Updated: Oct 23, 2020
On relationship building, early stage investing, and venture fundraising with Milan Koch and Jeffrey Evans, co-founders of Mantis, a new fund created in partnership with the Chainsmokers
I spoke with Milan Koch and Jeffrey Evans, co-founders and managing partners of Mantis, a new venture fund created in partnership with the Chainsmokers, Alex Pall and Drew Taggart. The fund’s investors include Mark Cuban, Ron Conway, Keith Rabois, and Jim Coulter.
Milan’s interest in the entrepreneurship world began in college when he co-founded a travel tech startup. He then moved to the investing world to stay involved with founders in a hands on way. He worked with hackathons, accelerators, developer studios, startup conferences, and most recently, Base Ventures.
Jeffrey’s venture capital interest comes more from the founder side as an incredible serial entrepreneur. He founded 5 companies largely in the communications, media and human capital industries. He met Milan through a mutual friend at a Harvard tech and music symposium 3 years ago.
Milan and Jeffrey started brainstorming the idea for a tech venture fund in partnership with an influencer who was also organically already interested in venture investing, The two saw that Alex and Drew (The Chainsmokers) had already done north of 20 investments in start-ups and other tech companies. That led Jeffrey to get in touch with his friend, Josh Klein, the business manager for the Chainsmokers. When Milan and Jeffrey pitched their fund idea to Josh he noted that Alex & Drew were already looking to institutionalize their angel investing by launching a fund of their own. The team got to know each other over the course of a year, working on different projects together to feel out what a partnership would look like and subsequently launched Mantis, which recently closed their $35 million debut fund.
Milan and Jeffrey shared their advice on relationship building, early stage investing, and venture fundraising.
Listen first. Instead of making asks or pushing your own agenda at the outset, focus on hearing what other people want and need and what truly excites them. Learn from them as much as possible and stay humble in the process. During founder and investor calls, Milan and Jeffrey frequently carve out a dedicated 15 minutes to just get to know people, deal and money aside. By intentionally taking the time to listen, you make others feel understood and are able to more effectively add value to them to build more meaningful, long term relationships.
Be there for people. Perhaps even more so than powerful intros and incredible wisdom, founders appreciate investors who are truly there for them. Milan and Jeffrey aim to be available at all waking times for their founders and consistently responsive to both their good and bad news and their asks and wins.
Look for strong emotional connections. When evaluating founders, Milan and Jeffrey note that the product and subsequently the market can evolve significantly over time as founders iterate to find and preserve product market fit. Consequently, the ultimate constant is the founder themselves. The founders’ execution ability is frequently a greater determinant of success than the idea itself.
When getting to know founders, Milan and Jeffrey look for people with a strong emotional connection to the problems they are solving. When the going gets tough (as it inevitably does when building a company), only those founders with true passion for and belief in their problem and solution space will find the fire to persist.
Look for people with a sense of urgency. Founders have to iterate quickly and constantly. To this end, Milan and Jeffrey look for founders who have this sense of urgency around the execution strategy and timeline and are deeply driven to achieve their goals quickly and effectively, even during challenging times. They focus on evaluating how quickly founders iterate on their strategy based on new information and how quickly founders grow as leaders.
Prioritize in-person relationships. When fundraising for their debut fund, the Mantis team focused on their existing relationships, those people they had met in-person prior to COVID. While Zoom was a great way to further cultivate those relationships and move them toward official partnerships, the in-person connection was crucial in laying the foundation.
Find a way to make work what you love. Investors look for founders who have found something they can and passionately want to be persistent on. In a similar vein, when planning careers, everyone should optimize each step for the end goal of being at a company and in a role they feel this same delightful passion for.
About the Author