An Interview with Craig Shapiro

Collaborative Fund founder and managing partner Craig Shapiro recently sat down with The Emerging Manager.

Below is a transcript, which first appeared on The Emerging Manager blog.

Craig, tell us about yourself

My background gives my present a lot of context.

I grew up in Maryland, outside of D.C. My family and where I’m from feel like a big part of me.

My grandparents were Jewish Russian immigrants with no formal education, but they worked hard and earned enough selling produce at a roadside stand to eventually buy a small store that they lived above and raised their kids. Because my grandfather didn’t get to go to school, he was very passionate about his kids getting an education. My father went on to become a lawyer and instilled that same value of hard work and education in me. At the same time, my mother was an artist who fostered my creative side.

In high school, I got really into graffiti art, which totally opened my world. Some friends roped me into it, and I quickly became obsessed. Everything about it, the artistic expression, the independence, the rebellion of it, the community culture. It all inspired me so much. It still does, and the things I’ve learned from graffiti are lessons I carry with me.

In a way, graffiti got me into tech. I was participating in online forums when the internet was still new, and it was amazing to be able to connect with the community in that way. Spending time online got me thinking about computers, web design, and tech in general. I graduated college in 1999, which looking back was perfect timing. Internet companies were developing rapidly, and I got to dive into an industry right at its genesis.

And now I’m here. Still inspired by my family, still obsessed with graffiti art, still super into tech.

Describe your fund, Collaborative Fund

Collaborative Fund was started over ten years ago with what was a simple, but at the time contrarian premise, which is that investing in businesses doing good will generate greater returns than just regular old profit-driven investing.

Since our founding in 2010, we have raised five early stage funds, a dedicated growth fund, and have helped launch a dedicated crypto-focused fund, as well as a public market hedge fund.

The notion of backing companies pushing the world forward is the connective tissue that links all of these branches together. Applying a progress and impact-oriented worldview across these vehicles unites all of our portfolio investments, which generally fall into the categories of money, kids, climate, sustainability, health and food.

Share one process improvement you’ve used individually or as a team which has made you a better fund manager

Honestly, getting much better about time and communication management has made a huge difference.

I’ve made it a point to proactively figure out inbox management, when to text vs. call, how to use WhatsApp and other channels efficiently.

And once I started getting the hang of communicating succinctly, everything got easier.

Which founder from your portfolio has had the greatest impact on you and why?

Probably my friend Ben Goldhirsh, founder of Mighty.

I hope this answer isn’t cheating, because we go way back.

Ben and I were introduced by mutual friends in LA in 2006, back when he was putting something called GOOD Magazine together. He made it look cool to give a damn about the things going on around you in a way that I hadn’t really seen before, and it was inspiring to me.

Ben became a role model and a picture of what it can look like to be an entrepreneur who’s not a villain.

Since we met those years ago, he’s become a trusted friend and someone I can count on to push me outside of my comfort zone. I went on to work with him at GOOD, and when I was thinking of starting Collaborative, he could see the passion in my eyes. He was the one to say, “Craig, if you don’t do this, I’ll kill you.”

It was the most Ben way of saying he believed in me, and I’m so grateful for that.

What’s one thing you wish you knew before you became a VC?

You know, I knew almost nothing when I was starting out. And I wish that at the time I could’ve recognized that that was actually a good thing.

I didn’t have the same pedigree that a lot of VCs have, and I think when you don’t really know “how things are done” you’re not afraid to do things differently. You just do what feels natural.

Folks will think they’re set because they read the right book, but the thing about business books is they become outdated every few years.

I wish I’d known that having a beginner’s mind was an advantage all along.

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you recently fell deep into

My wife will make fun of me for this one, but I recently found myself watching Cobra Kai, the Karate Kid spin-off series on Netflix. Or, I guess I should be honest and say I found myself rewatching it. It’s just so melodramatic and awesome. A total mental escape.

After that rewatch, I of course had to rewatch The Karate Kid. And then, as rabbit holes go, before you know it, you’re on Wikipedia reading about the whole production. All of my friends were obsessed with the Karate Kid movies when we were younger, and now a lot of us have watched the show and we’ll text about it. So, that’s a very big, geeky rabbit hole but at least I didn’t fall into it alone.

Name one GP and one LP everyone should learn from – and whom we should feature next

GP: Chuck Templeton. Chuck is the founder of OpenTable, and now he’s a Managing Director at S2G. His entrepreneurial journey is one of grit and hard work, which I really respect. He’s very honest, intentional and genuine. Also, his email signature is always followed by this: “If everyone acted the way you do, would the world be a better place?” And I truly think he lives by that.

LP: Chris Cerf. Chris is one of the nicest, most thoughtful, soft spoken people I’ve ever met. When I moved to New York and was just starting Collaborative Fund, he would take me out to dinner regularly and was always checking in to make sure the city hadn’t swallowed me up. Having someone who’s an investor in your fund support you in a personal and authentic way is so meaningful. He’s really one of a kind.

Next, you should feature Heidi Patel or Vaughn Crowe. Heidi works at a firm called Rethink, which is very impact-oriented. She’s super smart and just kind of an all around badass. Vaughn works at a firm called Newark Venture Partners, he’s thoughtful, open-minded, curious, and down to earth. I look up to both of them a lot.

Finally, what are the 3 best emojis?

️😁, ⚡, ✨