The world is buzzing with the promise of new technologies, particularly over innovative advances in areas like artificial intelligence (AI). Venture capitalist Arif Janmohamed is working to bridge the gap between where this technology is today and the companies that are creating the future of AI tech.
Janmohamed is a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, where he’s known for his wholesome Canadian approach to investing, which is “kind yet firm,” as he says. Thanks to his tech-first mindset, Janmohamed’s investment approach is all about spotting outlier startups and supporting them from inception all the way to IPO.
Read on to learn more about Arif Janmohamed’s investments in enterprise, as well as his unique approach to spotting outlier tech startups.
How Janmohamed Separates the Wheat From the Chaff in Tech Investing
At Lightspeed, Janmohamed is focused on companies that are innovating at the intersection of cloud, data and Artificial Intelligence. To date, he’s helped six companies on the road to acquisition and has already taken one to IPO.
Arif Janmohamed works with early-stage startups. Janmohamed’s approach to company scaling helps him suss out which startups have tremendous growth potential. Three pillars informing Janmohamed’s investment picks are:
Establish Founder Relationships
Janmohamed says technology was his first love. But in his work as a VC, he’s realized that a company needs more than just new technology. For Janmohamed, it’s all about the founder.
“As an investor, I look for founders who not only have deep insight into technological innovations, but also those who think big about the future,” says Janmohamed. “I invest in companies that have a solid customer and investor value proposition, companies that have dedicated and driven founders — and honestly, companies that I see myself as providing value to,” he adds. “I want to provide my expertise and mentorship to these businesses, and if I don’t see myself as a value add, then it’s not the right investment for me.”
Janmohamed loves working with creative founders because they have their pulse on what’s next in tech. Early-stage founders are able to spot emerging markets, so it’s a useful collaboration that helps Janmohamed predict what’s around the corner.
Understand What Makes True AI
AI is a hot trend, but according to Arif Janmohamed, most companies claiming to use AI aren’t using real AI at all. Artificial intelligence has become such a marketing buzzword that it’s important for VCs to understand what truly makes a product AI.
AI is supposed to “learn as it goes.” Janmohamed specifically looks for technologies that are able to become more autonomous over time. That means the tech needs to tick all of the boxes, including:
- Doing more than basic data analysis
- Collecting and using proprietary data to make the system smarter
- Iterating by itself without human intervention
If an early-stage startup’s technology can meet all of these conditions, Janmohamed considers it true AI. His checklist makes it much easier to spot technologies that actually have the capacity to revolutionize the future — instead of rehashing technology that’s been around for some time.
Forge Involved Partnerships
The final piece of Arif Janmohamed’s investing approach is his human-centered perspective on the investor-founder relationship. He wants to invest in companies where he can bring something to the table. It’s a fifty-fifty partnership where he gives value to CEOs, who often just need a little mentorship and guidance to help them fully realize their vision and set a company on a course to greatness.
Arif Janmohamed believes that when you support founders, they can better navigate the business to success. His hands-on approach is about more than giving founders funds, but having a hand in big decisions like business partnerships, hiring, and overall strategy.
Arif Janmohamed: Lightspeed’s Acquisition Whisperer
Today, most of Janmohamed’s work focuses on enterprise-level technology deals. He’s currently with the founders of:
- Alif Semiconductor
- Split Software
- Theta Lake
He’s best known for helping his founders successfully scale their companies on the path to growth. Arif Janmohamed has witnessed several of the companies he works with on their path to acquisition, including:
- Avi Networks, acquired by VMware
- Mist Systems, acquired by Juniper Networks
- Qubole, acquired by Idera
- Highfive, acquired by Dialpad
- EdgeSpring, acquired by Salesforce
Two of Arif Janmohamed’s most notable investments are in the earliest stages of Netskope and TripActions, in which Lightspeed invested when they were each nascent companies. Netskope is the leader in cloud security and most recently raised $300 million at a $7.5 billion valuation. TripActions is a modern corporate travel management company that recently raised capital at over a $7 billion valuation.
Arif Janmohamed’s family is originally from Africa and his ancestors are from India. He grew up in Canada and immigrated to the United States in the 1990s, so his background is uniquely global — and he’s fluent in both English and French.
Arif Janmohamed’s grandfather was an entrepreneur and his father was an engineer turned MBA entrepreneur, so you could say that Janmohamed’s entrepreneurial spirit is genetic.
Janmohamed earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 2000 from Canada’s University of Waterloo and earned his MBA in finance from The Wharton School in 2006. He started his career as a chip designer in the 1990s but pivoted into engineering in the early 2000s. Janmohamed served as a manager for Cisco Business Systems and even ran his own company, WVP Ventures, in business school.
Because he values mentorship so highly, Janmohamed is always looking for ways to give back. He is the founding charter member for C100, a nonprofit organization that supports Canadian tech entrepreneurs. He’s also served on the board of 13 companies, including Theta Lake, Board Observer, and TripActions.
Thanks to his experience working at venture-backed startups, Janmohamed saw firsthand how magical it was to get an infusion of venture capital into a small business — and that’s when he realized he wanted to be a VC. Arif Janmohamed started at Lightspeed in 2008 as a senior associate and grew to become a senior partner.
The Future of Tech Is Global
Lightspeed Venture Partners is looking beyond Silicon Valley for the next big thing. Arif Janmohamed says this global view makes it possible to reach founders anywhere in the world. This democratizes the future of tech, giving founders across the world access to VC funding.
There’s no such thing as a typical day as a VC — and that’s the way Janmohamed likes it. By pairing his love of tech with his passion for mentoring budding entrepreneurs, Janmohamed is just getting started with helping early-stage companies and founders make their vision a reality as they bring it to the world.