Ed Wilson -- Impulsum Ventures

Ed Wilson — Impulsum Ventures

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

One of everyone’s favorites, Ed Wilson, joins to talk to about Impulsum Ventures, how they’ve built a venture firm alongside a 30-person dev shop and his sunny approach to life.

Today I am with Ed Wilson. Ed is the co-founder of Impulsum Ventures, he is also a good friend, a good surfer, a great skateboarder, an okay backgammon player and much more. Impulsum helps companies build the next generation of iconic household names through investing out of its fund and also separately via its 30-person development studio. 

Prior to Impulsum Ed was at Anthos for many years. Ed, we could start many places, but I was going to start just at the beginning, like where did you grow up? What was your family like?

Sure. So I grew up in Palo Alto when Silicon Valley was still transitioning from making Silicon chips into technology. Our neighbors did really cool things like make the game boy and somebody else work on the mouse. And so there was all this kind of fun folklore around. Steve jobs was somebody who cut in line at the local bakery and everybody was really annoyed at versus like, you know, this great person.

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Consistently, He did that or just once?

so the rumor is, and again, I’m just kind of hearing this, that people would go to a, it was called prolific oven and they would go there in the morning and there’d be this line. And he would pull up in his Porsche and walk in. Grab something and go, and everybody would just kind of go, oh, that’s Steve.

And that’s what he does. , I don’t know if anybody was too upset with it, but more just kind of, I think everybody also wanting to be able to grab and go and then hop on their porch.

Well, your parents in tech,

My dad actually was, he got pinged by a grad school buddy of his that asked if he wanted to be the CFO of a semiconductor manufacturing plant, which he asked them like gray, like what’s a semiconductor and got into this thing. And, and that kind of snowballed into this career that he had starting and founding companies, and then afterwards investing in them and kind of being a board member and that sort of thing.

So what’s interesting is that I had one parent who was really in this world of tech. I had another one that was in the world of architecture. My mom was one of the first women to graduate from the university of Washington with an architecture degree. There was a period where they did not actually teach the women.

 Back then it was a men’s career And when I got out of. Undergrad at Occidental. I wanted to be an architect. and it was quickly into my first year of architecture that I realized that the real estate developer, the person with the money actually got to make the decisions.

And so I ended up somehow figuring out how to get on the, that side of things by teaming up with a group of gentlemen who had capital but they didn’t necessarily want to do all the work. And I wanted to do the work and I had no capital. So it was a good combination.

I ended up going to Columbia university where I got out in 2009 with a master’s in real estate development and nobody needed a building built. I ended up living with my parents um, which was this really crazy time where, you know, you’re sitting there saying, Hey, I did everything right. And I went to this really great school and I should be making six figures And I started kind of getting interested in venture because, you know, I was officing out of my dad’s office that was there and every now and then he would ask if I could help model something for him, or if I could help with due diligence.

And I started seeing all these cool tech companies and I was like, man, dad, this is really cool. How on earth do you become a venture capitalist? And he’s like, I have no clue. I’m like, I think that, you know, this is one of those weird things where you either have a lot of money and so you gotta to write your own checks.

And, and I didn’t have a lot of money. I was living with them. You can either build a great company and then, people really think that you’re a value add and that’s, another path to do that. And that was actually what I was thinking about doing. And while that was happening, I ended up going to the bay area to try and help out a buddy of mine who was looking to buy some. And I ended up staying the weekend and going to a wine tasting.

And that is when I met one of the partners at anthesis and he and I got along really well. And I think that one of the things that kind of intrigued them about my background, it was that I had this, kind of grasp , of finance and that sort of thing.

But I grew up skateboarding and I was the sponsored skateboarder who was really new music. and a lot of great businesses come out of those subcultures. So it ended up being this thing where it was this very differentiated point of view and a very differentiated access point to people and ideas.

And that ended up being this super. And it’s funny cause you look back at your life and you see how all the dots connect and I’m pretty sure every single job I ever got had something to do with skateboarding And gosh, I spent about nine years at anthesis and then started my own fund with Adam, which is impulsive and he’s my partner.

And that’s where we are today.

And how much do you think the anthros team really cared about the subcultures or they just met you and liked you? Yeah. I think there’s always that bond that you want to work with those types of people. But think there really was an element of trying to build something different. And when you think about our world of venture, like,, your firm is basically just the people that you have there.

Like I remember this older venture capitalist one time told me he’s like, don’t discount how important it is for people just to like you,

Yeah.

 So before I get into impulse and just Tell me a little bit more about why skateboarding is so important to you.

So, this is actually really fun. So there’s this thing in skateboarding called an all.

And essentially it’s when you jump with the board

and before kind of seeing people being able to do this, I remember looking at this ledge one time that you could ride and jump off. And I was standing at the friend and I had this again. I said, you know, if I put a little bit of weight on the back of the skateboard and I wrote off this thing. , I think I could land this.

Like, I think this is a thing that you can do and. I remember him kind of being like, yeah, I think that can happen. and I went and I did this thing and it worked, and it was this revelation moment of having this idea and then putting it into physical action.

And also like having this thing, which felt like the unknown that then all of a sudden became possible. And that kind of feeling Of challenging yourself mentally and physically to get over fears and to fall and to be able to get back up, that kind of always drove me.

And it’s something that I think has translated to a lot of the work that we have here. You know, in skateboarding, they talk about the fact that there’s this constant failure that you have until you actually land it and succeeded. And that failure along the way can be mentally taxing, but it’s also physically taxing and there are no rules to it.

So you have to kind of figure this out yourself, at the end of the day, there’s a lot of it just like you and this piece of wood that, you want to get to do this certain thing and go, so I got pretty good at it and I got sponsored when I was 13 by a local skateboard store.

And all of a sudden, I remember walking out of there with a free skateboard and a t-shirt and all that stuff. And just as a kid, you’re like, oh, this is everything. Like, I don’t like need to work or anything like that. I got it already here. And that kind of kept just snowballing and I’ve never taken it seriously in the sense that I thought it was going to be a career. But I always just appreciated the experience of it, the friends that I’ve made along the way.

Do you ever find that, like.

that same mentality of like, , the mentality you get in when you’re skateboarding you’ll apply it in business settings.

Yes, a hundred percent. Like, if you put in the hours and you just kind of grind away at it, you will raise your fund. You will find those companies, you will help them be successful.

So that’s a big part that I think actually just came from skateboarding. I think a lot of people get that from sports experiences or just those things that have nothing to do with, , work itself. But build that kind of mental attitude

Okay. Let’s talk about work. is there anything that you say about EMFs? Like, do you guys talk about any of the investments that you’ve made?

now, that’s there, this is the talk about style. I just don’t talk about it.

 So you had those for many years. Tell me about impulse them and what’s the brand of impulse.

So the brand of impulse um, is we are seed investors who have operational expertise and because we also run a development studio, we can help fill in the gaps along the way. As a company is growing and scaling its own internal.

that makes total sense. And I’m going to ask questions. I thought you were going to say something about like the brand has some subculture element to it.

Well, it’s really funny. I think it’s just kind of Adam being an avid surfer and myself being a skateboarder. I think that kind of bleeds into what we like and see, I feel like our gear and our logo and all that kind of stuff. Like it can get mixed up as a surf brand or a skate brand.

Of course, and I would expect nothing less. Um, and tell me a little bit more about the setup with impulse them and the separate studio that you’re also running.

Sure. So I guess like, well, we are called impulsive ventures,

 And in Folsom studio is really a, group of incredible engineers, designers, developers product specialists. And we really love focusing in hard, complex problems, whether that’s healthcare or it’s FinTech. Those are kind of our bread and butter at this point.

And we love, just the fact that when we focus on investing in a company, there is no. Obligation or, you know, any thought that they need to use the studio in any way. It is just there to support them And we love the knowledge that we gain from building. So we’re up to date on the latest technologies.

And we love the fact that in terms of, if a company comes to us in our portfolio that says, Hey, we would love to get your insights on our UI UX. It’s not just Adam, myself doing. And we say, okay, great. Let’s circle up our designers. Let’s circle up some of our product people. We’re going to do a tear down of what you have right now.

And then come back with a whole presentation on how we think you can improve.

 But it’s not an in-house thing that, I mean, you’re not going to say anything negative about studios, but you know, some studio models that I’ve seen end up needing to cover a huge amount of costs. If a studio had 30 developers in house, it would be untenable

Right.

this is more resource, a separate resource.

exactly, exactly. And we actually leave it as, , it’s something that if we’re just kind of, you’re getting advice or something like that, like easy that’s just done. If you actually came to us and said, Hey, we want you to, build this thing for us. We would then say, okay, treat us like you would any other development studio that you were looking to hire to do that?

We’re gonna scope this out. We’re gonna set a price for it. And if it feels right. That is the right move for you, then. Fantastic do it. And if not, don’t Adam and I as a policy, like we don’t make any money off of the companies in our portfolio if that happens. So a lot of the times we are the most cost-effective measure.

And then because we have an equity stake, we are more incentivized to do this

And as far as investment areas, I think you said health tech, FinTech. What are you looking at?

Yeah. Health tech, FinTech. And then we say consumer, which I feel like covers a lot, but , we’ve kind of had investing success in, in we’ve built stuff in both those spaces.

And in health tech and FinTech, is it more on the consumer side? Like more wellness or more like selling the hospital systems.

You know, it’s a little bit of both actually. And I would say that even now, we’re in a point where, when you’re selling like some B2B product, it should feel like a, B to C.

Hm,

you know, I think about our, company care connection that we invested in when you, , finish a certain amount of tasks for the day, confetti comes down, like, is that necessary?

No, but like, is that really fun? Because the fact of the matter is like, there is a person on the other end who has a day and emotion. And if you can give them a joyous experience, like that’s great.

We all expect confetti, me more about care connection and why, what do you do to get the confetti.

Oh my gosh. So care connection networks is software in the remote patient monitoring space.

And because of changes in our healthcare system the doctors can um, bill Medicare. And they can bill insurance. And this is now a revenue driving source for doctors So when you think about it, there are doctors now who they’re thinking about their practice. It’s not about how many patients they can see during a day, but how many people can they monitor?

Yeah. I mean a huge trend of just like care, not being delivered in hospitals and moving into clinics and moving into homes.

Exactly. And I’m always kind of blown away that every now and then I’ll just get a slack from one of the founders.

No, they have check this out. We saved the life and you’ll see this report that comes back and you just like, oh my gosh, this is amazing.

Wow. What a great accomplishment.

It’s really cool. It’s a really, really cool. So generally you’ve been a VC for awhile. Like how do you think about creating the network? Sourcing companies, finding companies and winning deals.

Yeah. So the network side of things, I’m still, maybe I’m a little bit old school in this tack, but it’s kind of on that. Like one-to-one just build relationships with people and really figure out, you know, are there ways that we can be helpful to each other? And so a lot of what I do, and I think about my day, it’s like, how do I create value for those people around me? We tend to win deals on the fact that, because we’re I, you know, we’re odd, we’re weirdos. Like we, we have this development studio. When friends of mine, when other venture capitalists are looking, and when founders are sitting there saying, who is beneficial for us to be on this cap table, we’re like a pretty easy group to slot in.

And also because now, you know, with our fund size, we’re usually writing checks around half a million or so.

Tell me more about that? Like, what do you see as how do you see yourself being good partner?

So I think the fact that if a founder wants to talk product I don’t think there’s anybody better than my partner, Adam, on product. I think he’s like a weird savant in that way. And we have other people on our team as well who are just fantastic at it. You know, we want people to make mistakes that we haven’t made before, And then I would say the big part that, , myself brings into this, as well as like that kind of almost like traditional venture capital network, when you’re raising your series a like we have our list of, you know, all every venture capitalist that we can sit there that we have a texting relationship with and almost just kind of filtering it down to make that process easier. What do you think makes a good board member?

man. I am probably gonna say something that might feel like controversial I don’t think that anything really. Important happens in a board meeting.

like so we just had a board meeting with one of our companies the other day and because of how close we are with them. When we got to that board meeting, I already knew everything that we were going to talk about.

And I think that board meetings are really good to kind of set milestones to say, like, this is what we wanted to do by this next time. Did we achieve it?

And then what are the asks that are really important to us right now?

 Don’t discount milestones though, because as the founders sitting in the founder’s seat, I knew I had to deliver something, the board meeting was a bit of a get the whole team to rally around something.

Yes. , totally. And I think we all need that sense of accountability. I think that I’m much more of a we can have a conversation and we can do it in a moments that aren’t necessarily formalized in like a zoom meeting. I talked to one of our founders this Sunday and I was driving around doing some errands and he was doing something else as well.

And we had this really great productive conversation. It’s almost kind of like if you said. let’s build a friendship and like,, so like at 3:30 today, we’re going to talk but I have to cut it off at 4:00 4:00 because I have this other thing, but like, it’ll be productive.

Like, we’ll make it a really productive, like, I’ll bring you a slide deck beforehand.

It just doesn’t happen like that. here’s. What I love about our stage of investing is that it’s not all bait at this point. And when you do that, higher-level investing where they’re doing the series B or series C and that, and so forth.

A lot of that ends up being like, well, we’re going to look at the data and the data is going to tell us like what this thing is. But at our phase really is a lot about the people

What about if I changed the question and said not what makes a good board member, but just what sort of investor are you like? see you less as a tough love and more of a just love, but I could be wrong.

No, you’re right. , and that’s, the approach that I have. I always try to be a very supportive person in their lives as they’re doing this and figuring out how to make decisions.

 What have you don’t agree with their decisions? What if they’re making bad decisions?

I would say this so far the decisions that our founders have made, I’ve never felt were going to be catastrophic.

Mm, so catastrophic. is that.

Yeah, well, like, I mean, I think there’s a level of. You have a portfolio of X amount of companies, you spend Y amount thinking about them on a daily basis that founder just spends a hundred percent of their time thinking about what the right decisions are.

I think what we’ve seen, you know, you see in your career, something that can feel like it’s catastrophic.

Really isn’t that big of a deal and it can even lead to this incredible opportunity, but that only happens if you’re able to keep a calm head So I think being able to just be that, supportive voice and be able to listen and get them to think through problems like, , what are we dealing with here?

What’s the opportunity? What is the reality of this?

And then also like the celebrations,

Yeah. I actually felt like things felt catastrophic to me sometimes. Like I had to do a round of layoffs my investors were far more non-polarized because they seen lots of portfolio companies that had to do something like that.

Yeah. And that’s just, it’s life it’s business. It’s not always up into the right, but I think kind of like harping back to the skateboarding thing. Like you fall, you get back up, you keep going, you learn.

. Yeah. else on impulsive? Like some of the half-a-million dollar checks, healthcare, FinTech, consumer, you be leaning in, on building brands? Do you have thoughts on, you know, how the brands of tomorrow are going to look like?

So I think you and I actually talked about this earlier. I’m somebody who loves to listen to people that I think know more about a space than I do and learn from them. So I do not take a thesis driven approach I love being surprised by the incredible opportunity that is out there that other people have not seen, Yeah. I’m with you on that.

Yeah. when Adam and I first started thinking about doing this, because the fact that we have all these people there is an obvious step we could have taken to say, oh, let’s do a venture studio and we’re going to make all these companies and that sort of thing.

And both of us kind of joked around the idea that we thought, like, we don’t have any like really great ideas, Tell me a tiny bit about Adam? Like what personality wise? Who are you? Who’s he, I think if he was this smiley friendly guy, but yeah.

I think Adam’s a little bit the same. So I’ve known Adam since undergrad. He and I actually lived together in this off-campus house and he was the goofy surfer and I was the goofy skateboarder.

And then I didn’t see Adam for close to 15 years, and he’s built all these incredible companies But when Adam and I reconnected, I would say there was handful of things that just really drew me towards partnering with him. One we have very opposite skillsets. I am not detail oriented. He is very detail oriented. Adam has this incredible technical background. He’s been an entrepreneur and operator and executive his entire career.

I’ve been in venture capital.

Hmm. I like that. Having a relationship. That’s not a work-based relationship.

Yeah. And it’s, – really important. I think that’s probably why a lot of partnerships end up falling apart is because there gets to be a lack of trust or a lack of communication.

But we have that from just knowing each other from a past, and then getting to know each other again, when we were reconnected and we spent a lot of time just surfing and having our families hanging out,

And I knew that I was getting into this with somebody who’s going to be in it for the long haul with me.

 I hope he like sheds a tear or something like that would be like, here’s this.

Yeah, so sleep. And how have you thought about your own career? Man, one thing when I think back, like, always think about the fact that you just want to do something that you really enjoy,

and I think it’s good to do something that you enjoy, but, you know, also has the opportunity to support the life that you want.

Right.

 It’s funny. Somebody asked me the other day. It was a buddy of mine. He called me in the morning he basically was listening to some podcast and said, you know, in your ecosystem, who has it the best is it? The founder is at the early stages. Late stage. People was at the investment banker, all this stuff.

And I kinda said to him, I was like, I don’t think anybody has it good. I think it’s all hard. It’s just like what you enjoy doing. And like what actually gets you excited and those little moments throughout the day where you meet a founder and you’re really excited and all that kind of stuff, but like , there’s no silver bullet

But it looks like easier to be a VC at least.

Oh, yeah. Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah. , I remember when uh, Derek Norton was telling me, you know, cause he’s been in investment banking and then he’s done his thing. He’s like always be on the buy side and he’s like, never like have to reselling a buy-side is like, where do you want to be? Right. Oh, this is another piece of advice I would say. Actually this was funny too. I was talking with my sister the other day, my older sister about how funny it is that like we’re older now.

It’s not funny. I don’t like it actually.

Yeah, but it’s this, it’s this interesting thing where it’s like, well, you have advice to give because you’ve lived

right.

and that’s it. And I always, like, one of my favorite Scouts was with Mike Myers and it was a middle-aged guy and he’s this guy had flying into the screen and this, spandex suit with this beer belly on him.

And it would be this young couple who just bought their first house and they don’t really understand how to refinance. And you would explain to them that whole thing. And they would be like, that’s amazing. Like, how do you know all this? And he’s like, oh, middle-aged guy. I’m like, you just know that stuff from living because you’ve gone through it.

And so what I see a lot of the times with the companies that we invest in this is sometimes their first company that they’re doing, you know? And so like, you get to pass on that knowledge of just what you’ve learned over time

Yeah, no, you reminded me what I was asking. Marc Seuster about like creating a blog or a network or presence. And he’s like, well, look, sometimes people ask me, how do I create like a blog that people want to read? And he’s like, but then I asked them, do you like writing? And they’re like, not really. And he’s like, well, you gotta go with the things you really enjoy doing.

. Totally like, yeah, you haven’t this podcast and stuff. Um, Oh, I remember what I was also saying too. So I was, I was talking to somebody earlier younger person who is asking me on career advice and he was talking about these different areas and things. And I said to him, you know, what you do next is not what you’re going to do for the rest of your life.

So don’t think about it as it’s like, who is stuck in this paralysis,

Right.

you know, and I was just like, just go with the thing that you think you’re going to learn the most from that you’re going to like that again, like will lead you in a direction that you want to do to support the life that you want to have.

And. Have fun and don’t worry about it too much.

Yeah, I always tell people you’re not going to be a hundred percent sure you’re doing the right thing as you like more than 50% sure. It’s the right next move. That’s

Yeah,

get to a hundred percent

 Totally. And it’s fun to make decisions and it’s fun to do things, Okay, sticking on enjoying. So, and I feel like you always show up with a smile. Do you do that consciously? Is that just the way you were born? Like, is it because you, you know, some life experience?

 I don’t know. Look, I feel very lucky and very fortunate to be in the place that I am. And I have this, , amazing wife. I have this amazing group of friends. I have this venture firm that I get to start with my partner, Adam, who I really like I have time to go skateboarding. I’m gonna go surfing.

Yeah,

I haven’t no complaints, you know, and I’m not saying that like, I don’t have bad days and I’m not saying that I don’t get bombed. And there are times that I’m not smiling, but you also have to like, admit the fact if you see me and I’m smiling, part of that is because I’m seeing you, like, I like seeing you, like, you know, like we have like a really fun thing.

So like when we get together, There’s cool things that haven’t, and that applies to a lot of people. They’re

How do you avoid being overworked?

Oh man. So I try to delegate as much as I can. The things that I’m really bad at

Yeah.

to um, really great group of associates and other people that I work with. I think about what really actually matters at the end of the day and box out time for that. And as much as you can keep to a schedule where you feel like I’m going to get everything done, that you need to get done and need to get done as the important person, you don’t get everything done that you want to get done. You get done everything that you need to get done. And this is a marathon that we’re running.

So you’re not gonna, find me working at two. Cause that’s not sustainable.

Yeah. It’s like knowing what piece you run,

Yeah.

I’m always really impressed. We have founders who are on the east coast and I might write them a slack at nine o’clock and I realize it’s 12 o’clock there

and they keep up with that pace. But like that’s, how they’re running right now.

Right, but you kinda need to know , where you are in your life, what piece you can do.

well, and , we’re going to have to wrap up, , congratulations on where you are in life.

Congratulations on building impulsive and thanks for coming on the podcast.

Thank you so much. And I feel like I need to just do some like impromptu stop buys at the office because we’re so close. . And I also need to try on like some of your other eighties wetsuits, cause like the last one that I wore, it was like pretty epic.

That’s perfect. by that. It’s going to be our photo shoot is you and my neon eighties. Wetsuits

then the deer.