Eric Bahn, Elizabeth Yin and Shiyan Koh, are co-founders and general partners at Hustle Fund. Launched in 2017, Hustle Fund looks for entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas and can hustle, which Bahn further describes as, “It’s more about how you build and how fast you learn.”
Name: Hustle Fund
Location: San Carlos, California
Size: Hustle Fund finished raising a $46 million fund, their third fund, in 2023.
Minimum investment size: $50,000
Typical investment size for companies from the fund: $50,000 to $750,000
What it is: Hustle Fund makes angel investments in startups in North America, Southeast Asia, as well as some selective investments in Africa and Latin America.
What kinds of companies does it invest in? Hustle Fund invests mainly in software. The majority of its portfolio companies are in B2B, Web3, fintech, and consumer digital health.
Leadership: Elizabeth Yin, Shiyan Koh and Eric Bahn, are co-founders and general partners.
Track record of leadership: Yin previously led the 500 Startups accelerator, was a former Googler and sold an ad tech company in 2014. Bahn was a venture partner at 500 Startups, a former product manager at Instagram and sold an education startup in 2012. Koh was head of business operations and corporate development at NerdWallet (hired as the 10th employee and the company went public in 2021) and is a former investor at Institutional Venture Partners and at Bridgewater Associates.
Hustle Fund’s goal is to find teams that are able to demonstrate “great execution meets high velocity,” said Bahn, they strongly believe that “great hustlers look like anyone and come from anywhere.”
Bahn added that traditional venture capital firms tend to fund startup founders who are white or Asian men with Stanford or MIT computer science degrees and who have often worked at big Silicon Valley tech companies. The VC firms that have typically invested into teams that felt “safe,” turn out to be “typically a very narrow and very privileged set of men,” Bahn said.
Hustle Fund’s focus is on pre-seed stage investing. “When you’re investing so early into a team, there is no data,” Bahn said, “or other indicators that you might find at the later stages.” According to Bahn, Hustle Fund is one of a few pre-seed funds that existed in the U.S. six years ago. “The pre-seed stage was always the most exciting for us,” he said, “we saw a huge opportunity to fill a gap in early funding through our fund’s model.”
Bahn noted that pre-seed investing can be similar to recruiting a job candidate. They might appear nearly perfect on paper and nail their interview, but turn out to be “utterly disappointing when it came to actually working with them side by side.”
Since pre-seed investing is so early and done without data, pitching is “basically a job interview for a founder,” Bahn said. “It’s crazy to us to make a decision to invest $500,000 or $1 million at this stage without having a chance to work with the team on something.”
Hustle Fund’s founders move quickly; founders typically receive a response within 24 to 48 hours after pitching. If Hustle Fund decides to fund a startup, they’ll start by writing a $50,000 check. “We are very comfortable setting terms and being the first check into your company,” said Bahn, “but, because of our small check size, we won’t be putting in the bulk of money in your round.” Last month they reviewed over 1,000 deals, according to Bahn. “We typically invest into about seven companies within one to two meetings,” he said.
After the initial $50,000 investment, Hustle Fund asks a founder to participate in Redwood School, its proprietary program to teach customer acquisition and sales, which can lead to another round of investment. “When we are working with a team on a growth project via Redwood School, we are really trying to understand the team’s hustle and market and we’re also trying to demonstrate how we add value as VC partners to them,” he said.
Hustle Fund raised $11.5 million for Fund I, $33.6 million for Fund II and $46 million for Fund III.
Each year Hustle Fund invests in 80 to 100 companies, including startups such as San Francisco-based Rupa Health, which works on lab infrastructure for root cause medicine, Forage, a San Francisco-based third-party payment processor for EBT, previously called food stamps, which allows people to use their EBT credit to buy groceries online. They have also invested in Yummy, an app that is building the WeChat of Latin America providing rideshares, groceries, payments and other services for its users.
Hustle Fund does not have any mandate to invest any percent of its fund into women or underrepresented populations. However, Bahn said, “Our funds end up investing in a highly diverse set of founders because it turns out that great hustlers look like anyone and come from anywhere.” He added, “We are reminded every day that a great hustler doesn’t come from a specific school or look like a specific phenotype.”
The fund does not invest in capital intensive companies requiring physical products such as e-commerce, hardware and ad-revenue based models. The fund also does not make investments into art/film projects, pharmaceutical or medical device companies, solar panels, land, restaurants or any physical retail or traditional brick and mortar small businesses.
This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.