Jalak Jobanputra is a founding partner of FuturePerfect Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund in New York City (NYC). Previously, she was the director of mobile investments at Omidyar Network, a philanthro-capitalist fund started by Pierre Omidyar, co-founder of eBay. While there, she created a mobile investment strategy, invested in an East African mobile tech incubator, invested in an Indian mobile classifieds site, and closed Omidyar’s largest for-profit investment ($5 million) to date in Latin America. She has over 18 years of experience in venture capital, media, and technology. She was previously senior vice president at the New York City Investment Fund (NYCIF), a private economic development fund founded by Henry Kravis, where she managed the fund’s technology and digital media venture investments. While there, Jalak spearheaded the formation of NYCSeed in 2008, a seed fund dedicated to funding early-stage tech entrepreneurs in NYC. She also was on the selection committee and served as a mentor and speaker for NYCSeedStart, NYC’s first summer accelerator program, and helped launch the FinTech Innovation Lab, which has since been replicated in London. Jalak worked closely with the Bloomberg administration and NYCEDC to implement initiatives to help diversify the NYC economy through NYC’s growing tech/digital sectors and served on Governor Paterson’s Small Business Taskforce. Her portfolio at NYCIF included outside.in (acquired by AOL), Imagespan, Thumbplay, and TXVia (acquired by Google), in addition to seed investments Magnetic, Ticketfly, Enterproid, and SeatGeek.
Prior to NYCIF, she was a principal at New Venture Partners (NVP), a $300M early-stage venture fund which commercialized technology out of corporate labs. At NVP, she founded and served as interim CEO of Real Time Content (spun out of British Telecom), a personalized video ad platform, and was a director of Procelerate Technologies, a SaaS workflow management tool for the aerospace industry. She also incubated a range of other technologies, including speech recognition/NLP, 3D displays, video surveillance, 4G wireless broadband, and music recommendation software.
From 1999-2003, Jalak was at Intel Capital in Silicon Valley, where she invested in enterprise software, Internet and digital media startups, including Demantra (sold to Oracle), Extricity (sold to Peregrine), Viacore (sold to IBM), R Systems (IPO), Financial Engines (IPO), Yodlee and Zinio. In 1997, during the early days of Silicon Alley (in NYC), she launched and managed product development for online financial information startup Horsesmouth. She began her career in media, telecom, and tech investment banking at Lehman Brothers and Broadview in NYC and London.
Born in Nairobi to Indian parents, Jalak has invested, and traveled extensively, in North and South America, India, Europe, Africa, East Asia, and Latin America. She is also active in supporting education reform and social entrepreneurship and served as a trustee of Achievement First Bushwick Charter Schools (Brooklyn) and sits on the executive committee of the Social Investment Council of Echoing Green. She is on the board of directors of the Center for an Urban Future, advisory board of L’Oréal’s Women in Digital Initiative, and Access to Capital subcommittee member of the U.S. Secretary of State Women’s Leadership Council. She served as a mentor for the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder in the summer of 2010, a summer accelerator for social entrepreneurs worldwide. In 2003, she took a year-long sabbatical from venture capital to consult on replication strategy for Gates Foundation funded charter schools, including the Big Picture Company. Jalak spent four months setting up microfinance programs and training women entrepreneurs in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania after receiving her M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management in 1999. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Communications from the Annenberg School and a B.S. in Finance from the Wharton School.
Jalak was selected as an Outstanding 50 Asian American in Business in 2010 by the Asian American Development Center. She was selected as a U.S. State Department delegate to Indonesia in the summer of 2011, where she met with entrepreneurs, angel investors, and business leaders to promote tech entrepreneurship. Jalak is a Techstars NYC mentor, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator mentor, charter member of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), advisory board member of Astia NYC, the Wharton Private Equity Network, Kellogg Entrepreneurs, and is a frequent speaker and judge at entrepreneur and venture conferences, including Mobile World Congress, CTIA, TechCrunch Disrupt, Bloomberg and AlwaysOn. She has been asked to speak on entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems by the Obama administration at the White House, as well as governments worldwide.
1. How do you define success?
To me, success is staying true to your ideals and the life you set out to live (as long as you aren’t hurting anyone else). I see too many people who are living a life that others have prescribed for them, whether it is society or another person. Life is too short to do that—a teacher in a small town who works part-time to also spend time with family and a CEO of a major corporation are, in my eyes, equally successful if they are doing what they want to be doing and treating those around them with respect.
2. What is the key to success?
First and foremost, I believe self-awareness is key to the type of success I’ve defined above. Positivity, hard work, passion and resilience are also important components of success.
3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I was raised to follow my passions—in that sense, I knew I would always be successful. Whether it was working in the slums of Kenya, consulting with charter schools, working on an M&A deal in the boardroom of a Fortune 50 company or launching a VC fund (which I am doing now), I have, at any given point in time, done what I’ve wanted to be doing. If you love what you do, the inevitable obstacles you encounter along the way become surmountable. If you treat others with respect, you will find yourself surrounded by people who will support you—and you will be successful.
4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I was born in Nairobi and grew up traveling to the developing world when plumbing and electricity were luxuries. When you are exposed to those environments at an early age, you don’t take much for granted. I am constantly aware that I am fortunate to have the opportunities that I’ve had—and that puts any adversity I face in perspective. Additionally, my parents left a good (although politically tenuous) life in Africa and moved us to the United States—it’s a sacrifice I am so grateful for. Any adversity I face pales in comparison to starting completely over in a new country (with a family dependent on you).
5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Life is too short for negativity or pettiness. I’ve lost quite a few people close to me over the past few years—some my age, some younger, and some older—and it makes you realize that health and good friends and family are gifts to be treasured. Any time you spend away from positive influences impedes the quality of your life. I’ve rooted out a lot of negativity—whether people, words or situations—and believe this is an important component of my success and happiness.
6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Along the same lines, I treasure spending time with friends and family. Traveling is a big passion of mine—especially off the beaten path and in nature. I’m quite adventurous—I hitchhiked around Burma in 2007 by myself and also went to Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to see firsthand the devastation that has transpired there. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda was an unforgettable experience. Bali is one of my favorite places to rejuvenate, and I love the food in Italy. I’m pretty much up for going anywhere and seeing as much of the world as I can.
7. What makes a great leader?
I’m going to go back to self-awareness. I think knowing what you know and what you don’t is paramount to being a great leader. That way you can surround yourself with people who complement you. You also need to be a good listener—too many people are too quick to talk and judge when they’d be better served by listening and learning.
8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Be open-minded and willing to learn. Don’t forget that everyone starts somewhere and that it’s a long-term game. I worked 100+ hour weeks in investment banking out of school, but learned so much and pitched in wherever I was needed. Some of the people I worked with back then are now investing in my fund, and others have become some of my closest friends—and this is 20 years later.
This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.