. Not a billion-dollar business, but for someone who has thought through everything—the people, the pipeline, everything that can build it to the next generation. People, Product, Pipeline—that’s the cycle we look for.
Of the pitches you get, how many do you actually invest in?
Every quarter, we look at around 700-850 potentials; I’ll cut it down to about 10-15; from that, I’ll bring in Andrew and bring it down to 5. The goal from that 5 is 1-2.
So, you have a boxing match coming up…
Your timing couldn’t be better because today was media day for Haymakers for Hope, which means I sparred my opponent for a couple rounds and took some photos.
What motivated you into that?
I learned how to box several years ago because, like so many other people who get into a new routine, of a breakup. Most recently I started training at a place called Body Space Fitness with a great guy named Fran Fontan. I heard about Haymakers for Hope through a few friends, which is an organization that raises money for cancer research to “knock out cancer” through charity boxing matches. This year it’ll be at the Hammerstein Ballroom on November 18th. Tickets are on sale now, just make sure and use SHAH for Ticket Type if you’re coming! I’m just really excited to put on a show for a good cause.
Will this be your first actual fight?
It will be.
How many rounds?
Three rounds, two minutes each.
Are you able to draw any parallels to what makes a good investor and what makes a good boxer?
Absolutely. One of the best things I’ve learned is about ring awareness. If you don’t have a plan, or if you don’t stay vigilant, you’ll lose. That’s so important in investments as well. Everything is about x-factors. What’s that edge that your team has? What’s your unique plan? How will you handle the blows you know are coming?