The rise of 8090 provides insight into how billionaire money is increasingly playing a role in venture capital. Family offices – the private investment firms of the ultra-rich – have more than doubled their share of venture capital deals over the past decade, and they’re poised to increase allocations further, according to research by SVB Capital and Campden Wealth published this year.
Since the beginning of 2021, 8090 has bet on more than a dozen startups in the fields of health, energy and finance, mainly in the United States. He is a major investor in the artificial intelligence company Luminous Computing, along with Bill Gates and Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick. Luminous raised $105 million in a Series A round in March, with plans to double the size of its engineering team.
“Jasper was the very first person to bet on me when I started Luminous,” said Marcus Gomez, CEO of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, which received around $30 million from 8090. “When I have a problem, it’s one of my first phone calls, and he almost always has a solution.
Lau partly got his break from business thanks to YouTube.
As a high school student in 2011, Lau added FiscalNote Holdings founder Tim Hwang as a friend on Facebook after coming across footage on the video platform of the entrepreneur receiving an award.
The couple started talking and stayed in touch. Prior to launching 8090, Lau helped oversee seed investments in FiscalNote which he says have returned over 200%. Hwang then introduced Lau to Kerem Ozmen, who provided, through his family’s investment firm, some of the financing for FiscalNote’s $180 million purchase of media company CQ Roll. Call with the Economist group in 2018.
As shares of FiscalNote have fallen since they began trading in August following a merger with blank check firm Duddell Street Acquisition Corp., 8090 has posted 62% gains on a note $18 million convertible maturing in July, Lau said.
As recession fears grow, Lau is confident his company’s small size and wealthy backers give him an edge, though some tech entrepreneurs prefer to take money from giants such as Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. that have survived previous downturns. While 8090 has generally raised capital on a case-by-case basis, it is currently finalizing a fund focused on tech founders and increasingly focusing on debt deals as startups avoid parting with equity in the crisis this year.
“You would think things are slowing down, but they are speeding up,” Lau said. “Our ability to be flexible, nimble and quick to our feet at 8090 gives us an edge over other venture capital firms that have to go through so much bureaucracy.”
After initially focusing on younger members of billionaire families, 8090 now also works with older generations on their venture capital investments as well as other areas, such as philanthropy.
The company, which has a handful of employees in Los Angeles and New York, may seek more endorsements from the world’s ultra-rich, but they must meet specific criteria.
“It’s really about finding families who fit in well culturally and who will be long-term partners with us,” Lau said. “We want families that can actually add more color to what we’ve already put on our canvas.”
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