Ben Ling is as done with 2020 as the rest of us, but certainly for him, the year could have been worse. Ling, who founded his own venture outfit in 2018 — naming it Bling Capital (a nickname from way back) — just closed on $113 million in capital commitments across two new funds: a seed-focused $77 million fund, and an opportunity fund focused on breakout companies from his portfolio that closed with $36 million in capital commitments.
It’s a decent amount of money for a so-called solo GP fund, especially coming as it does just two years after Bling closed on two very similar-size funds: a $61 million seed-stage fund and a $35 million opportunities-type fund. Yet Ling says it could have been twice as much committed capital, given demand. “I had to basically kick people out,” he says of those willing to write him a check.
It’s not so hard to believe, considering the track record of Ling, a former exec at Google, then Facebook, then YouTube, then Google again before Ling turned to venture capital in 2013, joining Khosla Ventures.
Between the more than five years that Ling spent with the Sand Hill Road firm and the “nearly 80” investments he made as an angel investor before that, he says he has invested in 10 “unicorns” altogether so far, including Rippling, Airtable, Udemy, Quora, Instacart, Gusto and the now publicly traded companies PagerDuty, Square, Lyft and Palantir.
A Stanford PhD in computer science, Ling insists that by working as a lone GP — one supported by three principals — he can continue getting into more hot deals. “It’s important because you can make decisions much more quickly, whereas in partnerships, you have to get a partner looped in, and all those days can cost you an investment opportunity.”
Having a powerful network is surely helpful, too. Ling says that roughly 100 limited partners make up Bling’s investor base, and that these individuals are largely the heads of product, the heads of growth and even the founders of many major startups. Among Bling’s backers, for example, is Affirm CEO Max Levchin, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo.
Such contacts matter because when they see reports who are leaving to start new things, they will ostensibly point Bling in the founders’ direction. As for possible conflicts of interest, Ling is clear that there is a “wall, in that our LPs don’t receive any proprietary confidential information about a company unless its CEO says, ‘I want to meet these five to seven people’ who are investors in the fund.”
In the meantime, Ling is continuing to write checks, saying that in seed-stage deals, Bling’s investments typically range from $400,000 to $1 million for a 10% to 12% stake in a company, and that for later-stage deals, he’s writing checks of between $1 million and $3 million.
If you’re curious, some of the later-stage bets in Bling’s portfolio include the micromobility company Lime; Tempo, a home fitness company that involves a wall-mounted screen and is focused on weight lifting; and Vise, which automates aspects of investment management for financial advisers using artificial intelligence.
More nascent bets include InFeedo, a four-year-old, Gurgaon, India-based company that’s focused on employee retention; Sprout Therapy, a year-old, Bay Area startup that’s using tech to expand healthcare access to autistic children; and Hermeus, a 2.5-year-old, Atlanta, Georgia-based company attempting to build a Mach 5 aircraft that would be capable of making the trip from New York to London in just 90 minutes. (Bling has written checks into both Hermeus’s seed and Series A rounds.)
If it seems like Bling is investing all over the place — at least within the U.S. — it is.
Ling credits his background, where he worked for among the world’s largest consumer-facing companies but where, internally, he was developing commerce and SaaS tools for the companies’ small and medium-size business customers. Indeed, Ling says some of the only areas that are off limits for Bling are “rockets, ag tech, biotech or crypto, because we don’t have a comparative advantage in those things.”
If Bling is “pitched on a biotech startup from London, that’s because every biotech investor and every London-based investor has already passed and we’re the dumb money,” he says with a laugh.
As for whether Bling will stay headquartered in the Bay Area, Ling says he’s not sure, that he’s considering a move to either Austin or Miami like a growing number of other founders and investors. He’s worried right now about the state of San Francisco, where he has family. But also, after this very strange year, he’s maybe ready for a change.
From Ling’s perspective, it doesn’t really matter. There’s “still a lot of white space in tech,” no matter where one is investing.