MLT Rising Leader Spotlight: Brian Dixon – From Founder to Investor
UPDATE (Nov. 3, 2015):
We’re very proud to announce that Brian Dixon has been named Partner at Kapor Capital! Brian will be taking on more responsibility with leading new investments, helping current companies grow from seed to series A, and managing a greater portion of Kapor Capital’s overall portfolio. Congratulations Brian!
Brian Dixon is a 2011 MBA Prep alum and a 2013 Babson MBA graduate. He is currently a Principal with Kapor Capital and was recently named one of the 40 Under 40 Top Diverse Talents in Silicon Valley. We sat down with him to discuss his journey from startup founder to tech investor.
What’s a typical work day for you?
I’m a Principal Investor at Kapor Capital and have been with the firm for four years. We are an Oakland-based fund that understands that startup companies have the ability to transform entire industries, and at the same time, address urgent social needs. We believe that the lived experience of founders from underrepresented backgrounds provides a competitive edge.
My role on the team is broken down into two main activities: pre-investment and post-investment. My typical day involves participating in pitch meetings with companies seeking investment, determining if they’re in our “sweet-spot,” and deciding whether or not to fund them.
When I’m not meeting with prospective companies, I’m working with current founders in our portfolio, helping our founders go from seed stage ($500K – $1.5M investment) to Series A ($3-5M investment). The Series A is important because it allows a company to hire and execute on an idea they established product-market fit for during the seed stage. Helping companies raise this next round of financing generally involves meetings about traction, fundraising goals, and identifying key investors they should pitch.
When you think back to your MLT experience, what stands out in helping you achieve your success?
The biggest takeaway from MLT was understanding my story. I don’t have what some may call the “typical” background of an MBA student. For instance, I launched a few tech startups prior to getting any formal training in business or entrepreneurship. The first startup I built was when I was in high school, and it focused on the customization of sneakers. (Fun fact: I got the chance to create a pair for Lebron James). My second startup launched after I finished undergrad at Northeastern, and it aimed to be the “one stop shop” for users’ social media accounts. And the last startup I built centered on developing Facebook apps, at a time when Facebook had just released apps on their platform–now, I’m really aging myself. As you can see, my affinity for startups kept me busy in my early years, which probably was one of the reasons I never stayed at any of my corporate jobs for more than two years.
Fortunately for me, though, MLT was there to help me make sense of what I should do next. They really guided me through the reflection process and helped me get clear on what my true passions were and how I could best apply them to make a positive impact. And that’s when it happened: I decided to become a tech investor.
Getting clear on what I really wanted to do helped me focus in on which business schools to apply to, and I ultimately ended up at my number one choice: Babson. MLT’s support didn’t end there though. Because of them, I was able to connect with venture capitalists already in the field, which led to an internship, that then resulted in a full-time role at Kapor Capital . Best part of it all, though, is that I’m still here. Four years later, I’m still at the firm MLT originally introduced me to, and I’m still having a blast!
What are you passionate about and how do you bring that passion to Kapor?
There are two things I’m passionate about when it comes to investing: 1) finding companies that will have great returns, and 2) finding companies that actually make a difference in low-income communities of color. I’m a firm believer that technology can help level the playing field, and I think that’s exactly what makes working at Kapor Capital so special. Last month, the firm made a $40M pledge to help diversify tech. It’s a really exciting time to be here, because there’s still so much work we want to do and areas we want to help improve.
How do you feel about winning this award?
I’m extremely honored and blessed to be considered in the inaugural class of Silicon Valley’s rising leaders. There is still a lot of work to be done, but this award lets us know we’re on the right path. Also, I would like to thank several people who’ve helped me along the way, including Wendy Weiss, Mary Burns, Cedric Brown, Mitch Kapor, Freada Kapor Klein, Charles Hudson, Lo Toney, Kurt Collins, Ulili Onovakpuri, and of course, my family.
What advice would you give someone interested in rising to senior leadership in Silicon Valley?
There’s a few things I’d emphasize to those interested in making a positive impact in Silicon Valley:
- Build Relationships: Business is people, so it’s crucial that you invest time in getting to know people, caring about them, and they will do the same for you.
- Be a Mentor: Everyone who got to where they are today had someone else help them. No matter how far you get, be sure to leave the door open for the next generation.
- Know Yourself: Identify your strengths and master them to the extent that they create real value in the marketplace.
- Be a Lifelong Learner: Silicon Valley is all about innovation and disruption. If you want to survive here, you’re going to need to be open to constantly learning.
What’s next for you?
My goal over the next few years is to continue to be an active investor in venture capital while giving back at the same time. As a Kapor Capital employee, we have a formal partnership with MLT, and I hope to hire more pre-MBA interns because it’s truly a life-changing experience. This comes in the form of mentorship, volunteering, and making myself available in an ecosystem that has very few investors and founders of color.