Trevor is a VP at Vanterra Capital, a $55 million dollar VC firm based in New York focused on early stage and growth stage opportunities in consumer and consumer tech.
You joined Vanterra in April 2020. What were you up to before this?
I worked at CircleUp Growth Partners, which is another CPG focused venture capital fund out in San Francisco.
I led about 5-to-6 deals, if you include the ones that were wrapping up when I left CircleUp to join Vanterra.
- The Flex company - This was actually the first deal that I did and closed. The Flex company creates modern period products and it created a flex disk, which is used as a replacement for a tampon or pad.
- Partake Brewing - Craft, non alcoholic beers
- Art of Sport - Performance body care for men (think shampoo, deodorant,etc)
- Verb Energy - Caffeinated, energy bars
- IQ Bar - Nutrition bars
- Daily Gem - Real food supplements company
What happens when you’re leading an investment into a company but then you leave to work at another firm? Do you totally lose your association with those companies?
The hardest part of leaving CircleUp was leaving the companies that I was closest with.
I was a board observer at those companies, so in an official capacity my board observer role is gone. Those companies aren’t a part of my daily routine anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my personal relationship with the founders.
Would you say VC firms are proprietary about their relationships with founders?
When leaving a firm to work at a new one, you always want to exit with respect and on good terms.
You don’t want to burn a bridge and steal deals to bring over to your new firm.
At our stage of investing, there's more than one investor that looks at deals, passes them along and participates in the actual round.
I think it’s important to embrace an attitude of collaboration with your former fund versus competition.
Are venture capitalists competitive?
I know venture capitalists who are competitive. I probably know more VC’s who are competitive than not.
I'm not sure you have to be competitive to get in, but I think being competitive is likely correlated with traits that VC’s have: not being afraid to work hard hours, being type A, being social, etc.
These traits tend to unlock success in venture.
How do you discover new companies to invest in?
For me, it’s about being active in the food & bev community. Set up time with founders that you're close with, with branding agencies, with law firms, with accounting firms, with HR firms and any of these companies that play in the CPG ecosystem.
Also don’t forget about what you have in your pocket! You probably have interesting companies that you've gone out and found yourself. Set up a meeting to trade ideas with these companies. You can go into a meeting with five interesting companies and come out with five new leads, and this can continue to multiply. It’s the flywheel effect.
It’s summertime aka cocktail time. What RTD cocktails should people try or have on their radar? As a matter of fact, what are you drinking?
Alright I’m excited about this question.
My current favorites:
Ohza...if you didn’t already know, Mimosas aren’t just for brunch),
Bomani...if you need that little extra boost
Tip Top...yup, now you can get a Negroni in a can. It’s the real deal of canned cocktails.
Long Drink...this canned cocktail is super tasty and refreshing.
For this last one, I’m gonna have to cheat and say Bev - which is not a cocktail - but a tasty wine!
When prospecting & investing in a new company, how do you avoid succumbing to groupthink?
Oh, there’s a lot of FOMO rounds in VC that you hear about that get a lot of press coverage!
Oftentimes, this can be a signal of a great team and a hot category.
But sometimes these rounds get ‘spoken into existence’ so the people who are running the industry news and even the buyers & retailers are all hot on a category but may be ahead of the consumer.
I think there are a few ways to avoid this:
Look at companies that no one else is looking at
The more unique companies that you see, the more unique insights & perspective you develop, so you’re less likely to follow the pack and get into that ‘hot company’ everyone is jumping at.
Diversify your information stream
While industry publications are amazing, if you can find incremental sources of information that not every investor is using and that help you become a better decision maker and add to your framework the better.
I think this can really help you separate the signal from the noise.
Some authors I’d recommend checking out diversify our framework are:
Annie Duke, Clayton Christensen, Udayan Gupta, Mahendra Ramsinghani.
How can you be certain that you’re using a framework or information source that no one else is using?
Well, it’s never going to be that you’re looking at something that nobody has ever looked at.
Typically investors that you trust and respect will point you in the right direction on what to read and look at.
A good question to ask investors is: what books have you read that influenced your decision making?
At the end of the day you have to have conviction in your own takes. You have to be okay with healthy disagreement, and this is something that I struggled with for awhile.
What does this investor know that I don’t know?
So much of being a part of venture capital is betting on yourself.
If you’re not confident in what you really think about something, that's where you need to peel back the layers and ask yourself: why?
How did you build that confidence to bet on yourself?
I’m not 100% there yet either, and I think this is always work in progress.
Overtime, I think it comes down to being comfortable with your own process. In order to refine and perfect your process, you need to have enough outcomes to really understand what works and what doesn't. But that’s one of the issues with venture; the feedback loop is relatively long, you won’t really know how a company does until 5-to-7 years down the line.
There are definitely signals along the way that can give you conviction on whether it was a good investment or not. The deals that I invested in at CircleUp, I love every single one of those companies, but I look back and think: did I see that piece over there? There’s a reason x company is struggling a bit, could I have foreseen that?
If you do enough investments, you start to see what worked and what didn’t work, and you keep track of it.
You also need to keep track of the companies you didn’t invest in either; the one that got away. Every investor has that list of companies.
So what’s one of the companies on “the one that got away” list?
We did a deep dive on the feminine care and wellness space, and this company, Honeypot, was just absolutely crushing it at the time. And I don't think we quite gave it enough credit. We knew it was going to grow, but we just didn't quite realize how much it would, and we undervalued it. So that’s a company that really got away.
I wanted to get involved in Bev and I brought it to the team, but I don't think I positioned information in the right way because we didn’t end up investing. It was a mistake because Bev is doing amazing right now.
I learned a lot through this experience on presenting information and swaying other people’s minds.
What values have shaped your outlook on your career & life?
There's no replacement for being prepared. Much more often than not, there’s no excuse to not be prepared. Doing your homework and being prepared is your choice to do it, and it’s about time allocation.
It’s shocking how much more productive a conversation is when you actually come in and do some basic homework about the company.
I think it comes from an amalgamation of what my parents and key people have taught me in my life, but a person's ultimate freedom is their choice of attitude given a set of circumstances.
One of the few things you can control is how you choose to react to things.
If you can be easy going & patient and not let the lows get too low and not let the highs get too high, that goes a really long way.
Being cognizant of how you react to things is so important.
There’s a lot of ups and downs in your career and life and you need to remember it's a long term game.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this interview, please subscribe to our newsletter!