Gina: Hi, I’m Gina Luna and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. I’m so excited to welcome our special guest today, Sheel Tyle. Welcome.
Sheel: Thank you for having me.
Gina: So glad to have you here. Sheel is the Founder and CEO of Amplo. Let’s start by having you tell us about Amplo.
Sheel: Amplo is a global venture capital firm that helps build companies that matter. For us, entrepreneurs who are solving real problems are the ones who tend to build the biggest companies. We care a lot about the motivations. If you’re interested in just making money, we tend to find that those are the ones that don’t actually work. If you’re interested in solving a real problem, those are the ones that we want to help build, back and support.
Gina: Great. I want to come back and hear more about the portfolio companies. I’m excited for our audience to know that Amplo is a very meaningful venture capital fund that is going to be headquartered right here in Houston, Texas. Tell us why you’ve chosen Houston.
Sheel: First and foremost, it was family. I grew up here and my parents are immigrants, they found an amazing community here in Houston that welcomed them and supported them. Although we moved around a lot as a kid, they gravitated back towards Houston. When I decided to launch my own, I figured what better place than where family is. Eventually, I realized there are a lot of other amazing things about Houston that made me realize this was a pretty good decision. Those include things like the fact that Houston is actually, in some sense, the innovation capital of America, and we forget that. You look at what the city has done around space, or what the city has done around energy, or around biomedical sciences. In almost every field or every vertical you can see transformational innovation that’s happened right here, and it is meaningful innovation. Houston is not interested in getting people to click on ads, they’re interested in solving real problems, so it was the perfect place for Amplo.
Gina: It’s so true. That’s how we’ve talked about of our work here at Houston Exponential is we’re the place where people convene to solve real problems. You’ve hit on a lot of that and I couldn’t agree with you more. Let’s talk for a minute about you. You’re incredibly humble, but you, at a relatively early stage in your career have raised a hundred-million-dollar venture capital fund with some very impressive investors who have chosen to back you. So, tell us about your background, and don’t be too modest, and how you got from there to here.
Sheel: It started with my family, my parents. They came from nothing. Sort of classic immigrant story, if you will. Mom, dad from India, they applied to schools that did not have application fees, because that’s what they could afford, free. Eventually, they were able to get into graduate school here and we were raised, we being my younger brother and I, were raised with the understanding that we had been given a lot more than they ever had. And we can either use those blessings, frankly, for our own personal gain, or for the gain of our respective communities. What eventually drew me to entrepreneurship, to fast forward, is the fact that in some ways entrepreneurship and capitalism can be a transformational and sustainable means of social change. If you look at the social change that has come about from innovations as simple as the cell phone, it has completely changed how we live. To me, one of the best ways to honor the legacy of my family and my parents was to get into a field where you can have change and back and give folks opportunities in the same way folks gave my parents an opportunity. My career started at a startup, which seems reasonable. I went to Stanford and came across this thing called entrepreneurship—
Gina: And you graduated from Stanford at age…?
Sheel: I was 19, turning 20, and I was in a hurry, as you can tell. I think what drew me to entrepreneurship was all the things I just talked about. The fact that as a young person especially, you can make real impact, and nobody cares how old you are, they just care the quality of your idea and the depth of your execution. I started my career working at a startup, and then I eventually realized that I wanted to help and work with a number of different entrepreneurs and founders, which led me to this field called venture capital, which to be honest, I didn’t really know what it was. So, I started my career at the very bottom of a venture capital firm, rose over the next seven years, and decided—
Gina: And were you in Silicon Valley at this point?
Sheel: I was sort of all over. I went to Stanford, then lived in New York, worked at a venture capital firm, moved back to Silicon Valley to work sort of in the heart of entrepreneurship, at least for now, we’ll change that, and went back and forth. Eventually I realized that it was time to build my own culture. When you’re surrounded by entrepreneurs, you want to be an entrepreneur. And that’s what I decided to do a year and a half ago.
Gina: Well, congratulations. Again, we’re so excited that you’re here in Houston and the impact that you’re going to create as part of the ecosystem and through the portfolio company. I’d love to hear about the kinds of entrepreneurs you’re supporting with that mission of solving problems that matter.
Sheel: I would say every single one of our companies has a real mission. To give you some examples, one of our companies is called Robinhood, and they have a mission of democratizing access to financial services. They were inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The founders believed if you are rich in this country it’s easy to get richer, but if you’re not, it’s hard. Account minimums are too high, you don’t have access to the same assets that other folks do to compound your wealth. They thought that was fundamentally unfair. This company came along that initially started with, everybody should be able to access stocks for free. No commissions. Stocks for free. That levels the playing field, because a $7.95 commission, for somebody who makes $1000 a month, is much different than somebody who makes $100,000 a month. That was step one, and then it went to free options, free crypto, and now they’re about to go to banking.
Another example, which frankly is much more applicable to Houston, is a company called One Concern. One Concern is using artificial intelligence for disaster response. If a hurricane hits like it hit here, often first responders don’t know where to go. I mean, how can you if there’s ten feet of water and the phone lines are down. This company uses artificial intelligence and machine learning, it takes thousands of data points, like, what is the elevation of your home? what is the wall made out of? It couples that information with information about the natural disaster; where is the wind moving? where is the water proceeding? and it’s able to give, based on these thousands of data points, it’s able to give first responders house by house or neighborhood by neighborhood where they should deploy their resources.
Gina: That’s great. Tell us a little bit about your investor base and how you went about raising the fund.
Sheel: I’m really grateful for my backers. My limited partners is what they’re called, my investors. I’m grateful because they are betting on me. The same way I’m betting on entrepreneurs, they’re betting on me. They encompass three sorts of folks. I was very deliberate with the types of folks I sought, because these are essentially my long-term partners. In some sense they’re my bosses too, but they’re my partners. Because I am mission driven in the types of companies I want to build, I wanted to make sure the investor base I had was similar. So, the three types of folks include: larger institutions, and I specifically sought out pension funds because they’re the caretakers of the assets of normal families, and that was a huge responsibility for me. So, I have those types of investors. The second category are individuals. Many of them are entrepreneurs themselves, and so the interesting thing is many of the entrepreneurs that I’ve backed actually are investors in Amplo, which is really cool, and they’re doing this because they want to help support the next generation of founders.
Gina: It’s a virtuous cycle, isn’t it?
Sheel: Yeah. And then the last group are folks, families from around the world. The reason I sought this out is I believe the best ideas can come from anywhere, and the best companies can grow anywhere, so why not have folks around the world who can help support and build companies.
Gina: Absolutely. Tell me about how you work directly with the startups and entrepreneurs that you support?
Sheel: Our philosophy is, there are two types of people who can be great mentors, if you will, for entrepreneurs. Most of the time, sometimes the best thing an entrepreneur wants you to do is get out of the way. Often, they will want some sort of support. I’ve found that two types work well, and at Amplo we’ve tried to optimize for this. One are contemporary founders who might be between one to even ten years ahead of where this entrepreneur is who can help guide them. We have a set of millennial CEOs, for example: the Robinhood CEO; the Bumble CEO, who is an Austin based, amazing founder, Whitney Wolfe.
Folks like that who are venture partners at Amplo and help mentor our entrepreneurs. To these folks, to our entrepreneurs, this is the best set of advice they can possibly get because it’s contemporaneous, as opposed to an entrepreneur who built a company thirty year ago, which is amazing, but the technology might have been different, the hiring subset might have been different. That’s one thing we do, and then the second thing we do is we have a group of what we call elders. These are leaders from across fields. It can be business, it can be political, it can be whatever. They are much older, typically, and they serve as leadership coaches, if you will. They can also open doors for our entrepreneurs. One example is, one of our—we call our elders board partners, one of our board partners is a woman named Juila Gillard, who was the first female Prime Minister of Australia. Amazing woman, extraordinarily inspirational, and a hell of a leader.
So, she joined the board of one of our companies and is serving as, in some sense, the CEO coach for this company, which makes sense. This company is called Andela, has a thousand plus employees across five countries now, and the CEO, I mean who better to teach leadership than somebody who ran a country, right? So, that’s the type of things that we try to optimize for. We don’t really—and we think of each of these things as sort of 10X type impacts. We don’t really role up our sleeves and help on, say, hiring, because we think that is the responsibility of the CEO. Instead, we try and do the stuff that we see as more impactful.
Gina: The power of those relationships is exponential. I mean, it’s incredible to be able to access that kind of leadership and guidance. I’d love for you to give some advice to entrepreneurs in Houston that have that great idea and are trying to figure out how to access that early stage capital. How would they access you or someone like you?
Sheel: Every venture capital firm has a funnel, and we have one too. We see, or read about, let’s say, a thousand entrepreneurs a month. We’ll get introduced to between one to two hundred. We’ll take meetings with those or have phone calls, and then the funnel sort of whittles its way down to the zero, to one, to two that we will invest in that month. It’s all about getting into that funnel. There are two ways to get in the funnel. One is reaching out cold, and the second is getting an introduction. Reaching out cold puts you at the top of the funnel, which the probability of success is low, and plus there are a lot of people who reach out cold.
Getting an introduction automatically moves you down into the next step, if you will. That’s frankly the biggest cutoff, the thousand to the hundred. The way to get that introduction is to find somebody who knows that venture capitalist. It’s not that hard. Go on LinkedIn, go on Facebook, figure it out. Venture capitalists actually like this. They like, in some sense, making the entrepreneur work a little bit for the intro because it is a nice corollary to how much are they willing to work to get a customer? Customer’s are not going to be easy introductions either, but if you work at it and you get it, it’s great. Getting that intro and meeting and then ultimate investment from a venture capitalist is a nice example of whether you’re going to do the same thing for customers.
Gina: A test of your persistence and your resourcefulness, for sure.
Sheel: Yes, exactly.
Gina: Well, that’s great advice. Thank you. Let me conclude with a consistent question that we ask all of our guests on HXTV. What is it about Houston that is the most valuable to you?
Sheel: I would say what I’ve been most impressed by, and what I’ve found most value from are the people. I find that people in Houston—maybe it’s a southern thing, maybe it’s a Houston thing, but they’re very welcoming. Although I’m from here, I also felt like I was coming back home, which meant I had some relationships but not all the relationships, and everybody has been so welcoming. I also like the fact that the city is very diverse in all ways: racial, ethnic, but also businesswise. I mean, you have the best across industries here, and everybody is interested in each other’s industries and in helping the community as a whole. I think here we believe that if you grow I grow, and the pot can get bigger, so I appreciate that.
Gina: Well, I couldn’t agree with you more, and again, we’re so excited to have you back in Houston, to have your firm here, and to have you as an important part of our ecosystem.
Sheel: Well, thank you. And thank you for all your help.
Gina: I’m Gina Luna, wrapping up this edition of HXTV and our visit with Sheel Tyle from Amplo.
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