Updated February 1, 2020: I started Haystack in March 2013. Back then, I knew I was interested in investing, but I did not know what I was doing. I tried to persuade various venture capital funds to hire me, but they did not — I did not have the right experience to earn a spot. Instead, many of the venture capitalists and founders I had gotten to know and worked with encouraged me to start my own fund and they backed me. That advice and nudging turned out to be transformative. Those early Haystack funds I, II, and III were fortunate to invest right before the key inflection points of outstanding companies, and since then, my interest in investing has mutated from a curiosity to natural obsession.

With a smaller footprint, Haystack is somewhat like a startup — we have to raise funds from investors (limited partners), we have to cover both the fun work of early-stage investors (meeting exciting new people) and the not-so-glamorous work (back office administration, paperwork, etc.), and we have to continuously deliver value to all corners of the ecosystem to remain relevant. Now with nearly seven years of investing experience in the books, there is even more to learn, more great early-stage founding teams to identify and partner with, and even more challenges in early-stage company building and value creation.

Haystack is also growing up a bit, entering its seventh year. I had to update the copy on this site. Looking back to 2017, the copy on this site read as follows:

In such a dynamic environment, Haystack is growing up a bit – we don’t have an office, we don’t have a process, we don’t have a fancy website, we don’t push our point of view — rather, we believe smart founders know how to leverage their resources, including investors; we don’t have a services team, we don’t invest in “sectors,” and most critical — we don’t believe we know what the future may hold. Instead, we believe it is the founder who carries a special secret, and our job is to identify those with secrets and partner with them to bring those secrets to the world.

Well, there are some changes as the new decade begins. Haystack now has an office in Jackson Square in San Francisco; we now have an investment process; I have colleagues on the investment team, specifically Ian Hathaway and Aashay Sanghvi; we now have a new website (sort of fancy, I guess). That said, we still don’t push our point of view — we are still in search of founders who will lead us to the future. Some things have changed, and some things stay the same.

Thank you for reading,

-Semil

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I am an investor and writer based out of Silicon Valley. I created and invest out of an institutional seed fund called Haystack, which is proud to be an early investor in over 70 companies, including Instacart, DoorDash, Hired, Hashicorp, Giphy, Envoy, OpenDoor, eShares, Airmap, Clara Labs, Wag Walking, and Managed By Q (see full portfolio here). I am also Venture Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, was selected to the “Midas Brink List 2017” by Forbes (full bio here)

My startup experiences: Before investing, I worked on mobile product (iOS and Android), marketing, and distribution for Swell, built by Concept.io (acquired by Apple). Prior to Swell, I worked at Rexly (acquired by Live Nation) and Votizen (acquired by Causes), was a consultant to IFTTT on their mobile apps and platform, and was an EIR for six months with Javelin Venture Partners in San Francisco.

How I cracked into venture capital: Before starting Haystack, I was a consultant to a variety of venture capital firms Silicon Valley assisting with deal evaluation, due diligence, marketing, and special operations — those firms included General Catalyst, Kleiner Perkins, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Trinity Ventures, Javelin Venture Partners, Bullpen Capital, GGV Capital, and a few others.

Writing on tech and VC over the years: Previously, I was an official contributor to TechCrunch from January 2011 to April 2014 [link to column], where I wrote a weekly column every Sunday at 10am PST and created and hosted TV show called “In The Studio,” which ended after 70 consecutive episodes. I also produced a series of  video interviews called  “Sunday Conversations,” which aired bi-monthly or so [iTunes] [SoundCloud].

In Another Life: Before moving to the Valley in 2010, I helped start a life sciences company (MegaCell Therapeutics)  in Boston, wrote for Harvard Business Review [link to my posts] and [email protected], worked for Harvard University in a variety of capacities (including in India) while attending graduate school, worked in the finance field on the nonprofit side (for the NCEO) in Oakland (2002-2006), worked for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and spent one year as a cook at Bi-Rite Market off Dolores Park in San Francisco and another as a professional bartender in NYC near Gramercy Park at a bar that no longer exists.

International: I have also spent considerable time traveling in and doing business in Asia, specifically China and India, for many years. During graduate school, I worked for various schools at Harvard, in partnership with the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIMA), to help build curriculum in a variety of economic and management disciplines for the school’s executive education program and for the civil and administrative services of the Government of India. Additionally, my graduate work focused on special economic zones (SEZs) within India and China.