Mayfield’s Navin Chaddha: It’s Time for Venture Investors to Become ‘Conscious Capitalists’

By Navin Chaddha, managing director at Mayfield.

Twenty years into the new millennium, we find ourselves in a bewildering time. COVID-19 has locked the world at home while systemic racism has lit our streets on fire. Millions of Americans are unemployed and many will not have a job to return to. Compassionate leadership is absent and social media sows confusion rather than clarity. All the while, climate change continues unabated, wreaking silent havoc on our marine and forest ecosystems.

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Progress seems inevitable. It is not. It is the outsiders, the dreamers and the visionaries who create progress. And we must support them now more than ever.

As a firm with a 50-year history of investing that is almost as long as the venture capital industry itself, our response to the state of our world today is to operate as conscious capitalists, building business for better rather than for business as usual. This means going beyond statements of support on diversity, equity and inclusion, to allocating substantial funds and doing meaningful work to create equity.

This means evaluating the impact of technologies we are investing in to make sure they elevate individuals and also do no harm. This means pushing out of our zone of comfort as board members to be both radically candid and loyal to a fault, to make sure founders are behaving as conscious leaders. And this means doubling down on investing in entrepreneurs who are building solutions for human and planetary health. We invite our peers in venture capital to join us in the movement toward conscious capital.

Our take on the five primary aspects of the movement is outlined below.


Illustration provided by Mayfield.

Operating as conscious leaders who combine empathy and candor

We often hear stories of leaders who are out of touch with their employees, or even some that create toxic cultures. These patterns can get exacerbated in a remote-first world. Leaders need to evolve to replicate in-person serendipitous conversations virtually. They need to figure out how to spur the creativity and productivity of hands-on teams such as product development. They have to be intentional about building a culture that is inclusive of remote workers, especially as in-person work resumes.

Individual managers will need to learn new ways to inspire and lead their teams. As the virus rages and the work day flattens, leaders will be called upon to display radical and compassionate candor. And most importantly, we believe that now more than ever leaders need to prioritize creating more just and equitable work environments.

Leaders such as Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, and Kim Scott, author of “Radical Candor” and “Just Work,” provide guidance on the ConsciousVC podcast series.

Pledging significant funds and doing meaningful work to increase diversity

One of our firm’s core beliefs points out that “it’s often the founders who don’t come out of central casting that have the grit necessary to succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds.”

The venture industry has fallen behind on championing entrepreneurs who represent America’s diversity. Starting this year, Mayfield has decided to pledge 1 percent of our management fee and carry every year–which can amount to millions of dollars–to causes that support diversity, health, hunger and education. This commitment expands on our firm’s 50-year tradition of philanthropy.

We have also launched an Access for All Program, under which we will affiliate with leading community organizations to address systemic barriers to opportunity. To thrive through the next 50 years, we need to foster the next generation of tech leaders, and one thing we do know for sure: They will look very different than the last generation’s tech leaders.

Investing in the Rise of the Individual – the mission to elevate individuals and build communities

Starting a decade ago, we recognized that technology had evolved from a return on investment (ROI) model to that of the Rise of the Individual (the new ROI). This trend has driven some of our most successful companies and elevated communities of knowledge workers to become heroines and heroes. True ROI companies go beyond simply building communities to living by them. These companies align their success with the measurable elevation of the individuals their product/service empowers. Their founders are passionate about the specific persona of the individual they are targeting, often having walked in their shoes before.

Along the way, these companies become category leaders and valuable companies. Some examples from our experience include Marketo (elevates marketers to be seen as revenue generators vs. cost centers), ServiceMax (elevates field-service workers by replacing their clipboards with a mobile-cloud software solution), Outreach (elevates sales professionals with an engagement platform that works the way they work), and HashiCorp (elevates the developer/practitioner to manage infrastructure with innovation). We believe that celebrating entrepreneurs whose mission is that of giving voice to others is both a noble and financially rewarding activity–a new definition of ROI.

Reinventing trillion-dollar industries to power human and planetary evolution

We face two major threats today: one to the health of our planet and the other to our own health. Fortunately, biology as technology is creating fixes for the planet as well as for the human body. As it does so, it is poised to reinvent countless industries, which represents a $100 trillion opportunity. Some examples include CRISPR, DNA sequencing, cell engineering and bioprinting, which have led to the creation of rapid COVID-19 diagnostic tests, animal-free protein products, bio fuels for jet engines, lightweight materials stronger than steel, and even memory for computer storage. Solving the current twin challenges of human and planetary evolution is both the right thing for us to do and presents the greatest entrepreneurial opportunity in history.

Leading the movement to rehumanize social media versus deploying it as a divisive force

Social channels are what we use to communicate and consume media during these unprecedented times. However, as these channels evolved over the last 15 years there was something missing. Humanity. Intimacy. Reality. Depth. Connection. An expression and representation of values. Nuance. Balance. A real conversation.

It’s time for a new generation of social media companies and a return to authenticity and truth instead of clicks, likes, fake news and votes. The product battlefield will be captured by the entrepreneurs who can create the healthiest, most dynamic, most fun environments for planned serendipity to take place. These new platforms will use communal magnanimity as product strategy, rather than becoming slaves to ad-based business models.

We believe the time has come for the venture industry to lead with empathy and to think beyond returns. Venture capitalists have a long tradition of philanthropy, and view partnering with entrepreneurs as a calling. From those roots, it is a small but significant step to meet the moment and align our financial interests with the good of society.  We welcome other investors to embrace and embody the idea of the conscious VC, so we can make a real, positive difference in people’s lives.


Navin Chaddha leads Mayfield. 1

Mayfield Managing Director Navin Chaddha

He is a three-time entrepreneur turned venture capitalist who has invested in over 50 companies, of which over 37 have had IPOs or been acquired.

Chaddha made his 12th appearance on the Forbes Midas List of Top 100 Tech Investors in 2020, being named in the Top Five.

Passionate about nurturing the Rise of the Individual, he is an active philanthropist who has pledged 1 percent of Mayfield’s fee and carry to support diversity, education, health and ending hunger.  

He holds an MS degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University and a B.Tech degree in electrical engineering from IIT Delhi, where he was honored with the distinguished IIT Alumni Award.


Mayfield and Silicon Valley Bank are hosting a free webinar on Oct. 8 in which attendees can learn more about how to embed Compassionate/Radical Candor into an organization. Click here to register.


  1. Disclosure: Mayfield is an investor in Crunchbase, the parent company of Crunchbase News. Crunchbase’s investors are listed as part of its Crunchbase profile. For more about Crunchbase News’s editorial policies on disclosure, see the News team’s About page.

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