Interview with Biz Stone about Future Positive, an investment firm he founded in 2019 with Fred Blackford to focus on investments that can be held for decades — The social media pioneer’s firm is chasing investments that have no expiry date — The man who helped create Twitter.
In an interview with Biz Stone, Twitter’s co-founder, he reveals the importance of being an investor who never gives up
It appears that the firm of the social media pioneer is trying to acquire investments that have no expiration date.
TAs the creator of Twitter, a social network designed for brevity and instant gratification, the man now preaching the virtues of patience and long-term thinking when it comes to investing in the technology sector is now calling attention to the virtues of patience.
In the minds of Business Stone and Fred Blackford, the investment firm Future Positive, which they founded in early 2019, is based on this philosophy of keeping hold of their investments long after the traditional point of departure has passed. They believe that is their philosophy as the foundation for Future Positive, the multi-stage investment firm they established together.
I joke around with the word ‘exit’,” Stone says. His view is that going public today is a “beginning”, not the end of an investor run. Public markets are creating more value today than private investments, and investors might be missing out if they cash out early.
Their fund has raised $250 million and invested $160 million.
The early pioneering role Stone played in social media gave him the means to invest. One of only two names listed on the 2007 patent application for Twitter’s tech is Christopher Isaac Stone. Jack Dorsey, the company’s current CEO, is the other.
He built Twitter’s culture before leaving in 2011, only to return in 2017, when the company was stagnant. “The job description includes being Biz Stone,” he said at the time, in order to restore “that energy, that feeling” of the business’ origins.
Although Stone is no longer officially at Twitter, he claims to serve as an “informal” adviser. It was during that second spell that he helped Twitter mature, particularly around content moderation and monetisation. “I banged on the drum about the money lying around,” he says.
He began investing in Pinterest in 2009 and is currently a board member of Beyond Meat, a plant-based meat substitute company. Square, the financial services company founded by Dorsey, and Slack, the workplace software company, were backed by him.
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While Dorsey evangelises on a crypto-powered future, Stone concedes it’s all “a little bit beyond me”. That hasn’t stopped him from backing an investment in Nifty’s, an non-fungible token marketplace, in March 2021.
“I get it on a basic level,” he says. “I’ve just been more people first. What do people need? How can I help them? What kind of technology will serve them?”
Future Positive is an effort to dig out such investments, with an emphasis on emerging geographical markets. Blackford, whose imaging start-up Swing Technologies was acquired by Microsoft in 2017, was introduced to Stone by a mutual friend. Using money they had raised for an aborted deal to acquire Polaroid, the pair made a late-stage investment in Beyond Meat ahead of its IPO in May 2019.
“For us the thinking has been, ‘what are the companies that we would never want to sell?’” says Blackford, who is looking for “a company we want to build a position in and never want to sell, and just hold for decades”.
A more long-termist approach is certainly becoming en vogue — mostly thanks to valuations in the public markets soaring over the past 18 months.
TSome unfortunate timing led to the deal. Coronavirus closed the US to Europeans with a term sheet ready. Investors withdrew from Blackford, a British man, as global markets tanked. But they got it done.
“I’m really glad that we did,” Blackford adds, “because a year later, NotCo had [expanded] to the US, they’d launched with Whole Foods, they had negotiated partnerships with Starbucks — they tripled revenue.”
Later this year, Tiger Global led a Series D round that boosted NotCo’s value to $1.5bn. An extra $50m came from Future Positive.
Despite a lot of competition closer to home, Blackford says this deal shows the potential of emerging markets. Other Future Positive investments include Pakistan-based Airlift, Argentine fintech provider Pomelo, and Brazilian social payment platform Divy.
He has a simple philosophy. Businesses doing something for society or the biosphere are what he seeks – businesses that redefine capitalism’s success metrics. In addition to making money, he says, “we’re doing a lot of good.”