Coatue is growing its venture investing bench at a time when the market downturn has put pressure on crossover funds.
The investment giant announced Monday that Sri Viswanath, chief technology officer at Atlassian, will start in July as a general partner making early and growth stage investments in artificial intelligence. Viswanath says he led the creation of AI teams as an executive at Groupon and Atlassian, and wanted to hone in on the space as he steps into a full-time investing role. “When I look forward to the next several years, AI is coming into every single company,” he says.
The career tech operator spent the last six years leading engineering at Atlassian, which makes collaboration software. His team grew fivefold to about 4,000 employees during his tenure. Viswanath says he felt comfortable departing after executing a shift of the company’s offerings to the cloud from its initial on-premise model. “The best time to leave is when things are going well,” he says. “The company wanted me to stay for the next ten years, but I thought I could make a bigger impact in helping other companies.”
An active angel investor and startup adviser, Viswanath has sat on the boards of Splunk and SendGrid (later acquired by Twilio), and was a backer in billion-dollar startups Hopin and JupiterOne. After announcing in January his plans to leave Atlassian, he says he spoke to several venture firms, but landed on Coatue because of its combination of career investors and operators and its emphasis on data investing. The firm has a track record of bullishness in AI, with cofounder Phillipe Laffont telling Forbes in 2018 that he believed it to be “the absolutely most interesting and biggest trend since the internet.”
Coatue’s $15.9 billion of deployed venture capital made it one of the most active lead investors in last year’s frenzied venture investing environment, according to Crunchbase. With its massive warchest, the firm has not been afraid to dish out term sheets at large valuation-to-revenue multiples, as indicated by recent investments in Airbyte and Hugging Face. It also recently expanded its European VC operations, opening a new London office led by former Index Ventures partner Sarah Cannon.
The firm has about a half-dozen partners investing in enterprise technology. Currently, much of its AI venture investing has come via former Facebook communications lead Caryn Marooney, who was hired in 2019, and David Cahn, who joined in 2018 after working as a tech investment banker at Morgan Stanley. “Sri exemplifies the type of investor Coatue is thrilled to have on board,” Coatue cofounder Thomas Laffont said in a statement. “His real-world operational experience combined with a passion for advising startups through pivotal moments will be a huge asset to our portfolio.”
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In Viswanath’s space, Coatue’s holdings include large public and private companies such as Snowflake, Databricks and Confluent. Recent venture investments include AI model creation startup Abacus.AI, AI-powered video editor Runway and machine learning visualization company Weights & Biases. The rapid pace of deals has also led to some blemishes: ScaleFactor, a startup which promised to take the human busywork out of accounting, shut down in 2020, with Forbes uncovering that some work was being done by a Philippines outsourcing office rather than the AI software it advertised. Earlier this month, The Information reported that Nate, which sells an AI-powered online checkout tool, was similarly using Philippines-based contractors.
On how such deals might inform his investing approach, Viswanath kept his cards close to his chest. “I can’t comment on anything in the past because I haven’t even joined the firm yet,” he says. “But on the fundamentals, we’ll be making sure that we invest in technology companies where the founders are focused on building out an amazing technology innovation for the next two decades.”