October 25, 2021

An Unusual Choice

Wei Lien Dang
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An Unusual ChoiceAn Unusual Choice
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Editor's note: 

Today I’m thrilled to share that I’ve joined Unusual Ventures as a General Partner. I couldn’t be more excited to partner with founders building a new generation of transformational companies across infrastructure software, security, developer tools, and data platforms. 

This transition feels at once both familiar and new. It’s been nearly a decade since my first stint at a venture firm, and in the intervening time I’ve had the opportunity to experience startups through the lenses of founder, executive, advisor, and investor. Each of these roles has taught me how to effectively confront the simultaneous challenges of creating a new product, finding the right go-to-market motion, and building the best team. My reason for choosing to be a full-time investor as part of Team Unusual is simple: after going through the founder journey myself, there’s nothing I’d rather do now than help as many founders as I can succeed in their own journeys.

Joining Unusual feels as if my career has come full circle, with a twist. The early-stage landscape has experienced tectonic shifts in the last several years. Everything one needs to start a company is more accessible than ever; it’s a Golden Age for founders. Yet the central challenges of company building at the most nascent stage largely persist: recruiting the core technical team, finding the right design partners, refining the initial marketing message, shipping a differentiated v1.0. And having overcome those hurdles firsthand is precisely why I decided to join Unusual. 

Father's Day picnic with my family

The world is full of investors and capital, but what founders need are partners who have lived the founder journey themselves. As a co-founder of StackRox, I know what it's like to personally experience the pivotal struggles (and more) that nearly all founders endure. I've been through the highs and lows of founder life and learned hugely valuable lessons along the way. Now, my goal is to share that knowledge, along with empathy and conviction, to benefit founders at the formative stages of company building. I’m committed to devoting the time and attention that founders need and deserve. That’s what Unusual was designed to do: serve founders with an unprecedented level of support to make them as successful as possible.

Unusual stands out for supporting founders with the most comprehensive resources of any early-stage venture firm. We’ve made content like the Unusual Field Guide freely available to everyone and created the Unusual Academy, a series of workshops led by seasoned operators. Additionally, for investments that Unusual leads, our Get Ahead Platform provides a team of experienced, hands-on operators who work alongside founders to execute on their most critical recruiting, marketing, and sales objectives. Once that first check is in the bank, what’s next? You need engineers. And we’ll help you find them and establish a repeatable process that you can then scale. This shared accountability is designed to both accelerate a new company’s trajectory and enable founders to fully zero in on their most pressing priorities. It’s an approach I wish I could have benefited from as a founder.

People often ask me what I think is the hardest part of growing an organization. From my experience, it’s building a culture that aligns with people’s values. Unusual has a remarkably strong culture that immediately resonated with me both professionally and personally. Unusual is built on a set of bedrock principles that my partners and I seek to bring to the founder-investor relationship: respect, integrity, humility, authenticity, and unwavering dedication. We value inclusion and diversity of perspectives, experiences, and thoughts. It’s why we were one of the first firms to have historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and community-based organizations as limited partners. Founded just four years ago, Unusual operates with the boldness of a startup and an “it’s always Day One” mindset. 

That’s the mindset I’ll be bringing to my work with founders. Most businesses are still in the early phase of generational shifts in how they build, run, and secure software applications, driven by the need to innovate faster, scale bigger, and safeguard more data than ever. They are at an even earlier stage of a separate effort in making those applications more intelligent with machine learning and AI. These intersecting trends impact every layer of the software stack and the tools we use to interface with it. There’s extraordinary value at stake: capitalizing on these transitions has become essential to unlocking the innovation required to solve our most consequential societal problems.

Against this backdrop, here are some themes I’m particularly excited about:

User- and data-focused security

Attacks on corporate users are now the primary cause of major security incidents. With employees increasingly working from anywhere, treating identity as the new perimeter will be central to every organization’s security strategy. And then there’s data, which is the lifeblood of applications but traverses across disparate stores and pipelines, making it hard to consistently protect. Historically, security has protected data by guarding the systems where data resides (endpoints, databases, etc.). New approaches will be less integrated into those systems and focus on securing data independent of where it lives or is used.

Operational abstractions for infrastructure 

Cloud providers and cloud-native platforms such as Kubernetes expose a foundational set of low-level primitives for many infrastructure services. But interfacing with APIs, deploying applications, monitoring performance, keeping costs in check, and doing all of these at scale on top of these primitives quickly becomes very complex, which is only exacerbated by microservices and multi-cloud architectures. Large opportunities exist for new companies to create higher-level abstractions for infrastructure teams to more easily and efficiently manage their operations.

Developer “utilities”

For centuries prior to the formation of electric utilities, businesses had to operate their own power sources just to keep the lights on, a capital- and resource-intensive outlay. Analogously, for decades, developers working with monolithic applications had to build and manage complex yet undifferentiated functionality including authentication, payments, and communications. But as developers have shifted to building applications bottoms-up based on decomposed components leveraging APIs, low-code/no-code frameworks, and modern SaaS delivery, several companies have emerged as “utilities” that make these and other areas of application functionality available to every developer. New developer utilities will arise as additional functionality, including advanced data operations and machine learning, become commonplace within applications.

New and emerging personas

Throughout organizations, buying centers are changing and new roles (and what they’re responsible for) are emerging. Analytics engineer, cloud cost optimization analyst, and MLOps engineer are just some examples. Products that focus on these new end users stand to potentially create new categories or reshape existing ones. There are also significant opportunities to attack existing markets by targeting underserved users, whether it’s security shifting left to empower developers or making it easier for product managers to tap into data warehouses or something else among numerous possibilities.

If you’re a technical founder (or an aspiring one) and any of these ideas resonate with you, I’d love to chat - please reach out at wei@unusual.vc, LinkedIn, or Twitter

I’d like to thank John Vrionis, Jyoti Bansal, Sandhya Hegde, Sarah Leary, and the entire Unusual team for their warm welcome and the privilege of helping founders build exceptional companies.


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