HomeInterviewsAsymmetric Capital Partners, Interview with Managing Partner Rob Biederman

Asymmetric Capital Partners, Interview with Managing Partner Rob Biederman

Asymmetric Capital Partners Managing Partner Rob Biederman
Asymmetric Capital Partners Managing Partner Rob Biederman

Rob Biederman, Managing Partner at Boston, MA-based venture capital firm Asymmetric Capital Partners, participated in our Q&A sharing with us information about himself and the firm, their overall strategy, and thoughts about the startup and tech landscape.

VCWire: Hi Rob, can you please tell us a bit more about you? What’s your background? 

First and foremost, I consider myself a founder. Conceiving of, launching and growing Catalant (at first, HourlyNerd) was by leaps and bounds the key experience of my career pre-Asymmetric. It has also formed the basis for how we think about selecting and then working with our founders; we see our entrepreneurs as the heroes of the venture capital journey and our firm as a helpful friend along for the adventure.

Taking a step back in the path, I began my career at Goldman Sachs as a private equity investor, then moved up to Boston to join Bain Capital where I worked on the investment team for the flagship private equity fund. I found it so interesting to work with a number of different businesses. I focused disproportionately on technology and healthcare companies; as a result Asymmetric invests largely across software and digital health. It was an unusual experience so early in my career to get exposure to companies operating at true scale. At Bain Capital we were trying to invest $200 million to $1 billion in companies that were typically worth between $2-$10 billion. I was able to see the impact of a lot of early decisions and how that matters to creating equity value at the companies later.

After two years at Bain Capital, I went to Harvard Business School. I was sponsored by Bain Capital and fully intended to return after graduation. While at HBS I was fortunate enough to start a company with my classmates, which is probably something I never would have done if I hadn’t had to do it in the context of a class project. Entrepreneurship can be very intimidating and I doubt I would have assumed that I was the right person to found a company. I was 26 in February 2013 when my classmates/co-founders and I started the company now called Catalant Technologies. 

Today, Catalant is the market leader in flexible talent for Fortune 25 and Fortune 50 companies. We were able to take the company from 0 to over $100 million in gross revenue, scaled to 300 employees, and raised $125 million from a number of great VC firms (with General Catalyst as our largest investor). 

In my career, I’ve been a professional LP (Limited Partner), an investor at a large buyout firm, a portfolio company CEO and founder, and now a GP (General Partner) of my own firm at Asymmetric. I’ve now seen private capital from every single angle.

Outside of work, I was born in New York City and grew up in Chappaqua, NY. Growing up my family visited Boston often and I eventually moved there in 2010. I now split time between Boston and New York with my girlfriend and fluffy three year old goldendoodle, Duke.

VCWire: Can you introduce Asymmetric Capital Partners? What is your overall strategy (geo/amount/sectors)?

Asymmetric is an early stage firm investing in vertical software and digital health, disproportionately in the New York and Boston markets. We take a very hands-on approach with our founders and portfolio companies, which is relatively uncommon in the industry at the earliest stages. We built the portfolio to 28 companies over the course of 2021 to 2024 in our core fund, where we typically lead or co-lead rounds. Asymmetric has a team of six who come largely from private equity and operating backgrounds, and we have folks based in New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Our first fund was $105 million, made up primarily of family offices of private equity firm founders and GPs in the northeast. 

I really relish the zero to one and one to ten building phases. While the team’s background would prepare us well to invest at the growth or later stages, I am not as emotionally intrigued by those stages. My passion truly lies with startups in the pre-revenue and pre-launch phase and that is where we’ve seen we can add significant value to both the founders and subsequently the limited partners who invest with us.

VCWire: What’s the firm’s Overall strategy? 

We’re looking to write checks between $500,000 and $5 million in pre-revenue B2B vertical software companies. For the most part these companies are either yet to form or have launched in the last twelve months. In some cases, we actually get the company started ourselves and hire the founding management team. We are focused on the US and we’ve seen a tremendous amount of inbound flow from our existing founders in New York, Boston, and the Bay Area. 

VCWire: Beyond capital, how do you support companies?

We stand side-by-side with companies and partner with them to grow. What is more standard in this segment of the industry is firms who write a check and then remotely join the board meeting once a quarter. That’s not how we operate. We are truly involved on a day-to-day basis in most cases: working with founders to develop product market fit, find their first group of customers, make decisions about their product roadmap, marketing and launch support, etc. Those are areas that in my personal experience support our founders immensely. Very few other firms engage in this level of effort on a weekly and monthly basis.

VCWire: What do you like to see in founders? And what don’t you like to see in them? Is there something which impresses you at a first glance?    

We like folks who dream big about how to fix dysfunctional industries with technology. We’re looking for a demonstrated track record of success. We have a network of folks who refer deals to us. These are people that we’ve worked with in a variety of contexts either professionally or academically and they can give us insight into how this person performed in their previous roles. We really like to identify folks who have previously found ways to turn ideas into revenue. They don’t need to have been founders previously; they need to have had ideas about how the market should function and convince the market that their orientation was correct. 

VCWire: Tell us a bit more about the portfolio. You can list some startups whose paths have made you particularly proud.            

  1. EvolutionIQ has been an early stand out. Their software provides AI claims guidance solutions for insurance carriers within the workers compensation and disability lines. The team established product market fit quickly then really went deep with their customer base and were able to articulate a vision that chopped through the normal enterprise selling process in a very impressive way. The team has just been massively thoughtful and focused on executing their strategy. 
  2. I’ve also been super impressed by Onescreen.ai, an AI-enabled marketplace for out-of-home advertising connecting advertisers with inventory suppliers. The company has had a clear vision from the start and the customer base has demonstrated that they’re shopping for what we’re selling. And as a result, we’ve been rewarded with really fast growth. It is really nice to be able to offer a 10x better buying experience for spend customers have already budgeted against.
  3. Elevva is an e-commerce company operating out of Latin America.  They have been thoughtful about customer pain points, remaining well-capitalized and cost-efficient in a market that’s turbulent, and have taken advantage of that to take market share. 
  4. Forta enables parent-driven personalized in-home autism therapy for children. They’re focused on a very rapidly growing treatment area and have created a fantastic product for parents of children who are affected. 
  5. There’s a lot more in stealth that we’re super excited about, but can’t talk about quite yet!

VCWire: Anything else about the portfolio as a whole that we should talk about?

Overall I’d observe that with our hands-on work alongside founders, in many instances we’ve gotten to product market fit and cash flow more quickly than we expected. I’ve been positively impressed by the cash efficiency of a lot of our companies. Typical industry standard from founding to first revenue is 1-2 years and for our portfolio it’s been closer to 1-2 quarters in a number of cases.

We’ve also worked with our founders to take additional capital in the early stages of their journey and that’s been an exciting part of the process for us, whereby we’ve been able to reinvest in a handful of our companies when we see indicators of early traction before the rest of the market.

VCWire: Which sector/s would you bet 2 cents on in the next five years?  

I continue to believe that vertical software reinforced with an AI and data advantage is going to deliver unbelievable value to customers. Many of our most successful investments sit right at the intersection of niche vertical software with AI as a source of filtering information and predictive analytics. The incredible morass that is domestic healthcare continues to show tremendous disruption opportunities coming through modern technology to improve patient care and finally bend the healthcare growth cost curve that is an increasingly urgent national priority.

VCWire: How is AI is involved in the type of deals that you do?

In general, we invest in companies less specifically about AI (such as LLMs or AI infrastructure tooling), with one notable exception in the AI safety space. Instead we invest at the intersection of an industrial disruption, being largely driven through AI. We continue to believe that’s a more attractive and less competitive place to deploy dollars than in the crowded hundred horse races of trying to invest is the next LLM. 

VCWire: What do you like to do for fun? 

I like to be outside every minute I am not at work.That can be hiking, running, skiing, fishing, or playing golf. I have a huge interest in early education in the US. I believe the way to a free and fair society is everyone having access to a high quality public education from a young age. 

VCWire

22/02/2024