Sohail Prasad and Samvit Ramadurgam are co-founders who met during Y Combinator’s 2012 summer batch and went on to co-found Forge, which helps accredited investors and institutions buy and sell private company shares and which most recently raised $150 million in new funding in May.
Forge — originally known as Equidate — has taken off as demand for private company shares has ballooned. The company, launched in 2014, has now raised $250 million altogether, including from Deutsche Börse, Temasek, Wells Fargo, BNP Paribas and Munich Re. It acquired rival SharesPost last year for $160 million in cash and stock. According to the company, it now has more than $14 billion in assets under custody.
Prasad and Ramadurgam — who helped hire Forge CEO Kelly Rodriques back in 2018 — say they’re excited about that success. They still own a stake in the company; they remain nonvoting board members.
But after spending 18 months as co-president of Forge at the outset of Rodriques’s tenure, they left early last year to begin tinkering on a new idea, one that Prasad says is centered around giving a much wider pool of people access to private company shares. Called D/XYZ (pronounced “Destiny”), the idea is to enable any investor — not just the 1% — to invest in startups whose services they use and love.
Unfortunately, the two aren’t offering much more of a curtain raiser than that right now, though Prasad suggests D/XYZ is neither a new fund nor a crowdfunding vehicle. It’s also not selling any tokens, we gather. Instead, Prasad hints at an entirely new product, saying the company is being cautious in how much it shares publicly because it first wants to “get the go-ahead from regulators, as well as to ensure we have a clear path to market,” he says.
In the meantime, the two have raised $5 million in seed funding from numerous founders who like the idea of making private company shares easier for their parents, friends, customers, partners and everyone else who likes what they’re building. Among the round’s participants is Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam; Plaid co-founder and CEO Zach Perret; Quora and Expo co-founder Charlie Cheever; Superhuman founder and CEO Rahul Vohra; and serial entrepreneur Siqi Chen, who most recently founded a finance software company called Runway.
As for some of the nascent startup’s most obvious competition, Prasad doesn’t sound concerned. Asked, for example, about Carta, a well-funded company that helps private companies and their employees manage and sell their stock and options and that has long talked about democratizing access to private company shares, Prasad says it remains very much a direct competitor instead to Forge given that both cater first and foremost to companies, not individuals.
And what of SPACs, the special purpose acquisition companies that are moving private companies onto the public market faster, allowing (at least in theory) more people to access high-growth companies at earlier stages? It’s a partial solution, says Prasad. But the way he sees it, “SPACs are more a reflection that people want late-stage access to private tech and their best option right now is giving money to a SPAC manager who will hopefully find a promising company to merge with in two years or less.” He calls them a “layer of abstraction.”
Of course, there’s also the question of whether Forge will be a friend of foe if whatever Prasad and Ramadurgam are building succeeds. Could their tech be sold back to their first company? Could Forge come to see them as a rival to its business?
“What we’re doing now is not competitive,” insists Prasad. “It’s more picking up the mantle where we left off. Forge is focused on trading, custody, company solutions and data. It has built what some call boring plumbing.” Now that the plumbing has been erected, it has “enabled a lot of other interesting things to be built, too.”
So is D/XYZ working with Forge in some capacity? Prasad demurs. “Potentially,” he says.
In other words, stay tuned.