EVCA Spotlight
July 3, 2024

Meet Ally Warson, Partner at Up.Partners

Samantha Huang
Principal at BMW i Ventures

Ally Warson is a Partner at Up.Partners, a venture capital firm that invests in companies helping transform the moving world. Ally grew up in Marin County, the suburban enclave that sits north of Silicon Valley and is known for its natural beauty. She had the fortune of having a high-powered mother in finance. Her mother, Tracey Warson, was a banking executive and had previously served as Chairman and Head of Citi Private Bank for the North America division. Naturally, Ally was ambitious by design and “hyper-competitive,” as she describes herself. When she was in college at Vanderbilt University, she had written down two life goals: to work at Google and in venture capital. Ally would achieve both. Upon graduating college, Ally worked a stint in consulting, followed by a strategy role at the early-stage startup Qubit. She eventually applied to Google on a whim and got the job. She started out in sales, then progressed to a grantmaking role at Google.org and creative strategy work for the YouTube team, among other projects. About two years into the role, the affliction known as a “quarter life crisis” seized Ally into a bout of existentialism. The antidote she sought was a career change. For five years, she had been cultivating a relationship with Scott Stanford, a former Goldman Sachs executive and founder of Acme Capital. Each year Ally would send him an annual email sharing new updates on her life. She wasn’t sure if he cared or not, but it was a way for her to cultivate an ongoing touch point with someone she admired. Stanford offered her an associate role at Acme Capital, and Ally achieved her second life goal, that of working in venture capital. Following Acme Capital, Ally joined Up.Partners as a principal. Two years ago, she made the big jump, becoming a partner at the firm, where she continues to invest in early-stage startups that reimagine the moving world.

Sam: Before becoming a venture capitalist, you had worked in consulting and in operational roles at the early-stage startup Qubit and Google. How did you make the transition into venture capital?

Ally: When I was in college, I wrote down two life goals: to work at Google and to work in venture capital. I remember applying to the summer internship at Google and got rejected. I thought to myself that two goals were never going to happen. For getting into venture capital, one of the biggest pieces of advice that I give younger investors is that relationships matter. Relationship-building is a line, not a dot. It’s the same story for investing--you need to get to know a founder over time. I had known Scott Stanford at Acme Capital for three plus years before he even hired me, and I would send him an annual email of what's going on in my life. I don't know if he cared or not, but it was a way for me to have a touch point with someone that I really admired. And I initially pitched him when I was a consultant on him hiring me, and he was like, “You need to go get more work experience, and I'm not interested.” I just kept up with him, and I would ask him for advice. Those micro moments really worked. I think I proved myself at Google, and I sat on the couch and asked him for advice. He was like, “Let's just write a job description together and figure this out.” At the end of the day, there wasn’t a job opening, but there was a person opening. I think that that is indicative of most startups that we invest in. A lot of times, I tell founders to hire the people that they want to work with, and then they can figure out the bullets on a job description later. Of course, hiring an engineer may not be the best fit for an enterprise sales person, but there’s ways to find the right fit for the right person, and I think I was lucky enough that that worked out from a timing perspective. That's how I got into venture.

Sam: What do you invest in? What market verticals get you excited?

Ally: Our one liner at Up.Partners is that we invest in helping transform the moving world. That includes anything that helps people or things move safer, faster, cleaner. What that means on paper is less the physical vehicles and more of the foundation blocks for these industries. So think manufacturing, design, workforce enablement, predictive maintenance, gig economy, the types of solutions that a lot of people take for granted. I’d say a lot of people don't know how the internet works. Maybe even more people don't know how a package arrives at your front door. We think a lot about those solutions that help someone move throughout the world--whether that’s travel, immigration, remittance payments--but also solutions that enable the logistics of the planes, the cars, the software to actually facilitate the movement of goods.

Sam: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Ally: My favorite part of the role is that I get to learn every single day. I think that there's a humility element of being in this job, and the people that think that they know everything will just massively fail in venture. I think that you have to acknowledge you don’t know everything and learn from others. That is the coolest part for me. I think the second coolest part is you get to actually put capital behind ideas that you have conviction in and watch those companies grow. And that is super, super cool.

Sam: What would you say is the hard part of venture capital?

Ally:  There are a couple of things. First, you have to be incredibly optimistic, a contrarian, and a total hustler. Sometimes, these traits can feel counterintuitive compared to how you might behave with your friends. For instance, you wouldn't casually suggest to your friends that you could build a 100-person house for everyone to live in tomorrow. But in venture capital, you might propose that humanoid robots could be our security systems for all office spaces in ten years. This highlights the element of envisioning what's possible.

On the contrarian side, it's challenging because, as an early-stage investor, you still need to secure the next wave of funding. If you're not aligned with the current hype cycle—whether it's crypto, AI, or VR—you must convince others to embrace your contrarian view. Many VCs aren't as unique in their thinking as one might believe, which adds to the difficulty.

Regarding the hustle, early-stage investing is both an art and a science. You constantly need to put yourself in situations where you can get lucky, which requires significant time and energy. Unlike growth investing, where you can rely more on numbers, early-stage investing involves looking people in the eye and believing they can change the world. Finding those people requires immense energy and perseverance.

Sam: Looking back at your career, what key learnings would you take away?

Ally: As I mentioned earlier, relationships matter. Prioritizing who you're working for and who you're working with will always take you further than a job title or an initial salary. Secondly, it’s important to have at least one logo that people can recognize on your resume. I think it gives you credibility, and it lets you take risks on your next shot. I feel like I did that with Google, so I'm grateful for that. Finally, I think the other thing is to remove ageism. You can learn from people 10 years, 20 years older or younger than you. Everyone has something to offer and titles should not cloud your judgment. 

Sam: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

Ally: That’s a question I’m not sure about yet. I don’t have any specific visualizations of where I will be, but I have some understanding of how I want to feel. I think there’s an element of eventually wanting a family from a personal level. Professionally, I thought I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but that’s still up in the air. I don’t have complete visibility, but that’s the beautiful part of life too.