Cultivating curiosity and uncommon care: An interview with ICONIQ Growth’s newest general partner Roy Luo

July 26, 2023

Meet our newest general partner in a conversation between Will Griffith and Roy Luo.

Roy Luo, General Partner, ICONIQ Growth

At ICONIQ Growth we believe in being “all-in.” We’re all-in with our founders to support their ambitions to build enduring and transformative companies. And we’re all-in with our team to maximize our collective impact while developing rewarding professional growth opportunities. This commitment to being all-in has been truly embraced by my partner Roy Luo, who brings an extraordinary level of passion, hustle, and wisdom to every founder and company he partners with.

Roy and I met when he joined the firm in 2018. His path to investing was unconventional relative to many others in this field, but the experience he gained through time spent in capital markets and real estate uniquely informed his broad perspective and dynamic analytical mindset.

Since joining our team Roy has been an incredible and equally humble leader, partner, cultural pillar, and friend. He has led our partnerships and served in a board capacity for FloQast, Restaurant365, Enfusion, HighRadius, Primer, Truckstop, Conexiom, and additionally drove our investments in Ramp, dbt Labs, Clara, Groww, and Roy has been instrumental in driving $1.6 billion of investments, but equally importantly, he has been an incredible partner who is deeply committed to relationships he has helped forge.

Roy’s deep dedication to helping partners transform and scale their businesses is evident throughout his work. From identifying compelling market opportunities and category leaders to rolling up his sleeves to support companies’ success, his drive, insight, and devotion have been exemplary and a model and mentor for many of the rising leaders on our team. 

As we celebrate Roy’s promotion to general partner, I took the opportunity to talk with him about his path and the key lessons he’s learned along the way.

What led you to pursue a career in venture and growth investing? What aspects of investing energize and challenge you the most?

Both my parents immigrated to Canada as academics and from a young age I grew up in a household that deeply valued education. I was raised with a natural curiosity and hunger to learn, and it was during college and throughout the financial crisis that I was able to apply all my learnings to the real world, particularly in the financial markets. This really sparked my initial interest in investing as I found a field where you are afforded endless opportunities to learn and can also apply that knowledge in the real world.

Through venture and growth investing, I am constantly pushed to learn about all sorts of markets and technologies. You get to study how the world works, what the big challenges are, and what drives the solutions behind them. Technology has become ubiquitous and it’s special that I can live a life where innovation drives constant change and learning opportunities. I love being able to experience life through that lens.

Additionally, investing really fuels my love of working with people. I think this aspect is truly unique in venture and growth investing, as there is a particularly heavy emphasis on partnership and relationship-building. It’s core to ICONIQ Growth’s ethos and pervasive across all aspects of our day-to-day: working internally with our team, going out there and meeting passionate and inspiring founders and entrepreneurs, and investing or partnering with existing portfolio leaders and executives. This energizes me—it’s what brings my love for learning to life and keeps everything fresh and challenging.

Roy, you have an incredible range as an investor—at ICONIQ Growth, you have led or helped drive numerous investments spanning across stages and transaction types, from Series B to buyouts of growth stage companies. What are the core principles you focus on when you are evaluating opportunities, regardless of stage?

At ICONIQ Growth we seek to partner with founders of best-in-class companies solving important problems.

Best-in-class can take many forms. It can be a business that’s barely a year old just starting to bring its product to market, or it can be a decades-old company that has evolved and reinvented itself several times over. In my opinion, “best” is not defined by the company’s age or scale. I believe different markets demand different frameworks to evaluate what “best” really means, and if you can stay intellectually humble and flexible, you will be able to make a sound decision no matter the situation.

When I think about the core principles that should apply, it’s pretty simple. It comes down to some of the bare-bones basics that any aspiring investor or business leader comes across: market, competition, and team.

Market: Is this a large or growing market, and is it strategic? Will this impact a lot of people and will they care?

Competition: Is this the best product? Does it solve the problem in the best way and are people happy with it?

Team: Is this a team and a leader that can help the business realize its potential?

While simple, sometimes it can be difficult to stay disciplined and focused on just these questions. No matter the stage of a company’s development, there are a ton of nuances and idiosyncrasies that can muddy the picture or distract from these core questions. But taking a step back and consistently returning to these simple principles is how I take as objective of a view as I can when evaluating opportunities.

Your investments and board seats span not just the United States but the world, reaching India, London, and beyond. How have you approached finding, evaluating, and partnering with founders and companies in different regions?

We’ve found that our theses for evaluating companies translates well across borders. That said, there are absolutely nuances and differences in, say, Indian, Brazilian, and European markets that we need to understand and consider. But staying disciplined by sticking to the core questions of market, competition, and team has been key when looking internationally.

These international markets also come with different market dynamics, different buying behaviors, different competitive landscapes, and different regulatory environments, and I love it. There are an infinite number of learning opportunities. Being able to meet founders and leaders from different upbringings and backgrounds has also been incredibly rewarding. It’s exciting to see people of all walks of life that are motivated by a similar desire to drive change and impact.

On top of it all, a much broader experience set across these geographies helps inform our view on how different markets can evolve under different forces. I believe those insights inform us to become better investors and more importantly better partners to our portfolio leaders.

What is the most important lesson from your career thus far?

Maybe not exactly a single lesson, but I am grateful that over my career I’ve had the opportunity to learn from so many folks of different backgrounds.

I had a more non-traditional background coming into technology investing. I started off my career working in capital markets, focused on liquidity and risk solutions, before working in real estate for a bit. The diversity of these experiences fueled a love and hunger for learning, as well as gave me a deeper appreciation for the impact of technology and software in the real world.

Along the way, I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from folks who have worked in large cap private equity, early seed stage venture, and traditional growth. I’ve been able to study and learn about the merits and strengths of investing across these categories, and thus have a broader perspective for the technology investing landscape. I think that’s underpinned my flexibility and breadth as an investor.

Importantly, I’ve tried my best not to let any of these learning opportunities go to waste. I think staying humble, intellectually flexible, and having an authentic hunger to learn makes you a better investor. You can pick up so much from different backgrounds and different approaches to business and investing. And I hope that as the years and decades go by, I will stick to this philosophy and continue to remain a student of the industry for the duration of my career.

What trends or themes are you excited to invest behind over the next several years?

I think the flavor du jour right now is all things AI so any answer to this question wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to that 🙂.

Beyond all the rapid and exciting developments in AI, I would say that in the tougher macro environment in which we’re now living—with weaker demand and higher cost of capital—buyers are paring back and emphasizing truly “mission critical” purchases.

In times like these, you really see what products and markets can withstand market volatility, and which teams can adjust and learn from vastly differing operating markets. Businesses with true technological and product advantages, while facing broader macro headwinds, will enjoy massive competitive tailwinds.

For these reasons, I’m excited to invest in the innovation of critical business functions: finance, HR, devops, IT infrastructure, just to name a few. I’ll be closely watching how enterprises consolidate tools, prioritize spend, and direct budgets towards automation, cost savings, and profit enhancing products.

Why should a founder work with ICONIQ Growth?

I always tell founders that they should work with ICONIQ Growth for many of the same reasons I came to the firm myself. We offer an unparalleled network and robust set of unique resources to help founders of all stages realize the full potential of their business. The power of the ICONIQ community is hard to encapsulate in generalities and in words, but is evidenced in anecdotes and references. I tell founders all the time that the best way to find out what it’s like to work with ICONIQ Growth is to speak with another founder in our portfolio. I truly believe in building a reputation that speaks for itself.

And the most powerful way to show my conviction in what we offer is to vote with my feet. I chose to join ICONIQ Growth because as a steward for our team, I am equipped to harness this community in the form of incredible resources for our founders and portfolio company leaders. I know there are a ton of smart, wonderful people in our industry, folks who make great partners that any founder would be lucky to work with. But the power of our platform is underpinned by the depth and breadth of the resources we can provide our partners. We deliver a consistent, impactful experience and I feel fortunate to be a part of it, and a part of supporting our founders and company leaders in their amazing growth journeys.

What does being “all-in” mean to you?

It wasn’t long after I first stepped into technology investing that I quickly realized this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my career. Working in this field really doesn’t feel like work at all. I found that I would spend all my free moments researching or spending time with people immersed in technology. It’s something that I was doing even before officially starting my career in investing.

Underpinning this was a deep passion for technology, and I think it is this authentic passion that drives what being “all-in” is all about. It’s a total immersion and commitment. What we do here at ICONIQ Growth is a lens into how I see the world and how I interact with people. A passion for learning and commitment to delivering impact and change to the world resonates deeply with me, so being “all-in” in the uncommon care we deliver to our relationships, our portfolio companies, our prospective partners, our teammates – our broader community – it all feels natural.

This authentic passion has led me to dive in headfirst and interweave my life into everything we do here, and that’s always been what I sought after in a career. I feel fortunate to be able to express and develop this passion with the amazing community we are building at ICONIQ.

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