Early-stage investment firm Defy updates the venture partner model

Defy, the early-stage venture investment firm founded by Neil Sequeira and Trae Vassallo, is putting a new twist on the venture partner model as it brings Brian Lee and Sujal Patel on board to help out with investing and guiding companies in the firm’s portfolio.

Just don’t call them venture partners.

Vassallo and Sequeira prefer the term “sage” to describe the folks they’re looking to bring in to help mentor their companies.

Here’s how the two describe it in a blog post about the new program:

Venture partner, operating partner, entrepreneur in residence, advisor etc, so many names and so many different implementations, so we decided to simply give our unique relationship it’s own name- a Sage.  

A “sage” is someone wise through reflection and experience and we thought that perfectly encapsulates what these active operating executives bring to Defy. As talented multi-time operators, seed investors and current CEOs, Defy Sages bring their operating experience, domain knowledge, and networks to help our portfolio.

Both Lee, a Los Angeles-based serial entrepreneur who founded or co-founded Honest Co., ShoeDazzle and LegalZoom; and Patel, whose deep background in enterprise software comes from years spent as a co-founder and executive of Isilon Systems and later at EMC, are “longtime friends of the firm” according to an interview with both Sequeira and Vassallo.

Through its twist on the venture partner model, which Defy is calling a “sage” program, the advisors get a bigger piece in the upside at a fund and individual deal level. “There is carry across the fund and on any individual company they’re involved in,” Sequeira said in an interview. 

For Lee, who’s running the Los Angeles-based early-stage consumer investment practice BAM Ventures, the agreement with Defy is a chance to see early-stage executives outside of his network and get exposure for some of the companies in his portfolio. “It’s almost a backstop for BAM Ventures,” said Lee.

Defy’s strategy hasn’t changed. The company will still be investing in traditional Series A deals — the $3 million to $10 million rounds that many firms now consider to be seed stage.

Our goal is to create a right-sized firm, that means we can’t bring on lots of people or we end up in the same slope of everyone else where more people equals bigger fund which ultimately leads to larger checks,” Defy’s two founders wrote in a blog post announcing the Sage program. 

Already the program has borne fruit, with Lee investing beside Defy in the cannabinoid product developer Prima, launched by Honest Co. co-founder Christopher Gavigan, and Shujinko receiving support from Patel as part of its initial $2.8 million round.

And Defy hopes to bring other partners on board to provide even more sage advice for the firm’s growing portfolio.