Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots

472: Interlock Capital with Neal Bloom

April 27th, 2023

Neal Bloom is a Managing Partner at Interlock Capital, a community of founders, investors, and subject matter experts.

Victoria talks to Neal about what he finds attractive about startups and companies he's excited about, out of all the pitches he receives, how many he gets to say yes to, and when working with a team, what he uses to manage information and contacts for investors.

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VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Neal Bloom, Managing Partner at Interlock Capital, a community of founders, investors, and subject matter experts. Neal, thank you for joining us.

NEAL: Hey, thanks for having me. It's so great to be here with you.

VICTORIA: Fantastic. I'm excited to finally get a chance to talk with you. I met you at an investor hike that you organize once a month.

NEAL: A founders' hike, yeah. I get up nice and early on the first Wednesday of each month in Torrey Pines in San Diego. And we hike up and down the hill with ocean views. It's not a bad day.

VICTORIA: It's a great way to start the morning, I think, and to meet other people, other builders of products in technology. So tell me more about your work at Interlock Capital.

NEAL: Sure. It really kind of organically happened that I became an investor, but not planned at all. I have an aerospace background then built my own edtech and talent tech marketplace. I call it the LinkedIn for students is really what we built as our first startup called Portfolium. We sold it, and I got really into startup communities, especially because of some people who helped me with my first startup. I want to be a part of building an even better ecosystem for others. And that turned into a podcast, a blog, an event series.

And once I had the capital from my exit, turned into angel investing as well, too, and really just found that as I got to know people over time, the more and more I got to know them, the more certain ones stood out that said, wow, I don't just want to help them for the good of it. I also just want to be along for the ride. And I started writing checks to other founders. So that was the beginning of my investor journey about five years ago.

And over COVID, a whole bunch of other later-stage experience operators, either founder-level or executives at tech companies, said, "I want to learn to do this. Can I do it alongside you?" And we created Interlock Capital as an investment syndicate. A group of us can share and utilize our brainpower, our time, and our capital to help companies. It's kind of our focus.

So that's why we call it a community because it's not just kind of a one-way pitch us, and we'll write you a check. It's very much get to know the people, find the exact right domain experts who have subject matter expertise, who've been there and done that before. If they like the company and they want to personally invest, then we go to the greater group and say, "Hey, everyone, who wants to join this deal specifically?"

So 18 investments later from Interlock Capital, we now also have an investment fund. So now we write two checks into every company. We do our syndicated style, pass the hat, if you will, "Hey, everyone, anyone want to invest in just this deal?" And then match it from our fund. And we're writing between $300,000 to $500,000 checks into early-stage software or/and software plus hardware companies.

VICTORIA: What an incredible journey. And I love that it's led you to creating a community as part of what you do as an investment capital group. What do you find interesting about these startups and these companies that you want to be interested in?

NEAL: Part of it is how much you learn about yourself, to be honest. I get to meet three to five new founders a day in a variety of ways, whether it's straight Zoom and pitch, or grab a coffee, or see them on a hike. We're kind of constantly introducing ourselves to each other. There's a bit of learning about how to size someone up to a certain regard. So you're kind of building this inner algorithm of how to top-prank people and their ideas. That's one interesting way that I never thought I would be doing professionally.

There's a lot that we say versus what we do, and that's a data point that I have to keep track of because I get pitched amazing ideas that will literally change the world for so much better. And you get really excited about it, and you get invested in it. And I call it founder love. You fall in love with these founders specifically and almost say, "I don't even care what you're working on. I just want to work more with you. How do we do it?" So there's a lot of that.

So there are some dating aspects [laughs] in terms of founder dating, like getting to know people. There's the determining how do we date towards marriage? Meaning, I'll write you a check, and I'm along for the ride for the next ten years. And then there's the kind of relationship maintenance which is okay; I wrote the check, now what?

Where can I be helpful to the company? How can I anticipate their needs so that they have to think one more thing of how to satisfy me? It's quite the opposite way around. I'm trying not to be a barrier. I'm trying to work for them while they're sleeping. So yeah, it's really interesting the kind of the relationship aspect that goes into getting to know and helping founders take their ideas and turn it into reality.

VICTORIA: That's very cool. And I have talked to people who have met you and talked to your company and just how supportive and helpful you all are even if you choose not to invest. So I think that's a really valuable resource for people. And I wonder, do you think it's something unique about the San Diego community in particular that is exciting right now?

NEAL: I think so. I think San Diego specifically has always had this culture of give-before-you-get mentality, and so we kind of lead with that. There are a lot of people moving here. And you could choose many places that could be great, like LA versus San Diego, and there's a certain kind of person that chooses here versus somewhere else. And what I have found is there's a certain kind of give-before-you-get cultural mentality here that somehow people register pretty quickly and come with. And so that's an underlying greatness about us here.

There's also because of the great environment we live in, by the beach, healthy lifestyle. I think we choose to work on things that maybe are also satisfying, just like our personal lives, meaning we work on things that matter, that are going to change the world, that are life-changing. That's not to say that we don't need certain other kinds of technology. I'm sure at some point, we felt we needed Twitter, and maybe we don't feel like that now. [laughs]

But here, it feels like everyone's working on very impactful things, and I think that's really special to think about. Some examples of that is we've got an interesting subset of the SaaS world in nonprofit tech. So GoFundMe was founded in San Diego. They have since acquired three other nonprofit tech SaaS companies in San Diego, like Classy. So that's kind of interesting. You've got people who want to build a business that services nonprofits, and now they're all under one roof. So yeah, I think there is something special. We can dive deeper into some of the other sub-industries or categories that are interesting here, too, if you're interested.

VICTORIA: Well, I could talk about San Diego all day.

NEAL: [laughs]

VICTORIA: Because I'm a fairly new resident, and I'm in love with it, obviously. [laughs] But let's talk more about products that can change the world. Like, what's one that you're really excited about that you've heard recently?

NEAL: Ooh. I would start a little high level in certain categories that I'm really liking. I like things I'm seeing in the infrastructure space right now, meaning, you know, whether it's pipes and our water utilities, and I would include that in energy and EV, you know, kind of a mobility piece. There's even the commercial side of mobility, so trucking and freight. That whole infrastructure layer is really interesting to me right now.

A certain company that, full disclosure, we invested in recently is a company called EarthGrid. They have a product that is boring holes tunnel-wise underground, but they're using just electricity and air, so plasma. And it's fascinating. They can bore holes 100 times the norm right now. They don't need to potentially trench, meaning they don't need to cut above the surface. They can just dig for miles straight underneath the ground, so they can go under things with that. And really a lot of the expensive pieces, closing lanes on freeways or highways to put fiber in or plumbing and all that. So it's really interesting to see that.

Now, one element is the technology is interesting. But they have a plan to actually own their own tunnels that go across the entire United States. So they don't just want to be a device that they're going to sell to everyone. They want to actually own their own utility that has major tunnels across the United States. So that's fascinating to me because that's like think big, think exponential around that. So that's one area that's kind of fascinating to me.

VICTORIA: That's super interesting, and thinking about the impact it can have on making power more secure for more people, things like that. There are just so many problems to solve, and so many are people trying to solve them. [laughs] -

NEAL: Yeah, exactly. And they have a clean tech angle in that there are a lot of different ways to dig and tunnel that includes chemicals, and so their big thing is to not do that. Some of their background is installing these kinds of lines in the EV space for solar panels. So they have a big kind of clean and sustainability focus there. And our infrastructure is aging big time. We've got 100-year-old bridges and pipes and other things that it's really interesting to see the government put money into. And so that is another aspect, a business model, per se of infrastructure.

You have the government putting billions, if not trillions, into upgrading our infrastructure, which as an investor, I like to hear that there's free capital out there in forms of non-dilutive funding to help these along, and that's existed for hundreds of years. Cars and oil industry got these kinds of subsidies, and then the EV and solar panels. So that's a good area that I like to look in as well is where is there additional large-scale funding to help these products really get to market?

VICTORIA: That makes sense. And so you're meeting three to five founders a day, and you're watching where the funding is available. And out of all the pitches that you receive, how many do you really get to say yes to?

NEAL: Oh, it's small, I mean, one to two a month if that would be a lot, and those could take a few months to work through. The best way for us to invest is to get to know the people for as long as possible. So I kind of mentioned that relationship aspect. I want to see how people operate. I want to see how they build product. I want to see how they get to know their customer and iterate and bring that back into design thinking. And so that's a big piece is getting to know and see the people do the things that they're saying.

Man, there are so many companies that I like on paper, whether it's oh my God, amazing team, or, oh, cool, the product. Yes, love that idea. And then you have to look at everything together, the timing, the valuation that they want, the team. Has this team been there, done that before? So there are a lot of elements that go into it. Like I mentioned, you have this founder love where you fall in love with the people, and maybe the rest doesn't work out or vice versa. But yeah, I think each investor comes at it differently.

So my area because I built two tech companies that were talent tech-related, meaning connecting people for opportunities; my investing style is very team and talent and recruitment-focused, meaning what are the superpowers of the founders? Are they aware of their weaknesses and their strengths? Have they filled in those gaps by finding co-founders that are complementary and opposites?

And then my partner, Al Bsharah, he is a super product guy, and he wants to break the product and see, how can you break it? What are they thinking product roadmap-wise? That's his first go-to. And so, for us, we're super complementary in that regard. So we will assess the same company in very different ways and then come together and say, "Let's share our scores, share our rank. Where do you think this company sits at in all these different areas and boxes?" And so that's a great way, that complementary skill sets as investors. We utilize those strengths together.

So yeah, it's hard for a founder to know that. A founder who's building a product, the person on the other side of the screen, they're meeting me. They're not going to know my algorithm. They're not going to know what I value more than something else. So there's this whole dance. I wish it didn't have to be that way, but it is a dance. It's a negotiation.

And that's why I build a community because I'd really rather take the gloves off and get to know people when they're not raising capital, when they really are just inspired by innovation and by customers, and they're just excited, and they're building product. That's the time I want to get to know them and see how they iterate before the capital question comes in. Because when it's capital, it tends to feel a little transactional, and that's just not the name of the game per se.

VICTORIA: It makes sense. And I'm curious, working with your partner who has a specialty in product, has there ever been a big surprise that he presented with you that you would never have thought of without that product perspective?

NEAL: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think there are many times now where either the company is really touting a specific piece of their product, whether it's a certain kind of technology that as a non-product builder either I think, wow, that's unique. That's special; that's novel. And I go to my partner, who really is an automation expert in terms of product building, and boom, can whip it out in a second and say, "I could that with Zapier," or now ChatGPT. So I think there are those elements that are good checkpoints of putting too much...maybe I get too excited about uniqueness or a novelty of a product.

And then there's the opposite. There's the team undersells their product, and really they're touting, hey, we have a background in this industry. So we're going to go build because we know how to get into that industry. Our uniqueness is go-to-market, so they think. And it turns out, hey, you're really underselling the product here. There's something special about your vision system here or your data set that you're using to build your ML model. So I've seen a variety of both of those.

I think we're going to see more and more right now where ChatGPT and other AI models are going to show that maybe the tech exactly like AI isn't the specialty. That's going to be a democratization across the board. We're just going to expect that everyone can build a baseline product. So how are people going to differentiate on the product? That's where I'm really excited to see where product stands out now that more and more people have more tools at their disposal to build a good product.

VICTORIA: Yeah, I'm excited for that too and to see which experiments with AI really pan out to be something useful that becomes part of everyday life. Do you have any instincts on where you think you're going to see the most out of AI innovation in tech?

NEAL: AI is such a big word, and it feels so buzzwordy right now. But actually, in San Diego, we have a deep history in the high-level AI, and it starts with analytics. We have a deep, deep bench of analytics talent here. In fact, Google Analytics was founded in San Diego under the name Urchin Analytics and acquired by Google in 2004.


NEAL: And so you have these big analytic models and builders here that is interesting to tap into. I kind of bucket it in a few areas. I look at the vision aspect, so motion capture, motion classification, image classification. That's really interesting that I think we'll see a lot of that that applied to blank. I'm seeing that applied to life sciences, so cancer detection through some sort of imaging. Obviously, the mobility aspect, whether it's self-driving or driver assisted for blank, whether that's drones, self-driving trucks, all those areas. That's one area interesting from the AI piece.

Natural language processing which there's a piece of ChatGPT to that regard. I think it is really interesting from what is your dataset? What are you tapping into? I'm also seeing that applied to digital health, whether it's clinical trials bringing AI models there, whether it's taking genomic data and saying, let's build better clinical trial classes. Maybe we don't need 500 patients when we can build the best 30 patients to enter a trial because we've got genomic data on our side. So yeah, I think I'm more looking at certain industries and saying, what is the right AI model for it? And I think that's pretty exciting.


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VICTORIA: So tell me, you know, at Interlock Capital, when you're working with a team, what do you use to really manage all of this information and these contacts for your investors?

NEAL: Yeah, it's a great question. We decided to build our own products in-house thanks to my partner Al who's a great product builder. At the end of the day, there are a few different funnels we are managing within Interlock Capital. We're managing our customer, which really is the startup. We want to make sure we're keeping track of them on whatever timeline. And so we use CRMs, basically, to manage funnels per se. So that's startups.

Then there's the deal flow sharing, so these are other VC firms, maybe other service providers, where we're sharing companies with each other. And then we have investors, so we're using CRM for managing our investors, like our limited partners, our LPs. So that's basic CRM. Luckily, we were able to use an off-the-shelf product called Streak for that. But what we do uniquely is we want to engage in two directions our investment community, meaning we want to get to know them, get to know everyone's expertise so we know when to tap them to say, "Hey, can you help on this deal?"

And help is very broad, meaning it could be to give it a quick look before I've even met them to say, "Is this something I should even be looking at?" Or I've already met the team, maybe spent a few hours with them. And I'm asking for a deep dive with an expert to say, "Join a call with me after you've reviewed a deck and help me ask harder questions." So there's that aspect of we wanted to figure out how do we get to know our people in our group? Because we're hundreds now.

So we decided to build a platform off and Airtable basic no-code where we could build a light profile of everyone. So everyone self-selects a number of profile aspects about themselves. It's also where we're starting to keep data and documents for them as well too. So whether it's tax documents or other forms, we can have it all in one spot. And then lastly, when we do decide to make an investment in a company, we write a very detailed memo that starts in Google Docs but then gets built into our product, the Interlock platform.

And so in that memo which could honestly be 10 to 20 pages of diligence, in our language only, what are the pros, cons, and risks? We also showcase who is on the diligence team, what their specific expertise is to this investment, if they're personally investing or not. We really want to show conviction from the diligence team. And then we've built in some really cool features where you've got a Q&A board that you can upvote other people's questions about that investment.

You can watch a video right there and then about the company, and then you can commit to the investment itself on our platform, saying, "I'm interested in this deal specifically. Here's the amount." And boom, we take you over to a third-party platform to just sign in and wire. So that's current day the product that we decided to build.

We've got this whole product roadmap that we've built out that we want to build out more. We would love to automate a little bit more of our deal funnel so that a certain company that we meet maybe they get to a certain stage that we know we're ready for diligence. We can auto-ping the ten people that have that specific domain expertise.

So luckily, we built out the profiles about everyone. Now we need to start building some automation in there so that maybe I'm not the bottleneck. I'm going to meet three to five companies a day, I mentioned. That's three to five follow-ups that I need to do. I'm never going to be as fast as the founder wants me to be on getting back to them and saying, "Here's our next steps." So if we can utilize the greater body of people that are in our investment community, that's where we'd love to build out some of the pieces next as well. So automation is kind of the hope there.

VICTORIA: That's great. And I love that you're able to take advantage of these low-code tools to build something that worked for you. What was your initial approach to figuring out how to build this in a way that worked for your user group?

NEAL: Well, we looked at a lot of existing products first, and there are. There are these angel syndicate websites like AngelList is a big one, you know, a consumer-facing platform where if you're interested in investing, you can join a group, or you can join a dozen groups and just get an email when they have a new investment opportunity.

And so we looked at...first, it was survey what's existing out there already. Start building a product feature must-have or is nice to have list for us to get off the ground within Interlock. And then determine the pros and cons of building off the shelf, the time and cost, and maintenance versus using something that already exists. So that was a big piece, just assessment upfront before we do anything.

And I think learning the landscape was big for us. I find that building tools for startups there's a lot, but there are also not a lot of mature ones because there's just not a lot of money out there to be made. There's not a billion-dollar industry of making a website to invest in startups per se yet. So that was another thing as well. It's just understanding will the companies that we choose off-the-shelf products-wise will they still be there a year or two or three from now?

And ultimately, we decided, you know what? We got to build it ourselves if we really want the two-way communication, not just one-way. We didn't see everything out there. And I think the piece you always underestimate is the maintenance over time as well as all the third-party tools and apps and services that you end up needing and using and how do they play into the maintenance role as well too. We've definitely had elements of our product break because they're no longer supporting that tool anymore. So those are all aspects that you can do as much as you can self-assessment upfront. There's obviously the maintenance piece that goes into it down the road as well too.

VICTORIA: That makes sense. And then, in this way, you have control over it, and you can change it as often as you want.

NEAL: Totally.

VICTORIA: And as much as you like, if you have the time. [laughs]

NEAL: One piece that I think we have never planned or expected is that because we built it and it's super unique, there are many other angel groups who have come to us and said, "Can we use your tool? Like, yours is better than anything that exists." And we did not build ours with a commercial aspect in mind at first. We can't just clone an Airtable and be like, "Here we go. Here's your product. It's Bubble and Airtable," because if it breaks for them, we're on the hook for that [laughs] as well too.

So I don't think we thought through too much around a commercialized product when we built out our own. But because we've been pinged so many times about, can people use it? It's on our mind now. Like, it literally is on our list of priorities of hiring either part-time or full-time a product builder to go back in and commercialize aspects so that we could actually maybe turn this into a product one day, this whole investment community manager software.

VICTORIA: That's really cool. And it's funny, talking to founders, there's always a story about how you set out to do one thing, which was build a community around startups and founders in San Diego, and then you end up building a product, [laughs] right?

NEAL: Yup.

VICTORIA: And getting something marketable later that you never even intended.

NEAL: Yeah, I mean, I think the big learning there is, one, listen to your customer first, then go build products. And so yes, you said it exactly; we wanted to build a community where we could be more engaged with our customer. And as we heard more and more from our customer, it told us what to build. And I always find that from other startups, that's a great model to follow as opposed to build and then go determine if there's a market out there for it.

VICTORIA: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So it's interesting that you've had this experience of building tech startups from scratch and then now investing, and then now you're back [laughs], and you have a product again.

NEAL: [laughs]

VICTORIA: So I wonder, if you could go back in time starting Interlock Capital or when you started your companies, like, what advice would you give yourself if you could travel back in time and talk to your past self?

NEAL: Oof, so much. Spend a lot of time getting to know yourself, not just what you're good at but what you like to do business-wise. And I actually see those are two different things. Sometimes the things we like to do we're not as good at, but yet we want to spend more of our time on it, and maybe it takes us longer to do it. So do some self-assessment. I would have done that more on myself.

And I'll give you an example, I, for whatever reason, like to brute force certain things like our email outreach, whereas my partner loves to build automation campaigns for it because he built a software in the email space. I know I could learn a quick automation route [laughs] to do certain things, but for whatever reason, I love sometimes the analog version of things. And that's good sometimes, and sometimes there's no time for that.

So learn a lot more about myself, what I like, and what I'm good at. And then the opposite, what I don't like doing, what could I shed as quickly as possible and could hire for in some way or another, trade my time or capital for time. And then, only then, once I know myself better, then go find the perfect partner that complements everything. It's the opposite of me in that regard, opposite in network, opposite in skill sets, and in that regard too.

And so I think my first startup, we were carbon copies of each other. We were both aerospace engineers who kind of wanted to do the same thing who lacked emotional intelligence at the time. So yeah, that's a big learning. But I didn't know enough about myself at the time. And it took hardship to learn the hard things. Honestly, entrepreneurs seem to learn by doing more than anything. So you can only tell an entrepreneur so much. Sometimes they're just going to have to go and figure it out by running through a wall. That's one thing I would have changed about myself in that regard.

I also probably would have, even earlier during college, gotten more internships to just test myself professionally and know what environments I do well in, meaning big companies, small company, or hands-on mentorship and management or hands-off certain kinds of skill sets. How could I be presenting more often versus just kind of behind-the-scenes doing? All of those I probably could have learned quicker about myself the earlier I would have put myself in those situations as opposed to getting my first job and working at one place for five years. That's a long time to dedicate to learning one culture about that I thrive in. But you live, and you learn.

VICTORIA: I love the drive to keep learning and to be like, you know, don't expect to be good at everything [laughs] that you want to do. I think that's fantastic. And what do you see success really looking like for yourself in the next six months or in the next five years?

NEAL: This year, this calendar year is really about getting the fund up and running. So we've raised an initial tranche of capital and got through this calendar year to get the full capital we want for the fund in. And we're being really picky about that. We really want operators, so that just takes time to go and meet the right people that maybe have recently exited, so have a little bit of time and have a little capital and now want to spend time with earlier stage companies. So that's a big piece of this year.

I also, on the community side, want to scale it a little bit. I've found the founders' hike is a really consistent and easy way to build community, just meet new people, get to meet 30 people at once instead of maybe 30 coffee meetings to meet those people and just kind of selectively choose who is good to follow up with. So building and scaling, thinking about how to scale community growth is another area, and hiring a little bit around that.

So hiring either a community manager and understanding what does that role even mean? Because it's vague in a variety of scenarios. I think we as a company could utilize it. But I think even San Diego could really benefit from someone professionally community-managing all of us. I don't even know what that means yet. And I'd actually push that back on you. Like, you're recent to town. You've started to meet people in a variety of venues. What's the community management void that you see that exists locally?

VICTORIA: Oh, great question. I'm actually going to the Annual March Mingle tonight. This episode will come out a little bit later.

NEAL: I'll be there too.

VICTORIA: Oh, I was like, I'm going to interview you and probably see you later. [laughs]

NEAL: Awesome.

VICTORIA: Yeah, I think what's interesting about what I've experienced so far is that there is a thriving community. People show up to events. There are a lot of different focuses and specialties. Like, there's the San Diego Design and Accessibility meetup, which had over 30 people over and has a lot of great content. The tech coffees usually have your standard crew who comes.

I'm in North County in Encinitas, and then there's Downtown San Diego. And I think you and I have talked about this, that there isn't as much of a major hub. And people are kind of spread out and don't really like to travel outside of their little bubble, which isn't necessarily unique to San Diego. [laughs] I think we've seen this in other areas too. So I think deciding where and how and maybe just building that group of community organizers too. One thing we had in DC was we would have a meetup of all the meetup organizers. [laughs]

NEAL: Ooh.

VICTORIA: They were just the people who are running events would get together and meet each other and talk and get ideas and bounce off, and maybe that exists in San Diego, but I just haven't tapped into it yet.

NEAL: Well, that's a great, great, great, great point because, yeah, learning from others. Everyone is out there doing. Let's learn what's working and what's not. I do that actually from community to community. I do compare...I'll pop into a city on personal travel, but I'll look for, say, the Neal Bloom of Phoenix or something [laughter] and share quick notes. Something Startup San Diego started... when Startup San Diego started ten years ago and became a nonprofit shortly thereafter, it wanted to be the convener of all the organizations that help startups.

And so there became kind of the startup alliance, I think, where it was all people who run different startup orgs, mostly nonprofits or just meetups getting together. And that hasn't come back since COVID, and I don't know if anyone's thought to bring it back. So this is a great time to think about that. Let's do it. Let's absolutely get the startup community alliance back together and sharing what's working and what's not.

Something else that I think matters as we're coming out of COVID and really matters also for product is it feels like curation matters way more than anything before. Like, we value our time more. We want to be home a bit more. And so we're only going to go to the things that we know there's some value out of it as opposed to, oh, I'll show up to that thing. It sounds cool. I get free pizza.

So the curation piece, I think, is interesting to think about, like, how do you scale curation? Because if you make smaller groups and make it more valuable, you still can't make a group for everyone. Someone's always going to be missing out. That's a piece when I think of how has product worked really well for that? Obviously, product has done amazing things on curation with using filters and ranking and other things. How do you do that in real-time for community?

VICTORIA: Yeah, that's a really cool idea. And it's interesting talking with organizers from Women Who Code DC who are still there and coming back from COVID. They were all virtual events, and now they're having part virtual and part in-person. And it's interesting where some people really want to get back to the in person and see people in real life. The virtual is also still a very good option for people altogether across the board.

So, yeah, I think you're 100% right on the event has to be kind of worth it. [laughs] And how do we make that real? But we still have all these other options for connecting with each other too, and we should take advantage of this. I love that here if we're going out in person, you're on a patio. [laughs] You're outside. Even though it's pouring down rain right now so we're probably going to get rained out a little bit.

NEAL: I don't think I realized how outdoorsy we already were until this recent rain, one, because COVID forced everyone outdoors already. So for the last three years, we've only been going to places that have been outdoors. But then I realized, wait, every coffee shop I go to already is just open air. Every brewery, every restaurant is open-air. We've got it pretty good here. March Mingle, as big as it is, which it's like you're 17, 18, maybe 20, it's always an amazingly cool crowd and a crowd that I don't always see at every event. It's not the same, same people. It's a crowd that just comes to March Mingle.

VICTORIA: That's super cool. I'm excited to see you there later. And maybe by the time we've aired this episode, I'll have actually posted about it, so it won't be a surprise [laughs] for anybody. But I love that. Okay, so, wait, that was...did we talk about six months and five years into the future of success?

NEAL: We didn't. We just talked this calendar year. Five years out, professionally, I think a well-oiled community, multiple funds under management that maybe have realized, like, let's have one with different focus. Maybe there's an infrastructure tech fund, maybe there's a diabetes tech fund. I'd love to explore the curated focused thesis aspects because it's easy to be pretty general when I'm meeting so many interesting companies, and I have so many experts at my disposal. Maybe it makes sense to have multiple smaller focused funds in that regard.

I think five years out; also, we will have probably weathered some financial storms, probably be on the upswing of that, and therefore maybe there are some exits that would have happened in town. There's certainly a number of late-stage tech companies that have been at it 10, 15 years that a lot of early investors and employees with stock are just kind of waiting for a liquidity event, and I really think by then we will have seen that. And that will be really interesting to see if and how people recycle their capital back into the community, both from investing, from giving philanthropically, and then their time as well.

Sometimes when you have really big success, it's easy to check out and leave, and I'm hoping we're getting ahead of that cycle now. We're getting people to put some skin in the game now so that when the exits happen, they stay connected because they're got some investments in the community. So I'm really hoping that we've closed the wheel on the flywheel of capital, recyclable capital here in San Diego five years out from now.

VICTORIA: Oh, I really like that. And I think it makes sense from that idea of if you've benefited from being able to run your own company and to work with all these people in San Diego that when you exit, you invest that back into the community and grow future companies with it.

NEAL: Exactly. I mean, someone helped you, all of us, and they're just ahead of us. It kind of behooves all of us; then, to each stage and phase we go forward, we should look back and say, "How can we help someone behind us?" And we started this conversation that is a very San Diego culture thing. And so I'm really excited to see when that line bends back on itself, that flywheel closes.

So the other aspects of that is we're starting to build some crossroads with Tijuana. We tried before COVID, and we're trying again now. And I'm really excited to see the long-term effect of connecting these cross-border communities. And then we talked about some technology, five years out, man, if GPT is updating so quickly now, I can't even imagine what AI is building product by itself five years from now. And where do the humans play a role in that?

People love the splashy headline articles of here's where AI is going to replace your jobs. I'm thinking quite the opposite. I'm so excited for the new jobs to emerge that don't exist right now, for us to complement technology, that, you know, we'll be doing things that are better than humans. So that's a whole piece of technology and product that I'm excited to see play out.

VICTORIA: I agree. I think that it's humans plus machines make the most impact, right? [laughs]

NEAL: Exactly.

VICTORIA: It by itself won't do it. But I think that's fantastic. What a great note to kind of end on. But is there anything else that you want as a final takeaway for our listeners?

NEAL: One, I'd love to meet you if you're building an interesting product. I'd love to connect you into our community, so that's a self-serving ask. Find me on LinkedIn or Twitter; probably, Twitter's easier. Write me that you heard me on Giant Robots Smashing Into Others. Absolutely would love to hear that feedback loop. Also, come check out San Diego sometime. Come join our founders' hike. If you're listening to this, pretty much we have it on every first Wednesday of each month. We'd love to welcome you into the community here.

And if you have an idea for a startup but haven't started yet, that's a great time to be talking and thinking how could I iterate way sooner than you would have thought. So don't wait to get started on something; just start talking to people about it. Don't be afraid to share your product ideas. No one's going to steal it. So I would just tell people to get started sooner than you think. And the world will benefit from you putting that out into the universe.

VICTORIA: I love that. Thank you so much for sharing and for being a guest on our show today, Neal. We'll have links for how to get connected with you in our show notes.

You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at If you have questions or comments, email us at And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg.

This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.

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