The NYU Entrepreneurial Institute recently caught up with Jack DeFuria, who is a Venture Fellow at Rough Draft Ventures. At RDV, he advises on funding and investments for student-led enterprises. Jack shared his insights on student startups, the investment process, and how his experience working at startups and founding his own has shaped the way he approaches early-stage startups.
NYU Entrepreneurial Institute: What was the founding idea behind Rough Draft Ventures and how has it supported entrepreneurs at the university level?
Jack: Rough Draft was founded by Peter Boyce during his time at Harvard. The idea was to build a network of student entrepreneurs and support them with mentorship, resources, a community of peer founders, and access to capital. Now, Peter is a principal at General Catalyst, a venture capital firm that makes early-stage and growth investments in companies like Airbnb, Stripe, Snapchat, and others. He still leads our teams here in New York and in Boston alongside Denali Tietjen and Natalie Bartlett, associates at General Catalyst. Rough Draft has already backed some really amazing student-founded startups at NYU such as Geopipe and Theatre Galleria, as well as others like Workflow (acquired by Apple), Mark43, Instabase, Fountain and Lovepop Cards. A number of the entrepreneurs in the Rough Draft portfolio have been named Forbes 30 Under 30 finalists and Thiel Fellows as well as selected into leading accelerators, including Y Combinator, MassChallenge, and Techstars.
Rough Draft Ventures provides $25,000 in capital through a SAFE. Our terms are straightforward and designed to help young, first-time founders succeed in their ventures. For founders that are really early in their careers, we even have relationships with lawyers to get them started with incorporation, and we provide a whole slew of resources from amazing partners like AWS, Stripe, Silicon Valley Bank, SendGrid, and others.
Institute: How do companies generally spend this capital? What is the investment process?
Jack: It varies from company to company. For some founders, an investment from Rough Draft gives them the opportunity to forego a summer internship and instead focus on their startup full-time. For others, the capital goes toward expenses like hosting, inventory, or marketing. I think that it’s really important to balance these expenditures and to be thoughtful about every purchase you make as a first-time founder.
The investment process typically starts on campus with venture fellows like myself and Victoria Spann-Burton here at NYU. We meet with founders as they start building their companies. We’ll spend time nurturing these teams, offering feedback and support as they challenge their initial assumptions, and develop their product or service.
Once the founders are ready, we invite them to pitch at our bi-weekly investment meeting. In New York there are nine other venture fellows on the team, based at NYU, Columbia, Yale, Princeton, UPenn and Carnegie Mellon.
Following the pitches, our investment team will discuss the pitches we saw that morning and decide which companies we want to add to our portfolio.
Institute: How has your background as a founder shaped the way you look at startups?
Jack: I’ve had the unique opportunity to be part of the Rough Draft community as both a venture fellow and portfolio founder. Starting a company while in school and going through the investment process at Rough Draft myself has definitely helped inform the way I go about making investment decisions. It’s no easy feat to build a company from the ground up, so I really respect and empathize with the amount of time, energy, and commitment required of student founders. For me, the best part of Rough Draft is the opportunity it provides to learn from other young founders who are driven to succeed.
Institute: What advice do you have for NYU founders?
Jack: There is a lot of noise out there. Lots of people in the startup community have advice and insight to offer, but the most successful founders are able to discern what feedback applies to them. One of the hardest things to do as a founder is to keep your head down, focus on your goals and execute on a vision—learning to do this well and to avoid the noise can pay dividends.
I get really excited when I can visualize a product changing its users’ daily cadence and workflow. It’s a really special inflection point for any business when the market embraces its product as part of their daily routine. For me, that’s the magic of startups and something I like to think about in every startup I talk to, regardless of the industry or product itself.
Institute: What programs will you be running this spring that NYU founders should know about?
Jack: We hosted the hackathon this past week at the Entrepreneurs Festival, which was a huge success! Later in the semester, there will be more events like office hours for teams thinking about fundraising and mixers for student founders – I’ll share more about those on Twitter.
About Rough Draft Ventures
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