Interview with Tristan Pollock
Venture Partner @ 500 Startups

500’s mission is to discover and back the world’s most talented entrepreneurs, help them create successful companies at scale, and build thriving global ecosystems. We believe that great founders come in all shades, genders, and nationalities. Since our inception, we’ve made it our mission to find and empower talented founders, whether they’re across the world or overlooked in our own backyard. Diversity has always been a core value at 500. We’re committed to being champions of the global VC community, not as it is, but as we’d like to see it.
Hi Tristan! Could you please tell us a bit more about 500 Startups and what led to your being a Partner with the company?
Hi Lama. This is Tristan Pollock, a venture partner at 500 Startups and what led me to become venture partner there was actually starting an as EIR and becoming an EIR I had recently sold my company, Store Front, to a European company and was looking kind of to give back to the other founders because when you're a founder working at a post series a company are often times so busy that you don't really have time to give back as much as you want and so that's kind of how it led into working with 500 who is one of our investors. We didn't go through the accelerator but we did go through the seed fund and by going through that, and getting a seed fund investment we got to know Christine and we get to know some people at 500 but we didn't really fully know the full experience as how and how special it is when you're going through an accelerator. So then joining 500 as an accelerator, an EIR working with the accelerator was really valuable and gave me a chance to work with founders and in a really engaged way. You know you're not just making an investment, you're making an investment working with them for four months. So that was really valuable and then so doing that over a year then moved on into being a venture partner, still that accelerator work but did direct investing and helped 500 internationally in other ways. And so that's kind of a little bit about that story and how is it working with 500.
Who are the main clients of 500 Startups, and how do you initially assess how to best help new startups?
Well, the main clients of 500 are the startups, the Founders themselves. And so when you're looking at you know how to assess the best start of something you're looking at a lot of the things other VC are looking at. You're looking at 'Do I believe in this founding team that they can really take this idea into a huge, you know this little tiny thing into this huge behemoth of a thing?' and 'Do you know do they have something interesting or are they really differentiated with their technology? Do they have a unique angle in the market? Do they have IP? Do they have they did they used to be VPs at Google?', these are all things that we're looking at. I mean a lot of times you're looking at founders that have had experiences before, there are serial entrepreneurs, they've been working on businesses for a long time, they may be sold one here or there in some capacity. And like that shows like 'Hey look they really have the execution power to be able to handle doing something again. And you know it's worth warrantied to give our investment into this into this business'. That said you know we run different programs and most those programs are focused on early-stage tech-enabled companies. So you're looking at you know 'hey I have ten thousand dollars in MRR, monthly recurring revenue, you know around that stage and sometimes more will follow on for series A round, so you can say pre-seed to like post-Series A sometimes beyond with follow on only that's when 500 gets involved.
What makes 500 Startups unique from other VC's in the region?
So what makes 500 Startups unique? Well I mean one, 500 is very different in the fact that it always is looking for the best founders no matter where they're from, what they look like. And that mission is always what really drew me to 500. They have a very strong focus on really supporting founders all around the world of all different nationalities, of all different backgrounds, all different orientations and that's something that is always been very strong within 500. And so beyond that and saying "hey we'll support a founder if they're doing great things matter where they are and who they are" will also like look at who will look at running different programs on a kind of a vertical basis. Some startup ecosystems need a pre-accelerator or they need investor education to help grow that ecosystem into one that's more fully functioning. I think that's a unique approach as well where you know 500 maybe putting on the pre-money event that has all the best VCs in the industry come to it in San Francisco. Or maybe doing a pretty accelerator program in Morocco like. And this there's all this opportunity that 500 is really willing to get down and dirty with different startup ecosystems, and programs, and partners in order to really support the best founders anywhere in the world which is really cool.
Do you have any advice for early stage startups to separate themselves from the rest and stand out when applying for funding or VC's?
So, if you startup looking for funding, accelerator, VC or otherwise I think you just really need to lean into yourself. You really need to look at who you are, what's your unique knowledge, unique abilities and your unique insight onto an industry and the product you're building. So a lot of times will call this your superpower. What makes you so special so different and you know that could be your background, it could be you've spent 10 years building out this particular algorithm, it could be hey like we've we've spent our entire lives like working in this industry and we see the need for change in it. It could also be you know your you know your product itself and how you have a really unique angle at something that hasn't happened before. You know take the financial industry and cryptocurrency you know like it's something that is truly unique to what it was before. Very different centralized decentralized and like it really took something that used to be something totally different and now. They want to see what technology you have. You know technology from the founder, and who they are, are they someone who can take this all the way. But what's what's so special about this like technology that it's going to change the entire industry. It's not just going to have a blip on the radar it's going to truly impact an entire industry and change the way it's done today.
What have been some of the most interesting and inspiring startups you've worked with in the last year? What separated them from the rest?
For me, it's not just the startup themselves, it's really about the people so I always think like if I'm making investment or I'm doing something with someone I want to I want to invest in someone who's really passionate about what they're doing and there's someone I would want to see be a leader in my world. And so interesting startups that I've seen recently I keep going back to the story of this gentleman I met in Jordan the country and he was talking to me about this new product where he is helping deaf people better understand better read online. And he was like you know most deaf people actually are you know cannot read in the same way me or you read, they learn a different way or they don't learn at all. And he was telling sharing these facts with me and then he was showing me the technology and I was like oh wow this is like really incredible and like super impactful for you know a large percentage of the population that's deaf, and previously this has not been cared for in technology. And so I think that's those are the some the things. Those are the stories that really strike me and really get me excited because I came from a social entrepreneurship background. I worked on a company helping tell telling stories of people having real impact solution journalism. You know how to fix problems not just how to talk about the problems. And so those sorts of things really stick with me. And you know if you have a business model behind it then you're in a good spot.
What's next for 500 Startups? Any new funding rounds or other projects coming up in the last months of 2018?
Well I know 500 is continuing to do great work abroad and in the U.S. and in Silicon Valley they are and running continue to run the accelerator programs. They're looking at launching different ad hoc programs in different parts of the world from Europe, to Africa, to Asia. A lot of exciting things coming and you'll see them on a global scale which is really cool. As well as not just first servicing founders but also servicing investors, pre-Money Conference, the Stanford partnership where they're teaching people to be VCs and angels. All these things are on the books. I think for this year, next year and beyond. Really excited to see what happens next myself. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by some of the initiatives that come out soon.