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Ev Williams' venture firm goes for the palindrome in new fundraising

  • Obvious Ventures is using math games as it raises venture funds.
  • The firm is investing in alternative energy, plant-based foods and technology to help cure diseases.
  • Its gains are still on paper.
Ev Williams, co-founder and CEO of Medium
Photo: Helena Price | Medium
Ev Williams, co-founder and CEO of Medium

For Ev Williams' first venture capital fund, the Twitter co-founder had some fun with numbers, raising $123,456,789. The second fund is a numeric palindrome.

Williams' Obvious Ventures disclosed on Wednesday that it raised $191,919,191. Palindromes read the same forward as they do backward, though they're more commonly used as words like "civic" or phrases, like "Madam, I'm Adam."

James Joaquin, who co-founded the firm with Williams in 2014, said the symbolism of the number for Obvious is that you can look back at the first fund's investments for an indication of what the firm will do in the future.

Rather than investing in popular Silicon Valley categories like mobile, cloud and big data, Obvious puts money into companies it believes are "trying to solve the world's biggest problems," Joaquin said in an interview.

Obvious backed Diamond Foundry, which is developing diamonds in labs instead of mines, sustainable energy company Enbala and Recursion Pharmaceuticals, which is using artificial intelligence to find drugs that can treat rare genetic diseases. It also invested in plant-based food start-ups Beyond Meat and Miyoko's Kitchen.

Obvious uses the hashtag #worldpositive to tout its investing style. But Joaquin said he fully expects to generate top-tier returns. Certain alternative energies, for example, present massive growth opportunities as prices come down.

"Renewable energy sources are on the way and will soon be cost competitive to fossil fuel sources," he said.

Investors are happy enough with the paper returns to put in significantly more money, but thus far none of those gains has been realized. Joaquin said Obvious added more than a dozen new institutional investors in the fund, attracting hospitals, university endowments and family offices.

Like in the first Obvious fund, Williams is the biggest limited partner in the second. He wrote in a post on his publishing site Medium last month that he's selling up to 30 percent of his Twitter holdings to finance other projects, including Obvious.

"It actually pains me to be selling at this point, but this sale is all about personal context, not company context," Williams wrote.