Last month, we kicked back with one of our esteemed investors, Sarah Kunst, as we couch-surfed through a captivating conversation. As the managing director of Cleo Capital and a former contributing editor at Marie Claire Magazine, Sarah brings a wealth of expertise in building and scaling memorable and impactful companies. She’s also demonstrated a deep dedication to diversity, inclusion, and philanthropy in the tech industry. From her remarkable achievements in entrepreneurship to her active involvement in initiatives like Venture for America, Code2040, Technovation, and Tech Women, Sarah's unwavering support for underrepresented founders and her passion for creating a better future have made her a true force for change. From Sarah’s journey, her investment philosophy, the impact of Daffy in charitable giving, and the importance of incorporating generosity into daily life, this interview covers it all.
Daffy: It's so amazing to have you here in person at Daffy HQ, and so I thought we'd just start off with how you heard about Daffy and got involved.
Sarah: I heard about Daffy because I followed Adam on Twitter. Remember when people were on Twitter? I had always been interested in the FinTech space, personal wealth, savings, and investing even separate from my day job as a venture capitalist and so I followed him. I'd seen the Wealthfront story about this new thing and it was fascinating to me. We spend so much time focused on building wealth and organizing and managing our money on the consumption side. But for a lot of people, the giving side is a huge part as well and it's this complete black box.
For me, that had always been frustrating because I don't actually subscribe to this as a lifestyle the way some people do. I do think to some extent many nonprofits can't prove that they could, in theory, survive as a for-profit, like, "Hey, we know that giving kids food so they're not hungry or helping women get safe healthcare like abortions like this actually creates money and it makes sense as a thing. It's not just a social good."
If you can't do that, then maybe why are you in existence? But our giving, we do the same thing, where we just dump money on causes that pull your heartstrings, or you have one extra glass of wine at a benefit, and all of a sudden you're the biggest donor to some cause that you don't even really care about.
Why not organize it? And so when I heard about Daffy, it made so much sense to say, “Oh, this is a great way to actually be as rigorous about giving back as you are about earning all this money in the first place.” And for a lot of people, one of the big reasons behind wanting to earn is so you can use it to help donate.
Yes, and help others. A big thing that a lot of our members say is that it helps them be more intentional with what they're giving. So I'm curious, even before becoming an official investor, you were pretty active on Daffy. Where does your giving ethos come from? It seems like you've been involved in philanthropy since a young age. I'm curious about where it started for you. Was it someone in your life or just an experience that you had?
Sarah: I think that my parents were always very much focused on donating, giving back, tithing, volunteering, and being civically engaged.
And so to me, that was something that you just do as part of the social contract of being a human in the world. If you have any lever and any amount of privilege, you use it to help other people, so that was always a big part of it. Then even in college at Michigan State University, I was a philanthropy chair for a sorority.
I was in Kappa Alpha Theta, and it was fascinating because of things like Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society, which are things that most people have heard of if they're from the U.S., especially if they went to college or high school here. Literally, all of these kids do it because they're in a sorority or fraternity or they're on an intramural sports team and somebody tells them, “This is what we do.” You show up at this time, raise this money, go do it, and it devolves into a party for most schools, but it's a huge fundraiser. You realize that there is this opportunity to do fun stuff, do the things you already want to do, and it also folds back into giving back. And one of the reasons why you seek those leadership positions at college is thinking about your career.
To me, there's always been this natural interconnectedness that you don't have to wait until you're 95 and three seconds before they pull the plug, to try to give it all away. You can just have that be a part of your life.
I love that. Like we say, "Make giving a habit." What led Cleo Capital to want to invest in Daffy and be on this journey as we build one of the largest platforms for giving?
Sarah: Some investors are purely thesis-driven, and some investors are purely founder driven. I'm somewhere in the middle. Where I say, I care about all of these things in the world, and I think that I know a bunch of smart, interesting people who are going to start interesting companies.
And so when somebody like Adam Nash starts a company in a space that they are uniquely well suited for, deeply understand Fintech, and it's a space that I personally really care about, it's a no-brainer for me to invest when those stars align. The other piece is that nonprofits are a huge business, particularly in America. And in America, donating is also massively tied to taxes and financial benefits for people and that's another huge business.
So when there are all of these huge trends and it's something I care about and here's a founder who's uniquely well suited to do it who I like, why wouldn't I?
You've shared recently that you're investing in companies that are making the average person's life better. At Daffy, we want to make sure that people make giving a habit, whether it's a hundred dollars a week, or a few thousand dollars a year. What components of what we're building at Daffy fulfill the mission of your thesis of making the average person's life better?
Sarah: At Cleo, we have a thesis called the complicated consumer and there are a couple of different pieces of it that I think Daffy does a really good job at. So some of it is there are people with a tremendous amount of money and they want to donate it and they want to do it more efficiently and more effectively.
We've seen historically high-profile examples of people with piles of cash and great intentions and it's spent on consultants and advisors and it's like, I just wanted to help people. We live in a world where it's relatively easy, unfortunately, to walk down an urban street in most city centers and hand a hundred-dollar bill to somebody who looks like they're having a rough day.
And I say, unfortunately, because it'd be great to live in a world where there aren't people who look like they're having rough days and need that or there aren't people having rough days. But, it's actually hard to say, I want to go find an organization that's doing a ton of good and I want to give a thousand dollars a month or ten dollars a month to that organization into perpetuity so that they can continue to rely on my gift and they can help those people that I'm seeing in a more sustainable, scalable way. And so there are some tools that do that like Charity Navigator or Guide Star where you can get a sense of whether this is a real charity or a scam.
I think that's been super transformative and helpful. You can get a sense of capital efficiency, but then giving that last mile is still really hard. You'll be looking at something and saying, “Okay, so I have to mail a check, I have to go get my credit card out of my purse.” I don't know about you but a lot of my best shopping finds in the world have been lost to time because I'm like, I'll get my credit card later and I forget. And the same thing happens with donations. So how do you make it feel easy and just in time and just as simple as ordering a car service or buying something online with Apple Pay or whatever. I think that Daffy does that for everybody.
And then it also makes tracking easy. You can pay attention to how you’re donating. My personal theory of change might really be focused on racial justice or women's health, but the charity events I get invited to are saving puppies, which is great, but not my personal thing.
I actually ended up spending more money on that than I do on the stuff that I say I care about the most. If it's not measured it can't be managed as an adage that people use a lot and we don't tend to manage our giving the way that we do tend to manage other areas like, "Oh wow, I've spent way too much on vacation or Spindrift" or whatever it is.
What other new patterns you've noticed in your own giving since using Daffy and being so active?
Sarah: It's fascinating to see how many different ways you give and you guys are always building the platform to have amazing new use cases.
It's actually interesting to know what you end up doing that's not necessarily in the platform. So, people's GoFundMe’s are great causes or Cash App donations and direct giving which is increasingly a huge part, especially for millennials and GenZ.
I do a lot of political giving, and that is obviously not a nonprofit and it's interesting to look at all of that, and once you have that tip of the spear with Daffy to start thinking about, where am I giving? Who am I giving to? How am I deciding to give?
I don't like to bet against human nature, investing, and life, but humans are lazy, right? I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. It means we're efficient. It means we've invented things like Taco Bell.
It's great, but humans are lazy. So if a friend is posting about this amazing charity and they're just talking about it, sharing pictures, I'm probably not going to remember the name, Google it, or screenshot it. If people link to Instagram, I can click through the Instagram, and I can immediately hit donate or I can immediately go to their website, grab their 501(c)(3) number, put it directly into Daffy, and hit donate, I can do that a lot faster.
Well, that's a plug for why everybody should follow Sarah on Daffy and see all the amazing charities that you're giving to and get inspired. I've learned about some amazing local San Francisco charities by following you. Are there one or two nonprofits that you want to raise awareness about?
Sarah: I think that finding nonprofits through the app or through your own research, issue areas, even just thinking about, what's the need at hand…A few years ago people were really focused on COVID. Right now you look at things like climate and it's like, "Wow, okay, there's a heat dome, there's forest fires,” so there's always new things to find. I'll tell you about a couple of my favorites, but I do think it's important to constantly be just thinking about what's changed in the world. Candidly, Planned Parenthood a few years ago wasn't one of my top places to give just because the world was a different place than it is now. Now I'm spending a lot more money on abortion access and birth control access and women's health nonprofits than I was a few years ago because they need help more now.
In the same way that when there's a wildfire, that tends to be the case that you're like, "Oh, wow, okay, yes." Versus, when there's not. Some perennial favorites of mine that I always love. I love organizations like Tipping Point in the Bay Area and Robin Hood in New York.
They do a great job of taking a bunch of money from really smart people, hiring really smart people, and compensating them well. They're a grant-making org, so they are supporting a huge range of people that you would have maybe never heard of. And so they also function as a great finder of small, smart individual causes that wouldn't have necessarily been on your radar otherwise. They're not causes that have millions and millions of dollars of operating budgets. So I love those kinds.
Then a smaller one, I really like is the Women's Prison Association. They've been around in New York for almost 150 years. They do an amazing job of helping incarcerated women and justice system involved women and their families and their children stay out of prison and that entire complex. It costs half a million dollars a year to incarcerate one woman in New York State. And most of these women are in for crimes of desperation.
“Hey, my baby has no food,” or, “Hey, my boyfriend's a drug dealer, and guess what? I got dragged along. I'm not allowed to break up with him and I got dragged along too.” So these are people that we're paying half a million dollars a year where you can still be in New York by a studio apartment for that.
It's crazy to spend that much money to incarcerate them and keep them away from their kids and all these things rather than like house them and help them and give them resources so that they're in a better position. And so those are some of the nonprofits I personally love but I'm always interested in and looking for different solutions to problems that I'm learning more about or haven't yet personally experienced and so I'm always looking to add to it as well.
You were a former senior advisor at Bumble, and we were recently, inspired by their 'Kindness is Sexy' campaign because we feel like generosity should be sexy. So, how can we make generosity something that people can really get behind and remember? Because it feels like as adults many of us fall out of the habit and our society isn't rewarding it enough anymore.
Sarah: Yeah, I think that is important. It's understanding that and we think, I think, especially around dating. If somebody's a jerk to the waiter, that's not somebody you want in your life. It's just how it is. And so we think about that as a gating factor with people but I think we forget to bring that into our lives as we move forward.
And anytime I have friends who invite me to their charity event or do things like that, even if it's not a cause I'm passionate about, or if I can't attend, I always try to give something and send them a note back, that's like, "thank you for doing this" and give that sort of yes.
One, we need gatherers, we need conveners, we need helpers in the world. And two, it's odd that we live in a world where no one blinks at saying, "Hey, let's go out to dinner," and you're at one of those group birthday dinners and you don’t get any food, but everybody gets a hundred dollar check.
And that's just life, and you think that's normal. But then people feel weird about or are nervous to say, "Hey, come over. I'm going to make you brunch and donate $100 to whatever charity you write for my birthday," or "Come to this nonprofit event," or "Here's a charity instead of having birthday drinks,” thing where instead of buying me something, just donate.
We don't normalize that enough. You want to make sure somebody's nice when you first meet them and start dating them or becoming friends with them. And you donate if somebody dies. And then it's like most of our lives, we don't live going on first dates or dying.
So how do we make those [charitable] behaviors and touchpoints that happen throughout and not just at a couple of life milestones?
There's so much opportunity for us to celebrate one of those charitable behaviors by your friends. It's part of them, and even if it's not your thing, it's their thing, and that's what makes them, them, and you love them for that.
Sarah: We all do so many things that like aren't our thing. You're like playing pickleball for somebody's birthday. You're like, this is not my thing, but it's your thing, and I love that for you. If somebody's stepping up and saying, I care about this cause, I want to donate, I want to give, then support them in that. And then, by the way, turn around and tell them what you care about, and let them support you.