8VC Emerging Builders Spotlight: Joshua Stone (Opto Investments)

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Oct 10, 2022

In supporting the industry defining companies of the 8VC portfolio, we are fortunate to work with the brightest, most dedicated people in the world. As we look to identify the next generation of best-in-class entrepreneurs, we naturally turn to our network of peers and friends.   ‍

Top engineers might be early in their career, but have often been obsessed with technology and innovation from a young age. They're also better attuned to who are the other top technical minds in their respective cohort! Many of the most important companies we’ve invested in or started won by attracting younger superstar engineers (Palantir, Oculus, Addepar, Qualia, Blend, Affinity, etc).    

We’re excited to feature some of the most promising engineering and product talent we have the pleasure of collaborating with not only at 8VC, but within our broader network. 

Today, we’d like to highlight Joshua Stone, founding engineer at Opto Investments (an 8VC Build company). Joshua Stone studied EECS at UC Berkeley. After graduating in December 2017, he went on to join cybersecurity startup Expanse, funded by VC firms like Sequoia and Founders Fund, where he helped build out foundational technology to scan the global internet. After Expanse got acquired by Palo Alto Networks in November 2020, he joined Opto Investments as a Founding Engineer.

This is the second of two spotlights this week on Opto. For the previous one, highlighting software engineer Alec Wang, please see here

Why did you first decide to join Opto? What are you most excited about?

I joined Opto because I want to be an owner in the zero-to-one phase of a startup’s trajectory. I wanted to optimize for exposure to making foundational decisions.

I’ve worked in startup environments prior and certainly recognize how important it is to build alongside exceptional founders. I was really impressed with the Opto founding team – while incredibly seasoned, the co-founders remain committed to rolling up their sleeves and hustling. 

I gravitated towards private markets given the dearth of easily accessible data, which to me presented itself as an interesting opportunity. There is a firehose of information with respect to the public markets. In contrast, private market data is quite sparse. Limited information can’t simply be solved via technology, but requires careful coordination across different business verticals to curate and present this data. 

Furthermore, the opportunity to build a contract system is both exciting as well as challenging – there are so many ways in which someone might structure an investment so this proves to be a rewarding thought process to accommodate clients. 

What part of the product and platform do you work on today? What have you learned?

I’m spearheading the full stack features for the customer facing application. Many engineers tend to get caught up solving complex technical challenges – I’m personally motivated to figure out how to make technology work best not only for customers, but a host of internal and external stakeholders. I thrive in environments where speed of execution as well as iteration is prioritized – you can glean so much valuable feedback by spending time with clients to understand preferences. 

How have you tackled workflow and business use case complexity using software? With respect to the contracting system, why is it so complicated?

The contracting system is challenging as it presents a large branching problem. It’s only hard to solve when you’re trying to simplify the process. We could certainly give clients a list of 250+ fields and ask them to fill this out – it’s easy to shift this from a manual process onto the Opto platform, but fails to drive differentiation. What sets us apart is streamlining the process, optimizing the 250+ fields to 50. 

Simplification is essential – our goal is to develop advanced financial models that not only surface the best investments, but distill this information in an easily digestible, actionable manner. 

Has anything surprised you about this domain or private market space you didn’t expect? 

From a startup perspective, the people you work with and partnerships you build at the foundational stage are much more critical to the success of the company compared to any other stage. It is the bedrock of success.

From a domain perspective, private markets are fascinating because there are so many opportunities for innovation and avenues for growth. This is where prioritization becomes essential as we cannot afford to expand into every direction. 

You have to thoughtfully select what you build and how you approach this process, otherwise this often leads to distraction as well as a muddled product vision.