Kai '18 in 500 Startups with Robert Neivert

Frederick Corpuz ‘20 studies computer science and data analytics. Originally from the Philippines, he is passionate about increasing access to and the implementation of online tools in Philippine public schools. On campus, he is a QAC researcher/tutor and board member of Kai Entrepreneurship Wesleyan.  When he can find the time, Frederick passively tries to get into the NBA, constantly copies Gordon Ramsay recipes, and magnificently fails at playing the ukulele.

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We visited 500 Startups, a venture capital with a vision of “Since our inception, we’ve made it our mission to find and empower talented founders, whether they’re across the world or overlooked in our own backyard.” Upon entering the space, we felt a buzzing atmosphere with a seminar with 50 rising entrepreneurs in attendance and other teams in the background working on whiteboards, sticky notes, and desktops.

Robert Neivert ‘90 hosted us for one hour in a conference room. He started of by telling us that we could ask him anything and everything about his journey from Math/Econ major at Wesleyan to being a partner at a venture capital firm. It was refreshing to talk to someone who is very open to sharing their experiences and straight to the point about their opinions. Here are a few of my favorite stories and lessons from our conversation.

Robert shared about the extreme ups and downs that is inherent in being an entrepreneur. He makes it a point to always keep his cool, which only came with experience. (Apparently, he’s had two near death experiences which always help put things into perspective.) Having founded/worked with eight startups, he’s seen and heard everything. As CEO, he encouraged his team to test 100 ideas a week. Whenever his startup is in pivotal moment, he always takes a step back to assess before taking action. His advice is the make sure that the magnitude of change implemented in operations should be inversely related to the amount of progress that was made. Despite a large tendency of CEO's of startups to get depressed, he stays confident (and slightly arrogant) about his ability to make it work. 

 500 Startups' new portfolio additions. Photo of wall in SF office.

500 Startups' new portfolio additions. Photo of wall in SF office.

With his venture capitalist hat, he elaborated on how there was no magic formula for a successful startup. When investing, Robert always pays great attention to the team. Do the team members get along? Are they mission-driven? Is there a person-in-charge of sales, product, marketing, etc.? Most importantly, are they amazing at the core of what their startup has to offer? A great team needs diverse members. Robert noticed that people who excel in the academic part of college education tend to “paint within the lines” and develop expertise in a particular area which are great characteristics for the later stages of growing an idea. Opposite that, people who drop out tend to forge their own path which is great for conceptualizing the early stages of a potential solution for a problem. Great teams need both.

The biggest parts of his job include networking and staying up to date with the latest news and technology. Consequently, he describes working at 500 Startups "like taking a vacation in a country club" in comparison to his work as an entrepreneur. His tips include using Nuzzel and spending 30-60 minutes a day to maintain relationships. His biggest tip on networking is to leverage your own areas of expertise to be genuinely helpful to people.

Listening to his stories and advice made me rethink how I want create impact in my home country. After hearing how no one could will their startup into existence, how anyone claiming to know the predictors of a successful startup was misguided and how all startups were vulnerable to things out of their control, I was reminded of how unlikely it is for me to successfully increase the access to and the implementation of online education in Philippine public schools without surrounding myself with a diverse team, reaching out to supportive mentors, constantly iterating on my ideas and so much more. I am both hopeful and apprehensive about what is to come this summer, when I will go back to the Philippines and collaborate with three public schools. 

The most impactful piece of advice that he gave me was to start a company while I am still a student. After university, never again will I have the access to resources or the “air cover” of failing available to me now. I'll take that to heart and double my efforts on my project on online education in the Philippines. 

 The team from Wes posing in front of the 500 Startups logo with Robert Neivert '90

The team from Wes posing in front of the 500 Startups logo with Robert Neivert '90