Shub Gaur, an investment partner on the San Francisco team, joined the Dorm Room Fund team in October 2020. He co-founded Spree, a chrome extension that automatically compares prices for you. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @shubgaur on Twitter.
How did you get involved with venture capital?
I’m a rising junior at the University of Southern California studying computer science and business, and I have fallen in love with startups. I’m really fortunate to have been introduced to entrepreneurship really early, through a few friends at USC who introduced me to amazing campus organizations TroyLabs and LavaLab. These organizations are the main reason so many high-quality startups come out of USC, and I was lucky enough to have spent time with some amazing people, helping founders build awesome companies.
After spending some time helping others with their companies, I ended up starting my own company called Spree. It was probably one of the most fun experiences of my life, and becoming a founder was my tipping point. Watching people scale companies and fundamentally change the way we interact with everything from fashion to social media is always inspiring, but learning what it takes to make a company successful is the best part, hands down.
Sadly, when it comes to venture capital, we have room for improvement. Los Angeles’s venture capital scene is vastly different from the scene in Silicon Valley. It’s simply much harder to gain investment in SoCal because the founders are vastly underestimated. That’s not to say that students at prestigious universities in Silicon Valley aren’t deserving. They’re definitely exceptionally talented. But as a student founder in Los Angeles, gaining investment remains a pipe dream for most due to a few harmful stereotypes about the Los Angeles tech scene, and I say this as someone who was born and raised in the Bay Area. Unless you are a consumer or social media company, it has historically been extremely tough for startups out of Southern California to access capital, let alone speak to investors.
To be honest, I was pretty frustrated, and I’m sure other student founders were as well. As luck would have it, I reached out to Jeremy Navarro, the former DRF head of growth — an absolutely amazing guy, by the way — and tried to convince him that Dorm Room Fund should expand into the Los Angeles university ecosystem.
One thing led to another, and funny enough, I became the point person in Los Angeles, as part of DRF. And it has definitely been one of the most amazing experiences. Seeing the same high-caliber founders that would not have received a second glance from investors finally go on to do amazing things is surreal, and Dorm Room Fund is a major catalyst in providing capital for SoCal entrepreneurship.
Tell us about USC’s entrepreneurship scene.
At USC, the main stereotype because of the scandals is: “It’s a bunch of rich kids that don’t really have any talent, and they’re just here for the degree.” But seriously, I’ve not seen any of that yet. Hopefully, I find some rich person who will take me out to dinner every day, but it hasn’t happened just yet. Fingers crossed.
In USC’s case, it seems like every startup organization and every founder is proving that stereotype wrong. People are motivated to be kind and succeed in the right ways, and there’s positive energy around the startup scene. While consumer startups are doing well, the other startups forming in the area are crushing it because they finally have access to capital.
The thing that tends to inspire most people about entrepreneurship is the idealized Silicon Valley parties and the money. Both of those things are honestly nonexistent for the first few years of founding something. The first, because of COVID. The second, because as an entrepreneur, your goal is to keep spending down, especially in the beginning. Sadly, this misconception is constantly romanticized.
Early on, I thought being a founder would mean tons of cash, and maybe even choosing my own work hours. Honestly, that was the worst way to go about it. I had to learn that the hard way. But I’m glad I fell prey to that logical fallacy because while I started a company for the wrong reasons, it led to me appreciating what it takes to start something. It’s all about the leap of faith, right? You have an opportunity cost to everything you’re doing. If you want to be good at founding something, you have to truly believe in it. Now, my passion for both entrepreneurship and VC comes from enabling founders to do what they love. That sounds super cliche, but it boils down to people doing cool stuff that they’re passionate about.
My two co-founders and I saw a cool space with price comparison and solving checkout friction. And that’s something I could nerd out about for days. But to save you from that entire tangent, we eventually ended up joining Lolli, a company that gives people Bitcoin rewards for shopping online. So now, I get to work at Lolli on product and growth, which has been fun.
The hardest part about being the cliche student founder is balancing school and those insane work weeks, which can definitely cause some burnout. But now, it’s finally my time to help other founders out and get their startups to the next level. I always love a good underdog story, and when it comes to SoCal entrepreneurship, it’s probably the biggest one of them all.
How did you choose a shopping service?
We stumbled on the idea because we hated being terrible shoppers, and knew there was a better price out there. Our initial guesses when it came to product decisions were just that — guesses. What made the ideation process much easier was that we were building for ourselves. We could ask ourselves, “What ticks me off about shopping?” and then validate that answer later on.
We did a huge amount of user interviews. That’s something where I feel like it’s a necessary evil. After the 200th interview, you’re getting the same answers, and it’s not the most fun thing, but it’s the easiest way to know that you’re building things that people want. We tried to stay away from family because they will always lie to you and tell you that what you’re building is God’s gift to the world.
For our users, we tried to go to friends of friends. It was virtual because of COVID. Before, we had casual user interviews. Most of it was word of mouth; we’re building this and if you know three other people that we could talk to, that’d be great. That worked out well.
DRF is basically VC on training wheels, and I mean that in the best way possible. You get to have cool conversations with talented founders, which is the best part. One common theme that I’ve seen in the hundreds of pitches from Los Angeles founders specifically is that people who may be exceptionally knowledgeable in a space are sometimes a little too scared to go after it because they think all the money in LA converges on consumers, social media or influencers. If I see another Tinder for X, that’s probably my 50th of the week.
It’s disheartening to see talented people who have passions for another space switch to something that’s more consumer so it’s palatable in the eyes of LA investors. That’s quickly changing, and DRF is one of the reasons that it’s changing, which is something I’m proud to be a part of.
Thanks to DRF’s presence and willingness to back all types of exceptional people, I’m finally seeing founders that are smart tackling the hard stuff. They’re actually focusing on the areas that they’re experts at rather than “this is what I need to build to get funding.”
I absolutely love volleyball. It’s been something that I’ve played since I was six or seven. It’s become such a huge part of my life. COVID took that away a little bit, which is really sad. But it’s something where if anyone texts me, even people I don’t know, and they’re mentioning volleyball, I’m there ready to play. It’s one of the best words out there and very underrated.
I will die on this hill; volleyball is the best sport around for a couple of reasons. First, scoring. 25 points are the perfect amount. Soccer, not to anger 100 million people, is one of those sports where you get that moment of joy twice, which is great, but I want it 25 times. And basketball, it’s like a little too much. On top of that, one of the great aspects of volleyball is that teamwork is mandatory. When you’re on a team of six people on the court, it doesn’t matter if one person is the best in the world. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, which means everyone’s there to support each other. There’s this “necessary” teamwork that I love.
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This article first appeared on the DRF blog.