Alice Hlidkova from Pitch Investors Live and NewEconomies.com interviews Gayatri Sarkar, a General Partner at Blockchain VC fund Sportvest.io, investing in the future of sports.
Indian American, Boston-based Gayatri Sarkar is a General Partner at Blockchain VC fund Sportvest.io, investing in the future of sports by focusing her time on venture capital investment analysis, deal flow, and fundraising. She is a writer at Hackernoon and author of Cryptoeconomics 102 and “Word from the Block Interview” blog. Previously, Gayatri worked as a manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston managing the Fed’s biggest projects under Treasury and has 12 years of experience managing multi-million dollar fintech projects for HP, IBM, Goldman Sachs, and the EU bank. She was the founder of two startups, Boston Consulting Solutions Inc. and a tech startup called CareerCarma, Inc. She holds a degree in Physics minor in Mathematics, along with a MBA in Operations Management. Gayatri also studied Behavioral Finance at Harvard Kennedy School and Private Equity Investing at Wharton Business School. Gayatri is a board of director of many blockchain and non-blockchain companies in the US and Europe, with a special focus on on AI, healthcare, fintech, and renewable energy on the blockchain. She is the development chair of multiple Harvard Kennedy school alumni boards as well.
Gayatri recently joined the Advisory Board at PITCH Investors Live and sat down with one of their founding team members, Alice Hlidkova, for an interview via FaceTime. While it was pouring in the suburbs of Massachusetts where Gayatri sat for the call, Alice soaked up the sun beachside in Chicago. The two kept it casual, sharing investment tips, discussing the future of blockchain, what it takes to become an entrepreneur, and why Ray Dillinger is Gayatri’s mentor.
Alice: “How did you hear about PITCH Investors Live?”
Gayatri: “First of all, thank you for your time and it is great to be part of the PITCH Investors Live family. I do not know if I’m a Bitcoin catalyst, but more of a believer in the technology’s potential. To answer your question, you reached out to me on Telegram, in our Women in Blockchain group.”
Alice: “I do apologize, I almost forgot [giggles].”
Gayatri: “I was immediately intrigued by the concept. There is definitely a market for a virtual pitch platform of connecting entrepreneurs with the right investors in a hassle-free way. Entrepreneurs know how difficult it is to connect with the right type of investors.”
Alice: “Please explain…”
Gayatri: “Let’s go back to the journey of an entrepreneur. I was working on a product startup where career networking can be done through a live network. It was before facebook Live, back in 2014.”
Alice: “And PITCH adds another layer, the live video feature…”
Gayatri: “Yes. This is the world that we are in now. Entrepreneurs wear many hats, play multiple roles, and travel to different parts of the world to pitch to investors. This involves time, resource[s], and money, which is scarce at an early stage of startup development when most of the entrepreneurs may be still bootstrapping.”
Alice: “What would it take for more investors to use our platform?”
Gayatri: “Platforms or products need to be ‘sticky,’ so that more entrepreneurs and investors can be engaged organically. The first mover advantage in the live interaction investor’s platform is a huge value proposition for PITCH Investors Live. We all know the Shark Tank show and how difficult it is timewise and resource wise to get on that show. PITCH Investors Live brings the opportunity to entrepreneurs to pitch to heavy weight VC’s and investors without spending the time and resources in a traditional sense. Time is the most important asset for entrepreneurs and investors and PITCH Investors Live is bringing that value. Investors take pitches through videos and phone calls everyday, but having an accountable platform to track and provide viability to such deal flow opportunity is huge for savvy investors.”
Alice: “Like me. 80% of my business is done over social media – payments, client acquisition, customer service, marketing, research and development, etc…”
Gayatri: “Yes, social media and social proof has become very important to bring traction and attention to businesses. For entrepreneurs, it is important to attract the right and diverse set of investors. Kevin Harrington is high up on the chain and getting feedback from him is important for entrepreneurs as he has many years of experience and connections as investor. PITCH Investors Live is bringing that opportunity, which was unreachable for many common entrepreneurs who do not have the connection. As a venture capitalist through capital deployment, you want to facilitate the entrepreneur to grow the ecosystem along with their business. Take Zuckerberg [Facebook] or Mark Cuban [Shark Tank], the feedback phase was important that they had to go through.”
Alice: “Great point. What suggestions can you make to business owners who are pitching you?”
Gayatri: “I take 4-5 pitches daily, from companies looking to raise between $1-10 million. SportVEST is a potential $100 million+ global fund. We are also raising capital for our own fund, so we are also pitching to traditional funds and family offices. Every investor may not be the right investor to the business owners, so it is important to do due diligence on the investors themselves and evaluate if they are the right fit. Through PITCH investors Live, entrepreneurs have an added advantage of looking back at past pitch videos and absorb the feedback. Feedback is very important in building a business.”
Alice: “Now you have an accountability system and a track record.”
Gayatri: “Yes. When we are raising funds, we talk to a lot of investors and they are very busy. We engage our secretaries and rely on them. We create excel spreadsheets to keep track. At PITCH Investors Live there is the video tracking option and the digital ledger since you are on the blockchain.”
Alice: “What metrics do you use when reviewing investment opportunities?”
Gayatri: “First and foremost, the product market fit should be relevant. At our fund, the projects we look at should have a good market size and fundraising at series A round shows you have proved traction and built some customer base. You have to create a demand for your product and then it’s a question of retention. I always evaluate whether the product or platform is creating a new marketplace or changing the market behavior. Understand the customer acquisition as well as retention cost. Sometimes you may have the greatest product in the world but may fail to bring traction and lack consumer or client adoption. And then there are high tech investments that need loads of time, patience, and money from investors and entrepreneurs as it goes through years of innovation.”
Alice: “What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?”
Gayatri: “Some entrepreneurs need to emotionally separate themselves from their product and take constructive criticism.”
Alice: “Why do you do what you do?”
Gayatri: “I have been an entrepreneur for a while and now a venture capitalist and investor. Once we decide to do capital deployment in a certain startup, we focus on helping the startup grow and build the sector ecosystem. Sometimes you can not invest in a startup, they may be too early for us, but we may help them with connections to angel investors and accelerators. I’m a workaholic and very passionate about what I do, so it does not seem like work. I think VC is not a career, it is a lifestyle. This is the profession where being an open-minded individual is the biggest criteria and you are spending lot of time talking to people, listening to ideas. So you need to be a people person but at the same time need to have a highly analytical and research oriented mindset. One has to spend a lot of time reading, researching, and understanding the market and its various investment behaviors.That’s why having years of experience in corporate sector, especially consulting, investment banking, and entrepreneurship helps a lot to connect the dots and realize the patterns. I read lot of VC blogs and read research articles on physics, math, and economics on the weekends. It keeps my mind out of the rabbit hole.”
Alice: “Tell me about your involvement with blockchain and Ray?”
Gayatri: “Back in 2011, when I was at IBM I heard about Bitcoin. I was not sure what digital ledger coin was and did my own research. I worked on cryptography; I liked the philosophy. As a girl, I shop online a lot so I figured buying a little Bitcoin wouldn’t hurt me. After I bought some, the price of Bitcoin dropped to [a] penny. I HODLed and kept track of the early crypto market. In 2016, things started changing fast. Ray Dillinger had been a huge influence, I took his interview early this year to bring his perspective on Bitcoin and Blockchain to the world. He worked with Satoshi and with some of the early bitcoin developers and they view the world in a very different perspective. Nick Szabo is one such early developer, who are legends in their own rights, and so was late Hal Finney. Things have changed since 2011. More and more people are getting into Blockchain, some may not understand the technology, some may do. But now very few people are sitting on the fence. As we see more institutional funds getting into the market, there will be much more focus on investment thesis and prediction models.”
Alice: “That’s amazing. Did anyone know you HODLed?”
Gayatri: “No, not even my mom. Years later, when my mom called me and said: ‘Did you buy Bitcoin? Everyone is getting rich.’ I told her, ‘don’t worry mom, I have some.” I’m a single child from a family of doctors and lawyers, and was the first one to go into the corporate sector. My mother worries. I didn’t share the news because I was unaware of how this would unfold in the future. Typically, I’d like to stay under the radar. But due to my current job profile, having a public presence is a requirement.”
Alice: “What do you foresee in the future?”
Gayatri: “More focus on market research and use cases driven investment. Separating noise from the actual product development and innovation. Less talk and more work in the blockchain world. Hope we can support some great innovation and bring more diversity and democratization in capital deployment.”
Gayatri is very excited to join PITCH Investors Live and looking forward to taking pitches. Her new venture Sportvest, the largest crypto sports betting fund in the world, is in negotiations to form a strategic partnership deal and take pitches directly on the platform.
As a catalyst who looks for ways to improve the investor and entrepreneur connection, she looks forward to the enthusiasm and talent the blockchain industry brings. “At the end of the day, the more we focus on disciplined investment and entrepreneurship, the more we can layout the strong foundation of Blockchain future economy.”
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