t the time of this interview, Shawn was still a partner at Vayner/RSE. He now leads partnerships, programs and labs at ConsenSys, the leading venture production studio building decentralized applications, developer and end-user tools and providing end to end services, focusing primarily on the Ethereum blockchain and other decentralized technologies.

While at Vayner/RSE, Shawn was deeply passionate about meeting the worlds best founders to help accomplish their goals. He was primarily focused on frontier technologies like: VR, AR, esports, AI/ML, blockchain and consumer tech.

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

I think if you ask most early stage venture capitalists, they always have very unique paths that lead them into the industry, versus later stage ones, where stereotypically, if you’re watching Silicon Valley on HBO, they’re wearing pleated pants and a Patagonia vest. A lot of early stage folks, I think, often come through non-traditional terms. Most of them are either founders or previously, if they weren’t a founder, they had great exposure to scaling an early stage company.

I started working with startups maybe eight years ago at my second advertising job, which is pretty nontraditional. I only know of maybe six people that have transitioned from media or advertising into venture capital. I always saw it as something that I’d want to pursue later on in life. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really plan on being able to join the industry for quite some time.

A lot of it came through serendipity. Being at the right place at the right time, and a lot of that was done through Gary and him being a general partner of a fund as well as owning an agency, which is somewhat of an anomaly. There are very few VCs that have both, and he was basically the bridge.

2. What excites you most about the profession? Why do you do what you do?

I think what’s exciting about it is that you are part of the process, and you helped bring focus toward parts of the world and industries that have the ability to create a lot of value. I think my personality has always fit very well with knowing a little bit about a lot of things. I enjoy being a generalist and I like how in venture capital, you get to spend time with the most intelligent and smart CEOs out there and be able to help them figure out difficult problems.

Ultimately, I’m passionate about the power of venture capital startups and entrepreneurship to be a fulcrum for change in the world. I’m not necessarily talking about impact investing or double/triple bottom lines but moreso helping people that make these decisions make better decisions. That really gets me going.

3. From an investor’s standpoint, what do you think we can expect to see in a 3–5 year timeline?

When I think about answering that question, a lot of what comes to mind, especially for frontier tech, is something called the Adama Law. The Adama Law states that we as human beings have a tendency to overestimate technology’s short-term impact, and then greatly underestimate technology’s long-term impact.

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I think within the next three to five years a lot of the things especially in the microcosm of venture capital and technology will see a continued level of irrational exuberance and a lot of people will believe that the future is here but not evenly distributed to the point where you almost bet the farm too soon and too early. As the cliché phrase goes, “being early is just as good as being wrong.”

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There is no in between, if you run out of runway, you’re as good as dead.

But quite honestly, I think we will see more of the same. The one thing I’m excited about is continued adoption and penetration of the internet itself. Emerging places will have access and broadband in developed nations will become 5G. That’s enormous for applications like VR and multimedia content.

I also think a lot of what we ingest becomes real. I think media becomes closer and closer toward our identities and philosophies, and we start to question everything. Individual people will also start to compartmentalize their consumption patterns. I think right now there’s an over reliance on glowing boxes in our pockets, and people use their phones more than everything else. I’m looking forward to the beginnings of what is the post-mobile era, and I think the smartest CEOs are all laying foundations between AWS, azure, and even just the fluidity of three-dimensional content.

To me the thing that I’m most excited about is the return to humanity and the return to being less driven by individual apps dipping in and out of native applications and actually a return to being able to be present. So VR, is definitely one of the things I spend a lot of time on, and I think with that industry, so much of it is about presence and the ability for you to have full belief, full faith that you are a true believer that you are actually standing on the moon.

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4. What problem or challenge do you think is underfunded and why? What sort of sector needs more attention?

Smarter cities, education, healthcare, I mean there’s a lot of money going into them right now. I still feel like they’re underfunded, but they’re also victims of the sectors that they’re trying to disrupt.

You have to know that our greatest challenges also end up being some of our greatest opportunities. Energy to me, in multiple forms, whether it’s through agricultural tech or healthcare. The energy which we consume, and how we consume it. We only have one planet right now, so what happens when we have true and real sources of renewable energy? That to me is fascinating, where we’re not just talking about wireless charging, which everybody wants, but we start to talk about how solar and wind and regenerative batteries and even how we use the trash and remnants of mining and fracking to power the world. I think that’s probably one of our greatest needs in order to help provide and build food, shelter, human connection, technology, etc.

5. What is a company or investment in your portfolio that you’re excited about and why?

I love MindShow because it’s VR, for VR creation, which means it’s not dependent on your ability to type fast or use a mouse. Seriously, there’s no more native OS than your freaking body. So what I’m excited about for them with Gil, Johnny, and Cosmo, is that those guys … It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic background you are, when you are placed into their platform, you will be able to be George Lucas. You can start to tell stories and start to explore areas of the human experience that is being lost in our individual photos or our little lit-up squares.

I am excited about the metaverse, and about what it’s like to live in a world where you can start to use these tools to solve some of these real problems.

I think in a very light-hearted product like MindShow can also solve real problems where it can be just kids shows and funny jokes, but it also represents the ability to change that too, right? To address things like racism and address the things that have been built into us through society, and even through a combination of both nurture and nature. So the implications of that are enormous.

8. What does the future look like for you next?

I think for me, it’s exploring … When you think about blue oceans and new opportunities that the world hasn’t invested in, you think about the full spectrum of life. There are many parts of it that are unaddressed, and I think in recently becoming a parent, it does make me think a lot about the beginning, (the very beginning of life) and also the very, very end of life. Everyone will die. My grandfather passed away four years ago. My grandmother just had a stroke.

A lot of technology that’s being built is addressing so much of the millennial and Gen Z-ers and even some Boomers so what I’m excited about for me is to start to see how startups, entrepreneurship, and venture capital can also help to improve and make lives better for all people and people at every stage of life.

I hope that whatever I do next, it allows for more people to experience those things, to progress along that timeline, and hopefully continue to help build and invest in those types of transformative companies that see the short and long term potential and implications of how their technologies can make the world truly a better place.

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Thanks for reading ❤️
If you’d like to learn more about Shawn, you can follow him on Twitter or read his blog on Medium 📚
Please say hello on LinkedIn 😊
Feb 18, 2020
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