eoff Ralston is a Partner at YC. He was a founder of Four11, where he built RocketMail, one of the first web mail services, which in 1997 became Yahoo Mail. At Yahoo, Geoff worked in engineering, then ran a business unit, then became Chief Product Officer. After Yahoo he was CEO of Lala, which was acquired in 2009 by Apple. He cofounded Imagine K12, the first Ed Tech accelerator, which funded companies like ClassDojo and Remind, and merged with YC in 2016. He has an AB in Computer Science from Dartmouth, an MS in Computer Science from Stanford, and an MBA from INSEAD.

Geoff also leads The Startup Investor School. A free, 4-day course designed to educate early stage investors interested in investing in startups.

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1. How did you get started in the wonderful world of VC?

I began investing in precisely the wrong way, by investing in friends’ companies in the early 2000’s. Still, although the first two failed utterly, the third company eventually IPO’d and returned > 50x. I made a few other angel investments and then when I left Yahoo! in 2006 I took it up in earnest for the next 18 months. After a short stint as a CEO, in 2010 I founded an Edtech accelerator, Imagine K12 and also joined Y Combinator as a partner.

2. What is your methodology for defining and selecting the companies and entrepreneurs who are going to create the future?

We start by looking for founders we believe in. Entrepreneurs who have a vision of the future and the determination, resilience, and smarts to make it so.

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Naturally, we are also looking for scalable ideas that translate into large opportunities. Sometimes, fantastic founders have less than fantastic ideas, but eventually they usually find the right one.

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3. From an investor’s standpoint, being the one who gets to invest in the “future of everything,” what can we expect to see in a 5–10–15 year timeline?

I think the two technologies which will likely change the world the most in the next 5–15 years are artificial intelligence and CRISPR. AI will infiltrate everything we do — we’ve begun talking to our machines but today is the equivalent of the earliest of video games like Pong. Human driven cars will begin to disappear (as will the internal combustion engine) and we will begin to have relationships with our machines that are more intense and intimate than are really imaginable today. CRISPR has the potential to revolutionize both healthcare AND what it means to be a human. Additionally, AR and VR technology will also hit the mainstream and change the world in somewhat hard to predict ways.

4. What themes, trends, or sectors are you primarily interested in and why?

Human capital is, by far, the most important resource for nations and (rather obviously) for individuals. We should do whatever we can to maximize its value and thus I care a ton about education and about healthcare. I founded an education technology startup because I believed that today’s technology can play a role in maximizing every person’s potential by helping an increasingly stratified and rigid society (yes, here in the US) become the true meritocracy we would hope for.

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5. What moonshot are you most excited to see solved?

I think maybe cheap, clean, plentiful, energy might give us all the space to focus on some of the other problems facing our country and humanity in general.

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6. What problem or challenge is under-funded and why? What sector needs more attention?

See above: education and healthcare. Both are under-funded in terms of innovation that will make a difference for the future. The “why” is complicated, but one way to look at it is that these sectors are intimately involved with politics, and the politicians of today are so focused on the present, that they seem to have forgotten that a big part of their job is to prepare us for the future.

7. What is the role of venture capital in creating the future? What responsibility does VC have to help improve the lives of others, and ultimately the world?

I think investors should be pretty modest about our role. Startups and their founders do the heavy lifting. We are an important enabling mechanism to help them do their amazing work, but they’re the ones creating the future.

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My personal belief is that leading an ethical life means that overall you strive to reduce suffering and improve lives. However, I never put that responsibility on others, especially in their work. It is so hard to clearly connect those dots.

8. What company or investment in your portfolio are you most excited about and why?

It would be very poor form to pick out any one company. However, YC currently has a number of billion dollar companies already changing the world, many other highly valued companies that are scaling as we speak, and even more with dreams of changing the world. I am excited for them all.

9. What does the future hold for you?

I’m hoping the future holds enough time to do worthwhile things. Some of those things will have to do with my family, but, if I’m lucky, some may help change the world too.

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Thanks for reading ❤️
If you’d like to learn more about Geoff, you can follow him on Twitter or read his blog from YC 📚
Please say hello on LinkedIn 😊
Mar 14, 2018
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