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People

Hiking trips, plan Bs, and finding the human behind the tech: how Consensys Ventures’ chief seeks out her next success ​

Quick Take

  • Kavita Gupta, the straight-talking, astute head of Consensys Ventures, tells The Block about life pre-crypto and what drives her investments in the future of blockchain.

For a woman running one of crypto’s biggest powerhouses, Kavita Gupta makes her job sound surprisingly straightforward.

“I invest in people. I invest in their minds,” she said

This is the philosophy driving Consensys Ventures, the venture arm of Consensys investing in companies on the Ethereum blockchain. Still, simple as Gupta’s dogma may be, prospective beneficiaries hoping to impress her have their work cut out for them – having to pass a bespoke character analysis.

“You’ve got to really get to know [the founders],” Gupta tells The Block during an interview in London. “A tech nerd doesn’t automatically make a CEO – but they can, and you have to find that out.” 

To cut through the BS, Gupta prefers to get potential business partners outside of the boardroom – often, involving a hiking trip – apparently a common practice for investors in her local San Francisco. 

“That’s when you really get to know somebody and how they’re going to spend your money. I’m sussing out their EQ [emotional intelligence], their experience, how well they really know their field. So if they have a backup plan, it tells me they’re not in this. Are they really ready to leave their cushy job?”

It’s a fair point. The need to distinguish the gizmos from the genuine is ever more pressing as moving out of Wall Street into Blockchain becomes increasingly fashionable, and the line outside Consensys Ventures grows longer.

Gupta is well-placed to make such definitive judgements. She counts financial heavyweights McKinsey and HSBC among her former employers, establishing deep roots in fintech before moving to Consensys in April 2017. But it was on the trading floor at the World Bank that Gupta says her corporate instincts were cemented. Amid the male-dominated environment, it was Dr Nina Shapiro, “a small Italian lady”, who Gupta would model herself on and who would later become her mentor.

“People would go quiet when Nina walked the floors, and I thought ‘wow.'”

Gupta eventually plucked up the courage to send Nina, then very much her senior, an email of admiration. However, the response was less than encouraging, suggesting Gupta be less emotional. “I wrote back ‘I’m not being emotional!’ and she said, ‘You’ve just proven my point.’, Gupta laughs. It’s advice she now hands on to her young founders, encouraging them to leave their comfort zones. Especially her female founders, who she tells an audience in London to bring three key elements; creativity; multitasking, and thinking beyond sequential planning.

From the Bank, Gupta would turn her head to investing after finding tedium sitting at a desk.

“I knew I couldn’t sit and code all day, I didn’t have the attention span for it. And I always knew I wanted to make money,” she says, acknowledging that it’s unusual to hear a woman admit to such ambitions so unabashedly.  “So investing was the next best thing to do.”

She’s clearly got a firm grip over Consensys’ $50 million VC-hedge fund, having made twelve bullish investments over its first three rounds. Gupta also works directly with the recipients of the funds over an extended period, keeping a close eye on them far beyond the money transfer. And for now, it seems these firms will remain Ethereum based and fixed on the technology-building initiatives rather than token whims.

But Gupta is not just a financier with a knack for good judgement. She also has a rich background in engineering and technology – the oil that fuels blockchain innovation. Indeed, it was while working at MIT Solve on a solution for refugee identity management that she first discovered blockchain. She says the idea of decentralised data intrigued her. And, perhaps uncoincidentally, it was Joe Lubin himself, the CEO of Consensys, who eventually converted her to a blockchain ideologue after meeting at a conference.

Gupta certainly has a vision for blockchain, advocating for the concept of “liquid democracy” where she believes smart contract technology could eventually provide much-needed accountability and transparency for emerging markets, as well as more effective remittances.

That’s why today Gupta sits at the head of Consensys, having taken a plunge into the still-somewhat-insular sector of Blockchain, leaving the Goldmans behind (at least for now). Sidestepping the question of how long she expects her tenure at Consensys to last, she nonetheless speaks enthusiastically of the role. She’s even stoic about the downsides like breaking the news to startups that the partnership has reached its natural conclusion.

“It’s like a breakup, you have to say ‘It’s you, not me.’ I have to be honest, straightforward. I don’t sugar-coat things.” 

Fortunately however, Gupta says such conversations are rare at Consensys; only a fraction of the companies in the last portfolio did not secure funding at their next round. 

So, the advice when approaching Gupta and her investment team seems clear–show your human side; the tech can only say so much.