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We Started a Venture Studio to Get Shit Done

By Derek Distenfield, COO and Co-founder of GSD Venture Studios

Startups continue to fail despite record breaking capital injections from venture capitalists. In early 2019, Gary and I started meeting for coffee to brainstorm how we can fix startup failures in a meaningful way.

There is a resource gap between product-market fit and global startup scaling that is not being adequately addressed.
  • Y Combinator launched in 2005, followed by the rise of Steve Blank's and Eric Reiss's Lean Startup methodology. From there, a tremendous number of resources were created that were geared toward starting a company and achieving product-market fit.

  • Accelerators work because they “hand-hold” and provide a network.

  • Gary and I have both run large accelerators and incubators. One of the things we noticed was that for emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain, many startups need more than 13 weeks of support, especially if they are trying to achieve post-product-market fit growth.

  • On the other side of the spectrum we have the rise of “growth funds," fueled by iconic investors such as SoftBank and Mary Meeker and great books such as Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore that discuss how to scale your tech startup.

  • Venture studios have been highly successful, with over $5 billion in VC and 20 large exits since 2008.

  • There are many countries, such as Russia, that are full of talented technologists that have been prevented from using Silicon Valley resources as a launch pad to global success due to geopolitical and cultural factors.

  • There are hundreds of venture studios - how can we be unique?

The solution is GSD Venture Studios - We travel the world investing in resilient teams bold enough to #GoGlobal.

What really makes our studio unique is our focus on bridging the gap between Russian talent and US resources. We take on operational roles as senior executives in Russian startups and base the companies in Silicon Valley.

If we were going to start a venture studio, we wanted a focus that is relevant to our experience but also one that will have a massive impact across the world.

  • We believe that intellectual capacity is evenly spread throughout the world, but opportunity is not. This statement is especially true in Russia where we have already built deep trust and found success. Gary co-founded one of the country's first accelerators, GVA LaunchGurus. Most recently, Gary co-founded with David Yang, one of Russia most famous entrepreneurs. was recently named one of the 10 Most Innovative AI and Cognitive Solution Providers in 2019 by Analytics Insight.

  • Besides a geographic focus on Russia, we also needed a domain focus. We selected AI, blockchain, and VR. Gary’s influence in AI coupled with my experience in blockchain and VR made this an easy choice.

GSD Venture Studios's first trip to Russia could not have been better. We had dozens of meetings, formed several partnerships, and are ready to announce our first two portfolio companies!

Gary and I recently returned from five weeks in Russia. It was my first visit, and I was not really sure what to expect. What I found is advanced AI and blockchain companies that are supported by the largest techno park in Europe and strong institutions. Additionally, when vetting founders, I always look for resilience as there have been several studies that link it to strong entrepreneurship. I saw tremendous resilience when I worked at Bunker Labs with veteran-led startups, and I saw it again in Russia.

Most importantly, the feedback we received from startups was sensational.

Here is the deck we used on our trip if you are interested in learning about us. We're looking for technology and AI-focused companies and founders who are ready to grow the right way, without games or gimmicks. If you put in the work, we'll help you #GoGlobal.

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