Nasir Jones, better known as Nas, reigns atop many folks’ "best rappers alive" lists. But in the past few years, Nas has also been building his cred as a tech investor. As a founding partner of L.A.-based Queensbridge Venture Partners, the celeb’s portfolio includes some pretty high-profile startups. He was one of the first investors in Rap Genius, and his firm has also invested in Dropbox, SeatGeek, Lyft, and Walker & Company Brands, whose founder, Tristan Walker, was profiled recently in Fast Company. Below, a brief Q&A with Nas on why he decided to invest in Walker’s company, and his ideas on funding more entrepreneurs of color.
What attracted you to investing in Tristan Walker’s startup, Walker & Company Brands, and the Bevel shaving system?
Well, upon meeting him I just thought he was a good guy, and when he presented it, it was already up and going. I felt, here’s a project I can be a part of, and I love what he wants to do. That was it.
What was your first impression upon meeting Tristan? Did Ben Horowitz introduce you two?
Yes, yes. I met him through Ben, and the guy knows what he’s doing. Tristan knows what he wants to do, and I was surprised that he had it that much together [when he pitched].
Was the razor bump issue something that you had experienced before?
Oh, yeah, sure.
As a black man, I hadn’t personally experienced it because I’ve always used electric clippers to shave. I don’t grow a lot of hair on my face, but I know that it is an issue for a lot of black men. So, that’s interesting to hear that you experienced it as well.
When I talked to Tristan about why it was so important to have you as an investor, he also talked about you as a trendsetter—your sense of style and how it’s an asset to Bevel and the generation of fans you speak to. What other expertise do you think you bring as an investor?
I’ve wanted to get into hair stuff since I was a teenager. I’ve been all over it—Sporting Waves, you name it. It was like a hobby. And none of those things lasted with me. You become an adult and you need stuff that lasts, that keeps up with the times. I saw this brand as something that helps with a problem that a lot of blacks have with our curly hair. This is something that a lot of us have been looking for.
And as an investor, what are some things that you want to see out of the company within the next year or two?
I want to see it become bigger. I want to see it in more department stores. And I want to see the product expand. I want to see it become the hair clippers, the razor company, the cream, the grease, the oil, the shampoo, the scissors. The Bevel store.
Yeah, one thing that I’ve talked to Tristan about is how barbershops will be around forever, right? So, if you can make Bevel the product that barbers will use, you’re guaranteed an almost perpetual source of revenue.
I would love to see Bevel barbershops. You know, all the way.
So, I know you started your investment firm, Queensbridge Venture Partners, with your manager Anthony Saleh. How did you even get interested in investing in startups?
When I heard the word "investment" in school, I was hooked. You invest your time, you can invest money and it was just a matter of time before it all fell into place for me. That’s one of the things that I thought a lot about as a young kid—the guys behind the scenes who make things happen, help build people up, make dreams come true.
I think it’s really great what you’re doing because—and I think this and I’ve talked to other people who have the same opinion as well—one way that we can get more black and minority tech entrepreneurs, is if we have more black celebrities investing in black entrepreneurs. Right now, only 1% of VC-backed startups are black-owned. I think that if there were more people like you investing in the Walker & Companies and more minority-owned businesses, there would be more, because it’s difficult getting funding.
It is a difficult process, and you have to have the patience for it. You’re the guy who needs the investor or the guy who’s looking for something great to invest in. It takes time to get into the same circle together. And that's part of the battle, getting everyone in the same circle and educating them on where to find investors. If I’m a black man, how do I find other black men who are businessmen who want to invest, who know something about business. Who not only just invest, but also can consult the company.
And to take it further, the business guys looking for something great to invest in that is created by black people. So, it’s about connecting the circle, so that we can be in the same rooms more often. We have to start having these areas, theses places, whether we meet at the MoMA or whether we have conventions or wherever the hell it is, we need to make that happen more and we need to manage our expectations, so that everyone’s not just expecting just because you’re black, invest in my company. It doesn’t work like that. It has to make sense.
Exactly. You want a good investor. You don’t want anybody who’s going to invest—
I would like to organize that. I would like to put together a quarterly thing where there’s a meeting of these two different parties—black entrepreneurs and black investors—and it’s fun. And people network and meet and then see what comes out of it. Hopefully, in the future.
It’s funny because what you’re saying when you say "get people in the same room" sounds to me a lot like what Ben Horowitz has been doing. A lot of people give him a hard time, but I argue that the reason that he does a lot of the type of networking that he does is to get a lot of like-minded people together in the same room so that there’s less of a disconnect, you know?
Last question, what are some of the things that you consider before investing in a company and kind of putting your face out there to someone who’s associated with this company?
I want to see how you started, why you started, what are your goals and what have you done so far to get where you are, on your own.