Interview with Eric Bahn
At Hustle Fund
, they think that the very best founders execute well and execute fast. They refer to these founders as hustlers, and they want them in their family.
By working with Hustle Fund, they commit to hustling as hard as their founders. An investment decision will happen within 1-2 weeks of first meeting. They try to execute all investments in a founder-friendly YC SAFE—but they're open to other instruments as well. They'll work with every team on a growth project to add value beyond money.
Their goal is to have a deep relationship (professionally, personally) with their founders, so they can grow old together and build a lot of great stuff as a team.
Hi Eric! Could you please introduce your work with Hustle Fund and what led to your co-founding the venture fund back in 2017?
Hi, my name is Eric Bahn and I'm one of the co-founders of Hustle Fund.
Hustle Fund is a venture capital firm that focuses on pre-seed and seed stage software investments.
Today we've made 66 investments into 66 great companies all across United States, Canada, and Southeast Asia.
The primary reason for why we co-founded this fund in 2017 is we want to actually prove a very simple thesis which is that great hustlers look like anyone, and can come from anywhere.
We have a lot of venture capital firms in Silicon Valley where I'm based but so much of the dollars are concentrated in very specific geographies like the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, and a couple other markets, but it's our contention that we have a model where we can support founders almost anywhere in the world where they are starting their hustle and by doing our work we can prove that great founders even those that aren't necessarily based in some of this locus is a talent like Silicon Valley and New York can actually build huge businesses, create enterprises and actually make a big dent in the world, and it's exciting to be at a fund that helps these founders at the earliest stages. So it's a great job.
How and when was Hustle Fund born out of your work with The Hustle? What was the "A-ha!" moment?
About three years before we launched Hustle Fund, my partner Elizabeth Yin and I launched a media business called The Hustle, actually wasn't called The Hustle at that time, it was actually called Hustle Con, we actually intended to create an event series for a non-technical people to start tech companies. At the time there's this narrative back in what's called 2013 where it was believed that if you wanted our tech companies to learn how to code and all these coding schools came about as a result. Elizabeth and I looked at this trend and said you know this is all kind of B.S. there's plenty of examples of great founders without any technical skill who are able to demonstrate product-market fit, scale their businesses to a pretty good degree even before they put down a single line of code, and that actually spurred us to create this movement around Hustle Con and The Hustle to focus on sales, marketing, and growth as a mechanism and sort of a teaching topic to unblock new founders to start their own companies. From this work, we found that we really agreed with this thesis, even more, got more conviction, and eventually, this led us to large impacts and influence in our own investing styles, and later creating our own fund.
What have been some of the most successful companies you've partnered with? What were the keys to their success?
Since launching Hustle Fund in September 2017 we've had the opportunity to be a part of 66 company investments and the journeys of those founders. There's a number of companies that we think have been incredibly successful in the past year and half that we've had a chance to work with. And I'd say that what really differentiates the companies that are really succeeding in our portfolio versus those that aren't doing as well are those teams that focus on measuring their work on a minimum set of KPI, generally like maybe one to three metrics that they think are critical for their stage of business and managing incredibly high throughput and execution to hit those metrics so that they can learn faster and compete faster than the rest of their competition. So I'm a big believer that in early days everything can be measured even when things seem kind of random. If you can focus and align your teams on the metrics that matter the most at the given stage of your business and just crush those metrics work really hard and resourcefully to execute against them then you'll be able to find ways to grind your way to success longer term.
What are the biggest risks associated with investing in such early-stage startups? What is your biggest worry when beginning a new partnership?
So through Hustle Fund, I'm in the business of high risk. We're in the pre-seed and seed stage investment category, a venture capital, meaning we're typically the very first institutional check that a founder will receive, and in these early days, there's a lot of information that is missing. So there might be companies that don't have a fully formed product, they may be pre-revenue, they may not even have real traction data, and what we do as investors in the seed stage is try to really focus on two things. The first is the quality of the team. Do we think that they have what it takes? Do they have that hustle to grind out a great result over time and win?
The other thing is the market, you know, are they working in a market that we can call venture-backable? Where there's a history and size of market that is venture-backable to show huge outcomes, maybe can support even unicorn businesses of a billion dollars or more. The big risk here is that can we be comfortable with the scarcity of information at hand to make good judgments into teams. This is actually the really fun part of the job is being comfortable with not knowing everything but having enough data and enough of a thesis and conviction to bet on the teams that are the most exciting. So I say that's the big worry that having a new partnership is that you know we find someone that looks perfect on paper, they pitch really well, but when we watch them work and execute they don't really know what they're doing to have very poor discipline and to just don't hustle very well. Fortunately, we have only encountered that very few times but that's always a top worry of mine is that we may be backing a hustler that doesn't really know how to hustle.
What's next for your work both with Hustle Fund and The Hustle? What will be your main focus in 2019?
So my full-time job is being the general partner at Hustle Fund. This is actually where I spent almost a hundred percent of my time, and in 2019 we're going to continue to deal with what we do best which is to find the very best teams, established partnerships to work with them and set up a long term partnership so that they can grow to be successful businesses. And beyond that too, since Hustle Fund is a new fund, continue to do things to tell our story, you know, we have a unique story for how we are finding our founders, why we believe in this hustle mentality as being the best leading indicator of success, and we want to tell more founders about our stories so that hopefully, you can find good fits, good partnerships and great outcomes for everyone.