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Josh Jones is one of the managing partners of The Fund LA, but he's been part of so much more.
He was a co-founder of DreamHost, a bitcoin pioneer and, most recently, the owner of an airline that plans to launch in the spring. On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, he talks about lessons learned along the way, and some of his future plans.
Jones stumbled into DreamHost while at Claremont's Harvey Mudd College. Some classmates had just started the company and asked if he'd be interested in joining on.
"I said, 'I hate those logos. And I hate the name of the company, but I'm in,'" said Jones.
They bought a server and then tried running an ad network, then an ecommerce service and even a delivery service. But the only thing that customers seemed to be interested in was paying to host their sites on DreamHost's servers.
Seventeen years later, DreamHost is still around. Jones stepped away from the company in 2013 after selling all his shares in order to pursue a new venture: Bitcoin.
Jones was introduced to cryptocurrency through an article and decided to buy in after doing some research to determine whether it was legitimate.
In 2010 he became one of the very early Bitcoin miners: "You couldn't get any unless you downloaded the software. And then it just ran on my little $300 media PC for a few months. And then I checked one day, and I was like, 'I have 50 Bitcoin.' I was like, 'Cool, it's worth $3', or something, at the time," said Jones.
Jones found his way back to Harvey Mudd in 2017, where he created an accelerator program. That's where he came across a startup called Float that was interested in creating a low-cost commuter airline to take passengers a short distance -- for instance, from Santa Monica to Pomona or Van Nuys to Santa Ana.
"They launched, I think it was March 7th, 2020. And they had a great week. And then COVID shut everything down," said Jones.
The Float team and Jones then bid on an airline that went bankrupt during the pandemic. "And now we run this regional airline in Alaska called Ravn." But Jones describes his much bigger vision for growing from Ravn to Northern Pacific, an airline that will fly from the US to Asia via a layover in Anchorage.
The company is now working on creating a loyalty program that uses crypto.
Press the playhead above to hear Jones talk in depth about his background and experience with bitcoin -- and what he sees for its future.Engagement reporter Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
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Kumra is also a serial entrepreneur, and has over 15 years of branding and scaling expertise. She is the co-founder of Mavin, a "mobile startup focused on affordable internet access" in India.
She's also the CEO of Santa Monica-based Juggernaut, a company focused on "digital design and disruption" that has worked with both The Walt Disney Company and the federal government.
Kumra has a history of working in civic tech. She worked with the Obama administration, and was the senior new media advisor in the State Department's Office of eDiplomacy. She also worked with the Biden-Harris transition team, advising on leadership within the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
Despite her various ventures, she remains focused on building up ethical tech, sustainability and prioritizing the L.A. startup community.
On the rest of this episode, Raina shares some projects she's currently working on, thoughts on the future of ethical tech, and some questions she likes to ask entrepreneurs.
Raina Kumra is the CEO of Juggernaut, a partner at The Fund L.A., serves as an advisor for the moonshot factory, and is on the board of Nix Hydra Games. Her work has also been published in several journals and is part of MoMA's permanent collection.
"I think it's the 'terms of service' that is one of the most depressing norms in the tech industry of everyone just copy-pasting some sort of generic terms of service instead of sitting down and really thinking about it as an opportunity for your brand, an opportunity for your product to make a deeper connection and be more honest and transparent." — Raina Kumra
dot.LA Engagement Intern Colleen Tufts contributed to this post.
Every venture capital fund likes to insist that they are unique even though they usually all operate from the same playbook. The Fund, which quietly launched in Los Angeles earlier this year — two years after starting in New York — is actually different.
It is a venture fund for those who eschew venture funds. No professional investors are allowed, there is no full-time staff, and it charges a reduced management fee.
Instead of traditional limited partners (LPs), The Fund gets capital from dozens of what it calls "community members" who are all successful founders and operators who invest starting at just $25,000. It aims to have a 1:1 ratio of investors to founders so that founders can get as much mentorship as they need starting their young companies.
"People really want to keep capital here," said Anna Barber, a member of the investment committee who also serves as managing director of the Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator. "We see that more than in other places. We see founders who have had success in L.A. want to support L.A."
Anchor members include Kevin Datoo of Dollar Shave Club, Chad DePue of Snap, Susan Paley of Droplabs, Carolyn Becher of HopSkipDrive, Robyn Ward of Founderforward, Dan Gould of Tinder, and Tony Wang of Agora. (Spencer Rascoff, executive chairman of dot.LA, is also a member.)
The cohort is deliberately spread across different industries. "We want to bring together different parts of the L.A. ecosystem," said Barber. "We have access to knowledge about what is happening and the ability to help companies we've made investments in."
The Fund has already backed two startups – it won't disclose which ones yet – and committed to two more. The goal is to make 50 investments in L.A. over the next two years, with checks in the $50,000 range. It aims to raise $3 million, which is tiny for a venture fund, but Barber sees potential in going smaller as other seed funds write progressively larger checks.
"While there's been growth in early stage investment, we think there's a really big opportunity in pre-seed and early seed," said Barber.
It might seem like a daunting time to be starting a new fund. However, The Fund is hoping there will now be more opportunities at lower valuations and says most of its decisions were made remotely even before the pandemic.
"We really run everything through Slack," said said Raina Kumra, another member of the investment committee and CEO of Juggernaut, a marketing agency. "We're getting pretty good at FaceTime and Zoom. It's not that much of a leap."
If a member sees a deal they like, they post it in Slack. If there is buy-in from the membership, the idea then goes to the investment committee – which also includes Austin Murray, founder of JAMDAT Mobile and Josh Jones, founder of Dreamhost – who meet every week via videoconference and quickly render a decision.
"We want to be respectful of founders' time," said Kumra, who added: "Founders want to be funded by other founders."
Barber says it is intentional that the investment committee is 50% women in an industry dominated by men. Their goal is to invest in a diverse range of founders and companies to build the next generation of great L.A. tech companies.
"People are not as jaded in L.A.," said Barber. "People genuinely want to support entrepreneurship to build a tech community."
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