Felix Williams is the founder and managing director of Lagomaj Capital. Since starting the St. Louis, Missouri-based venture capital firm soon after completing high school, 23-year-old Williams has backed dozens of companies -- with a special interest in agtech and biotech and including a couple of very large tech companies that he's not at liberty to mention. While younger than the typical investor, Williams believes his youth affords him the ability to offer a fresh perspective on tech and problems that startups are trying to solve.
TechCrunch sat down with Williams to learn more about how he got into venture capital, and his plans for the future.
When did you first become interested in venture capital? How did you break into it?
While growing up, I had no idea what venture capital was. The concept made sense; who wouldn't want to be invested in 'Google' in the early days, but the idea of an industry that did precisely that was foreign to me until about 16 years old. At the time, there was a fund in St. Louis, iSelect Fund, that was growing rapidly and needed some help doing Excel/database work. I’d have to say that performing that grunt work was the best thing that has happened to me in my professional life. In a few weeks, I was engulfed in the venture and startup worlds. Reading about activity in the ecosystem became my dopamine hit, and I was hooked. I felt like the luckiest teenager in the world, having gotten the opportunity to watch some of the best and brightest people I had ever seen try and solve the problems we are afflicted with, the problems we see on the news every day. The notion of work that I felt in my previous job at a national tutoring chain fell away and was replaced with a sense of purpose.
When did you start your venture firm? What challenges did you face? Did you find it difficult to be taken seriously because of your age at the time? How old were you exactly?
Lagomaj was born a week or two before my 19th birthday. At the time, our path forward wasn't always clear. For example, I was mistaken for an intern in multiple meetings and generally not taken too seriously at networking or industry events. It wasn't unusual for founders to take calls mid-pitch or check their messages when it was my turn to ask questions. I learned quickly that the best way to go about working was to build a rapport with someone via email or phone before a face-to-face meeting. Referrals and testimonials went a long way in establishing credibility with people outside my growing network, but that network is what kept me going. I was inspired by the people in my life. There is something very special about working with individuals who devote their lives to working on huge problems. Passion drives the best innovators that we've ever known, and there were times where founders and I were able to share a common passion, and those deals have turned out to be some of my favorite ones to have been involved with. As we've started building a more robust reputation, my age has become less of an obstacle and more of an advantage as some of my viewpoints are often different from the typical GP.
What is your firm's investment thesis? How much have you raised? What are some of your portfolio companies?
While we don't disclose how much we've deployed or how much has been committed to the fund, I can say that we have done more than 45 deals with check sizes ranging anywhere from a few hundred thousand to $5 million, most of the time landing somewhere in the middle. In 2021, we invested more than we did in 2017-2020 combined. We currently have a presence in St. Louis, Austin and Southern California, and spend time looking nationally for primarily B2B deals involving early-stage companies. Our fund is especially keen on aligning incentives with the entrepreneurs we work with through a multi-decade investing horizon, participation through multiple rounds, and our willingness to do deals outside of a normal-priced round. For example, we completed a cutting-edge research and development facility with one of our portfolio companies that is seeking to transform how we produce and think about food. That deal is quite different from what most VC funds will take on, but we believed it to be critical to the advancement of a better food system, and we pursued it. Unlike some other funds, we do not consider ourselves an Impact or ESG fund. Our mission is to find passionate people doing extraordinary things for the world we live in, and when you do that, you output ESG gains. I am proud to say that most companies in the portfolio are working towards at least one UN sustainable development goal.
An early win we had was with Agrible and its sale to Nutrien. (That $63 million sale took place in 2018.) Other companies in our portfolio include Benson Hill, Gosite and GigaIO.
Why did you open an office in Austin?
We think that Austin complements our presence in St. Louis well. Both cities have a growing tech scene that is not yet saturated with VC firms, and each has different focuses at the core of their startup ecosystems. In St. Louis, we see an exceptionally robust hard science market, especially bioscience, while in Austin, the focus and growth that we have seen has been more software-centric. Austin too, has many macro trends going for it, such as its desirability for young professionals, a culture that facilitates growth and a considerably strong talent pool. The city has been tremendously welcoming, and we are grateful to be part of its story.
What are your long-term goals/plans?
Over the next few years, our top priority is to build an engine that can invest at scale using data and software to augment the human decision-making process. Although we've been operating for a few years now, I am not shy in telling people we are still in the development stages. Our processes and thesis will continue to evolve as we bring in new team members with much more experience than I have. We're building capabilities on both the ventures and support sides for post-investment portfolio company guidance. In the next two years, like many of our portfolio companies, we plan to forgo profitability and invest heavily in the infrastructure that will position us well in the decades to come. Every day, we refine our offering to investors and portfolio companies. Every day, we will continue that process to ensure that when we go out for our next big fundraising round down the road, we will be poised to do well. It is our opinion that venture as it stands now won't last forever, and we want to be positioned well for when that paradigm shift starts to manifest itself.
Although 2022 has certainly been interesting as allocators re-evaluate their portfolios, our conviction in particular technology and trends has never been higher. We're ecstatic about continuing to invest in companies and partnerships at the confluence of innovation and market adoption.