Last week, Unusual Partners, a venture firm focusing on early-stage startups, announced that it hired Andrew Johns, former president of Wealthfront, as a consumer technology-focused investment partner.
The Menlo Park, California-based firm was started in early 2018 by John Vrionis, a former partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Jyoti Bansal, the founder of the Lightspeed-backed AppDynamics, which was sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. Unusual Ventures was set up to have Vrionis take board seats and Bansal provide enterprise technology expertise. But they also needed a partner dedicated to consumer companies.
Vrionis envisioned Unusual’s consumer partner would be just like Bansal, but on the consumer side, he told VCJ.
“We knew we wanted a partner with iconic experience in some of the biggest consumer companies in the world,” he said, “but also with ‘entrepreneur-first’ mentality and humility.”
Unusual found its perfect fit in Johns.
Johns is one of the most regarded and widely-followed growth strategists in the world. He worked in product management and internet marketing at Facebook, Twitter and Quora before joining Wealthfront, where he was promoted to president.
Last year, Johns had a medical scare with his heart and had to step away from his role at Wealthfront. Once his health improved, Andy Rachleff, co-founder of Benchmark and CEO of Wealthfront, connected him with Vrionis.
Both Vrionis and Johns have been closely mentored by Rachleff. “We knew we would hit off,” Johns told VCJ.
Johns said that he has gotten to know several VC firms, but a few things about Unusual stood out for him.
Unusual is taking a different approach to early-stage investing by providing entrepreneurs hands-on support and mentorship not available from most VCs. “We don’t think it is enough to just provide venture capital,” Johns said.
For instance, the fund’s Get Ahead Platform provides experts-on-loan for such areas as technical recruiting and sales development. “It is as if a startup hired a seasoned person full-time,” explained Johns.
Vrionis believes the goal of a partner is not only to identify the right investments, but also to share knowledge and help entrepreneurs succeed.
“We wanted Andy [Johns] because he is very good at mentoring at the early stage,” Vrionis said. “He is also very humble, despite all the things he has done. He treats this as a service job.”
Johns said that he also liked that Unusual is very thoughtful about recipients of the firm’s returns. The firm’s LPs include black colleges and other nonprofits that don’t normally get a chance to invest in venture capital.
The firm closed its first fund of $160 million in April 2018 and will likely be raising another fund in the not so distant future, Vrionis said.
Johns explained that he intends to invest in only two to three startups a year, writing checks anywhere from $1 million to $6 million, which would represent a 20 percent stake in each company.
“I want to be heavily involved,” he said.