New VC firm Clear Ventures raises $120 million for early-stage startups

Silicon Valley’s newest venture capital firm doesn’t want a piece of Uber or Airbnb. Those “unicorns” are old news.

Instead, Palo Alto-based Clear Ventures is looking for startups in their earliest stages — that rocky time period before a company has a leadership team or even a finished product.

“We may write the first check to enable you to leave your job,” founding partner Rajeev Madhavan said.

Madhavan, a serial entrepreneur and long-time angel investor, and partner Christopher Rust, formerly of Sequoia Capital and U.S. Venture Partners, announced their inaugural $120 million fund Wednesday. The firm launches with a portfolio of Silicon Valley tech companies that includes Palo Alto-based cyber security company Vera, San Francisco-based GPS technology company Swift Navigation and Palo Alto-based online career platform Paysa.

Madhavan and Rust, who also were early investors in GoPro and Groupon, have grown used to being the first VCs on a deal. The two have invested in dozens of companies over the years, both together and separately, and Rust says they were the first investors in 90 percent of those deals.

They prefer startups in the raw, earliest stages because as former entrepreneurs themselves, they feel that’s the time when they can have the biggest impact.

“The way we view it is we are both general contractors helping you build your startup,” Madhavan said.

Plus, early-stage investments give the best returns, he added.

Prior to starting Clear Ventures, Madhavan founded LogicVision, Ambit and Magma Design Automation. Rust was a co-founder of broadband Internet provider Roadrunner, now Time Warner Cable Internet.

That first-hand entrepreneurial experience is what the Clear Ventures partners are banking on to set them apart from the rest of the VC world. For San Jose-based cloud storage company Robin Systems, one of Clear’s portfolio companies, the partners’ experience as founders has been an asset.

“Clear has been invaluable to us at every stage of our growth. They led our seed round and actively helped put together our Series A,” Robin Systems CEO Premal Buch wrote in a Clear Ventures news release. “They are a calm and steady source of insightful advice and mentoring, always on our side, as we grapple with the challenges of building a successful company.”

Photo: Clear Ventures partners Rajeev Madhavan (left) and Christopher Rust (right). (Clear Ventures)


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