Santo Politi

Co-founder & General Partner, Early

Life has been a series of reinventions for Santo Politi. Growing up in Turkey, Santo received a scholarship to study electrical engineering in the U.S., paving the path to a job at Panasonic in the company’s Broadcast and Television division. After a decade working as an engineer, Santo went to business school, where he juggled a full-time job with his studies.

As he was graduating, Santo declined a job offer as a trader with Morgan Stanley in London to remain in the U.S. to be with his now wife. The choice changed the course of his life and career. “Coincidences matter,” he says. “These chance encounters and decisions are what direct the course of your life and your business.” After school, Santo joined Bankers Trust, to help launch the bank’s first early stage venture arm. He left to become the President of Blockbuster before eventually returning to venture capital as a general partner at Charles River Ventures. After a few years, Santo struck out on his own to start Spark in 2005 with Todd Dagres and Bijan Sabet.

Spark was a chance for Santo to do venture his own way. “We wanted to be an East Coast firm with a West Coast offense,” he says. “We decided to swing for the fences every time, and this is how we’ve invested since day one.” Santo helped build Spark to challenge venture’s commonly held beliefs. He believes there’s no repeatable lessons when it comes to investing—the most impactful companies tend to break the rules. “Everything at Spark is written in sand, not concrete,” he says. “Most firms are predicated on rules, and every year they make more rules, which will only guarantee that they miss the exceptional companies.”

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“I moved to New York with $800 and money to cover tuition. I was supporting my family back home in Turkey as well. As an immigrant, you have to make your own way. There is no plan B.”

“I built a lot of robots before robots were robots. We built the super high quality professional stuff, and then the consumer stuff—VCRs and cameras—was based on what we created.”

Every Wednesday, Santo would leave his business school class in Philadelphia to visit his engineering teams in San Francisco or Osaka, Japan.

“The only reason I stayed is because of her. In that moment, I chose love over money.”

“The whole idea was to be kinder and gentler. We aimed to be a place where people wanted to work; where you respected people’s personal lives as much as their professional lives.”

At the time, few venture firms were audacious enough to invest in consumer tech, but Santo felt an unwavering confidence in the internet as a transformative technology. It led Spark to invest early in companies like Oculus, Twitter, Wayfair, and Tumblr.

When Spark led the seed round of Plaid, the team consisted of two young, first-time founders who were just getting out of the consulting world. Within three years, the founders had gone from concept to being the infrastructure that consumers relied on to connect their bank account to third-party apps like Venmo and Coinbase. Santo has served on the board since 2015, and in 2020, VISA offered to acquire Plaid for $5.3 billion.

The first time Santo tried the Oculus Rift, he remembers it being the most transformative hardware experience he’d had since the iPhone. He immediately invested leading the Series A in 2013. Less than a year later, the company was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.