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“Make changes.” With Jilea Hemmings & Xander Schultz

True representation and political power for marginalized groups so we can finally build a real social safety net and tear down oppressive systems. Real representation, that doesn’t happen along the margins, will only truly shift when we fight for our brothers and sisters to have true equality of opportunity and support.That said, it’s been exciting […]

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True representation and political power for marginalized groups so we can finally build a real social safety net and tear down oppressive systems. Real representation, that doesn’t happen along the margins, will only truly shift when we fight for our brothers and sisters to have true equality of opportunity and support.

That said, it’s been exciting to see so many folks in the investment world mandate diversity among their portfolio org leaders and their partners. We employ and invest in who we know, so the who “we” (the investment community) know needs to diversify, and that can only be done through intentional inclusion.


As a part of our series about “Social Impact Investors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Xander Schultz.

Xander Schultz is a serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, impact investor, and host of What We Don’t Know Podcast (WWDK) where he discusses issues that define our time with leading change-makers. Xander has committed his entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts to social justice, having co-founded the refugee aid organization When We Band Together with his wife Zoë. In 2017, he joined Mike Novogratz’s family office as an entrepreneur-in-residence, where Xander focuses on building a community around causes and creating innovative solutions to tackle systemic problems.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Xander! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what made you decide to become an angel or VC?

My first few investments were investments in myself. I helped start a couple consumer tech companies, Kifi and Complete, both were new types of social networks that encouraged people to help one another. Those experiences allowed me to build a community of entrepreneurs and investors. In the world of early-stage investing, deal flow is really about building a community of folks that are either starting or investing in new things.

What you are doing is not very common. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were going to focus on social impact investing in particular? Can you share the story with us?

I want to start by saying I really believe the only reason impact investing is uncommon is due to the shameful amount of folks in our world that don’t have the resources to invest in anything. There are plenty of people making much larger (proportionate) commitments of their capital to improving the world than myself — donating to their churches, volunteering time they don’t have, etc. So I don’t want to make this a hero’s story.

My core theory of change, and all my AHA moments, have been due to proximity. I’ve lived a lucky life and built friendships with just about every demographic in the world — refugees without a home and billionaires with multiple mansions, incarcerated people and district attorneys, Cubans, Russians, Iranians and Americans, etc. When you have those relationships, systemic injustice becomes more apparent, suffering and desperation become viewed as entirely unnecessary and intolerable, and the idea that we live in any semblance of a meritocracy smells more and more like bullshit.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I don’t know if this is success, but I think I figured out what type of impact investor I didn’t want to be a few years back. Once I started receiving really good deals, I realized that most “impact investors” were just winning deal flow, and telling themselves a story that they were improving the world. The dollars were going to show up for a lot of these deals regardless of if they participated or not.

I just never want to lie to myself. I don’t want to be able to tell a story about how I changed the world. I want to actually change it. So I try to start or get behind things that may not take off were it not for my energy and connections.

For those reasons, I avoid some deals that I know will do well. I have a finite amount of investment dollars and personal time. I want them all to be catalytic.

In terms of what someone can learn from, the more I quiet my ego, the better I am. The more I really listen to folks, be upfront about what I don’t know and what might go awry, the more people can lean in and help. I recognize that I’m given space for that vulnerability due to privilege, track record, and trust I’ve built over the years, so that advice can be hard to integrate fully for some, especially early on.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person or mentor to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Too many people and opportunities to name. I sit on a mountain of privilege that has allowed me countless “learning opportunities”. In many ways, I’m still falling forward.

Over the last few years, Mike Novogratz has given access and a platform that I’m eternally grateful for. Joining his family office has allowed me to learn from incredible people and help them make a dent in the world.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but are afraid of the prospect of failure?

Invest in your network. Position yourself in a way that allows you to meet interesting people, and do your best to help them on their journeys. Define your personal mission, and treat every venture that advances that as if it were your own.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our discussion. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share a few things that need to be done on a broader societal level to expand VC opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color?

The older I get, the more I understand we need to shift systems.

What does that look like?

  • Basic income or something like it so communities of color and other marginalized groups can have the bandwidth to consider things other than survival, and eventually claim more positions of power. Andrew Yang’s Humanity Forward will be one of the most important organizations over the next decade IMHO.
  • True representation and political power for marginalized groups so we can finally build a real social safety net and tear down oppressive systems.

Real representation, that doesn’t happen along the margins, will only truly shift when we fight for our brothers and sisters to have true equality of opportunity and support.

That said, it’s been exciting to see so many folks in the investment world mandate diversity among their portfolio org leaders and their partners. We employ and invest in who we know, so the who “we” (the investment community) know needs to diversify, and that can only be done through intentional inclusion.

You are a VC who is focused on investments that are making a positive social impact. Can you share with us a bit about the projects and companies you have focused on, and look to focus on in the future?

To be clear, I don’t differentiate from innovative non-profit initiatives and for-profit initiatives. The focus is change.

I have three jobs as an investor –

  1. Invest in increasing access and, therefore, reduce suffering. Personal investments include:

Banqu — allows subsistence farmers to build financial records so they can become bankable and be a participant in the global economy.

Everytable — dynamically priced meals so low-income neighborhoods can eat well too.

Pigeonly — cheaper calls for inmates to save impacted communities money.

KLW Food and Agriculture — A new ag company in Liberia.

2. Invest allowing people in positions of privilege to see and support those being marginalized:

ZeroSpace — a futuristic museum in NYC that asked people to question why things are the way they are.

NationSwell — telling positive stories about the people making America a better place.

One For Democracy — a movement I co-founded to get the nation’s wealthiest individuals in our country to support the progressive infrastructure, especially funding community organizers in poor communities.

3. Invest in systemic reformation:

Forte — a new type of public / private partnership that allows investors to finance the reskilling of individuals without indebting them.

Defeat By Tweet — a new Super PAC I co-founded to Defeat Trump and build Black political power.

In general, which business sectors excite you most and which sectors do you look to invest in?

The private sector is doing a lot of innovative things to resolve food injustice, housing affordability and financial inclusion.

Can you share a story with us about your most successful Angel or VC investment? Or an investment that you are most proud of? What was its lesson?

Banqu continues to impress me. Ashish Gadnis is a great example of investing in an entrepreneur with a lived experience that matches the people he is serving, and a wealth of experience in his industry. That’s a combo I look for now.

Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding failure of yours? What was its lesson?

Most fail, so there’s no shortage of stories.

I think most of my bad investments come from investing pre-traction in spaces I didn’t really know well. I think the lesson has been, if I don’t know the space really well and can’t add value that will lead to traction, best to wait for it and have existing customers / users tell you the product is good via their behavior.

Is there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that story?

Not exactly on-point, but I regret not buying ethereum as it was on it’s way up. I work for the Novogratz family office, Mike was telling me to take a small position and I didn’t.

Lesson — if you have proximity to a world-class expert, take a few flyers with them if you can afford it.

Super. Here is the main question of this interview. What are your “5 things I need to see before making a VC investment” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Roadmap — Where are you going? What are the key metrics you are moving towards? What happens when you hit those numbers (raise, acquisition, etc.)? Is there evidence to support that those numbers will trigger what you say they will?

Team — Do you have the people that can pull it off? Has your team pulled off something similar before?

Traction — Is there evidence to support your hypothesis that you can get there? Are you on your way already? If you are, I don’t have to second guess what you’re saying.

Target — What’s the end game? If you achieve your dreams, what’s the impact and what’s the outcome for investors?

W.A.R. — This one is more about me than them. In advanced baseball statistics, this stand for Wins Above Replacement. I ask myself “Am I uniquely qualified to help this company succeed? Can I add more than average value?”

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Enormous is an overstatement, but I’m trying!

I’d like to eradicate desperation and have everyone live under a high-functioning Democracy.

I’d like to see:

  • A move towards a societal structure that revolves around service years to produce society’s needs and then freedom to pursue passion for the majority of one’s life.
  • Basic income (or survival credits) enacted everywhere.
  • Marginalized communities have true political power and an ownership stake in their communities.
  • Improved global coordination (have the UN take a larger role in the world) so we can tackle things like climate change and the global refugee crisis.

I’m doing what I can by:

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

It’s fun. It’s fulfilling. People will give you their time and resources to help you succeed. You can truly all win together. The longer you do it, the more inspiring people you’ll meet. A life of service is an incredible journey.

We are very blessed that a lot of amazing founders and social impact organizations read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

I’m interested in meeting allies that are interested, and have shown to be effective in, building a more equitable society. Politicians like Obama and Bernie, and thought leaders like Peter Diamondis and Rutger Bregman come to mind.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Personal — @xanderschultz

My Podcast “What We Don’t Know” — @wwdkpod

Democracy Work — Defeat By Tweet — @defeatbytweet

Refugee Work — WWBT — @whenwebandtogether

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Much love. Be kind to yourself and good to others.

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