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Unshackled Ventures

Frequently Asked Questions

Timing

Are we too early for Unshackled?

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This is unlikely, as nothing is too early for us. Most of the 30+ companies we have invested in had nothing more than an idea and a team. We aren’t afraid of leading with conviction and betting on people as they figure things out. Once you have the conviction in the problem or opportunity, don’t wait to reach out to us - if you wait, it might be too late for us.

We have raised some money from angels - is it too late?

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Nope. If you are fortunate enough to have friends, family or people you’ve come to know that want to back you, that’s wonderful. This isn’t a problem for us - about 40% of the companies we funded had capital from other sources.  We love when other investors are equally excited by what you are doing.

We have a product, customers, and/or revenue - is Unshackled a fit?

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It really depends. Occasionally we make an exception but recognize we are a pre-seed investor. We believe this is where people & problem are a fit. This usually means there isn’t much product validation. You can read more about what we invest in here. If there is an immigration need, let us know. We are always able to help. If you have solved your immigration challenges and have a product, customers and/or revenue, it’s likely we missed our opportunity to invest.

We have heard that you need a product and traction before pitching to VCs. What do we need before we meet Unshackled?

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Every investor has their sweet spot of investing. We prefer investing when you are getting started, without waiting for a product or customers. If you are a kickass team, have unique perspectives on the problem or opportunity, have done some customer discovery or other research to understand the ecosystem you are going into, and you are convinced that you are working on a big opportunity, we would love to meet you.

How we make decisions

Does Unshackled invest in any particular areas or industries?

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We are sector agnostic. We like to see the world from the entrepreneurs’ eyes and follow your vision on the largest opportunities. Like most VCs, we look to invest in companies that can grow at “venture scale” in large market opportunities. This includes tech (software and hardware), life sciences, and materials.

What factors contribute to your decision-making process?

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We invest in exceptional people, seriously. At the time of most of our investments, the only thing that exists is a founding team determined to solve a need and build their vision. It’s normal for us to invest before there is a product or customer/sales metrics. We look for teams with unique insights and hypotheses about the problems they are trying to solve, teams that have an understanding of market inflection points, and think strategically about how to prove willingness to pay and customer pain points in a capital efficient way.

What does Unshackled look for in an idea?

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Big markets follow big problems. We look for bold ideas, not incremental improvements to the status quo. We understand this is a long journey and many things will change so there must be something foundationally new in the idea, approach, or technology.

What do you look for in founding teams?

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We look for teams of individuals that are aware of and confident in their superpowers. Great teams are also self-aware on their blind spots and areas where they will need to fill gaps.

What if the company needs to pivot?

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You won’t be the first one. Zigs & zags on business model, pivots on industry focus or product, are common. We are very used to this and bet on people that aren’t afraid of learning and iterating. Our role is to provide our perspective, if asked, and if the founders decide to change course, be supportive and resourceful to make the adjustment as less painful as possible. Marquee portfolio examples of pivots are Plutoshift, Togg, and Lily AI.

Do you invest in companies outside of Silicon Valley? Outside of the U.S.?

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We invest throughout the U.S. In addition to Silicon Valley, we have portfolio companies based in New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Diego, Toronto, with team members in Denver, Texas, Florida, Hong Kong, Quebec City, and Kenya.  We are based in Silicon Valley and can bring those resources  (access to capital, talent, customers) to our portfolio companies wherever they are based. It's very common for us to invest outside Silicon Valley, but less common for us to make investments in businesses whose customers are outside of the U.S.

Investment Process

What is your investment process and how long does it take?

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We are conviction-driven, selective, and diligent investors. This means our process is thoughtful. We value founders’ time, do our research in between meetings, and maintain transparency on where we are in the process. The duration of the process truly depends on how fast we can get to a strong conviction either to invest or pass. If we conclude that we are not a fit for an investment, we communicate it quickly and with honest feedback. If we think an investment would make mutual sense, we make an offer and work with the founders to close the investment most efficiently. You can learn more about our process here.

Who are the decision makers at Unshackled?

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The entire team is involved in an investment process and information gathering. Ultimately, the two GPs have to reach a unanimous decision to make an investment. Given our different strengths and relationships, this ensures the entire team is supportive to provide the highest caliber of support at the earliest stages.

How do I get in touch with Unshackled?

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The easiest way to get in touch with our team is to fill out this form. It takes less than 3 minutes, and we see everything that comes through. We guarantee you will receive a response after the team has reviewed the info. This process ensures that no one individual on our team is a bottleneck in getting back to you.

We try our best to make ourselves approachable and reachable via cold emails (thoughtful cold emails are effective), LinkedIn requests, and at the events we are attending or speaking at. Talking to entrepreneurs is the best part of our day, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Terms

What is the round size Unshackled will participate in?

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We prefer to lead Pre-Seed rounds in capital efficient founders. These rounds are typically under $500K (occasionally larger in certain verticals). This is usually the capital needed to test key assumptions and hypotheses, and prepare the company for a larger seed round. We have seen this work out to the founder’s advantage to minimize dilution, stay focused, build a habit of frugality. If needed, companies can opportunistically raise additional capital over time (at different valuation caps) as the business progresses, before raising a formal Seed round.

How much does Unshackled typically invest in a new Company?

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Typically our first check at the pre-seed stage is between $200K-$400K, but we’ve gone higher or lower in some cases. As companies scale, we keep reserve capital for investments to support them as they grow.

How many companies will you invest in in a year?

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We work closely with our portfolio companies and ask them to consider us an extension of their team even in the toughest parts of the journey. For this reason, with a small team, high conviction, and a hands-on approach, we selectively invest in 8-10 companies a year.

Does Unshackled have ownership requirements?

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Unlike some traditional venture funds who need 20-25% ownership requirements, we don’t. We like to own enough of the company to make sure that we can dedicate meaningful time and resources to helping you build. Our ideal ownership at pre-seed is between 10-15% and we do this by leading 90% of our investments, without the need for social or product validation.

Does Unshackled only lead investments?

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We have led in 90% of our portfolio investments and prefer to lead. We are comfortable in investing in the best entrepreneurs before others reach their own conviction. However, we have occasionally joined rounds in which we have not led.

Does Unshackled invest with SAFEs, Convertible Notes, or priced rounds?

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Our goal is to make the investment documentation as simple as possible and we prefer to use a Standard SAFE (post-money) document with a side letter for our investment. We aren’t interested in going back and forth with attorneys, especially at this stage.

That said, we have made investments with SAFEs, Convertible Notes, priced rounds and some things in between. We believe it is important for founders and investors to understand the nuances of the various investment instruments. This allows us to be helpful to our founders as subsequent rounds come together with downstream investors. Our experience from raising money for companies we worked at before and for Unshackled’s portfolio provides us critical knowledge to help founder’s understand cap table dynamics as they raise more money.

Immigration

Is it true that Unshackled provides complete immigration support to founders on visas?

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Yes. We are the only VC with immigration attorneys as partners. We take care of everything immigration and employment for our portfolio founders, including visas and greencards. The exact solution varies for each individual, and our team work for portfolio founders to make sure immigration doesn’t slow them down, while maintaining complete compliance with U.S. immigration laws.

Immigration is personal to us since we started Unshackled with our experiences building companies while on a visa. We understand the critical role immigration plays in people’s lives, and are here to make it as less painful as it can be.  The objective is to allow you to innovate and build what you want to build - whether that means you do that as our employee or of your own startup.

We have made over 80 immigration filings across 10 different categories of work-authorization to ensure immigrants can start a company while on a visa, with a 100% success rate. Our immigration team also stays constantly engaged with portfolio founders throughout the journey, as your life and work situation changes.

Does Unshackled provide support to a green card or permanent residency?

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Yes, as part of our immigration support, we help the founding team secure their green card, without legal cost. We have done this through a variety of pathways, including extraordinary petitions like the EB-1. Our team works with portfolio founders to identify the fastest paths to visa-independence, evaluate eligibility for the various pathways, and provide guidance on what needs to be done to become eligible if there are gaps in eligibility.

Does Unshackled work with any specific countries of birth?

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We welcome all immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S. to reach out to us, irrespective of where their journey started. Our portfolio founders were born in 18 countries (across the 6 inhabited continents). Our portfolio truly respects the global diversity of ethnicities and cultures.

Do I need to be in the U.S. to work with Unshackled?

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Our current focus is to work with founders who are already in the U.S. Occasionally, we partner with founders who may be outside the U.S. but are in the process of moving here.

What does it cost to work with Unshackled?

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Immigration is part of our core values and a part of our investment. We will never provide immigration services for a cash fee. Immigration support is a way for us to make our portfolio more valuable and support great entrepreneurs, by solving for a major time-sink in the early days of a company.

I already have capital from elsewhere, can Unshackled still help with immigration?

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Yes, we have done this a number of times and would love to help. Unshackled was founded on the basis of helping immigrant founders start & launch their company. And we are fortunate our immigration & portfolio track record enables us to be helpful, even without our capital.  Most recently for immigrant founders that were accepted into Y Combinator.

When we decide to engage this way, we treat each company as one of our own portfolio companies, providing all the support, without any cash fee. Our goal is to remove early obstacles and partner up with the founders for the long-term.

I have never lived or studied in the U.S., but I want to move to start a company, can Unshackled help?

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Yes, we’d love to learn more. As you may have read, we are on a mission to create 100,000 American jobs. If we believe our involvement in your company helps us achieve that, we would love to get to know you.

What it's like to work with us

How involved will Unshackled be with my company?

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We only make 8-10 investments a year so that we have enough time allocated to each portfolio company and can support our portfolio founders as an extension of their team. Our level of involvement is as much as the team requests. We know founders time is valuable and we trust that our founders will request our support when they need it. We support our founders actively in fundraising, hiring and strategic planning for their next key milestones both in product and business.

Most importantly, we are comfortable and willing to be wartime investors. In other words, we commit more time to portfolio companies when things are not going well, and have found that our time to be more effective than our dollars at those times.

Do you guys help with fundraising?

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Yes. We work hard to build a strong ecosystem of founders, angels, VCs and advisors who spend time with our founders when they reach key milestones and are ready to fundraise. In fact, our teams have raised more than 7 times our initial investment from 250+ outside investors, of which 50% were funds like First Round Capital, NEA, Shasta, Pear, Khosla, RRE, Y Combinator, etc. and 50% were executives from top companies like AirBnB, Nerdwallet, Box, Twitter, Flatiron Health, Yelp, Saks 5th Avenue, Amazon, Uber and scouts from Accel and Sequoia.

We provide a variety of resources available to help you along the way. From pitch deck creation, to founder-to-founder advice, to constant feedback from industry experts, we give you the time. With our average pre-seed company raising their seed round at 5x our entry valuation, we have seen this strategy work.

Do you help with finding key hires?

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We think we can be valuable in a lot of ways here, but have noticed the biggest values are in sharing hiring opportunities with our networks and using our experiences to help close critical hires at your business. As previous executives at a high-profile tech company (backed by a16z, First Round, Floodgate, etc.), the team at Unshackled has a strong network of talent in a variety of industries that trust their judgement and deal sourcing. This has been meaningful in identifying key hires and advisors that help immigrant founded companies succeed faster.

What makes Unshackled different?

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We have started companies as immigrants and built a venture fund for immigrants. We try to be the best source of friends and family capital immigrant founded teams can have. We also are the only fund (that we know of) that provides full immigration support for our founding teams. As part of our investment, our team will help  secure work-authorization all the way to your green card, at no extra time or financial cost to portfolio founders. This is because we have brought on an immigration partner into our General Partnership.

Additionally, our thesis is founded on identifying people with greatest upside. We put in the effort to discover the talent outside of systemic biases & immigration limitations and provide them with a stable platform to unleash their full potential. This can be summarized by our conviction, composure and community.

Conviction. Our willingness to go early, make our own decisions, and amplify an immigrant founder’s time provides a unique access point. We have led 90% of the initial investments, being the first money in 60% of them. In fact, we are more comfortable leading than following and don’t worry about social signals. This isn’t helpful for immigrants.

Community. The difference between success and failure is who you know, when. This is even more valuable for immigrants who may have limited reach within the mainstream startup ecosystem. Solving this paradox has been one of our core pillars from the start. This has evolved into over 250 people that want to jump in and help out founder’s scale. We host events regularly, have created a founder series workshop (i.e. small think tanks with founders of AppDynamics and ThredUp), make 1-on-1 connections and can feature you in our newsletter and our annual meetings.  We put the effort in to identify the right matches and think this level of customer service is what makes funds like Andreessen Horowitz stand out.

This also scales in another way. From our first investment in 2015, we have seen the # of investors and the $’s they investment grow every year. From $2.1M in outside capital raised in 2015 to $20.1M in 2018 - 10x in just 3 years. We are excited by this trend, as it benefits newer portfolio companies meaningfully.

Composure. We know building a company is hard. We know its even harder for minorities. Recognizing that, we stay patient and composed when our portfolio companies are going through adversity.

At our stage, we are investing in people, not businesses. Founders need time to ‘zig and zag’ and are already under significant pressure. Adding any more pressure is detrimental. As we learned to be composed, and support portfolio founders more with our time when they need it, we have seen their adversity muscles shine while their economic upside grew with limited financial downside.

Does Unshackled take board seats?

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We do not require or ask for a board seat. We believe our relationship with our founders is more valuable at this stage than a formal board relationship. That said, we have accepted board seats at the request of portfolio founders.

Do I get to interact with other immigrant founders and get their insights?

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Of course! This is a major part of our community element. We have an active Slack channel, host events regularly, set up a founder series to enable organic relationships and knowledge flow.

Does Unshackled invest more in an existing company as they grow?

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Depends. As companies scale, we keep reserve capital for investments to support them as they grow from the initial check. Our decision to follow-on our investment is at the discretion of the partners and is based on our experience and relationship working together up to that point.

Basics

Where is Unshackled's office?

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Our main office is located in Palo Alto, CA.

Is Unshackled hiring for any roles right now?

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You can check out current openings here.

Who are Unshackled's limited partners/investors?

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Our fund is backed by some of the most influential families & investors in the country. We are also very pleased to have a stable capital base of institutional investors and high-net worth individuals. Our limited partners are a core part of the work that we do and a great resource to access networks. Many of our limited partners are also active investor in our companies directly.