Aayush Gupta: “Simplify as much as possible ”

Simplify as much as possible — I’ve always appreciated how a three line haiku can be dissected into multiple pages of analytical commentary. But while deep exploration is both fun and necessary to unlock new insight, I’ve realized how important it is, in order to drive things forward, to simplify any finding, strategy, or decision into its […]

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Simplify as much as possible — I’ve always appreciated how a three line haiku can be dissected into multiple pages of analytical commentary. But while deep exploration is both fun and necessary to unlock new insight, I’ve realized how important it is, in order to drive things forward, to simplify any finding, strategy, or decision into its simplest form possible, no matter how seemingly complex it may seem.


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Aayush Gupta — Create

Aayush Gupta is a venture builder. His mission is to create startups, from ideation to business launch. His passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and design has taken him across various international experiences: currently, he works at Create, a venture studio backed by 20 of New York City’s most successful founders, and previously he delivered corporate innovation for Fortune 500 clients at Frog Design — part of Capgemini Invent — helping clients like McDonalds, Vanguard, and Stanley Black & Decker.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I precisely remember where and when I had my first professional meeting discussing “business innovation”. I was fresh out of high school and on my gap year working for IBM’s consumer packaged goods consulting team out of London. Together with my leadership team and a few senior executives from Unilever, we had gathered, of all places, at an 18th century mansion in the South of England — which IBM happened to own — to discuss innovation practices that would drive growth for the CPG giant into the next decade. On the agenda was everything from exploratory use-cases for biometric sensor technology to scaling the company’s rural area focused retail distribution initiative called Project Shakti. My career has moved a good deal past the corporate innovation world, but looking back to that meeting, the excitement I felt from the expansiveness and creativity of the ideas we discussed is still palpable. That exercise of thinking through the future and designing new experiments had me hooked back then and still does today as I continue my journey in innovation.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of my early projects in design consulting had me sitting behind a wall of one-way mirrors staring into a room with a table full of senior citizens discussing their ideal retirement home. This was my first and likely last time ever in a focus group research facility. The whole dynamic was both so intriguing and odd at the same time. I learned a great deal that day…about senior preferences and fears as it relates to aging in place, about research moderation and UX observation techniques…but, after hours behind a tinted glass, I feel like I also came back with a good sense of what it would feel like to be an FBI agent observing an active interrogation — I have to say, it’s less exciting and a lot more waiting around than you think it would be.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

Be interested in others. It’s easy to get consumed by our own lives — that is by our likes, our needs, and our wants — or of these immediately around us. But we’re fortunate to share this planet with billions of others whose lived experience is so unimaginably unique from ours that we ought to make time to listen to and learn about (and from) others. (This is a lot easier said and done if you live in a place like New York, like I do.) This interest in other’s way and state of living has also been incredibly valuable as a product builder because the more I stop and listen, the more opportunities I see to make a difference.

Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Within the next few years we’re going to see the traditional venture world intensify its embrace of the venture studio space. This will take shape in one of two ways: (1) venture funds increasing their asset allocation and commitments to big name studios, or, more interestingly, (2) funds starting to take a more proactive role in early-stage venture building by either partnering strategically with studios or launching studios of their own.

How do you think this will change the world?

There are many implications from a shift like this, but perhaps most interesting is the potential impact on “founder-investor” relations. Historically speaking, there’s been a big power dynamic in favor of venture investors whose access to capital was the necessary fuel to bring the vision of any founder to life. Recently, however, given an extremely competitive venture investing market, with increased competition from behemoth’s of the likes of Softbank and Tiger Global, VC’s have had to compete with one another at great lengths in order to get access to deals. In response to this competition, we’re likely to see more investor experimentation with the build-from-scratch model that venture studios present. In some cases, where the funds recruit an external operator to launch their companies, we’ll see a new depth to the founder-investor partnership form as the inception of these bonds moves to the earliest, most existential stage of the company building journey possible. In other cases, we’ll start to see increasing use of the “revolving door” between operating and investing as VC’s set off to launch these companies themselves — even if not fully as founders, we’ll see them operate as invisible co-founders (ICFs) or very active board members (VABMs).

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

The one big risk here is reputational. It’s all well and good if VC’s move into proactive venture building, but the question is how and when they do this. In the worst case possible, we’ll hear of scenarios where big name funds that couldn’t get access to particular deals turned around and decided to incubate a competitor instead. There’s nothing wrong with some healthy competition, of course. The call-out here is mostly for founders to be somewhat more careful with ideas, data rooms, and non-disclosures when approaching fundraising.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

The studio space has been a long time coming, but it feels that the last year in particular has been game-changing for the asset class. First, we saw two major studio exits in the form of Snowflake (incubated out of Mike Speiser’s Sutter Hill Ventures), which IPO’d at a 12B dollars valuation in September 2020, and Hims & Hers (incubated out of Atomic), which was valued at 1.6B dollars when it went public via SPAC in January earlier this year. Next, we saw an impressive two weeks of studio fundraising announcements in March of this year, where 770M dollars was raised across four major studio players in the US. If there is any time for the studio model to explode — in terms of new experiments, models, scale, etc — it is now!

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

The one big piece of “infrastructure” that will be crucial for funds to invest in as they enter the venture building world is a sustainable mechanism for surfacing founder talent to launch their companies. One potential solution to this would be exploring a “founder scout” model similar to how funds currently use scouts to access early-stage venture deals.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Simplify as much as possible — I’ve always appreciated how a three line haiku can be dissected into multiple pages of analytical commentary. But while deep exploration is both fun and necessary to unlock new insight, I’ve realized how important it is, in order to drive things forward, to simplify any finding, strategy, or decision into its simplest form possible, no matter how seemingly complex it may seem.

Evaluate often and share early — along the lines of simplification, I’ve also appreciated the power of assessing new inputs (e.g. information from research) early and often as a means to drive faster decision-making on the fly.

Explore pains in your personal experience, no matter how big or small — this one is more new idea generation related, but it’s often easy to either discount one’s own experience or lose sight of it altogether. Personal connection to a pain point can make all the difference when pursuing early-stage ideas, so I’ve learned to tune in to various levels of frictions and low points in my life as potential areas to solve for.

Maximize responding, minimize reacting — there is a very high frequency of existential questions that need to to be dealt with in early-stage venture building. I’ve found that for the questions that can wait, it helps to step away and revisit with a calmer mind that’s better able to process information rationally.

Value your people skills — I’ve realized that culture building, particularly for early-stage startups, is crucial in driving high-performing teams, but it does not always come naturally to all leaders. Over time, I’ve come to value my own ability to forge meaningful bonds and create special moments amongst peers. I’m excited to continue to invest in this strength as a way to build community in any initiative I’m part of.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Besides some of the few points I mentioned above, one habit that I find continues to stand out for successful people around me is their speed of execution. They come to believe in something and waste no time in moving ahead on it — often making 4–5 times the shots on target in the time that others have made just one.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

As you well know, there has been no more exciting time to build than today. Now imagine reaching into the idea maze and going deep on one or two ideas in the next year — what spaces would you choose to post a flag in? Who would you bring on to build with?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Reach out and let’s connect! I’m @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/aayushgupta1

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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