Kunal Tandon

At El Cap, we look at the world through the lens of collisions. We focus on companies where behavior change collides with a technological shift, allowing new entrants the opportunity to potentially disrupt incumbents, or create new categories entirely.

In my own life, I’m always focused on creating conditions that are going to produce more collisions way beyond a work context. One of the ideas I’ve been obsessed with is how to engineer more serendipity across my life. There are many ways this takes shape for me. One part is just trying to allow more new people into my life. This takes the shape of sending a lot of cold DMs and emails to people I come across who share something interesting or fun. This has led to friendships, valuable introductions, formative book recommendations, and investment opportunities. Being more leaned in on this kind of behavior is critical for me, since I work on a distributed team, and spend the majority of my time working from home. Not being in an office, or shuffling through a city from meeting to meeting limits the in-person serendipity opportunities, so I’ve had to start manufacturing my own. Getting different people together in small groups is also another way to manufacture interesting collisions. Other people will ask different questions or have different perspectives than your own. It’s valuable to bring more people into conversations.

Collision conditions extend beyond people and startup ideas. They are also important to cultivate in what you consume. There’s a lot of value in being obsessed by one thing and going incredibly deep, but I’ve always found more fun and value in exploring a lot of different things that likely don’t seem connected on the surface, but end up leading to interesting connections when the moment is right. You need to have a diverse set of inputs if you’re going to make original non-consensus bets. Steve Jobs hammered this idea home in his famous Stanford Commencement speech. He shared how he dropped out of school, but would drop in on a calligraphy class. Learning about fonts informed his work years later on the Mac. Another example I love is Fred Wilson explaining how he made an early bet on Kickstarter, long before crowdfunding on the internet was a mainstream idea like it is today. Because of his involvement with the crowdfunding education non-profit, DonorsChoose, he had a prepared mind when the idea of crowdfunding for creative projects was brought to him. Quality inputs over a long enough period of time should produce quality outputs.

Optimizing for collisions isn’t in tension with focus. But it helps you find non-obvious unlocks when you are focusing on something. As an early stage investor, a lot of my time is spent trying to get smart about the various areas we’re excited about finding potential investment opportunities. But anyone can get smart. Where I have to differentiate in my decision making process is if I can see something different and earlier, and build high conviction around it before it’s obvious to others. Having a diverse set of experiences, ideas, and inputs helps here. I’ve always been curious about the world. I love asking questions. I want to know what everyone I meet is reading, watching, and listening to. If you find yourself spending time with smart people, it feels foolish not to ask what has their curiosity piqued, and see where it might lead you.

I’ll keep reading all the papers, blogs, and group chats. But I’ll also be spending time talking to people outside of the tech bubble, studying history, and being inspired by creatives. It’s definitely more fun, and I think in the long run, it will help me make some great investments.