Discipline and responsibility are the only answer for the years to come.

Delivering alpha in early-stage venture from 2023–2025 will require a different attitude than how the market has operated for the last 5 years.

When it comes to fundraising, almost all the CEOs we spoke to have implemented a plan toward absolute sovereignty for their future. The typical combination has been a mix of layoffs, cost-cutting, and additional capitalization, often at the expense of flat valuations or vanity markups.

Atman is augmented and built through our Egregore, a community of Inevitable CEOs collaborating with aligned values and principles. To join it, you must be invited and invest in our fund or be a portfolio CEO. The spectrum of founders that are part of our collective spans from founders that have just started their journey to CEOs that have IPO’ed companies in the US and Latam.

According to Pitchbook, the overall venture capital market is down 28.7% when looking at the total dollars raised. The numbers are worse for funds-of-funds, down 57.2% YoY. With the cost of capital continuing to increase, finding the right team, market, and theme to invest in is challenging but possible. Over 1029 new venture funds held a close in 2022, closing on $223.6B in new commitments, adding to a total of $585B in dry powder.

In 2022 most of the capital deployed by LPs into VC was in funds with over 1B in AUM versus emerging firms, in spite of the fact that 40–70% of all gains in the asset class came from emerging managers in the past 10 years, according to Cambridge Associates.

Even with the gloomy tone, new funds are closing additional capital, and rounds are happening. At Atman, we closed new LPs in November and remain ready to partner with founders demonstrating the correct psychological adaptation to building a startup in today’s environment.

As we highlighted last month, our focus remains on raising capital for the fund and partnering with inevitable people, but only at the right terms and conditions. We met with over 30+ new CEOs in November and see an interesting conundrum in the early-stage market.

There are two types of startups trying to raise pre-Series A capital:

  1. New companies that were started in Q3/Q4 2022
  2. Bridge rounds of overpriced startups that raised a pre-seed/seed in 2020–2021 and have made little progress in reaching a Series A graduation level

There will likely be strategic opportunities in both scenarios, but we have prioritized deeper conversations with companies that are just getting started instead of course-correcting.

As the pendulum swings back to investors and rounds are taking longer to close, combined with the time horizon for our fund, the future is bright as long as we remain disciplined about our decisions.

Mini-Bio:

John is the son of North Korean immigrants who escaped to South Korea and then moved to California. I learned customer service by working in my parent’s string of small businesses, from a Mexican bakery to a liquor store, and interacted with people from different cultural backgrounds — which shaped a lot of my ideals about strength-in-diversity hiring.

My first job out of college was as a clerk at Charles Schwab in Berkeley, CA where I deposited the checks of 3 different customer personas -

i) the recent investor (usually angry if they had to wait in line)
ii) the long-time investor (always happy regardless)
iii) the startup founder (big checks, sometimes smelled like marijuana).

I lasted at Schwab for 6 months before deciding to become persona #3. Today, to my employees I stress the importance of participating in our international 401K program and retirement investing so they can become persona #2.

Five9 (call center SaaS) was my first startup, DoctorBase (eHealth) was next, and my current (JetBridge.com) is a private marketplace for elite software engineers.

How much have you raised for your current company?
Five9 (way too much, which is how I got ousted in a power grab)
DoctorBase $1M (where we beat competitors who raised 32x more)
JetBridge ($1.4M to reach profitability while providing our employees robust benefits)

How many companies have you started?
Three

Feel free to add any other additional stats you would like to share:
I’ve given speeches at Stanford, and UCSF. Written articles that went viral for TechCrunch and Forbes, and discovered it’s all a waste of time. It took me a while to realize that playing status games is not nearly a good investment as spending that time with your family and employees.

What are you most excited about right now?
The recession. I started my first two companies in a recession (2001, 2009) and it was glorious, now I’m hoping for a return to “the good ol’ days” where I can compete on talent, not funding rounds. I also started collecting contemporary art which has been a privilege of working in tech for so long and humbling because it teaches me I’m not really rich.

What has been one of your biggest lessons so far in business?
Your reputation is more important than money because it costs you money or makes you money while you sleep.

What book(s) have changed/shaped your life?
“Principles” by Ray Dalio because it gave me a framework as both investor and a manager.
“100 Years Of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez because it taught me that we’re all telling the same stories, over and over, and that’s what unites us all.

If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be with and why?
Herb Kelleher, founder of SouthWest airlines. He taught me to create a company culture “without the corporate mask” and that it was ok to ride motorcycles, drink Wild Turkey constantly and still be the CEO.

What do you believe to be true that you cannot prove?
God.

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