Building on the Power of Affinity
Jonathan Meltzer (W99) is a Partner at Alumni Ventures, which was ranked the third most active VC firm globally in 2021. Unlike conventional VC firms which raise their funding from institutions, Alumni Ventures focuses on democratizing access to venture capital for individual accredited investors. Alumni Ventures also differentiates itself via its sizable community of 600,000 subscribers and supporters. These connections bring together diverse entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and innovation enthusiasts.
Jonathan is responsible for sourcing, conducting due diligence on, and executing venture capital investments at Chestnut Street Ventures. He previously spent 12 years investing in private companies at two single-family offices and at American Capital. Jonathan began his career as an investment banker as an analyst at Wasserstein Perella and subsequently joined Goldman Sachs as an associate. He received his BS in Economics cum laude from Wharton and his MBA with honors from Columbia Business School.
What is one piece of advice you would share with potential founders?
Understand that, as a founder, what you need (other than money) doesn’t necessarily need to come from investors. When you’re out raising money, think about what you’re trying to get from that source. For example, are you looking for just capital? Are you looking for certain value-adds, like relationships or advisors? And if it’s relationships or advisors, do you really need that to come from investors, or can it come from other people in your network? It’s common for founders to think they need to get everything from their lead, but in reality there are many different sources in their networks that they can draw upon. Utilize the power of your network!
What is one trend you’ve had your eye on, and why?
The trend I’m focused on most closely, that I’ve been following for many years, is the automation of dull, tedious, or dangerous tasks. There are a lot of macroeconomic and societal changes that are impacting expectations of the labor force, and the disruption associated with this trend has accelerated ever since Covid hit. There’s been a change in what workers want to do. So, whether it’s trying to keep humans safe, or ensuring that workers are doing jobs that are fulfilling to them, it’s a problem that needs to be solved.
For example, we recently invested in a company that offers a robotic solution for cleaning windows. That’s a task that’s historically dangerous, it’s dull, and it’s limited to being done only in daylight hours. There’s been very little innovation in this area, so why shouldn’t there be a robotic solution for it?
Can you share your thoughts on how to create a persuasive and effective pitch deck? What are the aspects of a pitch deck that grab your attention?
We invest across all stages so what’s applicable for a seed round is potentially different than for a Series D. But generally I’m looking for two things: first, is there a compelling value proposition? Is there an understanding of, “what is the value proposition to the customer?” And the second is, how does the company make (or intend to make) money? Sometimes as the reader you’re presented with an idea, and as the reader, you’re either left to figure it out or can’t necessarily quantify what the impact is. When the founder has an understanding of why there’s potential demand for this, I love to see that. And while it’s great to have happy customers, an investor will also want to see that there are compelling aspects of the economic model as well. You would be surprised at how frequently neither of these questions is addressed, but it’s important!
Are there any ‘best practices’ that you like to share with potential founders?
Make sure you’re truly ready to pitch, and don’t be afraid to ask to defer a meeting if you’re not ready. A founder can do all of the work to open doors and get a meeting, but that founder also has to go into the meeting ready to win. Unless you’re talking to close friends, it’s never a dress rehearsal.
To give yourself the best chance for success, cultivate as many advisors as you can, and find an environment where you can practice your pitch, and where you can hear others practice their pitches at the same time. Remember that, as a founder, you have less experience than those you’re pitching to. There’s a natural disparity of experience. So, reps count! Surrounding yourself with advisors and finding ways to practice and to learn from others who are also practicing, is a great way to close that gap and prepare for a pitch.
We love to profile our amazing community. If you are a funder and would like to share your experiences, insights and advice with the WAFFA community, please click here. If you are a Founder, click here.