As a senior at MIT back in 2008, Krishna Gupta realised that there was a gap in the venture capital world.
There were all these students coming up with great ideas for companies, but there were few places for them to look to for support. VC firms were growing and less interested in investing in the smaller, early-stage companies.
Gupta decided that he was going to fill that gap himself with Romulus Capital.
“Venture capital firms are getting larger, so as a result it didn’t make sense for them to really be spending time at the seed stage, they really were becoming more of betting firms versus business builders,” Gupta told Business Insider in an interview.
Gupta took on that role of “business builder”, and six years later his firm is about to close a $US50 million second fund.
Along with cofounder Neil Chheda, Gupta originally created Romulus Capital to help foster entrepreneurship from the MIT-Harvard ecosystem. The firm has now evolved into an established early-stage VC.
The Cambridge-based firm focuses on early-stage companies within the technology and science sector. And while it started out funding Cambridge-area projects, it has expanded a bit to more of the east coast, with 30% of its deals taking place in New York City.
So far, Romulus has invested in 20 companies, including E la Carte (a digital point-of-sale system for restaurants), Ginger.io (a health data provider), Fitocracy (an exercise app), Dashbid (a video ad platform), and Bombfell (a monthly clothing subscription service). One of its investments, Crocodoc, has been acquired by Box for an undisclosed amount of money.
With the new round of funding coming in, Romulus Capital has already started investing the money in its current portfolio and plans to add 20-25 more companies. The goal is to close the funding by the end of the summer, with Gupta optimistic that it will close in the next two to three weeks.
While he is still in his twenties, Gupta has had some experience working for McKinsey — he had a brief six-month stint trying out the life of a consultant — and he has also conducted physical chemistry research at the University of Chicago and the Weizmann Institute in Israel. And he studied Materials Science and Engineering and Management Science at MIT. All of this led to useful background for Romulus.
But more than background, Gupta’s scrappiness and youth have led Romulus to where it is.
“I’m able to put myself in [founders’] shoes and vice versa,” Gupta said. “They see on the other side of the table someone who thinks and feels like them, is a startup also, and is a member of the team. I’m often cc-ed on emails internally. No other investor really plays that role. I think age is an asset.”
Romulus prides itself on being hands-on, even helping some of its companies find clients and partners. Late last year, Gupta helped E la Carte secure a deal with Applebee’s that will deploy its tablet cash register system nationwide.
The firm really espouses the idea that you need to have a certain attitude to be successful both in startups and in venture.
“The most successful entrepreneurs understand how to get by on less because building a big company, you can never predict the hurdles you’re going to face. You’re going to hear a lot of ‘no’s,” Gupta said. “How do you break down the doors, be they how do I get my app featured in Apple or how do I get Applebee’s to give me a nationwide contract, etc. So people who are scrappy, who think outside the box, who are rule breakers by DNA, it just makes a lot more sense.”
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