I spoke with Teddy Seem, partner at Outsiders Fund, a Seed and Series A venture capital firm focused on partnering with non-traditional founders disrupting incumbent, traditional industries.
Teddy graduated from Amherst College with a Computer Science degree before starting his career at Bridgewater Associates as a Technology Associate. From there he applied internally and transferred to an Investment Engineering role on the Foreign Exchange team — working with highly dimensional time series data. After Bridgewater he wanted to explore machine learning further, so he joined Resonance Companies, a fashion tech startup in NYC. There he spearheaded the machine learning initiatives to convert two-dimensional clothing images into mathematical representations using convolutional and recurrent neural networks (CNNs & RNN’s).
After Resonance Companies, Teddy went to Harvard Business School where he got into early stage investing. He spent the summer between his first and second years at General Catalyst, where he met Austin McChord, who would later become his co-founder at Outsiders Fund.
With Outsiders Fund, Teddy and Austin aim to back the audacious founders who aren’t afraid to take on large industries to disrupt the status quo. Companies disrupting antiquated spaces are tapping into massive known and measurable demand, which is meaningfully less risky when compared to companies that need to predict a shift in human behavior or new customer adoption.
Teddy shared his advice on continuous learning, innovation focused investing, and the entrepreneurial journey.
Don’t script out your life. Prior to joining Bridgewater, Teddy had actually accepted a job to be a software engineer at Amazon following graduation. Toward the end of his last semester of college, he attended an information session that Bridgewater was hosting on campus — initially for the catered food — but during that session was convinced to apply for a position at the company. After several rounds of interviews, and several video calls later, some of which he took in the middle of the night while he was on a post-graduation trip in Japan, he got and accepted the job.
Looking back, Teddy has been able to experience and be involved in so many fields — from public markets investing, to tech, to early stage investing — because he was open to pivoting, going toward what felt right, and being nimble. As Steve Jobs once said, “you can only connect [the dots] looking backwards”, so it is important to keep an open mind in the moment even to ideas and opportunities that do not feel standard or make immediate sense.
Ask the right questions. In learning about new spaces, Teddy focuses first on asking the right questions and then leaning on those around him to collaboratively find the answers. Learning is not a one dimensional, one directional process of intaking information but rather an iterative process of stringing together the right set of questions to find the best insights.
At Bridgewater when he was on the foreign exchange team, Teddy recalls spending time with his colleague at the Bloomberg terminal each day to see what currency fluctuations occurred and subsequently trying to determine what were the likely causes and factors underlying these changes. In this process, he realized the power of asking the right questions, which is something he has carried to his work in early stage investing, specifically in asking founders the right questions to better understand them, their company, and their space.
In founding Outsiders Fund, Teddy has again realized the power of asking the right questions to quickly learn about many different areas, from building networks, to helping founders, to setting up legal and financial structures for new funds, to carving out a unique niche in the world of venture capital.
Get to the why. Teddy’s time at Bridgewater taught him to get to the root of each issue through continuously asking and seeking to understand the “why” behind everything. As an early-stage investor, Teddy has applied this same practice to his interaction with and evaluations of founders. Do they have a great answer not only to the “what” questions but more importantly to the “why” questions? Do they really understand why their problem exists? Why other solutions have failed? Why they personally want to and are the ones to solve their selected challenge?
Make interdisciplinary connections. At Outsiders Fund, Teddy looks for the creative applications of technology from one space to another. Some of the most disruptive innovations are ones that take learnings from one industry and identify, formalize, and implement a way to apply these to another large, antiquated sector.
Remove your mental ceilings. Looking back on his time at Harvard Business School, Teddy appreciated the perspective it gave him. Through his travels, classes, and peers, he was able to learn so much about the world, career paths, and other people, which removed what he called his “mental ceiling”, or the constraints on his thinking about what was possible to achieve. This empowered him to think bigger and more creatively.
Build earlier. Growing up and throughout school, Teddy was always working on different fun projects. One example is his mining of bitcoin in his dorm room at Amherst and exploring creative ways to harness more processing power through the computer labs. He was always tinkering with different projects but in hindsight, he wished he would have stuck with the tinkering and formalized it more by, for example, setting big yearly project goals for himself and stringing mini projects together into larger, cohesive and impactful initiatives.