8090 Partners Jasper Lau taking on the big banks

8090’s rise provides an insight into how billionaire money is increasingly playing a role in venture capital. Family offices — the private investment companies of the ultra-rich — have more than doubled their share of venture capital deals in the past decade, and they’re set to boost allocations further, according to research from SVB Capital and Campden Wealth published this year .

Since early 2021, 8090 has bet on more than a dozen startups in health care, energy and finance, mostly in the US. It’s a major investor in artificial intelligence firm Luminous Computing, along with Bill Gates and Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick. Luminous raised $US105 million in a Series A round in March, with plans to double the size of its engineering team.

With about $US200 million in assets, 8090 is a small firm but is emerging as a competitor to the big Wall Street banks in luring super-rich families. Credits:AP

“Jasper was the very first person to place a bet on me when I started Luminous,” said Marcus Gomez, chief executive officer of the Santa Clara, California-based firm, which has received about $US30 million from 8090. “When I have a problem, he is one of my first phone calls, and he almost always has a solution.”

Lau just got his break in business through YouTube.

As a high-school student in 2011, Lau added FiscalNote Holdings founder Tim Hwang as a friend on Facebook after stumbling across footage on the video platform of the entrepreneur receiving an award.

The pair got to talking and stayed in touch. Before starting 8090, Lau helped oversee early-stage investments in FiscalNote that he said have returned more than 200 per cent. Hwang later introduced Lau to Kerem Ozmen, who provided through his family’s investment firm some of the financing for FiscalNote’s $US180 million purchase of media business CQ Roll Call from the Economist Group in 2018.

While FiscalNote shares have dropped since it began trading in August following a merger with blank-check firm Duddell Street Acquisition Corp., 8090 secured gains of 62 per cent on an $US18 million convertible note that matured in July, Lau said.

As recession fears rise, Lau is confident his firm’s small size and wealthy backers give it an edge, even if some tech entrepreneurs may prefer to take money from giants such as Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz that survived previous downturns. While 8090 has typically raised capital on a deal-by-deal basis, it’s now finalizing a fund focusing on tech founders and is increasingly zeroing in on debt transactions as startups avoid parting with equity in this year’s slump.

“One might think that things are slowing down, but they are speeding up,” Lau said. “Our ability to be flexible, agile and quick to our feet at 8090 gives us an advantage over other VC firms who have to go through so much bureaucracy.”

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After initially focusing on younger members of billionaire families, 8090 is now also working with older generations on their venture investments as well as other areas, such as philanthropy.

The firm, which has a handful of staff in Los Angeles and New York, may seek to get more backers from the world’s ultra-rich, but they have to fit specific criteria.

“It’s really about finding families that are a good cultural fit and will be long-term partners with us,” Lau said. “We want families that actually can add more color to what we’ve already put on our canvas.”

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