At Unshackled, our mission is to empower the next generation of immigrant founders. As part of that, we want to be as transparent as possible about what we look for in new ventures, how we think about investing and who we are as people. So, we decided to turn the interview on ourselves. This time, we are featuring our Co-Founder and General Partner, Nitin Pachisia.
Co-Founder and General Partner
What, if anything, makes immigrant founders different?
More than anything, we have a high degree of grit. There is this never-ending pursuit to make things better. Frankly, they have to have grit, because often, there’s a lot more on the line: in addition to capital, they might be at risk to lose their immigration status. In my case, I was born in India and raised in a one-room house. My father was a hard-charging workaholic who was always focused on making things better. I think that mentality and ambition is deeply ingrained in me, and it helps me understand where our founders are coming from.
What was your own early experience as a founder?
It wasn’t unlike what a lot of Unshackled’s founders go through. When I was starting my first company, I couldn’t quit my day job to work full-time without jeopardizing my visa status. So, I had to moonlight. I know how hard it is to not be able to dedicate your full attention to your startup, and the hustle that it entails. Most VCs don’t help entrepreneurs navigate the immigration process or even understand why a founder hasn’t gone full-time on their startup yet.
The other thing that’s common across many immigrant founders — including me — is this absolute dedication to building your company until it reaches a sustainable stage. In the early days of Unshackled, I prioritized Unshackled over everything else — family, friends, fun, health, etc. Whether it was right or wrong, I had a singular focus. And I see and admire this same trait in many of our founders.
What differentiates you from other VCs?
First and foremost, it’s our respect for founders. We have to remember our place in the ecosystem: we are the enabler of success, not the stars of the party. If we become cocky as investors, that’s when we start slipping.
But I also think we are different because of our strategy. We fall in a small segment of the market that is hyper-focused on the founders we serve, the stage at which we invest, and the portfolio resources we specialize in. We are proud of staying disciplined and not chasing founders who are not in our sweet spot.
Where is the venture capital ecosystem headed? How is Unshackled positioned to succeed?
Right now (Feb, 2022), we are in the thirteenth year of a bull run. At some point, this party will end. And when that finally hits, a lot of the funds that look great on paper will fall apart. I think we’ll see some mergers among firms that have been chasing shiny objects instead of value. And that moment will shine a light on firms like ours that do things differently. The key questions are: What are you doing for founders besides providing capital? Who found the businesses that others missed? I think that, for the most part, our founders are building businesses that can sustain a downturn. That is, they’re not dependent on VC forever, and they’ve focused on customers, revenue, and margins.
How is entrepreneurship seen differently in the US, compared to other countries?
The key difference we hear again and again relates to how we interpret failure in the US. In a lot of the home countries of our founders, failure is seen as a black mark. One miss, and you’re out. In the US, there is just a different spirit. We learn from our mistakes, and the narrative becomes one of growth and iteration. I think that sense of resilience and continuous growth is very appealing for entrepreneurs.
Looking forward ten years: what does success for Unshackled look like?
I think that ten years from now, our returns won’t just be financial. They’ll be social, civic and even cultural. If all goes well, we’ll have the scale and impact to actually influence immigration policy. We can work to make it far less painful for immigrant entrepreneurs to come here and start a business. That’s the dream, anyway. We’ve got a long way to go, but the vision is there.