Celebrating success, even when it’s bittersweet — two letters
Dear Partners, Advisors, Founders and Friends -
Building anything generational requires responding to change. At Unshackled, despite all the successes, we know significant change is always around the corner. Whether it be changing immigration policy, portfolio company outcomes, or teammates departing to new endeavors. Today, we share just that. On Thursday, August 18, the Partnership learned we would bid farewell to Maria Salamanca, our newest Partner, and longest-tenured teammate. While we couldn’t have been more surprised, we are thrilled for her to begin the next chapter of her career as a Partner at Ulu Ventures, where she will lead their Seed Consumer investment strategy. Since learning of the change, a lot has happened to ensure a seamless transition. We finalized all internal housekeeping, including the necessary legal agreements with Maria, and communicated with and supported our Unshackled team and portfolio founders. Further, we spoke directly with all our largest closed and in-process LPs and stayed in lockstep with Ulu Ventures to ensure we could celebrate Maria’s transition with no leaks to the media. This parting was incredibly collaborative and spoke to our deep respect and trust.
To the extent of Maria’s departure, we want you to know that Maria was not looking but was presented with an incredible opportunity to take the next step in her investing journey. We understand that can sometimes seem like a party line, but we can confidently say it’s the truth. As evidenced, Maria will retain her vested ownership in Fund I, II, and III and become an LP in Unshackled Fund III for the first time. Indeed, this is not the commitment we had hoped for, but it’s impossible to look past what she accomplished during the 7+ years with Unshackled.
Maria joined Unshackled in 2015 as our first investment hire and, in March 2021, was promoted to Partner for Fund III (Crunchbase announcement here). Anyone that knows Maria knows how dynamic she is. She’s clever, patient, detail-oriented, and above all else, fiercely loyal. Unshackled was her first job after graduating from UC Berkeley. And she went from Community Manager to Partner in less than seven years. She shined in every role and represented herself & us on countless lists — including 2018 Forbes 30 under 30 and 2018 Rising Star of Business Insider. She founded organizations like Swing Left, became President of LatinxVC, ran for School Board in Orlando, Florida (and is now off to the general election!), and most critically and selfishly for us, fended off many firms trying to recruit her over the years. She helped build our internal operational playbook, managed immigration flawlessly, and mentored the amazing teammates we have today. Maria is as much a part of the Partnership as any of us.
While incredibly sad, this change is also very gratifying. In just a couple of weeks, Maria will become our first alum to be a Partner at a downstream firm. A Partner that understands what it means to be an immigrant entrepreneur with little to no resources and what it takes to build a company hinged on a successful journey of customer discovery. For our founders and teammates, this will give them a perfect downstream partner & mentor rooting them on. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that today Ulu Ventures already shares five investments with us.
So what does this mean for Unshackled moving forward?
As a firm, we are fortunate we build everything into playbooks. Whether it’s our investment process, onboarding of new talent, immigration & HR support, or fundraising for portfolio companies, we develop playbooks to share our wisdom without dependency on anyone. Even our deal attribution is at the firm level, with 0 attributions to partners on investments. This structure ensures support (and detailed notes) for all portfolio companies, regardless of changes. Moreover, it also creates incredible opportunities for our teammates to take on more responsibility. It means more collaboration, more growth, and hopefully, a successful journey to fill in Maria’s shoes. In this spirit, in the coming months, Unshackled will launch several new initiatives to reach more immigrants, starting with the hiring of a Head of Community, which will become our most senior addition to the team yet. We just posted the position and if you have any candidates in mind, please refer to the job description and application here.
As a final point, one of the proudest reflections for us as founders is that we provided a platform for a 22-year-old with a degree in Political Science to take her shot at Venture Capital. Maria came to the U.S. as a Colombian Refugee and found her way to Unshackled to become a Partner of a firm that has over $200M in AUM (and growing). Maria’s story is what it means to bet on underdogs. She didn’t fit any patterns of venture capital; in fact, she knew she didn’t and used that to build herself in a way that many wouldn’t. We can’t take credit for the strength of her adversity muscle, but we couldn’t be more proud of being a part of her journey.
Maria is the perfect embodiment of investing in rising stars as they become known stars. It is immensely flattering to know that firms with significantly larger AUMs would want the talent that walks the hallways of Unshackled.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us or Maria. This is a bittersweet moment, and as true to our brand as anything else, we will operate with radical transparency. In the same spirit, Maria also penned a letter to you all. Below it’s included.
As Leslie Higgins of Ted Lasso said:
Your Partners & friends,
Nitin Pachisia & Manan Mehta
Maria’s letter to the community
Dear Unshackled Friends & Family —
I was 22 years old when I met Manan and Nitin in their Palo Alto office. Up to that point being an immigrant had both been what propelled me and something to overcome. My parents gave up everything for my future, I had to make sure it was worthwhile. I also knew I was different when kids made fun of my bad English and when our fate was in the hands of immigration lawyers that ripped my family off with fake promises about our immigration path. The opportunity Manan and Nitin gave me was beyond a role. We spent hours talking about what it meant to build a community of founders that had the immigrant experience we each had in our own way. They saw being an immigrant as a superpower, they knew that the parts that made it hard were also the same parts that gave individuals a unique advantage to endure the arduous journey of entrepreneurship. I knew instinctually this made sense and if we could work together to remove some (unfortunately not all) of the pains of that journey then we would be tapping into the most ambitious and hungry founders who were not given the chance to build companies.
It’s an understatement to say it’s been a wild ride for the past 8 years. Since then they entrusted me with critical parts of proving the thesis. Together we proved we could tap into an untapped pool of entrepreneurs, that these same entrepreneurs would trust us on the earliest part of the company-building journey before immigration is figured out, and that the community of them would propel them further than their individual drive would on its own. As Manan and Nitin, and many of our LPs & founders know, I too grew up with this community. From a community manager to a Partner and that was only possible because Manan and Nitin kept an open mind and built a fund from first principles not just what Silicon Valley told them was the playbook.
It was because of all of the above that the decision I have made is one of the toughest. There’s been a growing disconnect between the areas I want to spend more time on and what stage we invest in is strongly positioned for. Some are due to changing macro environments on funding but it is also my own growth as an investor. I am at the point in my investment career where I have clarity on areas I want to double down in and it would be a disservice to the team and our portfolio construction to push those when they are counter to what makes this fund’s secret sauce. I remain confident that Unshackled today is one if not the only fund that has figured out pre-seed investing. A stage where betting on people with enormous upsides meets a focus on company building, not market or product. I strongly believe that unlike the many funds out there that claim differentiated deal flow, this team has it in a population that no other funds see until after we invest. It’s a fund that has a culture of team trust and building that doesn’t follow antiquated pedigree-focused hiring and has been stronger because of it. As I told the team and will tell our founders, I will always be a partner to this fund. It won’t longer be in the title but I will continue cheering and supporting the portfolio and the team in whatever ways I can because I believe this industry is a better one every day Unshackled grows and proves there is a way to do both good and well.
I will be dedicating the next phase of my career to early-stage consumer investing, hoping to build frameworks and repeatability in an area that has been one of the most unsophisticated areas in the industry. I thank my Partners, the team, the founders, and our investors for believing in me to this point and I hope to continue making you proud.