HBCUMade: Interview With Trevor Thomas, Partner at Cross Culture Ventures

November 2, 2015 HBCU Alumni, HBCUMade

Trevor Thomas is a Partner at Cross Culture Ventures. Before this he was Vice President at Gastronome Ventures.  Earlier, he was a member of the investing team at Roll Global, a $3.2 billion diversified holding company and Family Office in Los Angeles. Before venture investing, Trevor was the Founder and CEO of The Third Space, an airport lounge startup that sought to reinvigorate the airport travel experience through art, entertainment, and local food options. Trevor began his career in management consulting at Accenture where he worked on supply chain strategy projects for clients such as Microsoft, Best Buy, Syngenta, and Centerbridge Partners.

Trevor has an MBA from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, a MEng in logistics from MIT, and a BS in industrial engineering from Morgan State University. He is also a Kauffman Fellow (Class 17). 

Tell us about Cross Culture Ventures and its vision

We think that a company’s ability to understand and access mainstream cultural trends is as significant a driver of start-up success as the technology undergirding new products. Global culture is converging, largely driven by diverse cultures in the US. In turn, the US’s demographic make-up is rapidly becoming more diverse adding a level of complexity and opportunity we have never seen before.

Cross Culture Ventures is an early stage venture fund that invests in culturally driven technology and consumer products companies. We support our portfolio companies with an agency model platform of support through our partner Atom Factory—where we provide unique services in branding, marketing, PR, access to influencers, business development and supply chain services—all with an eye of allowing companies to achieve mainstream cultural access.

What type of investments does Cross Culture make? What typical things do you look for in a company?

We typically invest between $250K and $1M in early stage (seed or series A) companies. We like to follow on with companies that perform for multiple rounds of investment. 

We look for scrappy entrepreneurs targeting huge markets with products with unique cultural alignment. We think the next great companies will have an ability to authentically speak to the most powerful cultural trends.

Cross Culture is a team of high-profile black investors. Marlon Nichols, Troy Carter, and yourself. How did you guys come to work together and why?

Generally, we’re three guys that really like each other and had been independently investing along similar for years. Marlon and I knew each other from when we were both applying to business school (I went to Darden, he went to Cornell), and then reconnected when we were both in venture after bschool and became Kauffman Fellow’s around the same time. I was working for a large Family Office in Santa Monica, and he was working for Intel Capital. We started kicking around ideas of what a fund could look like. Then a mutual friend, Freada Kapor Klein, introduced us to Troy and it was like love at first sight. Troy had been angel investing for about 5 years and was contemplating ways to expand his investing activity. We immediately started hanging out a lot, expanding the idea of the fund, honing it, and ultimately launched it about 4 months later.

In a recent online article with HuffPost, Troy Carter mentioned that 80% of Cross Culture investments were in black-founded companies. This is in contrast to the common belief that qualified black-led companies are hard to find. Any tips for other investors who have a difficult time finding black-founded companies for their portfolio?

This definitely contrasts with the status quo.  Our backgrounds and experiences have gifted us with differentiated biases and experiences of “pattern recognition.” However, to be fair, in each deal we’ve done, we have invested along-side strong syndicates of other top tier venture funds, so we aren’t the only folks seeing value in the founders we have backed. We also aren’t on a mission to only invest in founders from certain backgrounds. So far, this is just where we’ve seen the most value. I think other investors will need to reevaluate their biases on what creates value in founding teams to maintain past levels of success.

As an HBCU graduate, what do you believe are some of the advantages you’ve gained by attending an HBCU, especially as it relates to the work that you do today?

I went to Morgan State, then I went to MIT, and then I went to UVA.  Morgan State was by far the most rigorous and useful education, both academically and culturally. It was a place where I had to work really hard to do well academically, and even harder to do well socially, having grown up in Palo Alto and the suburbs and DC. Figuring out how to survive that experience shaped me, and has in part shaped our thesis.

Any tips for HBCU alumni or students who are interested in tech entrepreneurship?

Start something up. Come out to Silicon Valley, LA, or New York. This is the best time ever to start a company. Looks us up. We will do whatever we can to support you.