Felix Williams – Founder and Managing Director Lagomay Capital. Since founding a venture capital company in St. Louis, Missouri, shortly after graduating from high school, the 23-year-old Williams has backed dozens of companies with a particular interest in agrotech and biotech, including a couple of very large technology companies that he is not at liberty to mention. While Williams is younger than the typical investor, he believes his youth gives him the opportunity to offer a fresh perspective on the technologies and problems startups are trying to solve.
TechCrunch caught up with Williams to find out more about how he got into venture capital and his plans for the future.
When did you first become interested in venture capital? How did you get into it?
As a child, I had no idea what venture capital was. The concept made sense; who wouldn’t want to invest in “Google” in the early days, but the idea of an industry that did just that was foreign to me until about 16 years old. At the time, there was an iSelect Fund in St. Louis that was growing fast and needed some help with the Excel/database. I must say that doing this hard work was the best thing that happened to me in my professional life. After a few weeks, I plunged into the world of ventures and startups. Reading about activity in the ecosystem became my dopamine hit and I was hooked. I felt like the luckiest teenager in the world to be able to watch some of the best and smartest people I have ever seen trying to solve the problems we suffer from, the problems we see on the news every day. The notion of work that I felt in my previous job at the national network of tutors has disappeared and has been replaced by a sense of purpose.
When did you start your venture capital firm? What problems did you face? Was it difficult for you to take you seriously because of your age at the time? How old were you?
Lagomai was born a week or two before my 19th birthday. At that time, our path forward was not always clear. For example, I was mistaken for an intern in a few meetings, and I was usually not taken too seriously at networking or industry events. It was not uncommon for the founders to answer calls in the middle of a presentation or check their messages when it was my turn to ask questions. I quickly realized that the best way to get started was to connect with someone via email or phone before meeting in person. Recommendations and reviews helped me gain the trust of people outside of my growing network, but it was this network that kept me going. I have been inspired by the people in my life. There is something special about working with people who dedicate their lives to working on huge problems. Passion drives the best innovators we’ve ever known, and there were times when the founders and I could share the same passion, and these deals turned out to be some of my favorite deals I’ve been involved in. As we began to establish our reputation, my age became less of an obstacle than an advantage, since some of my views often differ from those of a typical general practitioner.
What is your firm’s investment thesis? How much did you raise? What companies are in your portfolio?
Although we do not disclose how much we have invested or how much has been invested in the fund, I can say that we have entered into over 45 trades with check amounts ranging from a few hundred thousand to $5 million. landing time is somewhere in the middle. In 2021, we invested more than in 2017-2020 combined. We currently have offices in St. Louis, Austin, and Southern California and spend time searching nationally for mostly B2B deals involving early stage companies. Our fund is particularly interested in aligning incentives with the entrepreneurs we work with across a multi-year investment horizon, participation in multiple rounds, and our willingness to do out-of-round regular price deals. For example, we completed a cutting-edge R&D center with one of our portfolio companies that is committed to changing the way we produce and think about food. This deal is very different from what most VCs will take on, but we thought it was critical to improving the food system, and we went through with it. Unlike some other funds, we do not consider ourselves an Impact or ESG fund. Our mission is to find passionate people who do extraordinary things for the world we live in, and when you do that, you profit from ESG. I am proud that most of the companies in our portfolio are working towards at least one UN Sustainable Development Goal.
Our first win was with Agrible and his sale Nutrien. (That $63 million sale happened in 2018.) Other companies in our portfolio include Benson Hill, Gosite, and GigaIO.
Why did you open an office in Austin?
We believe that Austin complements our presence in St. Louis well. Both cities have a burgeoning tech scene that is yet to be saturated with venture capital firms, and each has a different focus at the heart of their startup ecosystems. In St. Louis we see an exceptionally strong market in the hard sciences, especially life sciences, while in Austin the attention and growth we’re seeing has been more software-driven. Austin also has many macroeconomic trends, such as attractiveness to young professionals, a growth-friendly culture, and a fairly strong talent pool. The city has been extremely hospitable and we are grateful to be a part of its history.
What are your long term goals/plans?
Over the next few years, our top priority is to build a mechanism that can invest at scale using data and software to improve human decision making. Although we have been working for several years now, I am not shy about telling people that we are still in the development phase. Our processes and abstracts will continue to evolve as we bring in new team members with much more experience than I have. We are building the capacity of both venture capitalists and supporters to lead the company after portfolio investment. In the next two years, like many of our portfolio companies, we plan to move away from profitability and invest heavily in infrastructure that will position us well in the coming decades. Every day we improve our offer for investors and portfolio companies. Every day, we will continue this process to ensure that when we enter our next major fundraising round in the future, we are ready to succeed. We believe that the enterprise in its current form will not last forever, and we want to be in a good position when this paradigm shift starts to show.
While 2022 has certainly been an exciting year as distributors revalue their portfolios, our conviction in specific technologies and trends has never been greater. We are thrilled to continue to invest in companies and partnerships at the intersection of innovation and market penetration.
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