Meet Akshat Goenka: Big data, valuable failure, and the power of a personal thesis
We sat down with Akshat to talk founder lessons, the role of tech in leveraging human impact, the tensions of playing globally and locally, and why he loves a good chat.
Akshat Goenka is a Principal here at Moonfire, making his way to VC via investment banking, Y Combinator and his own health tech startup. You can find out more about Akshat through his bio here and his articles here.
For his inside view on the world of VC, we got together to talk about founder lessons, the role of tech in leveraging human impact, the tensions of playing globally and locally, and why he loves a good chat.
Moonfire takes its investment theses very seriously, as you’ve written about before. Do you have a personal thesis which underpins your career as a VC?
My overarching thesis on the world is optimistic: that the future will be better than the present. Discovering exactly how so is the fun part! In that regard I’m always looking to work with founders who have a sense of mission. Sometimes that can look like an almost obsessive drive to outsiders, but urgency is a part of what sets great entrepreneurs apart. You need just the right amount of crazy to imagine creating billions of dollars of value from zero!
Technology is undoubtedly revolutionising the way we work, play and live. I hope that something I help build will drive that progress, from the level of the individual up to humankind itself. But it takes courage for us to hold true to such a vision, and I admire it when I find it in others.
My thesis on VC itself is that venture capitalists should take the work more seriously than they take themselves! By which I mean, we work in service to our investors and our founders. Teams are always more important than individuals. The best founders likewise don’t take themselves too seriously, because they’re too busy taking their problem, their product and their customers seriously instead. That’s ultimately what it's all about.
What does your own experience as a founder bring to your work today?
It's funny because as a founder, I feel like I didn't develop any traditional skills. You have to do everything and anything, and become a jack of all trades. What I have learned over time is that founders appreciate having someone who understands what they’re going through. It’s not just talking to them about the numbers, or how to hit their plan – they also value that experiential empathy. They might want to discuss a talent problem, a moral dilemma, or issues of imposter syndrome or loneliness, and I can really add value in those moments because I’ve faced it myself. I did plenty of things right as a founder, and I also made lots of mistakes. That offered me the privilege of learning from failure, which has become a gift I can pay forward today.
The other part of this is that I am a VC at Moonfire the fund, but I am also a product manager at Moonfire the startup. What we are doing here is ultimately creating our own product, which happens to be a new kind of venture capital business. Our engineers are building that product through our proprietary tech stack, and I am both their customer and their manager. I really appreciate that combination of roles, which lets me bring my entrepreneurial experience to work in a new way.
How does Moonfire’s tech stack impact the interpersonal side of VC?
I truly believe that the world is becoming a lot more data-driven than ever before. A few decades ago, businesspeople were focussed on making instinctive, gut-based decisions that led to value creation. That won’t die out, and nor should it; but we are reaching an inflection point where there is so much access to real-time data that we get to reimagine what great decision-making looks like.
At Moonfire, our stack enables that by keeping us focused on what matters most. That means stripping out the noise and automating the mundane processes that can bog down even the best VC. Then we can empower our people with a richer and more streamlined data environment, within which we can make faster decisions without sacrificing quality. In that regard we use tech to leverage our capacities in new ways, but it doesn’t mean we’re all robots! VC will never be just about technology, or just about people - it’s about finding the harmony between the two.
How does Moonfire’s approach to tech show up in portfolio support?
The essence of Moonfire is that we are data-driven and machine learning-driven. We expect and encourage our founders to have a similar approach, and I think that is crucial because it’s about being as methodical as possible. From the first moment we invest, we sit down with the founders and really try to understand where the company needs to be in the next 18-24 months; and then on a monthly basis we want to measure how we are progressing towards those data points, and what pivots we might need to make to those execution plans.
The ultimate goal is to create a scalable portfolio support mechanism that takes into account the human investor’s experience and network, whilst using tech to increase efficiency and reduce cognitive bias. One simple example of this is the Moonfire Founders Guidebook, a live manual which allows founders real-time access to content that is curated for them. This leverages all of our wider experience as VCs and founders at scale, so that we can learn from each other as efficiently as possible.
You have worked across the US, UK, India and Europe across your career. Do you see VC as moving in a globalising or de-globalising direction at the moment?
That’s a very interesting question. I think VC is becoming more globalised in the sense that you can have greater network access because tech and work is becoming more decentralised. It’s easier for me to reach out to an Angel investor in Latin America today and figure out how we can collaborate on deal flow, even though we may never meet each other in person.
However, in an environment where there’s such a supply of funds out there for founders to choose from, the winners will be those who really understand their space deeply. That is where your thesis, local knowledge and industry expertise come into play. Healthcare in India, for example, is very different to healthcare in Germany or the US or UK, and having that local expertise definitely helps us make better investment decisions.
What do you see as the most exciting opportunities across Moonfire’s four investment sectors today?
Across all four sectors I am excited by the way AI, the modern data stack and new network dynamics are driving an evolutionary leap in the ways we work, play and live. There is no shortage of problems to be solved, and these new technologies are unlocking solutions every day. Whether its real-time patient feedback for care management in the health sector, or more data-driven growth analysis and execution for SMB’s, tech will enrich and shorten the critical decision loop across all scales and sectors.
The future will also see a restoration of the individual as the central node in a given ecosystem. Personalisation has become something of a missing piece of the puzzle (aside from content), but it is going to come back into play again across all aspects of life. Multi-modal technologies and the pace of innovation in AI should mean that we’re not too far away from that vision becoming reality, which will unlock huge amounts of value.
Do you have a final message to any founders out there?
Yes – that I’m always happy to chat!
A lot of founders feel that they should only speak to VCs when their idea is fully-formed and ready, and I think that comes from an impression that we are only ever here to assess. That is an important part of the job of course; but some of the best investments I’ve made were born in very open and relaxed conversations, at a much earlier stage than people might expect. Simply brainstorming around an idea – chatting about where it might go and how we might work together to get there – can open so many unexpected doors.
As a former founder myself, I know the startup journey first-hand. As a result I like these conversations unfiltered, because sharing that honest experience is the most effective way to grow relationships as well as businesses. No matter what stage you’re at or what is going on – reach out!