Ben Narasin was, until recently, president of TriplePoint Ventures, the seed equity practice of TriplePoint Capital. As of this morning, he’s instead the fifth general partner with Canvas Venture Fund, which spun out of Morgenthaler Ventures two years ago.
Given Narasin’s background — he founded the e-commerce site FashionMall.com during the last tech boom; he has also made 75 seed-stage investments using his own personal capital; and, full disclosure, he’s a regular contributor to TechCrunch — he brings some very specific ideas to the job. We talked with him about them yesterday. Our chat has been edited for length.
TC: Why Canvas?
BN: It was one off a handful of firms that had spent time talking with me over the last year and I’d known all the partners here for between six and eight years. [General Partner] Paul Hsiao and I had worked on things together, starting with the very first deal I’d looked at, a wind turbine company. He was at [the firm New Enterprise Associates] at the time and didn’t do it. I did, and it went to zero, but the second investment I made, Lending Club, is now a public traded company that’s worth billions of dollars. And I fortunately invested a lot more in Lending Club.
TC: You’ve made a lot of smart seed bets, including on Dropcam [sold to Nest Labs for $555 million last year] and [the highly valued HR software company] Zenefits. But you seem to have a particular penchant for financial tech. In addition to Lending Club, I see [the still private held lending company] Kabbage and [the mobile payment startup] Check [sold to Intuit for $360 million last year] in your portfolio.
BN: I don’t focus primarily on fintech, but it’s a big part of what I’ve done. It’s only now that I’m moving from seed to Series A that I’ll be [adopting] a more refined focus on narrower areas.
What I really want, as you might guess, is to back technologies that are world-changingly cool. When I invested in Dropcam, there was no such thing as the “Internet of Things.” When I invested in Lending Club, there was no such thing as fin tech.
TC: Do you feel daunted by the size of the checks you’ll be writing? You were investing between $50,000 and $100,000 in these companies. Now you’ll be writing checks of between $5 million and $15 million.
BN: I don’t feel daunted by it. Half the companies I funded in my first six years [of seed investing] went on to raised capital from tier one firms, and I had an enormous [education] through that process of getting to know entrepreneurs and help them raise their A and B and sometimes C rounds. You learn a lot about human nature and deal realities and the evolution of companies when you’re a very involved investor.
TC: You lived through the last bubble. Do you think we’re in another?
BN: I do think people talk about unicorns too much. At the same time, the last private investment in companies that have gone public – even in cases where IPOs were done at lesser valuations than the company’s last private rounds – have proved to be phenomenal investments.
The nature of the web does create something different where every person on the planet can find [and purchase] something immediately if things line up exactly. That just didn’t happen before. So I think things are changing.