Hello! Here's a short profile I recently wrote on two of the most impressive people I have ever met - Mo and Ammar Amdani, co-founders of Adapt Ventures.
Mo and Ammar were kind enough to dial into Zoom hours before boarding a flight to Guatemala to tell me about their ethos as a fund, their journey into venture capital, their relationship as brothers and Ammar's early foray into the import/export business.
Nov 1, 2021
The big gap in venture
In an era that sees venture capitalists flock to Twitter to dispense wisdom via threads, newsletters, podcasts, and any other medium that lets them to foist their insights on the masses, Mo and Ammar Amdani - brothers and co-founders of Adapt Ventures - are refreshingly lowkey.
Their approach to venture is refined. It’s designed not to compete with, but to complement, that of Sequoia’s and a16z’s of the world. As an early stage startup, having the backing of a Silicon Valley incumbent is like being handed the key to a shiny new kingdom where the money is easier to raise, the employees are easier to hire and the customers are easier to sell to. But it can leave “a gap in your needs as a nascent founder,” says Mo. “If an investor leads your seed round, you only want to put your best foot forward. It restricts you from sharing the things you’re vulnerable about and, usually, those are the things you actually need to spend more time and attention on.” Mo and Ammar built Adapt Ventures to bridge this chasm.
The brothers, 25 and 23, describe Adapt Ventures as a “micro VC;” a fund that cuts smaller cheques but gives founders the space to be transparent about the fissures and threats happening beneath the surface. Part of Adapt Venture’s appeal lies in Mo and Ammar’s authenticity. Instead of conforming to the meme of a Patagonia vest-wearing, humble-bragging, Twitter-scrolling VC that bookends each meeting with the strapline how can I be helpful, Mo and Ammar are actually helpful. Before they made their first investment in a Latin American fintech in 2020, they spent months supporting founders across the globe, scoping out business development opportunities and channel partnerships without the expectation of any fiscal reward. Playing a positive sum game yielded results. “Before we knew it, our reputation started to precede us and we began getting an influx of warm introductions to other founders,” says Ammar.
As a result, the brothers have hustled their way into a cluster of exciting deals over the past year - like Matter, a Y Combinator-backed social reading app, and PartyRound, a startup that recently went viral for paying people $50,000 to quit their jobs and build a company.
Sweets and reputations
Despite their success, Mo and Ammar’s service-centric ethos remains intact. The stories they tell me of founders calling them at 3am when there’s an issue to iron out or a problem to vent is reinforced by the flurry of testimonials on Adapt’s website, where words like “thoughtful”, “friendly” and “humble” are used to describe them by founders across their portfolio. This act of building a bank of goodwill trips back to Mo and Ammar’s childhood. The brothers grew up in Dubai against the backdrop of a family business and all the entrepreneurial grit that comes with it. Whilst their peers raced towards good grades and traditional careers, Mo and Ammar tell me they were exposed to an alternative reality: one where it was possible to follow your curiosities.
“Our dad and uncle were always involved in various projects, so we felt that was normal,” says Mo. What felt less normal was formalised education. “We were like lunar eclipses,” he laughs. “When we showed up to class, it was a rare sighting. We preferred to learn about the things that interested us instead.” This interest was channeled into a proliferation of side projects that followed the duo into adulthood: from Ammar selling imported sweets in the elementary school bathrooms, to Mo selling tea out of his dorm room, to both brothers co-founding an e-commerce brand in university. “We built a reputation for each of these things,” says Mo.
As a byproduct of these entrepreneurial spurts, Mo and Ammar bring much more than cash and a shoulder to lean on when investing in founders. They bring an understanding that etches deeper than your average investor - one based on the shared experience of just how difficult it is to make something out of nothing.
The art of identifying who to trust
At a time where investors are lining up to throw more money at founders than ever before, Mo and Ammar have thought deeply about the art of identifying who to trust. When sifting through the pitch decks sent to them by friends, founders and co-investors, the brothers tell me they search for founders who are dedicated to solving problems rather than starting companies. “Some of the best founders are probably not the most experienced people, but they make up for it by being intellectually curious. They’re willing to go out and absorb as much as they can, and are open to making better decisions based on new information.” When this curiosity is paired with humility, domain expertise, and a great founding team, Adapt Ventures moves quickly. Mo and Ammar have gone from initial calls to wired investments in as little as 24 hours. Throughout our call, Mo and Ammar make working with a sibling look easy; they’re in sync, vollying answers back and forth without any of the awkward pauses that usually perforate Zoom conversations. This is the result of a year of trial and error.
“There will always be egos involved when you’re working with family. We’ve had to work on not taking things personally or sweeping conversations under the rug,” says Mo. “Venture capital is inherently individualistic and we’re trying to change that. It's not about I did this or he did this. It was only when we started operating through the lens of a team that we really started to see results.”
Just like their approach to venture capital, the brothers complement each other. Mo is outspoken, Ammer is reserved; Mo is interested in fintech, Ammar is interested in consumer. I ask whether one day they want to supercharge their growth and morph Adapt Ventures into an a16z-type gargantuan that swoops in to lead rounds. For now, Mo and Ammar tell me they’re happily nestled into their niche: a boutique VC supporting interesting people with interesting ideas not just in the US, but outside the fiefdom of Silicon Valley too - in the UK, Latin America, India and Indonesia.
Thanks to Mo and Ammar for chatting with me.
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