Anti-Bias Fund: Enriching Diverse Conversation with Holler CEO Travis Montaque
March 22, 2021 | Scott Murphy
Fund Closing March 31
The Anti-Bias Fund offers investors a portfolio of ~20-30 venture investments that are led by diverse founders/teams or feature a business model addressing systemic biases. Click below to review fund materials. You can also book a call with a Senior Partner if you have questions or want to learn more.
Alumni Ventures’ Anti-Bias Fund offers investors a portfolio of ~20-30 deals that back companies with a diverse founder/team and/or that address systemic bias. To help bring ABF’s goal to life, we recently spoke to Travis Montaque, Founder and CEO of Holler, a company that has been added to the ABF portfolio. Holler is a messaging technology company that delivers content in messaging environments such as Venmo, texts, etc. The following is a condensed, edited digest of our conversation.
About Travis Montaque
Travis has been recognized in Entrepreneur Magazine’s list of Most Daring Entrepreneurs and Forbes’ 30 under 30. He’s also a regular speaker at places like South by Southwest and Harvard Business School and has been profiled by The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, and The New Yorker.
What was the genesis for Holler?
Montaque: While I was in college, I raised a friends-and-family round for an app that delivered video content. At the time, I wanted to help people to share more content. I realized that one reason people might not share content is because they don’t have anything to say. But everything you see makes you feel a certain way, so what if you could just share that feeling?
At the time, I removed all words from the platform, and only allowed people to react with one of 12 emoji. I realized that digital expression or visual communication was becoming more important as more conversations moved online.
I started doing a lot of thought leadership about visual communication — things that have become the language of the internet today. Gifs, memes, stickers, emojis, all of these things — the rise of categorical messaging.
I founded Holler with a very simple mission statement: enrich conversations everywhere. I felt like we could always expand on what a conversation meant, and everywhere spoke to our desire to do it for people everywhere. There are now 100 trillion messages sent online each year. That’s versus less than two trillion searches on Google. The space that we operate in is the most frequent digital activity on the planet. We were surprised that we hadn’t seen much innovation in peer-to-peer messaging since the first text message in 1992.
How does Holler improve conversations?
Montaque: We leverage art and science to improve peer-to-peer peer messaging experiences. On the art side, we aggregate, create, and curate outstanding content for messaging. The science piece is that we built contextual AI that can analyze messages in real time, determine what people need at that moment, and then deliver it — making it super easy for them to access content that’s perfect for them in their messaging environment.
We do all that with privacy in mind. Our secret sauce is that we don’t do AI in the cloud. We do it locally on people’s phones, ensuring messages stay private. And that’s a lot of messages: 1.3 billion messages a day from 75 million users.
Upcoming Webinar: AVG Women in VC Panel
Join some of AVG’s female investment professionals on Wed, March 24, at 2:00 PM ET for a discussion about the opportunities and challenges for women in venture capital. Participants will include (from top left):
- Jasmi Shah, Principal at Purple Arch Ventures
- Laura Bordewieck Rippy, Managing Partner at Green D Ventures
- Lacey Farrell Johnson, Investing Partner at The Yard Ventures
- Catherine Lu, Managing Partner at Alumni Ventures’ Basecamp Fund
What have been some of the challenges of building your business?
Montaque: Finding the right people is a constant for an entrepreneur. I’ve realized that — especially as a young entrepreneur — I needed to surround myself with people who I viewed as experts and that were very credible.
Another challenge is that we’re doing something inherently new: inventing the category of conversational media. It’s been a constant learning experience, figuring out how you define it, what resonates, what parallels you can draw, how you monetize it.
Can you talk about Holler’s approach to diversity and inclusion?
Montaque: At Holler, we have lots of programs to ensure diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
It’s such a tough topic. And anything that’s tough, historically people often took an open source approach to solving these types of problems. So that’s what we did at Holler. I’ve spoken to so many leaders and people, and I’ve been energized because so many people have been doing so much and been excited to push change forward.
To wrap, I think you need to take a 360-view of the business. Stand up for your core belief system and values — and that’s what we did at Holler.
What about diversity when it comes to building your product?
Montaque: We make sure that we develop a product that is inherently diverse and meets the needs of a very diverse audience across age, race, geography, etc. The reason platforms call upon Holler to deliver the types of services that we do is because we ensure that the product scales, is localized, and works well for everyone.
Is diversity a factor in your investor choices?
Montaque: We bring investors on who will help support our business in context of our values. One of the things I love about AVG and the Anti-Bias Fund is just that. You guys are not only great, smart people who are helping us advance our business objectives in many different ways, but you can help our business in context of our values. This is important to you, and why we were excited to partner with you.
What challenges do you see in the venture industry for diverse founders?
Montaque: We’re moving in the right direction, but still only 1% of venture capital dollars go to Black founders. The road ahead requires two things: Encourage entrepreneurship and build more businesses in the Black community. But also think about how we expand where people are looking for talent. How do we keep from just recruiting from the standard places where people look for diverse talent?
What’s ahead for Holler?
Montaque: Our mission at Holler is to enrich conversations everywhere. People are talking about things, wanting to engage with each other in fun and unique ways. We want to service those moments by developing tools that help people achieve all their goals. What we’re doing here is pushing the space. You’ll see that in a plurality of new products over the next 12 months that look completely different from what we’re doing today, but ultimately help people have better conversations.
Learn More About Our Anti-Bias Fund
We’re pleased to report some positive results in fighting bias. But given the overall rate of funding and venture employment for women and people of color, much more needs to be done. We hope the Anti-Bias Fund is one more such “good news” story and invite you to explore more about the fund. If you have questions, click below to connect with us.
Interested in learning more? Click below to review fund materials.