What makes Max tick? Our Q&A uncovers Max Kausman's perspectives on Seed investing, meeting founders, and thinking about the future
10 Feb 2022 · 4 min read
What drew you to Seed investing and in particular, the Tidal Team?
I have always been interested in startups and technology. I love great products and I’m fascinated by the way tech businesses and business models re-shape markets. I thought deeply about why I wanted to be in venture, not only about why I would find it interesting and purposeful, but also about whether the role would match my attributes, capabilities, and personality. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but I get energy from the role - it’s hugely people-centric, there’s a lot of autonomy, and a lot of intellectual breadth. There are new learnings - business models, technologies, sectors - every day. It requires curiosity, comfort in ambiguity, and a long-term perspective.
The Seed Phase in particular is an extension of that. It’s people-centric, but still with real analysis and deep thinking involved in understanding markets, products, and business models. It’s such a formative stage that the impact we can have is enormous, and I relish the opportunity to work very directly with founders in this stage as they build out their teams and find product-market fit.
When I joined, I felt (and continue to feel) like I could learn an enormous amount from the Tidal team. I was drawn to the diverse backgrounds and unique skills and capabilities of the team, and I spoke to a number of founders who raved about Tidal as investors. I liked our portfolio, our investment mandate and philosophy, and how we have the conviction to lead Seed rounds and are genuinely active operational partners to our founders.
What’s a day like in the role?
It’s enormously varied. Broadly, my time is split across deal-flow, supporting our portfolio companies, and helping to build Tidal itself as a funds business. Within each of those, there are lots of different jobs that need to be done. It’s fast-paced, and there’s lots of context switching.
What's the first question you ask when you come across a prospective investment?
I generally start with the origin story of the business. I love unpacking how a founder realised there was a problem, and why they then decided that they cared enough to dedicate their time and energy, over what could be decades, to solving it.
What is something you believe that others don't?
I believe that ‘weird’ is a compliment. There’s a lot of social and societal pull to conform and be normal - but I have a lot of time for people who are authentic enough to let their weirdness emerge. Those who make the greatest entrepreneurial strides are often eccentric, unconventional, and willing to be wrong.
What is one thing that inspires you every day at Tidal?
I think all venture investors have a healthy scepticism. We say no a lot, and there is always a reason why a business idea won’t work. What gets underplayed is the underlying optimism that goes into figuring out why a business idea could work, and how exciting and inspiring it can be to then do the deep thinking and get to the point we ultimately say yes. When that happens, we get to partner with some incredible founders and work closely with them to realise their vision for the future of the world.
At a macro level I’m also excited by the amazing compounding momentum we’re now seeing in the start up ecosystem in Australia, and its potential to create jobs and reshape our economy.
What do you think is the most important qualities or characteristics a business founder should aspire to have and never lose?
A great founder should have binary qualities. What I mean by this is that founders should deeply understand the problem they are solving, but also be able to zoom out and see the bigger picture. Founders should have humility and be open-minded, but ultimately be decisive, relentlessly believe in themselves, and be willing to create buzz and draw others to their mission. When those binaries interweave, and there is a clear sense of hustle, I feel we have found a great founder.
What are you passionate about outside of work?
I have a broad range of interests and I love trying new things. I’m an avid traveller. I love sport, especially Basketball, AFL, and Cricket, and I’m a good skier and a wannabe surfer. I enjoy music and live gigs, good food, getting outdoors, and being social. I’m a voracious reader, particularly on tech, psychology, geopolitics, and macroeconomics. I’m both self-aware and shameless enough to use the word ‘voracious’ unironically.
What advice do you live by?
Advice is easy to give and much harder to receive.
How do you think the world would change in 10 years?
The rate of change - in technology, and in society, is enormous, and I believe it will only continue to accelerate. There’s a convergence of amazing forces going on - in AI, Robotics, Clean Energy, Biotech, Blockchain, Space, Remote Work - the list goes on. I’m optimistic about what this means for the world in terms of better living standards, and I hope this ultimately results in vastly more people doing creative things and working for themselves. I would temper my techno-optimism with a bit of macro-pessimism though. There are some big societal problems to be solved - a big economic deleveraging, Western populism, decarbonisation, the risk of great-power conflict. It's going to be an interesting decade!
How do you measure success?
I measure success by the quantity, calibre, and depth of relationships I have. Success to me is in having people for whom I’d go the extra mile, and feeling confident knowing they’d do the same for me.
Tidal's investment team is growing. If you're a curious learner with the ability to balance big-picture thinking with deep-dive research and attention to detail, we'd love to hear from you.
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