September 24, 2022

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Although his career started on the soccer field, Will Kohler has been a fixture at...

Although his career started on the soccer field, Will Kohler has been a fixture at Lightspeed Venture Partners since 2014. Kohler was a professional player in Major League Soccer (MLS) before founding a technology start-up and eventually entering the world of venture capital.

Will Kohler became a VC at a young age after founding a technology company in the communications sector, so you might say he’s a bit of a wunderkind in the tech VC space. With investments in brands like Carta, Handshake, and BetterUp under his belt, Kohler brings a unique perspective to the table with his investment strategy. Learn about Kohler’s background, his biggest deals, and his approach to venture capital.

Will Kohler’s Biggest Bets as a VC

Will Kohler heads up Lightspeed Venture Partners Growth practice which primarily focuses on venture growth stage companies. It’s an approach that’s already paying off with several unicorns in his portfolio. One such company is Carta, founded by Henry Ward, which is redefining the equity-management space.

Kohler has been involved in projects including:

  • Carta
  • BetterUp
  • Handshake
  • Seismic
  • Roofstock
  • Arctic Wolf Networks
  • Matillion
  • Finix
  • Mynd
  • Laiye
  • Rubrik (Datos)
  • Axonius
  • 1Password
  • Synctera
  • Webull
  • Ladder Life insurance
  • Giphy

One of Kohler’s recent successes is BetterUp, the mental health brand that tapped Prince Harry as chief impact officer. The company is at over $200 million in annual recurring revenue and on a fast-growth trajectory.

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Will Kohler’s Unique Perspective on Investing

In his work at Lightspeed, Will Kohler focuses on fintech, SaaS solutions, and cloud-based services and applications for growth stage companies. Although Lightspeed works with companies at all stages of growth, Kohler’s approach spots potential in scaling companies. Let’s dig into what makes his VC approach so unique.

Founders First

Will Kohler’s investment approach is entirely founder-oriented. As a founder himself, Kohler vividly remembers what it’s like to be an operator. He empathizes with founders and their journey. He gets to know the humans behind the business and helps find ways to accelerate their path to growth. For Kohler, the key to success is looking for founders with vision who plan ahead for the future.

Fintech Is the Future

Kohler is on the lookout for companies that have a fintech aspect to their operations. For example, Kohler invested in Finix, a company that offers payment plans for business customers. These payments still go through credit card systems, but it means that businesses can bring payment infrastructures in-house.

With this kind of technology on the table, Finix has tremendous revenue potential for companies outside the fintech realm. This is the type of future-thinking innovation that’s going to make fintech a must for businesses in every industry.

Winning on the Field — and Off

Although his kids think his professional sports experience is dubious, Kohler says it positioned him to be successful as a venture capitalist. In his career as a midfielder, Kohler was known for being competitive and driven to win.

These lessons translate into Kohler’s work as a VC, where he brings his experience as a professional athlete to discussing principles in org design and system dynamics. “There are so many corollaries between running a business and being a captain of a sports team,” he says.

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“Each teammate has a unique skill set that applies to distinct positions on the field. When everyone is working in harmony the team can create something special,” adds Kohler. “But if even one of them doesn’t understand or take their position to heart or deliver on it, the system doesn’t fullfill its full potential.”

Even though Kohler knows what it feels like to be knocked down — both literally and figuratively — he’s learned how to stand back up again. He supports founders with that same grit, determination, and passion that fuels the journey to accomplish their vision.

Sourcing Tech Innovation at a Global Scale

Kohler’s varied experience means he can bring a unique synthesis of ideas to the table for Lightspeed Venture Partners. Instead of just investing in companies based on bottom line and profit, Kohler looks at the founders behind the big ideas. By continuing to reach out to companies on the global stage, Kohler continues to use his experience as a former founder to spot raw talent — wherever it may be.

About Will Kohler

Will Kohler’s father is from Austria and his mother is from Greece. His parents came to the United States to pursue their education, and Kohler says he has never forgotten the lessons — and hard work ethic — instilled in him by his immigrant parents.

Competitive and driven by nature, Kohler received a degree in economics from Harvard in 1993 and later earned his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

After college, Will Kohler briefly played in the MLS as a midfielder. “A large part of my early character development was playing competitive sports,” he says. But at the age of 24, he decided to hang up his cleats and pursue a career in technology.

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He co-founded Pointe Communications and grew the company to $40 million in annual revenue before its acquisition. Working alongside private equity investors, Kohler learned more about venture capital and knew he wanted to be a part of it.

Kohler transitioned to VC and worked as a principal at Prism VentureWorks. He also served as a partner at Summerhill Venture Partners from 2010 to 2014. During this time, Kohler grew his expertise in the tech world, focusing on investments in cloud-based services, applications, SaaS solutions, and the cloud.

Kohler joined Lightspeed in 2014 when his college soccer buddy (and Lightspeed venture partner), John Vrionis, invited him to the team. Founded in 2000, Lightspeed is a global venture capital firm based in Menlo Park, California.