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MFV PARTNERS Interviews - Slauson and Co

Rob Runett interviews Slauson & Co. Partners Austin Clements and Ajay Relan.

We invite you to watch the video or read the lightly edited transcript below.

Rob Runett:

Hi, everybody, and welcome to the Motley Fool Ventures partner fund interview series. I’m Rob Runett, VP with Motley Fool Ventures. Motley Fool Ventures has been making limited partner investments in other venture funds, and we’re excited to highlight these rising star VCs and their investing strategies. Today I’m here with Ajay and Austin from Slauson and Co and really excited to get to know more about the fund. So guys, if we could start off with some introductions, just want to say your name and a little bit about yourself, that would be awesome.

Austin Clements:

Sure. I’ll start off. Thanks for having us, Rob. We really appreciate it, and very excited to be partnering with Motley Fool as well. My name’s Austin Clements, born and raised in LA, went to Morehouse, and came right back to LA. Excited to be here and talk about what we’re building with Slauson and Co.

Rob Runett:

Thanks, Austin.

Ajay Relan:

Thank you, Rob. My name is Ajay Relan. Partners with Austin at Slauson and Co. Also based here in Los Angeles and excited to embark on this mission with you guys.

Rob Runett:

So one thing I wanted to start with was just a little bit about your journey into VC. It’s something that I’m fascinated by all of the different stories and the different ways in that people have. So if each of you could just talk a little bit about your backgrounds, coming into this area of investing, that’d be great.

Austin Clements:

Sure. I’ll start. My journey started in investment management. At first, I was looking at private wealth management, so worked with Alliance Bernstein, managing a billion dollars in assets for high net worth individuals, and really started to fall in love with investing in that role, but didn’t really know much about venture. The way I found out about venture was after I left, I actually started a business doing web and mobile development for small businesses both here in LA and then also some on the East Coast. Started reading TechCrunch articles and things like that, wondering why in the world were some companies out there, getting millions of dollars, and then some of the small businesses I knew about just weren’t.

As I learned more about the industry and how it functions, just became really passionate about it, because I knew that there was just a massive opportunity to connect the community that I come from to this type of venture ecosystem. Ended up going to business school at NYU and then ended up landing a role at TenOneTen Ventures in LA, which is a seed stage fund run by David Waxman and Gil Elbaz. Learned under those guys. I was there for about five years. Really enjoyed the work and really enjoy learning from them and sort of building up a network in the venture ecosystem, and then decided to link up with Ajay to build out what we were doing. So that’s kind of my story.

Rob Runett:

Great. Thanks. Ajay, how about for you?

Ajay Relan:

Yeah, so I started off as an entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur, various industries. So I had actually taken a role as a consultant over at the talent agency here in Los Angeles that was incubating startups. That was my first exposure to working with and for a startup and really understanding the scale at which they were looking to operate and the outcomes that they were looking to generate. Around that same time, a really close friend of mine was a prominent music manager, and he was managing Nas, the rapper. This was about a decade ago, and Silicon Valley and Hollywood were really starting to kind of circle each other and see what type of reciprocal value could be created.

We had started angel investing together, and after a couple years, we had had the opportunity to raise an early stage fund ourselves called Queensbridge Venture Partners that we officially launched in … I think it was 2014, and were able to really meet some amazing people and some amazing founders and impact them and work with them.

So I fell in love with it ever since, and as we continued upon our journey, Austin and I have been friends for the better part of two decades. Known each other since high school. So it was always a fruitful friendship whenever we came together, always kind of watching each other’s moves and informally advising each other’s efforts. So as things started to progress and we were both kind of going more on our intentional journeys together and how we could use our powers to kind of affect the human narrative in a more positive way, leveraging the experience that we had working in venture and with founders, but also coming from the communities that we came from, we saw ourselves having a unique superpower and being able to kind of build an access point and a bridge for both of those communities. So Slauson and Co was born.

Rob Runett:

Do you remember the first time you met? Do you have a memory of, going all the way back, how you guys first met up?

Ajay Relan:

I don’t actually know how we first met, but a joke that we often tell is in high school, a group of our friends and I, we used to throw parties. Austin would make our flyers. So we kind of have been working together for 20 years. We could make that argument. But yeah, no, not a specific moment. But yeah, that was a pivotal moment in both of our lives. Who knew?

Rob Runett:

The beginning of a beautiful partnership. That’s amazing. One thing that really would love to ask is just for you to share in your own words how your focused on diversity, inclusion, equity play a role in your work and how they’re going to be a big part of what you’re doing with the funds.

Austin Clements:

Yeah. So for us, we aim to be a top-performing fund, right? So we have to think about exactly where are there opportunities for us to create that? There’s a very clear business case around diversity and inclusion. The idea is as we evaluate founders, we want to expand the pool of who’s traditionally evaluated, right? We want a bigger opportunity set to choose from. In our case, we recognize that communities like the ones that we talked about and where we grew up have been historically excluded from the traditional venture ecosystem. So what we want to do is very intentionally go after those and find opportunities within those communities.

So diversity and inclusion is something that we live. We joke around how Ajay and I have been doing opportunities and zones before opportunity zones were a thing. We’re very connected authentically to the community that we aim to serve. Ajay’s built businesses there. I have a teen tech center that we’re doing in conjunction with Pledge LA, both right off of Slauson. So for us, it’s part of who we are and part of the work that we do and drive toward a bigger mission of economic inclusion.

Ajay Relan:

That actually plays very well into the brand, right? Even the name Slauson, it’s the street that both of us kind of grew up off of, but it’s a really prominent thoroughfare in South Los Angeles. On the East side, it starts off in a very blue collar, industrial area, makes its way through a heavily underserved, primarily African American and Latino community before ending in some of the highest concentration of Black wealth in the country. When we kind of look at the impact that we’re looking to make, I mean, to us, it’s clear. It is a linear path. That’s not to say that there won’t be obstacles, but we can see that trajectory and the direction that it can kind of go. Then as we think of what makes us unique, and it’s the people and the Motley Fool Ventures of the world that we’ve been able to attract who are mission-aligned with us, that we do see as value-add investors and team members, which is a mix of different funds and corporates and individuals that are using their platforms in a similar way.

So as we look, we know that it takes a village, and we know that in order to accomplish the performance that we hope to generate, it’s going to take what it is. Then as far as who we are from a business standpoint, we’re an early stage fund. We invest in pre-seed and seed companies, and we’re based in Los Angeles, but we invest nationally in the US.

Rob Runett:

That’s great. Thank you guys for that. What can you tell us maybe about any investments so far, if there’s anything that you can share with us now or give us a little more flavor in terms of who would be in your sweet spot in terms of investments that you’d love to make?

Austin Clements:

Ajay, you want to-

Ajay Relan:

Sure. Yeah. We just celebrated our first close, and prior to that, we had met a young woman here in LA, someone that had gone through an accelerator, that we mentor and have worked closely with that went through the South LA cohort. Didn’t know anything about tech, was a CPA by trade, going into it. Saw a pain point for small businesses, which is one of the categories where we invest, is tools, technologies, and platforms that support small businesses, S and P tech. She wanted a product, had a vision to productize the problem that she was solving for, went through the GRID 110 accelerator, which is an accelerator here that’s a nonprofit, no fee, no equity. It’s actually a nonprofit that we are going to be partnering with to kind of implement our own curriculum as a way to kind of onboard people from the communities we’re looking to support and provide basic education around what building a company and becoming an entrepreneur is, but also the ropes of taking investment from venture capital folks so people are aware of what they’re getting into and what the expectations are.

But she was a rockstar. Went through this cohort, didn’t have any experience, ended up coming out, and yeah, we were very impressed with the progress that we had made, so much that we decided to lead her pre-seed round and with another prominent investor in the LA ecosystem. So that company is called Complyant, Complyant with the Y, and she’s helping small businesses fight off the intimidation that comes with indirect taxes and penalties and stuff like that, fun stuff.

Rob Runett:

Necessary and needed. So that’s great. That’s great to hear about that. I guess I want to close just by asking if there’s any other attributes or anything else that you’d like folks to know about Slauson and Co before we wrap up.

Austin Clements:

That’s a good question. I mean, I think when I think about kind of unique attributes to Slauson and Co, certainly there are a number of funds that are created that are diversity-focused, and I’m very excited for more people looking at non-traditional communities for opportunities to invest. I think where we’re uniquely positioned in that is that we have a lot of experience doing this. Ajay started his own fund before, and I’ve worked for one of the top funds in LA for quite some time, helping build that fund basically from the ground up. So one of the things that we want to do is take the lens that we know, having successfully invested in other companies and traditional companies, and apply it to the communities that we aim to serve here. So I’ll say that’s one thing.

Ajay Relan:

Then to piggyback on that, Austin said this earlier, but just to be clear, we do believe that by going down the path that we’ve chosen, we’re going to be competitive, and it’s for us to … We’re not considered an impact fund, but we definitely aim to be impactful, the same way that people … There’s a movement that’s happening within venture capital now, and there’s an entire pool of talent that has been overlooked historically. We do believe that, and it’s a popular saying that’s going around, that talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity necessarily isn’t always. So we’re excited to kind of roll up our sleeves and get into the work there and demonstrate that there’s real opportunity for other people to follow.

Rob Runett:

That’s excellent. Yeah, absolutely. Before we wrap up, guys, what would be the best way for folks who are watching this to get in touch, social media, website, anything that you think would be a good way for people to reach you?

Ajay Relan:

Oh, go ahead. Awesome. Yeah. Our website is just slauson.co, and then on Twitter and Instagram, we’re Slauson and Co, A-N-D, and then you can email us at [email protected] Slauson is spelled S-L-A-U-S-O-N.

Rob Runett:

Excellent. All right. Well, guys, thank you. Really appreciate your time, Ajay, Austin, learning more about Slauson today, and if you’re interested in finding more of these interviews, we have them for you at foolventures.com. Thanks, everybody, for watching. Ajay and Austin, thanks again for being with us.

Austin Clements:

Thanks, Rob. Appreciate it.

Ajay Relan:

Appreciate it.

A private offering of interests in the Fund will only be made pursuant to a confidential memorandum or presentation, a Limited Partnership Agreement, and subscription documents related thereto, which will be furnished to qualified investors on a confidential basis and which would supersede any information on this site, including, without limitation, a full description of any proposed investment strategy, the full terms of any investment, and the applicable risk factors and conflicts of interest. The interests in the Fund have not been, nor will they be, registered under the U.S. Securities Act of 1933, or qualified or registered under any applicable state, local, provincial, or other statutes rules or regulations, and no person or entity named herein is a registered investment adviser.