Early Zipline investor Paul Willard leaves Storm Ventures

Paul Willard, a partner at Storm Ventures, has left the firm he joined in January 2018.

The Menlo Park, California-based firm is currently in fundraising mode, aiming to raise a sixth fund for an undisclosed amount, according to a regulatory filing from late last year. Storm raised $180 million for its fifth fund in 2015.

Willard told VCJ that the split was amicable and he enjoyed working alongside the team at Storm. But his interest in robotics and AI applications were not a good mesh with Storm, which primarily focuses on early stage enterprise deals. Willard said there are a handful of early stage robotics companies he knows of right now he wishes he could invest in.

“The deals I was excited about, mainly robotics, did not fit what Storm promised its LPs,” Willard said.

Storm co-founder and Managing Director Ryan Floyd called Willard a great guy, but said Willard’s interests ultimately turned out to not be a good fit with the firm’s focus. Floyd declined to discuss the fundraising status at Storm.

Floyd declined to say if he would seek a replacement for Willard. The firm’s current team includes Arun Penmetsa, who was promoted to partner the same time Willard joined. Also on board are co-founder and Managing Director Tae Hea Nahm, Principal Pascale Diaine and Associate Frederik Groce.

Diaine joined in February 2017 after founding and leading San Francisco startup accelerator Orange Fab. Groce, a graduate of Stanford University, has been with the firm since early 2016.

Before he joined Storm, Willard was one of two partners at Subtraction Capital, a $20 million fund he launched with Jason Portnoy in 2013. That firm, now known as Oakhouse Partners, was an early backer in two companies that recently reached unicorn status: Zipline, maker of a drone delivery system that brings medicines and vaccines to remote geographies, and Carta, which helps companies and investors manage their equities.

Zipline reportedly reached a valuation of $1.2 billion after a late stage financing in May, and Carta similarly in May reached a valuation of $1.7 billion following its Series E round.

Prior to Subtraction, Willard was the chief marketing officer of health-records-management company Practice Fusion and software developer Atlassian. Before that he was vice president of marketing at Coupons.com.

Through much of the 1990s, Willard was an engineer at Boeing, where he worked on Dark Star, an unmanned aerial vehicle built to conduct reconnaissance for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Willard said he has a “few irons in the fire” and is considering his next move. For now, the San Mateo resident, who owns a home and in the North Bay, said he’s enjoying spending time with his children, ages 2 and 6.