By Eileen Isagon Skyers
This interview accompanies Rhizome’s 9th edition of its Seven On Seven conference, which pairs inventive artists and inspired technologists for collaborative iterations and prototypes. I connected with Chris Paik to discuss his work as a young venture capitalist ahead of his upcoming project with conceptual artist Constant Dullaart. View the full list of Seven On Seven participants here.
Eileen Isagon Skyers: Can you tell me a bit about your background, and how you got started at Thrive Capital?
Chris Paik: I grew up in Burlingame, California, a small suburb of San Francisco. I quickly became enamored by technology, computers, and the internet from a very early age. I studied economics and psychology at Harvard with a specific interest in behavioral economics. After college, I moved to New York, unsure of what I was meant to do, but intent on experimenting and exploring. I stumbled backwards into the budding entrepreneurial community in New York and was awe-struck. Seeking maximum exposure to such a vibrant ecosystem, I reached out to my friends for guidance. One of those friends was Josh Kushner, a classmate from undergrad, who at the time was in his first year at Harvard Business School. He had recently started Thrive Capital and I asked him if he would like any help. He said yes—and that was seven years ago!
EIS: Do you see any parallels between the venture-preneurial community and the art world? Could you talk about some of them?
CP: I see many parallels between the two. For artists and entrepreneurs alike, context (and specifically timing) is everything. Facebook was not the first social network, nor was YouTube the first video platform. Artists constantly inspire, and take inspiration from, one another to the point where original thought is rare. In addition to impeccable timing, the ability to execute is also very important. The tenacity to endure hardship, ridicule, and doubt, sometimes without ever being vindicated, is requisite. I would categorize founders and artists both as auteurs who are trying day in and day out to bend the world towards a vision they possess.
EIS: Thrive’s investment landscape includes platforms like Slack, Warby Parker, and Kickstarter, among several other incredibly useful tools. How do you forecast the relevance of services when investing in early stage, consumer-facing tech companies like these?
CP: We often think about where pain exists and how it is being addressed. Usually, companies that are solving an acute pain point end up creating significant value. Email is not the most efficient means of communication in a workplace, and Slack has come up with a solution to solve that. Prescription glasses can be prohibitively expensive—why? How can a creative endeavor see the light of day if requires significant upfront capital? It’s important, though, that the solution is revolutionary, not simply evolutionary. If a solution is only two times better than the competition, it may not tip the scales of adoption. If a solution is ten times better, consumer adoption tends to compound on itself until the company emerges as a category leader.
EIS: I noticed that Thrive does not have a social media presence. Can I ask why?
CP: We don’t have much of a social media presence because it’s not a top priority for us. Venture capitalists are not the focus. We are, at best, third-base coaches, but certainly not the players at bat. Press and attention ought to be directed at companies we work with, not us.
CP: I was not familiar with Constant’s work before being paired up, but after spending time reviewing his portfolio, I’m so glad that we now know each other. I love the self-awareness and commentary of his work and I’ve found our conversations to be very engaging and thought-provoking.
EIS: Would you consider investing in DullTech?
CP: DullTech is an amazingly executed concept. It’s unclear whether the addressable market is large enough to support a venture-backable business. And of course, it all comes down to the founder. 🙂