Anarghya Vardhana controls more money than some heads of state.
The Stanford grad and proud Oregon native is a senior associate at Seattle- and San Francisco-based Maveron, a venture capital firm that eschews the push-marketing and B2B firms that dominate much of the tech and startup world, in favor of companies that focus directly on the consumer.
Most famously, back in 1998, Maveron saw potential in a three-year-old upstart called eBay—originally founded to help out collectors of Pez dispensers.
At Maveron, Vardhana—who published her first math theorem at the age of 17— works at the nexus where consumer needs meets bleeding-edge tech like artificial intelligence.
This March, Vardhana will appear at TechfestNW at the Portland Art Museum, a gathering of leading thinkers, startups and established companies that has showcased the the Pacific Northwest’s talent and innovation for the past five years. There, she’ll be sharing the information tech entrepreneurs most want to hear: How do you get your company funded by a venture capital firm?
We talked with her in advance of her appearance about Maveron, Trump and the tech bubble.
Maveron focuses exclusively on consumer brands. What do you look for in companies when you’re deciding whether to invest?
We’re looking for iconic consumer tech brands—companies that have the potential to build an enduring brand with the consumer, develop an emotional connection with a consumer. We look at all the verticals and marketplaces—mobile, tech, ecommerce. We’re investing a company that’s building a longer-term relationship with the consumer.
Any other specific things you look for?
We're very team and founder driven. We look for founders that have that secret sauce or unfair advantage; maybe they've experienced problems in that sphere, maybe they have proprietary knowledge. We believe that building a company is very hard, and building a consumer driven company is perhaps even harder. We try to find people who can make necessary pivots to succeed in that space. We look at the product, we look at the market opportunity.
What companies have you invested in recently that you're very excited about?
We love this company called Booster Fuels, which offers an on-demand mobile fueling service that allows you to get your gas refilled at high density parking lots. It's really remarkable for the consumer—nobody says "l love getting gas refilled." This changes an industry that is unsafe, environmentally unfriendly. You get the service in a corporate parking lot—you request a boost. Some companies may subsidize it, but the interface is with the consumer. The consumer downloads the app. The owner is very interesting—he's formerly a rocket scientist.
And Allbirds—a vertically integrated wool and shoe company—it's an amazing company, to see how fast it grows, explore just how much consumers love these shoes.
A lot of people are worried we're near the end of another tech bubble. Does that affect how you invest?
The bubble discussion can go either way. People will say yes or no. But we're focused on those brands that add value to the consumer, and the consumer's life is constantly shifting. If we stay focused on consumers, if we're good investors we can pivot with them.
Does America's current political instability create opportunities or shut them down?
It's early to tell—who knows? The markets went up, they went down, they continue to bounce around. There are so many factors. One of those factors is, how do we perceive the U.S. relationship abroad?
Many investors have international consumers, international clients. It's important for all of us—investors and founders alike—to support each other in terms of resources and info. We put out a statement about supporting any companies that need help, especially with immigration issues, reaffirming our belief that that the best companies are founded by all different sorts of people.
Let's say someone is hellbent on doing what you do—working in venture capital. What's your advice?
At the end of the day, I would say if you are interested in working in VC, start showing that interest in a tangible way. If you have investment firms or partners that you admire, show them your interest, show them your ability to have access to interesting deals or interesting trends. When people come to me, I'm happy to chat: One of the best ways is show me what you see. Do you have a good eye? Are you spotting trends, are you forming relationships around that? That's what I do.I'm constantly learning, constantly forming new relationships.