Spotting Outliers: Investing Where Technology and Culture Intersect

I joined Bolt in 2014, just as we were closing our first venture fund of $32M to invest in founders at company inception. We planted our seeds and nurtured their growth. Seven years later, we’re seeing the fruit start to ripen. We were first round investors in companies like Desktop Metal ($DM), Nautilus ($NAUT), Tonal and Fi. In over 90% of our recent portfolio, we led the pre-seed round, pre-product and pre-revenue. People often ask, “how do you make an investment decision in a company so early?” In some ways, this question befuddles me: first check venture is all I’ve ever done! As pre-seed investors, we must invest where the world is headed in seven to ten years, not where it is today. So how do you do that? How do you recognize outlier potential? My goal with this post is to share our internal framework for backing outlier founders before it’s obvious.

We are technology investors. Technology provides crucial levers to unseat incumbents, scale quickly and capital efficiently, and create moats in your business. Our investment team is deeply technical; if you want to invest in technology companies at inception, you must speak their language and understand their systems. 

That said, we believe technology alone is not enough. 

We spend significant time studying cultural change. We seek founders who have a unique insight into how market demand is being reshaped. Change may be driven by generational shifts (like the ascendance of Gen Z), cultural shifts (like the move to hybrid work models), or environmental change (like climate crisis). The founders and founding teams we back often have a unique story as to why they see an opportunity early. The insights often stem from both professional background and personal passion. Surprising, valuable insights most often come from pluralistic, intersectional thinkers and interdisciplinary teams. These are our people.

The magic happens where changes in technology and culture intersect. 

Applying this framework, we surface thematic areas of interest with the potential to drive 10+ year innovation cycles. The themes themselves often cut across enterprise and consumer (our fund has historically been 50/50), and intersect with massive markets in surprising ways. 

We’ve launched an interview series to illustrate this framework in action: the Bolt Culture + Tech Interview Series.

We’ll peek behind the curtain through intimate conversations with the founders in our portfolio. Some of them, like Tonal CEO Aly Orady, who kicks off the series, you’ve probably heard of. Others might be less known as their companies may still be in the early stages of product development. (We think this is good. The art of product development should not be rushed.) In either case, the outlier potential rests in that intersection of culture and technology—they’re creating a future we believe in.

All of our guests in the Bolt Culture + Tech Interview Series are leveraging technology to address unique insights into cultural change. All of them are building something special. We hope you enjoy the journey with us.

and more to come…

Kate is a Partner at Bolt investing in pre-seed companies at the intersection of culture and technology. She is the founder of Women in Hardware. You can find Kate on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Bolt invests at the intersection of the digital and physical world.