Meet Paraj Mathur, an incoming venture capital team member and startup advisor who utilized an interesting strategy to make connections and create opportunities.
Tell us about the work you've done for early-stage startups.
I actually started freshman year of college. I knew I was super interested in startups, but I did not have the luxury of proximity (being in Lancaster, PA) to a lot of interesting startups. So I started a personal 'five in five' strategy where every day I would thoroughly research 5 early stage (pre-series A) startups, write-up a one-page strategy recommendation document, and cold-email it to the CEO of the company. I made so many valuable connections that way and a lot of them led to consulting and internship opportunities. For example, I helped a Thiel Fellow with market research for his company, I helped an east coast food tech startup with marketing strategy, and a home services startup with early user acquisition and growth. Additionally, I also found some great internship opportunities through this process and I ended up at JetInsight where I was responsible for product marketing. Now, I am an advisor for several early-stage consumer, AR/VR, and blockchain startups.
How did you become interested in VC?
When I started my P2P storage marketplace - SimplyStow, I spent a lot of time raising my angel/pre-seed round from VCs in the area. Having a background in finance, it was fascinating to see the venture capital process (and how subjective it is). Curious to learn more, I cold-emailed a lot of big VCs and emerging VCs and asked them to give me projects for free. A lot of them gave me tiny projects, which I crushed, and slowly built my way up to more important projects. As I did more projects, I fell in love with the early-stage venture with its focus on the team and the opportunity rather than some financial metric. I ended up leading my school's venture initiative and landed a full-time position with Candela Partners, an early stage fund focused on Mixed Reality Investments. Candela was one of the funds I had done projects for in the past, and I was extremely comfortable with the team so I was happy to accept! I am super excited to lead us to a significant platform shift.
What is your best advice for a company looking for help with product management or user acquisition?
Early stage user acquisition requires tender love and care. On one hand, you can spam subreddits and FB groups to promote your products which will get you users, but they won't have any attachment or loyalty to you or your product. On the other hand, if you do things that don't scale, like getting to know your potential customers personally before onboarding them on to your product, spending months creating value on groups before you mention your product for the first time, sometimes even customizing your product for your earliest users , you can create a legion of passionate users. These users will be your loyal advocates and even help you grow your customer base. The key is to find these customers and cultivate them.
Similarly for product management, after building SimplyStow my product development process was idea -> product -> pricing -> customer -> repeat. However, I learned that it should have been idea -> customer -> product -> customer -> pricing -> customer -> repeat.
Involving the early customer at every step is crucial for rapid product-market fit.