Proust Goes Tech With Aziz Gilani, A Partner At Mercury Fund

Aziz Gilani is a partner at Mercury Fund, an early-stage, Houston-based VC that invests in startups originating from the middle of America (Southwest, Midwest, and Rocky Mountains regions). Aziz focuses on emerging technologies in the enterprise software space. In fact, he has tried almost all sides of enterprise software except for sales.

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“I’ve spent my whole life in this industry. I really don’t know how to do anything else.” Aziz told Crunchbase News. “I’m really kind of useless to the rest of society.”

During Hurricane Harvey, Mercury Fund co-founded a group called “Entrepreneurs for Houston,” and immediately contributed to Mayor Turner’s relief fund. Aziz and other partners reached out to their portfolio companies and friends, who were able to get a lot of tech solutions off the ground.

Aziz called us from Station Houston, a coworking space in the city, where he just did open office hours for anyone who would sign up for them. The mentorship is consistent with his overall mission of ensuring people’s equal and regular access to resources.

The Proust questions got Aziz to share his jokes, stories, and all the rabbit holes that he went down.

What would you otherwise be doing right now?

I’ve worked in enterprise software for almost a decade prior to becoming a VC investing in it. My guess is that I would be working with enterprise software some other way. Either that, or I would just be an analyst somewhere going on and on about my opinions about enterprise software.

Your main fault?

Not staying focused on things. I have to fight against the inclination that I naturally have to let the thing that is running well to continue run itself. I have to force myself to push things that are running well to run even faster. An analogy is that when you are road biking, you need to put all your effort in biking downhill, the exact moment when you feel like everything is working the best.

The quality you most desire in a tweet?

I like tweets that challenge what I believe but they have provided data to go with the argument.

Your idea of misery?

Intellectual stagnation. Being in a room full of people that just agree with absolutely everything. Living in a world in which I know that I’m not an expert and I get my own opinion and it doesn’t get pushed back on. That is a miserable experience It means that the person I’m engaging with in that conversation probably doesn’t understand it either.

What do you appreciate the most in your friends?

Extreme obsession with certain things. I will have friends come over to my house, and we will just watch episodes of a TV series back to back-to-back together. I would have friends that would just read series of books together so that we can go way down the rabbit hole. I love the idea that me and my friends are going down a journey together where we’re trying to figure something out.

Your chief characteristic

Curiosity. I’d prefer to be an expert at something over being a generalist. I became obsessed with the name of the street I live on, which is called Buffalo Speedway. First of all, there are no buffalos in Houston. Second of all, it’s like a 30 mile per hour street. I was looking at maps of Houston from the 1920s. I actually found two Houston Chronicle articles that gave contradictory answers. Eventually, I figured out where the street name came from after investing eight to ten hours.

Your most impactful book?

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. The book actually got recalled by publishers because most of the work that went into it was plagiarized. But I still love the book. It has influenced me so much in terms of the way I try to train myself to think and make decisions.

What defines success?

If you are asking about my investments, clearly liquidity for the founders and myself. Another goal is learning something in the process that can be applied to the rest of the portfolio and make it better. For myself personally, am I excited when I wake up in the morning?

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

Tech suffers from the same problems that the rest of society suffers from. We have so much more that we can improve on, whether it is gender diversity, racial diversity, geographic diversity, or income diversity. I almost feel like I’m doing the question a disservice by saying what the biggest problem is.

Editorial note: Answers edited for brevity and clarity.

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