Nimi Katragadda - Partner @ BoxGroup

I think the best investors are optimists - they take the combination of gut intuition plus market judgement and focus on the important question of 'how big could this be if it works?'”

Meet Nimi Katragadda (@nkatragadda), Partner at BoxGroup, a seed venture firm in NYC. Nimi has taken her career from banking to Google and now, venture. Nimi talks about this transition, how she carved a niche in venture and her advice to founders and aspiring investors.

 

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in a small town, Bakersfield, CA, in the Central Valley. My parents were a big influence, both of them had an ‘immigrant mentality’ and always encouraged me to set my sights high.  

My first job out of college was working in investment banking at J.P. Morgan covering power and utility companies. It was a specialized space, and I can't say that I ever had a natural passion for regulated energy utilities. That was a big catalyst for getting into technology. When I was working late nights and weekends, I was always reading TechCrunch or Fast Company. Someone gave me the advice to think about what you spend your time reading in your free time and craft your career around that. I took that to heart and started looking into tech companies, and from there ended up joining Google in a rotational Product Marketing program.

I loved Google - the mission, products, people, culture. After Google, I went to Harvard Business School for my MBA. It was great to be back in an academic environment with a much better sense of self and purpose. During my second year at HBS I started to explore early stage venture.

 

Can you share with us how you transitioned into venture and why you decided to make that transition after school?

In business school, I saw venture as a dream job. I still feel that way today and feel very fortunate to be doing it. What I love about venture is how important intellectual curiosity is. You are always learning about new spaces and themes and trends. You meet impressive founders each day who give you a masterclass on a space and share their passion for changing the world.

I think the best investors are optimists - they take the combination of gut intuition plus market judgement and focus on the important question of “how big could this be if it works?”

 

Can you talk a little bit about your venture job search- do you have any tips and tricks for others looking to get into venture?

I wish I had a silver bullet for navigating the VC job search. From my experience, it was very much a networked search through building authentic relationships over time and being open to serendipity.

Venture capital has three main components - access, intuition, and hustle. One tactical thing that can help with the search is finding ways to do the job of venture before having the job. Programs like Rough Draft Ventures (which I was a part of) and Dorm Room Fund are great opportunities for students.

As I was meeting people in the New York tech community the names of my partners, David Tisch and Adam Rothenberg, kept coming up. They were looking to expand the team and that began a multiple month courting process on both sides. I think that's another thing with venture recruiting; it's not one interview, it is an ongoing interview and an ongoing personality test because you are oftentimes joining a small partnership where cultural fit is really important.

 

You've been at BoxGroup for a few years and have had been promoted all the way to partner, how have you carved your niche in investing?

It was important for me to ask myself what are the spaces that I would feel excited and confident about pinning my early stage investing career on for 5, 10, or 15 years.

As I started at BoxGroup, I felt like healthcare was one of those areas. From a macro perspective, it is a multi-trillion dollar industry that is almost 20% of GDP spend, but we are not achieving outcomes relative to most other countries - a huge opportunity to improve efficiency with technology. I quickly started spending more time in the space talking to companies and founders; my goal was to double down and reinforce that Healthcare is a big focus area for us.

 

What have been some of the biggest learnings since joining a seed firm?

I'm still very early in my career and constantly learning. One of my learnings is around teams. People say it a lot, and it sounds almost trite, but backing amazing founders is most important.

As I look back on the hundreds of deals we've seen, it's important you're backing an A+ team. Even when it is a choice between an A+ team and a B market versus a B team and an A+ market, I'd always go for the former.

Another learning is the feedback loop in venture is long. It’s difficult to get validation that you are doing a good job. You can look at follow-on capital raised or anecdotally how companies are doing, but you have to be patiently committed to venture for the long term and let it play out for 5 or 10 years. That has definitely been a personal learning for me.

 

There is a lot of recent press around things that need to change in venture. What do you hope changes over the course of your career?

I'm very lucky to work at a firm that embraces different perspectives. It has been encouraging to see more and more people in technology value the importance of diversity for producing better outcomes and returns, not just for diversity's sake.

We are also seeing great strides in female GP representation, which is a great sign. I would love to see more diversity in founders and founding teams. This requires creating more systems that allow female founders to have the confidence to build a company and raise external funding. In terms of what we can do, it is the little things that add up - whether that is trying to be supportive of people that you know or making sure that you are building a diverse partnership and contributing positively.

 

You meet a number of founders everyday. What advice do you typically give founders or what advice would you love to give to founders?

My biggest piece of advice to founders is understanding that a big part of your role as CEO is sales. 

Even if that is not your natural inclination, the founder has to be good at storytelling and ‘selling’ because your job is talking to customers, convincing talented people to join an early stage opportunity, and communicating the vision for the company to investors. That is a core activity that as a founder, you need to embrace and love.

 

What do you look for in a founding team?

I look for vision, charisma, grit, ability to hire and fundraise. If you look at an early stage founder and they've already been able to convince someone, who is maybe more experienced, to quit their job and join the startup, that is a great sign. Strong communication both verbally and over email is a great signifier. I like to ping founders with questions over emails, even sometimes at later hours and see what their response time is like.

 

We’re excited about Female Founder Office Hours and would love to hear your perspective on this initiative. Why did you join and what are you all hoping to accomplish through the office hours?

It is a fantastic initiative originally started by a motivated, talented group of female GPs in San Francisco that has since expanded to New York and other geographies. It's exciting to see both female investors and founders work together to create environments like Female Founder Office Hours where founders can talk through issues and challenges with each other. There was a lot of great discussion at the first event in NY, and I think we underestimate how many opportunities there are for people to do that with each other.

When we talk about ways to improve diversity, this is absolutely a step in the right direction.

 

 

Fire Round:

 

Is there an industry trend that you are most excited about?

How horizontal technology companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google start to enter Healthcare meaningfully.

 

What is an interesting article you read from the past few months?

Everything that Ben Thompson at the Stratechery writes. And the Barnard commencement speech given by Abby Wambach this year.

 

Is there a female entrepreneur or investor you'd most like to meet and chat with?

Megan Smith, former CTO of the U.S.


What is your spirit animal?

Nemo because it's one of my nicknames.


What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?

In her book, Grit, Angela Duckworth says: "Effort counts twice as much as talent.” I believe in that- the idea that you can do anything if you work hard at it.

 

Want to hear more from Nimi? Check out her Twitter.

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Samantha Kaminsky