Robert brings experience both building and investing in groundbreaking companies. Before joining SoftBank, Robert led investments across commerce enablement and enterprise software as a Principal at B Capital Group. After starting his career at JP Morgan, he helped run business operations at a seed-stage ad-tech startup and later was the Head of Growth at Spring (acq. ShopRunner). Robert received a BBA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
Why did you decide to switch from being an entrepreneur to an investor?
As someone who has always been intellectually curious, I loved the excitement and challenge of helping build technology startups. That said, when you work at a startup, you typically go an inch wide and a mile deep with the goal of becoming an expert in your specific market or function.
I found that I preferred to be a mile wide and a couple inches deep. What attracted me to venture capital was the opportunity to build a perspective on how market landscapes are shifting and then back the best teams conquering those markets. I try to combine my macro views with my understanding of the operating challenges startups are up against to help build sustainable business models.
What excites you most about the work you’re doing at SBIA?
We provide flexible capital and a compelling platform for our portfolio companies. We can support companies when they need to step on the gas and scale the business, and stay with them as they continue their ascent.
As an investor focused on consumer and commerce enablement software, I wanted to be at a fund that is willing to invest in truly innovative technologies and business models. Many VCs are great at pattern matching business models that push us a step or two forward, but SoftBank is willing to make bets on technologies that can fundamentally change the way we operate and interact.
What’s your approach to working with founders?
One of my mantras is that I'm not investing in a company as the expert. I am investing in the expert, or the team of experts that I believe can execute on a vision that they uniquely understand. There are obviously points where I’ll step in to be helpful. But my goal is to be a sounding board for the founders — to be unabashedly truthful and clear about what I think is happening, but ultimately recognize that the final decision isn’t mine to make.
That’s why I try to use my experience looking across thousands of companies to give founders advice and help them avoid mistakes I have seen before. I also try to support them in value additive ways — whether it’s opening up my network to help them hire better talent, or making customer introductions to help grow the business. I'm not there to stifle them or get in their way. I'm there to provide strategic advice and empower the founding team.
As a former operator yourself, is there a perspective you can offer that others can’t?
I know what it’s like to operate under capital constraints. That may not seem like a problem for a lot of companies in frothy capital markets, but founders understand what it’s like to operate in an environment where there’s a very real possibility that everybody you’ve hired will lose their job and everything you’ve built may end because you just ran out of money. Having that empathy is important in understanding the decisions that founders are going through.
The other perspective I bring comes from leading a growth team at a highly capitalized startup. Capital can help you get through rocky times, but it can also lead to bad decisions. That’s why it’s important to be disciplined about the way you’re operating. It’s easy to chase growth just for the sake of getting a higher valuation, but you need to make sure you’re building a sustainable company.
What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
Growing up, I never had the intention of working in technology. I was planning to study film in college until I attended a pre-college summer film program where my movie was a complete flop. I still love all forms of storytelling and I’m excited by the ways technology will continue to enhance our ability to create them across new mediums, but I have accepted that I am better off investing in others rather than creating the stories myself.