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Hustle Fund wants to help spawn a new generation of angel investors

Kara Penn is the mother of four daughters and owner of Mission Spark, a management and strategy consulting company.

And now, thanks to Hustle Fund, she is also an angel investor.

Hustle Fund is coming out of stealth today with Angel Squad, a new initiative aimed at making angel investing more accessible to more people. To more people like Colorado-based Penn.

We believe that in order to increase diversity in the startup ecosystem, one thing that we must do is increase diversity — whether it be in regard to gender, race or geography — amongst angel investors,” said Hustle Fund co-founder and general partner Elizabeth Yin.

Via Angel Squad, Hustle Fund specifically aims to build an inclusive investor community, make minimum check sizes low and accessible (think as little as $1,000), provide “angel education” and give investors a way to invest alongside Hustle Fund.

“There’s been this misnomer, or at least I had this incorrect assumption that in order to become an angel investor, you have to be super rich and write $25,000 checks,” Yin told TechCrunch. “But the reality is actually in Silicon Valley, there are all these people running around investing $1,000 checks…and that’s something that’s a lot more accessible than then most people might think. And, part of the value of having this group is then we can accumulate a bunch of smaller checks to then write one larger check for a company.”

So far, Penn has invested in five startups across a range of sectors including real estate, food, apparel and finance. 

She describes herself as “a complete novice” in angel investing, and so far, she’s loving the experience.

I love Hustle Fund’s perspective that great hustlers can look like anyone and come from anywhere,” Penn told TechCrunch. “I’ve enjoyed being in a supportive community with differing levels of expertise, but where every question is welcomed.”

The experience is also broadening her exposure to technology and AI, the collection and use of data and the creation of new marketplaces in ways she never would have been exposed to before.

“As someone whose own company focuses exclusively on strategy in social impact organizations, I am also looking for how founders identify and bring to market creative solutions to complex problems, as well as exposure to a network of innovative people looking to solve hard issues in smart ways,” Penn said. “This exposure is helping me begin to think about applications of these approaches to difficult social problems.”

For some context, Hustle Fund is a venture firm founded by Elizabeth Yin and Eric Bahn, two former 500 Startups partners, with the goal of investing in pre-seed software startups. The firm has traditionally operated by investing $25,000 in a company, usually with a minimum-viable product, and then works with the team to help them grow. It does around 50 investments per year, according to its website. 

It recently closed on $33.6 million for a new fund.

“One of the things most important to us is this bigger mission of wanting to change the way the startup ecosystem is,” Yin said. “I noticed both as an entrepreneur and while running an accelerator, if you have a certain resume, went to certain schools, or were a certain race or gender, you have advantages in starting a company and getting funding. For many people, if you don’t tick those boxes, it can be very challenging. That’s why we’re investing in a lot of founders from all walks of life.”

Hustle Fund Venture Partner Brian Nichols had started a syndicate of Lyft alumni on AngelList. After doing a few deals, he opened up the syndicate to people outside of AngelList.

“I found there was a wide range of people looking to diversify into private markets, from all over the world with all types of backgrounds,” he said. “Hustle Fund and I had similar taste in companies I was investing in and I built a relationship with them in co-investments.”

Today, he’s helping run the fund’s Angel Squad initiative. So far, it has had two cohorts with over 150 investors total and true to the fund’s mission, those investors have been more diverse than typical angel syndicates: 46% of the members are female, 9% are underrepresented minorities and 32% are people who work outside of tech with professional roles such as lawyers, doctors and artists. Just one-third are based in Silicon Valley.

Every week, Angel Squad hosts an event which ranges from networking to a peek behind the curtain at opportunities at Hustle Fund is considering investing in to talking through why or why not to take a meeting with a founder.

“Imagine starting from zero, and if you could skip a bunch of steps and have Elizabeth (Yin) tell you how to do this before you lose a bunch of money in the process of evaluating a startup,” Nichols told TechCrunch. “Angel Squad is exactly what I wish had existed three or four years ago when I became interested in investing.”

Silicon Valley, Yin acknowledges, can be intimidating but the reality is that no one is an expert in everything.

“We’re trying to cultivate an environment where people are very kind — we have a no asshole rule, and that is a safe space where people can learn and feel like they can ask questions, and not have to know everything about angel investing. The reality is most people don’t. And we want to bring new people into this system.”

Besides not being an a-hole, other criteria in becoming a Squad Member include being able to add value and being an accredited investor.

“With rounds as competitive as they are today, we are looking for people who want to be actively supportive of the portfolio companies we’re investing in,” Nichols said. “Every person who wants to join the program is interviewed by someone from our team, who asks questions such as ‘What can you help a founder with?’ We are not looking for passive capital. That’s not super helpful at this point in the ecosystem.

Snack, a ‘Tinder meets TikTok’ dating app, opens to Gen Z investors

Snack, a video-first mobile dating app designed with a younger generation in mind, is opening itself up to Gen Z investors. The startup today announced the launch of its own Gen Z Syndicate on AngelList, which will allow Gen Z community members, influencers, creators and others to participate in the company’s upcoming $2 million SAFE, alongside other funds and angel investors.

The company in February announced $3.5 million in seed funding for its modern, TikTok-style dating app where users post videos to a feed which others then like in order to be matched. Snack believes videos allow users to better showcase their interests and lifestyle, as well as show off their personalities in ways static photos cannot. When two people like each other’s videos, they’re invited to direct message one another.

The experience is very much like engaging with a TikTok that’s built for dating. In fact, Snack is one of the first apps that will be adopting TikTok’s new Login SDK for third-party apps, which gives Snack’s users the ability to reshare their TikTok videos to their dating profiles.

Image Credits: Snack

Snack’s founder, Kim Kaplan, has a history in the dating app market. She previously led product, marketing and revenue at Plenty of Fish, which later sold to Match Group for $575 million in 2015.

“If you think about Plenty of Fish, we really launched off of Google SEO,” Kaplan explains. “Then you had Zoosk and Badoo, which launched off of Facebook — when it was a really early platform and it was easy to get traffic from it. Then you had Tinder and Bumble, which launched off of mobile-first. They were the first apps to come out and design and build with mobile in mind versus the rest of us which were desktop, trying to cram everything into a mobile phone,” she says.

“And I fundamentally believe now that the right opportunity is the distribution on TikTok, as well as influencers. I think that combination of TikTok being the new distribution channel is going to be a massive opportunity — and that’s what we’re trying to leverage,” Kaplan says.

Longer-term, Snack is likely to grow beyond the young, Gen Z demographic. Already, the app is attracting users in their 20’s and early 30’s, thanks to its TikTok ties. But as TikTok naturally ages up, so will Snack.

Snack began fundraising in September of last year, then hired the team, built the app and launched in late February.

Image Credits: Snack

“We’re only about eight weeks into this right now, but we’re seeing a lot of excitement, a lot of user growth,” Kaplan says. “Because of that excitement that’s kind of building, people — a lot of really interesting people — came to the table and said they wanted to invest. But I didn’t have any room left in the previous rounds, so I decided to open up a SAFE.”

As part of that SAFE, Snack is carving out a certain amount to create its own syndicate. That way, Kaplan notes, “we don’t have any carry fees with another person, and [we’re] opening it up to Gen Z investors that want to participate in the round.”

Originally, the carve-out began at $100,000 but there is already enough interest that Kaplan says she expects it to go higher — perhaps a couple hundred thousand or larger, based on demand.

Among the Gen Z investors are VCs who have heard about Snack, but whose fund primarily invests at a later stage. Others are just people the company has been working with and getting advice from while building out the the app.

For example, Kaplan had reach out to the Gen Z Mafia, a group of technologists working to make venture capital and startups more inclusive, to help consult on Snack. The group’s leaders, Emma Salinas and Nicholas Huebecker, are credited with helping Kaplan come up with Snack’s pretzel logo and its brand name.

“Video first dating allows a unique sense of expression that you can’t portray with a few well-crafted words and filtered pictures,” said Huebekcer, of his interest in Snack. “For a mobile-first generation, this new form of authenticity will grow to be necessary. Snack allows users to express their real selves just like they do on TikTok, Snapchat, and other platforms we love,” he added.

Technology investor and Founder at The Innovation Armory, Samuel Natbony, is also joining the SAFE, alongside Monique Woodard (Cake Ventures), Backbone Angels, Shakti Ventures, Christian Winklund (previously CEO of dating app Skout which sold to Meet Group), Andrew Wilkinson and others.

“I want Gen Z to have a seat at the table and help shape what Snack becomes,” says Kaplan. “I want them to have that voice and participate, and be a champion for Snack,” she adds.

Figure raises $7.5M to help startup employees better understand their compensation

The topic of compensation has historically been a delicate one that has left many people — especially startup employees — wondering just what drives what can feel like random decisions around pay and equity.

Last June, software engineers (and housemates) Miles Hobby and Geoffrey Tisserand set about trying to solve the problem for companies by developing a data-driven platform that aims to help companies structure their compensation plans and transparently communicate them to candidates.

Now today, the startup behind that platform, Figure, announced it has raised $7.5 million in seed funding led by CRV. Bling Capital, Better Tomorrow Ventures and Garage Capital also participated in the financing, along with angel investors such as AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant, Jason Calacanis, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and other executives based in Silicon Valley.

The startup has amassed a client list that includes other startups such as fintechs Brex and NerdWallet and AI-powered fitness company Tempo. 

Put simply, Hobby and Tisserand’s mission is to improve workflows and transparency around pay, particularly equity. The pair had both worked at startups themselves (Uber and Instacart, respectively) and ended up leaving money on the table when they left those companies because no one had properly explained to them what their equity, which changed at every valuation, meant.  

Image Credits: Figure co-founders and co-CEOs Miles Hobby and Geoffrey Tisserand. Image Credits: Figure

So, one of their goals was to create a solution that would provide a user-friendly explanation of what a person’s equity stake really means, from tax implications to whether or not they have to buy the stock and/or hold onto it.

“I’ve gone through the job search process many times before and there’s all these complex legal documents to understand why you’re getting 10,000 stock options, but obviously we knew the vast majority of people have no idea how that works,” Tisserand told TechCrunch. “We saw an opportunity there to help companies actually convey the value to their candidates while also making them aware of the potential risks of owning something that’s so illiquid.”

Image Credits: Figure

Another goal of Figure’s is to help create a more fair and balanced process about decisions around pay and equity so that there’s less inequality out there. Pointedly, it aims to remove some of the biases that exist around those decisions by systematizing the process.

“We saw a void in this kind of context around equity…and knew that there had to be a better way for companies to structure, manage and explain their compensation plans,” Hobby said.

To Hobby and Tisserand, Figure is designed to help stop instances of implicit bias.

“Compensation should be based on the work that you’re doing, and not gender or ethnic background,” Tisserand told TechCrunch. “We’re trying to give that context and remove biases. So, we’re trying to help at two different stages –– to surface inequities that already exist and make sure there are no anomalies, and then to help stop them before they can exist.”

Figure also aims to give companies the tools to educate candidates and employees on their total compensation — including equity, salary, benefits and bonuses — in a “straightforward and user-friendly” way. For example, it can create custom offer letters that interactively detail a candidate’s compensation.

“Our goal is for Figure to become an operating system for compensation, where a company can encode their compensation philosophy into our system, and we help them determine their job architecture, compensation bands and offer numbers while monitoring their compensation health to provide adjustment suggestions when needed,” Hobby said.

Post-hire, Figure’s compensation management system “helps keep everything running smoothly.”

Anna Khan, general partner of enterprise software at CRV, is joining Figure’s board as part of the funding. The decision to back the startup was in part personal, she said.

“I’d been investing in software for eight years and was alarmed that no one was building anything around pay equity when it comes to how we’re paid, why we’re paid what we’re paid and on how to build equity long term,” Khan told TechCrunch. “Unfortunately, discussions around compensation and equity still happen behind closed doors and this extends into workflow around compensation — equally broken — with manual leveling, old data and large pay inequities.”

The company plans to use its new capital to expand its product offerings and scale its organization.