BE: All right. Welcome to the pod. I'm here today with Zehra of Republic who is joining us today from New York. So we're just going to dive into all things Republic today. Zehra, first of all, I'd love to hear about your journey through Republic. You've been there for about two years, right and had three different roles. What has been your favorite role and favorite day-to-day activities working at Republic so far?
ZN: Yeah, for sure. In terms of getting involved in Republic, I started as an intern, and I think interns really can go in one direction where it's either like you're given menial tasks, or you're treated like an employee kind of off the bat. And I was definitely the latter. Republic gave me a lot of responsibility as an intern coming into the company; pitching a program that I felt should exist. Republic is all about democratizing access to investing. But I think we're democratizing access to just so many things related to the VC and the investing space like even tangentially.
So while I was an intern, I basically created the Republic Venture Fellow & Associate program. So that was basically a cohort-style, semesterly program that educated college students, MBA students, people new into their career, about how to break into VC, but also how to just start angel investing and what that looked like. So many of these programs for undergrads had, like 1% acceptance rates, some of these undergrad programs only took kids from like Stanford, and Harvard, and really just were very selective. And it almost felt really unfair. So we had extremely global communities of these different cohorts of students looking to learn more about VC. And that was pretty much my first year working at Republic, focusing on expanding the mission, getting people excited about investing, and just learning more about what they're doing.
When I graduated, and basically started full time at Republic, I pivoted to the investment team. I had been very VC focused, very VC facing and focused on the content of just delivering information to people who wanted to pivot into VC. And so I decided I'd love to get on the other side of things at Republic and get to know our product really, deeply. And also just speak to these founders who were considering Reg CF as a type of fundraising and understand more about the inner workings and mechanics of the fundraising process and how Republic fits into that. So for almost a whole year, now, I've been working on the investment team. I speak to dozens of founders a week, learn about their fundraising woes, what everything has really been a struggle with in terms of fundraising, and then talk to them naturally about Republic. So I'd say that this has been a really fulfilling role. I think being founder-facing in VC is always incredible, because there are so many founders building so many incredible things. And it was really great to just get some of them through Republic, allow them to get their community involved and really have anyone who is a user client friend, like a member of their family, all of these people who traditionally wouldn't be able to invest to invest in their businesses. So it's really fulfilling for my guests, both the side of thinking about all of these investors getting access, but also founders being able to democratize their cap tables and VC not being the end all and be all when it comes to fundraising.
BE: I totally hear you on the topic of democratizing access, especially to the financial services space. That's a huge part of the work we do here at Mooch, as you know. On the topic of fundraising, most of the fundraising woes and market conditions have been changing rapidly, I'm sure you are dealing with that, like constantly in your day to day work. What has been your strategy in dealing with that, and also advising founders during this period of economic downturn?
ZN: So I always try to both in my own life of investing, and even just being very founder-facing, to not be very extreme in the language that I'm using. I mean, I think it's very evident that we are in an economic downturn, it's a bear market, it's a recession. And I think there's a lot of fear associated with that, given what happened in 2008, and just everyone's association with it. So it's kind of a two-fold thing because I have a lot of young friends, who invested in a Roth IRA or a 401k. And they're really anxious because obviously, the stock market is down and they're just kind of anticipating or feeling as though they lost money. But the reality is, you really have to get people to calm down to think about it and just say, like, don't pull your money out unless you really, really have to. Of course, none of it's investment advice, by any means. But I think it's more just not fear mongering. I think part of it is also that with TikTok, there's so much access to information so it's really easy to be afraid. And I think everyone just has to go at their own speed of understanding what's going on in the world.
From a founder’s perspective, I think that people are still fundraising or attempting to close fundraising. Now, I even have some founders who did a Series A maybe a few months ago, and they're trying to tack on an extra six to twelve months of runway just as extra cushioning. So if anything, I think from the founder perspective and the fundraising perspective, it's almost anticipatory where people know that it's here, but it's just not gotten to, I think the point with which people are afraid it's going to get to. So it's almost like the season of bridge fundraisers and just founders raising between rounds, extending their runway, and more than anything, I think, opportunities like Republic and just alternative fundraising. A moment like this is so important, because it's just all about varying the ways that you're going to build capital and get capital to continue to build your business. So that's kind of what I've seen from this point out. And I think from the investor perspective, I always like to caveat everything I say with none of this is investment advice or opinions.
BE: Pretty solid investment advice, I'd say, though, especially coming from you! I think, you know, fear, like you mentioned and fear mongering is, unfortunately one way to serve as clickbait, right. So like you mentioned on TikTok, it's easy to access this information. And once you start looking at it, the algorithms get you and they just keep throwing it at you. But obviously, governing your investments, and the way you approach life, anything, by fear is not a good way to go.
On a more positive note, I saw last year that you worked as the Head of Platform for Venture for Pakistan. What a cool experience! I'd love to hear more about that.
ZN: Yeah, I think one thing I was really passionate about while I was interning at Republic was also just recognizing that emerging markets are becoming really exciting from the American point of view, and obviously investing in like Indonesia, and Pakistan, in Singapore, and all these different countries. And so as a Pakistani myself, I recognized that in the VC space, I can count all the people on my hands of Pakistanis I know in the space. And I can think of maybe like one other Pakistani person who's a woman at least. So I think that I wanted to get involved in a community perspective of just giving Pakistani students in Pakistan, the access to work with VCs in America, and just be really supportive to the ecosystem.
The reality is that I interviewed for a lot of different VC firms before I ultimately chose Republic. And I had a lot of VC firms and just partners at these firms who I spoke to who would say, “I hired like a really cheap developer in Pakistan. Oh, that's like, so cool,” whenever I brought up that I was Pakistani. That just kind of leaves you with a pit in your stomach that there are so many bright minds of Pakistan who were being used for cheap labor as developers, and they're not being given the access to build their careers and get an education. And so I joined Venture for Pakistan to really seriously think about how we could amend that and just give Pakistani, the Pakistani youth and just Pakistani people in general more access to experiences in VC whether it was interning, coming to the States, doing a summer internship, a lot of different things.
But it always just left such a sour impression with me when people said that, because it's almost like something people are proud of. But obviously it really sucks to hear that your own countrymen or people who are from where you come from are being used for cheap labor to develop apps, which then people are just profiting immensely off of and they're not getting any of that wealth. So I think that's what really motivated me. And it's really abysmal, it's still a problem in the VC industry. And I think a lot of it could be changed with just transparency and giving access to these international developers who people clearly rely on to build their product, and giving them equity, giving them options, it should no longer be that they're just being cheap labor. And it's really just, I think, immoral. And I want to call out more people who did that and I can see so many of these really famous partners who have huge Twitter followings. They said this all to me. And so it's kind of crazy to think about the fact that VC is still a very inequitable industry. And I think there's a lot that still needs to change within it.
BE: Absolutely. And you know, obviously people are going to use cheap labor no matter the country, but the fact that people are saying to your face that that's the only association they have with your country, that's really not cool, especially when these people are integral to building some of the apps that we know and love so well today. What are some of the most exciting developments that you see coming out of Pakistan in the next couple of years? Companies, founders, movements…I'd love to hear more about this.
ZN: Yeah, I think that Pakistan, whenever people ask me about what stage is Pakistan at and I'd say, we're probably like 20 years behind where the US is right now, at least with the integration of technology into everyday life. Obviously, everyone has iPhones. Everyone's on Toast, social media. But I think with everyday tasks like delivery, there's like one company that's really doing it in Pakistan and making it normalized. But like Amazon, deliveries, even just things that are so normalized for us, Pakistan is not there yet from a mass adoption perspective. And I'd say we're probably like seven to ten years behind India, which got a lot of, of course, investment money and just the startups there 10 years ago, largely because of their population. So I think in terms of the trends and focus on all the companies that are working towards, I'd say, consumer adoption of technology, I'm really bullish on delivery, because even though it might be a very odd perspective, but I think that Amazon was such a huge company that did change the way that we consume products, whether it's good or bad. There's a whole debate about that. But I think delivery and just people being used to technology being integrated in their lives beyond social media and beyond like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, is the biggest trend that I see coming out of Pakistan. There's a lot of really successful B2B Pakistani businesses being built right now as well. I'm very consumer forward or consumer first. So I think any company that's building similar products that we see in the US, like Rent the Runway, but for Pakistani clothes, like there's a huge market for that. And there are multiple Series A and Seed stage businesses in Pakistan that are building those things right now. So I think Pakistan in the next five years, hopefully, with all the investment activity it's getting right now is going to catch up to where India is, to Indonesia, potentially. But I think there's still so much, there's so many more businesses there that need funding in order to get the country to move in a direction that all these other emerging markets have.
BE: Absolutely. And like you mentioned, delivery is something that is going to be a constant demand, no matter where you are in the world. So I totally see how that can really help benefit the community there and move things forward in the coming years. Something else that I noticed that was super interesting about your profile is that not only did you study financial economics at Columbia, you also studied art history. I completed a minor in art history, so I think it's so interesting to see what other people can do with their studies there. And I'd love to hear about, you know, do you use your art history studies in your day to day work at Republic? How do you implement that?
ZN: Yeah, I think financial econ basically taught me everything that I need to know about finance and the markets, and macroeconomics, microeconomics, but when it came to what I did with art history, so much of that, which I feel like people automatically make an assumption with it. But so much of our history is studying something that is historic that people have formed a plethora of opinions about, consuming all of those opinions and coming to your own conclusion, based on all that historical evidence. And so much of it is just observation, like looking at something, studying it, understanding it, coming up with your own idea, your own thesis, your own conclusion, which is something that I use every single day. That's what VCs do. VCs look at industries that haven't had any disruption, haven't had any product differentiation, in like, years, months, decades, whatever. And they'll come in with this company that they believe is going to change things. And I see the art historical process really, I'd say, similarly to the VC process when it comes to selecting companies, because you're basically arguing why you think this company is worth the money. And with a lot of art history pieces, you argue why this piece of our history means something or why this piece of art history arrives at this conclusion about a broader piece of history. And so I argue that I use my art history degree more than I use my finance degree. And just like day to day stuff with VC, of course, I can look at a P&L, a balance sheet, understand it, a cap table. But I think when you come to your own conclusions, your own investment theses and your perspectives on the market, I use my art history degree 100% of the time, and I'm very glad that I studied that. It was my favorite thing to study at school.
BE: Absolutely. And beyond that, you have these art history pieces that are thousands of years old that we're still debating and discussing and building narratives around today. And lasting companies could only hope to stand for one hundred years or even 200 years. So just the lasting power of art, it’s so powerful. There's so much for us to learn there. So zooming out, back to the financial services perspective, if you could change the investment space for the better, and I gave you a billion dollars today to do that. How would you go about spending that?
ZN: That's a really great question. I feel like from my current perspective, and the way that I'm thinking about the market, especially being in this democratization, focused arm of Republic and just like giving access to founders and investors, I 100% think that there needs to be some sort of…I don't know if a billion dollars would fix this honestly, who knows how much money this would take? I think there needs to be a reevaluation into accredited investor versus non accredited investor because when the terms were developed, who would have thought that there would be TikTokers making thirty second videos on something that people would have previously had to have five years of experience about? Knowledge is so democratized now for lack of better words, and there is just so much information and assessments that people can make when it comes to investing, that the accreditation laws that still exist to protect investors, when really I think it's still almost like an exclusionary tactic that prevents non accredited investors from even getting to that point. Because the reality is that the way that you develop wealth and develop assets is obviously through many, many different things, but investing is one of them. And if non accredited investors are limited to just a certain number of choices, while accredited investors could invest in any private company that they feel strongly about, I think it just is really archaic, and it's antiquated and it needs to be changed. That is something that, not to go back to art history, but this is a part of I think investing in the finance world, in VC, that reminds me a lot of our history, because our history is very antiquated. A lot of it was dictated by British and French men in the 18th to 17th century, and I think this really reminds me a lot of the way that the accredited versus non accredited debate unfolds as if though there are people who have the knowledge to make decisions for themselves and people who don't, when the reality is if someone wants to invest, and you set up all the legal requirements, and they know what they're doing, and you try to inform them as much as possible, and they do their own research, people should be able to invest. So I have no idea if a billion dollars would solve that. But I do think it's just a conversation that needs to be had. Because, yeah, like even think about the fact that like two years ago, TikTok wasn't even popular, or it was just, not an emerging app, but it just wasn't as widely consumed. And now in two years, I can scroll and watch like a one minute video and learn about opening a Roth IRA and how it works. And it's just so easy now. So I just think those need to be kind of rediscovered and just spoken about more.
BE: So much, so much. I want to touch on what you just said. But first of all, it's funny that these antiquated lenses, no matter what domain you're in, can still hold so much influence over our day to day operations, art history, finance, investing, it’s funny. But, you know, I think people often misunderstand investing, they think it's reserved for a select few, and Republic is doing so much to change that, like, you go on the homepage, and you see all of these people that you can identify personally with investing $50, $100, $200. And that's so cool, and alongside the rise of TikTok, you have people who have access to more information at a younger age about investing. And it seems like Gen Z more than ever cares about where they're putting their money, and it's a transition to value based investing, and I think Republic is going to play a huge part in that. What do see as the future path for this value based investing? How do you see the investment space as changing as Gen Z comes of age and cares more than ever about divesting from oil or investing in green tech?
ZN: I think this can be answered in two ways. Because I think Gen Z thinks from the immediate, like climate change, just very immediate things that need to be dealt with. And then there's the other prong, which is really investing in products that need to exist for underrepresented people, which really, it's so unfortunate because there is such a large majority that is underrepresented. But in fact, they are the majority, like there's just so many things that need to be made for people of color, for women, that just don't get funding because of the people who have the checks in VC.
And so in terms of just those two divisions, I think one, there are so many companies working towards climate tech right now, there's an incredible company that I worked with that is building like a really easy app to be able to integrate solar into your everyday life and think about just transitioning to solar as a form of energy in a non-intimidating way. Because obviously, I think people associate it with these huge panels, and it's really hard to integrate, but they're trying to make that more like an everyday life thing. And then there's the other side of things where I'll speak to founders who are either black female founders, brown female founders, Latina female founders, and all of them will have incredible traction, a clear total addressable market and awesome product completely differentiated. And they struggle to fundraise because people are like, are there really enough people to invest in the space? Are there really enough people to do that? And it's just really frustrating because some of these, for example, because I'm Pakistani, the Desi community, which is built up of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, all these countries in South Asia, it's easily 2 billion of us. And so it's just such a huge market. And the fact that I hear South Asian female founders telling me that VCs say, is there really a big enough market for this? There is 100% a big enough market for it. We're a huge population of the world. And I think Gen Z is going to work towards fixing that, because they're gonna invest in the companies that they want to see exist in this world, whether it's dealing with these really large pressing scary issues like climate change, or even just creating products that have needed to exist for a long time. And so that's the way that I would think about it.
One of my favorite companies doing that is Kulfi Beauty. And it's a South Asian owned company, female founded and she is bringing a lot of inclusivity to beauty that we just haven't seen in a long time. And I think another thing that I'll add to this is that it's crazy that in order for us to get a foundation range, that went from like, really fair skinned to really dark skin only started with Rihanna, like seven years ago, because she was a celebrity. So of course, she was able to fund this, before that there were barely any foundation shades for women of color. And so the fact that we had to get like someone like Rihanna, to do that, and take the first step, before people said, “Oh, this is actually profitable, you can actually make money, there are women of color, who will actually buy these products.” It's just like, so heinous to think about that, that it literally came from Rihanna, and the fact that people only took her seriously because she was a celebrity. She, of course, changed the industry. And it's awesome. But I think Gen Z is just going to invest in the companies that need to exist in the world. And it's awesome, but so much has yet to be done. And I think it's just companies like Republic, for sure, that are giving access to that. But this is why we need the accreditation laws to be broken down and looked into so that Gen Z can invest in more companies that they want to exist, and they're not limited by those rules.
BE: Absolutely. And you have such a good sense of people in the space who are really disrupting the game from people you've mentioned in Pakistan to this company. I'd love to hear more about who some of your favorite founders or honestly, mentors are in the space. I'm sure you've met so many amazing people. So now's your time to shout them out.
ZN: Yeah, I think when it comes to founders, I mean, Priyanka, who's the founder of Kulfi Beauty, she was one of the first founders I worked for, and I think what she's building is incredible. There are so many companies, I think, in the web3 space that are building things that have needed to be disrupted for a long time.
Lacey from metaintro, she's building like the first real competitor to LinkedIn that is also just going to finally, I think, come up with a more efficient way for hiring. It's kind of crazy to think that LinkedIn hasn't really been disrupted. And there's so much room to do that with web3, which is what she's doing.
I think, Tim from 101.xyz, he is building a really cool centralized hub for companies to just create courses that they reward their users, their viewers, whoever it is with crypto, and I think that's amazing hedge,
Kyle and Yash, they're basically building the first company that's going to allow anyone to start a hedge fund with their friends. I think there are just so many founders who are building really incredible companies that have been disrupting industries, especially hedge funds, beauty, like all these huge mega conglomerates that are now getting disrupted. And I think every single one of them besides Priyanka, who has Gen Z energy, (she's a millennial, though) but every other founder is Gen Z. And so I think Gen Z founders are really changing the game. They're doing so much.
In terms of the mentor perspective, definitely, I think Meagan Loyst like she was the first person that I spoke to in VC and she really gave me guidance on what it meant to work at Republic, think about VC, and my next steps in the industry. So I'm really grateful to her for that. And even just like people who I consider mentors, and they're like my friends like Emily Herrera, she's like doing so much in the space as a Latina woman investing and being at Night Ventures. So there's just so many people in this space, I could go on and on, but those are like the immediate ones that come to mind.
BE: So many phenomenal ideas, companies, people, you just shouted out. I really can't wait to dig into some of these. But it seems like from your work and Republic to your personal life, you are a very value driven person. How do you infuse those personal values into your everyday work, into your investments?
ZN: Yes so I think part of being at Republic is one of our values is having an entrepreneurial spirit. And so even though I did start those two programs during my internship, while I had to kind of transition to the investment team, I started another program called Rise with Republic after realizing that there were so many centralized websites for VCs and even with the venture fellow and associate program, I realized there's so much information on how to break into VC. But for founders, I spoke to so many founders who are like, how do I read the best way to understand cap table, dilution, and term sheets, and all of these things. And while there are really great Y Combinator links and books, they're all so fragmented. And I think that if Republic was all about democratizing access to investing, then we should also make access to information about fundraising democratized.
So long story short, I built this program with Jenny Fielding, who was the TechStars, MD for New York City, she brought tech to New York really, like 10 years ago. And she created a program that basically broke down all the fundamentals of fundraising. And it was really great, because I think being value-driven in that sense was really important to me, because I wanted to give these founders access to information that was really hard to just source online. Unless you had a VC or someone major who could guide you through this process, answer your questions, it's really hard to understand what this means without that. So I think that program was something that was really important to me.
Then also just getting more women, more people of color founders onto the Republic platform, getting them to get their community to invest in what they're building is another way that I feel, I can live by my values from the Republic perspective, at least in my day to day work. And Republic hosted its first ever Muslim founders dinner, we did an Asian American and Pacific Islander dinner last month, and we're going to do a Pride Month dinner this month, all hosted by me. So I'm very much I think, at the forefront of bringing all these things to Republic, I'm super excited about it.
BE: Wow, that's phenomenal. What a cool series of dinners and also just it sounds like from the start, with your internship, getting that fellowship program kicked off, you've been such an asset to them. I hope you have a promotion coming up sometime! We're getting a little close here on time. But I just love to ask people to wrap things up, what they're passionate about right now, it doesn't have to be in the investment space. But what are some things that you're really excited about? And that you are spending your free time learning more about? And what does that learning journey look like for you?
ZN: Yeah, I think that being excited about different industries is one of the things that happen to a VC like of course, specializing in something. But I feel like being innately curious is just part of being in this ecosystem, whether it's like tech, VC or startups, I think right now I'm very big into just the consumer and consumer space, partially consumer tech, but I'd say largely consumer product, I still think that consumer is almost an underappreciated VC industry because some VCs say that consumers are not venture scalable in the sense that you wouldn't be able to get the returns from consumer products that you would from like a B2B SaaS company, which is a valid point for people to make. But I also think that consumer products that are revolutionary have the opportunity to change and disrupt a whole ecosystem. And part of me is also kind of like VC isn't the end all and be all of all types of fundraising, venture debt is totally fine. Raising on Republic is a really good solution, getting an angel investor who's not going to take a bunch of board seats from you, or voting rights, information rights, like VC doesn't have to be the end all and be all. So I'm really interested in just consumer right now and understanding different industries within it. I feel like a huge part of that is because of my friend Johnny, who works at Listen Ventures, and he's like such a pro with the consumer space. So that's what I'm interested in really right now. And then naturally, I think web3, of course, I feel like people are very nervous about it, given everything that's happening in the market. But web3 is still the future. I think it's just, the recession and the bear market is going to prove what companies are going to onboard the next 10 million people on to web3, because right now, the reality is very much people who aren’t in finance or in VC or in tech, like a lot of my friends who aren't in the space, they don't really fully understand the scope of it. So I think the companies that are going to emerge from the bear market are going to be the web3 companies that onboard the next 5 million to 10 million people. So I feel like it'll be really telling and those are just the two places I'm most interested in right now.
BE: Any companies, DAOs, discord servers that you suggest we watch in the web3 space?
ZN: I think that Boys Club of course, which I know everyone talks about. The Symmetrical is a new investment DAO for Gen Z and younger investors and professionals in the space. Both of them are doing really incredible things and those are my two favorites for sure.
BE: Love to hear that I'm actually in The Symmetrical, so the club will be so excited that you just shouted it out. But thank you so much again for your time today Zehra!
ZN: Of course. It was really really great speaking about all this and I was super excited to share more
We spoke with Zehra Naqvi, a senior investment associate at Republic on the democratization of all things, from content for first-time founders, to her work with Venture for Pakistan, to inclusivity in the beauty (and venture + consumer) industries.
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