Venture

Proust Goes Tech With Sarah Kunst, Managing Director At Cleo Capital

Rare for many, Sarah Kunst actually learned something useful in middle school.

From an improv class, Kunst learned how to not say no to tricky, ambiguous situations, and instead say “yes, and.”

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The mantra has helped her stay positive and find great friends, plus, it’s the undertone that is between the lines on her LinkedIn. Kunst has worked as an angel investor, advised startups, started a company herself, and and most recently launched her own venture capital fund for scouts, Cleo Capital.

In this Proust Goes Tech, I chatted with Kunst before she ran to a lunch date in New York and we got into how software is eating the world, if empathy is a weakness or a strength, and what happens when you scroll down in an email chain.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What would you otherwise be doing right now?

Since software is eating the world, I don’t know what I’d do that isn’t tech-related. But if I had to pick something outside of tech, hopefully it’s because I’ve had a fantastic exit and can live a beautiful life on .a beach. I would write grants and invest in centers and foundations supporting people who are often overlooked by the tech industry.

Your main fault?

I am not the world’s most patient person, which is probably also one of my biggest strengths. The question is how you calibrate patience, because sometimes being impatient is a really good thing.

If you patiently wait for the world to change then almost nothing in our world would exist. Skyscrapers weren’t going to just one day organically build themselves and Google wasn’t one day going to organically come out of the earth.

Your idea of misery?

Feeling stuck, whether that is literal or metaphorical. I tend to like momentum, but momentum for momentum’s sake is not always good.

Think of when you’re sitting on a runway in a plane and they say we’re stuck here for another hour, we can’t go back to the fate, and you can’t get off or out of your seat. We’re not moving, and for me that is immediate, visceral frustration.

What do you appreciate the most in your friends?

I appreciate people with a lot of enthusiasm. There’s this saying in improv comedy, when you say “yes, and” and that response moves you forward. I think not saying no is a good quality to have.

Your chief characteristic?

Energy. When an email comes across and you scroll down and you see them do the introduction of you. In that sentence, people often put words associated with energy about me: like she’s a force, she’s super fun. And candidly, when I hear not positive things about myself, they’re usually also words that might have roots in energy as well.

What skills do you wish you possessed?

I wish I could sing. Singing is one of those things where there is no proxy for it. There really is a baseline ability that you just have or do not have.

Your most impactful book?

Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a book about attachment styles and how it impacts your romantic relationships, but once you read it, it makes all things so clear.

What defines success?

Success is liking what you do. And that sounds really broad, but I know a lot of people who have a ton of money but they’re totally miserable.

When is confidence lost?

Confidence isn’t a reflection of reality, it’s a reflection of feelings about yourself on a given topic. So it runs the gamut.

There’s a meme that you’ll see on the T shirts and tote bags and stuff that says “have the confidence of a mediocre white dude.” And mediocre white dudes with maybe inflated senses of confidence don’t have that because they’re white dudes or mediocre, they have that because if you in America are white and a man, people believe in you more right systematically. And so therefore, it becomes easier to believe in yourself more.

Which buzzword is exhausted?

I think AI right now kind of reminds me of big data a few years ago, where it is something that is just going to be a part of everything .While there is a true definition, and there are really interesting companies in the space, a lot of times when you see it, it’s just kind of a lazy. And people think that a company is more technological than it actually is.

What virtues do others have that you don’t?

Equanimity. I respond to things with very big feelings, and some people don’t. And I can’t imagine what it’s like to be zen, and not feel strong emotions.

What impact do you want to leave behind?

I think of teen pregnancy the way that we used to think of like polio: something that can be functionally eradicated. And I personally feel, and maybe this is controversial but I don’t think it is, that no teenager needs to have a child. I think that it’s a fascinating, social problem  that we have a solution for and don’t leverage it as much as we could, particularly in the US. leverage nearly as much as we could, particularly in the US out of a weird sense of kind of morality.

What’s the biggest problem tech is failing to solve?

There are companies focused on functionally everything under the sun. That being sad, I think that the biggest blindspot is not looking globally enough. What are areas that are underinvested in?

How many tech billionaires are currently trying to send rockets into outer space into the moon? I don’t think that’s bad, right, but if you look at the net investment that has tapped into that, versus the net investment tapped into better access to birth control, you would see the areas we over-invest in.

Illustration Credit: Li Anne Dias

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