Dear Investors —
I left home after graduating from high school in the mid-90’s and headed for the East coast. I spent the next decade in college and grad school and, more importantly, as an entrepreneur, co-founding SparkNotes and OkCupid with my college roommates. I returned to my native Chicago in 2007 and developed a simple aspiration: to help catalyze the nascent startup ecosystem.
While Chicago had many entrepreneurs and innovators building digital businesses at that time, they operated largely in silos, disconnected from one another and lacking the sense of community I had experienced in my time living in Boston, New York, and Silicon Valley. After a couple years of one-off networking with individuals serendipitously introduced to me, I decided to shift from talking to acting. Alongside some exceptional individuals (Kelli, Kapil, Brian, & Troy come to mind), I co-founded and ran a startup accelerator called Excelerate Labs (now Techstars Chicago). That summer running Excelerate Labs changed my life.
In spending every day of the program with ten diverse founding teams, I fell in love with mentoring and partnering with exceptional founders and leaders. I began angel investing, less to make money than to buy a front-row seat on the journey of visionary teams that would energize me, challenge me, and inspire me. As we planned for the second year of Excelerate Labs, I met Steve Farsht, our CFO and a director, at a Starbucks in downtown Chicago. I admit, I had more than a little skepticism about a private equity guy from Minneapolis who wanted to dabble in our community, especially given that his operating experience included running a company in the “death space” (a collections agency, no less!). Despite our different backgrounds, I appreciated his earnest curiosity, his thirst for learning, and his genuine interest in making a contribution to the community, while asking for nothing in return. Steve ultimately succeeded me to co-run Excelerate Labs and we sat on its board together for four years.
Steve and I built a strong friendship driven by mutual respect and a partnership leading Excelerate Labs based on our highly complementary skills and personalities. We played off each other well and our portfolio companies came to value having access to both of us, learning when to lean on Steve’s vast investing experience, subtle attention to interpersonal dynamics, and the nuances of company-building and when to come see me to hash out product roadmaps, company positioning, and term sheet negotiations. When I decided to formalize my angel investing in the form of Corazon Capital, Steve and I naturally joined forces, barely even having to discuss the formalities of our partnership.
We chose the name “Corazon” (the Spanish word for “heart”) superficially as an homage to my time spent in the online dating industry, but more deeply for its denotation of “courage,” “spirit,” and “compassion,” three of the most important qualities not only of successful founders, but also of the types of leaders — of humans — we wanted to invest in. Our bold, multicolored logo — which stands in contrast to most investment firms’ staid marks — represents both the expansive nature of our vision and the inclusivity of our perspective.
My passion — our passion — comes from the work we do in the trenches supporting the entrepreneurs we invest in. In fact, two of my closest friendships have developed with founders on whose boards I have sat for almost ten years. When a CEO texts, “Do you have five minutes to talk?” I can feel my heart race as I anticipate the conversation that awaits me. I consider myself privileged to have a job that enables me to make money working alongside some of the most courageous leaders and compassionate humans I have ever known.
I met Phil Schwarz, our CSO, during my time as the CEO of Match Group. Phil came highly recommended by a colleague (thanks, Kate) and I hired him as Match Group’s Head of Growth Initiatives. Within a few months, one particular growth initiative started to dominate his time. As I headed to LAX from a long day at the Tinder office, I knew Phil had the credibility, maturity, and expertise to help Tinder’s founders maximize the opportunity and to help make #swiperight a global phenomenon. Phil spent the next few years flying back and forth from Chicago to Los Angeles, serving as Tinder’s Chief Marketing Officer, where he oversaw global marketing, brand strategy, and member retention.
When Steve and I set out to raise our second venture fund at Corazon Capital, we sought to add a senior member to our team, someone who, like us, had a track record of operating and investing, and someone who shared our passion for collaborating with entrepreneurs. We immediately agreed that Phil shared our values and complemented our skills and personalities; since he joined, he has contributed a complementary perspective and energetic spirit to Corazon’s growth.
We set up Corazon Capital to afford considerable flexibility to its partners; we have the great privilege of counting as our LPs some of the most supportive investors anyone could ask for. This flexibility has allowed Corazon to expand opportunistically — we have also operated a fund-of-funds and two cryptocurrency SPVs — and for the partners to stay sharp even beyond the Firm’s operations. Steve guest lectures at Kellogg; I ran ShopRunner; we both sit on boards that have no investment from Corazon. In so doing, we maintain and grow our relevance to provide the most current, actionable counsel to our CEOs. Of course, we seek to make money for Corazon’s LPs, but we strive to do so primarily as a byproduct of supporting our entrepreneurs.
Whenever we contemplate the expansion of our Firm, we seek opportunities that leverage our biggest assets: (i) deep operating expertise; (ii) broad investing experience; (iii) passion for collaborating with management teams, and (iv) many years of working together as a productive team. Creating Corazon Capital V838 Monoceros met all of these criteria. We will seek management teams that value our desire to partner with them to accelerate the growth of their businesses. Our track record is as investors and operators, yes, but more importantly as partners with founders and executives will attract exceptional leaders who value the perspectives we bring.
I view success in this effort as helping a great company to achieve its potential and helping a CEO to grow beyond her wildest dreams. And I have great confidence that if we do that, we will deliver outstanding results for our investors and fulfill my goal of paying forward all of the support, counsel, and mentorship that I’ve received over the years.