Josh Lin may be concluding his MVCA Venture Fellowship, but the familiar face on the Michigan venture scene won’t be leaving anytime soon. In addition to his continued role at RPM Ventures, Josh will still serve as a mentor for Desai Accelerator and Coolhouse Labs and work with Nexecon Consulting Group, a student-run, not-for-profit that he co-founded at the University of Michigan. Josh tells us more about what he’s learned at RPM, his passion for giving back to the venture community, and the Olympic distances he’ll go to achieve a goal.
Tell us about your Fellow position – where are you, what are you doing?
I’m the Associate at RPM Ventures, and I’m primarily responsible for sourcing deals, supporting diligence, and helping our portfolio companies with ad-hoc projects (e.g., cohort analysis, evaluating new market segments, customer discovery and product feedback). We’ve also just brought on a third Partner and a Jr. Analyst in the last year, so I’ve found myself supporting the hiring, training, and operations of our growing firm. Just like any entrepreneur in our portfolio, it comes down to wearing whatever hat is needed to keep things running smoothly, and that suits my personality.
I’m so excited to extend my stay at RPM past my Fellowship period, helping raise funds and invest in/support more startup companies in Michigan.
How did you use your Fellowship period to contribute to the growth of MI’s venture capital community? How did the Michigan venture community help you grow in your understanding of the industry and your role in it?
One of the many “pros” of my Fellowship position at RPM is the clear expectation that I’m actively participating in our community. As a Fellow, I’ve attended numerous pitch competitions as a judge, I’ve spoken on investor panels in our community as well as at the University of Michigan to help entrepreneurs understand what to expect when pitching for venture capital funding, and I’ve helped grow a student consulting group I founded in 2008 to take on many of our community’s startups as clients. The Michigan venture community has been generous to me, to say the least. I’ve grown very fond of the faces we see at every networking event, and find every opportunity to connect with them in between. I’ve gained volumes of knowledge around fund structure and fundraising, how to establish effective deal flow channels, and how to one day be an effective entrepreneur myself. The community is a very welcoming and open one, and I can’t imagine navigating the learning curve these past two years without it.
Do you have a favorite company, technology, CEO or solution you’ve encountered in Michigan during your time as a Venture Fellow?
My favorite RPM portfolio company would have to be Deepfield Networks, in Ann Arbor. The company has developed a technology that allows telecom companies to decode the traffic being transmitted through their cloud networks. Think about a company like Comcast, who delivers tons of content to millions of subscribers all around the country. Because these cloud networks have become so distributed, and the content being delivered is coming from so many different sources (i.e., Netflix), it’s near impossible for Comcast to figure out what content is going to which subscriber, and even more importantly, how much bandwidth it’s requiring. With Deepfield’s technology, telecom companies like Comcast can actually gain transparency into their cloud networks. They can now understand who is eating up all the bandwidth at a particular location because they are streaming applications like Netflix all the time (spoiler alert: it’s probably me!). Deepfield’s Craig Labovitz and his team are such brilliant entrepreneurs. I’ve been very fortunate to participate as an observer in board meetings over the past two years, where I’ve had a front row seat to seeing the company define its growth strategy. It’s been amazing to see how far this company has come in two years, and the kind of growth potential it has moving forward.
One thing you’ve learned during your fellowship that you didn’t know before you started in the industry?
I’ve learned a lot…or maybe I just came in knowing very little! Either way, the most unexpected lesson I’ve learned in the past two years is how truly relationship-driven this industry is. Along the entire value chain of finding to supporting an investment, the relationships you’ve created often times are your best differentiator. No one can succeed in this industry alone.
Anything surprising you’ve learned about yourself/your perspective on venture capital as a profession you didn’t know before you started?
I came into this industry certainly as an optimist. I’ve grown a healthy amount of pragmatism (not cynicism) I’d say, which is really valuable for me because that’s not how I’m naturally wired. It’ll hopefully save me some pain down the road.
Plans for post-Fellowship?
I still have a lot to learn and space to grow at RPM, and I’m thankful to the MVCA Fellowship program (and the MEDC which funds it!) for giving me the opportunity to come back and build my career in Michigan. I’m not sure I would be here without it, and it’s a great tool for young venture professionals to get back to the state where they have roots.
I plan on continuing to help our firm and portfolio companies grow in the coming years, and perhaps will explore the opportunity of taking a more full-time role with one of our portfolio companies down the road. If my goal is to be an investor long-term, I feel strongly that I need to have spent time in the operator seat to gain the well rounded perspective required to be a successful investor. It’s always easier to look an entrepreneur in the eyes and say, “I know what you mean…”, when you’ve actually lived a day in their shoes.
Josh, you’re a distance runner and aspire to complete the Iron Man Triathalon–how is a career in venture capital like (or not like) your passion for running?
Iron Man still remains the goal, but (MVCA Chairperson and Managing Director of Venture Investors) Jim Adox is a constant reminder I have a long way to go! Like my day job, I’ve realized that consistent and diligent effort gets the best results so I am training to improve times on my Olympic distances. My next milestone is to complete a half Iron Man this summer. We’ll see where I go from there!