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Ev Williams's Obvious Ventures Looks to Combine Profit and Purpose

They call it "world-positive."

Obvious Ventures

The guy who started the short- and long-form publishing platforms Blogger, Twitter and Medium has now started a venture capital firm, too.

Ev Williams has brought on full-time investors to put his and other people’s money into startups that are, as he calls them, “world-positive.”

“We look for the investment opportunities where it’s really obvious that baked into the product or service is some positive benefit,” said Williams’s new partner James Joaquin.

And as such, they call the firm Obvious Ventures, which is a name that Williams has frequently used for his more amorphous, between-company incubator-investment-development projects. Previous incarnations of things called “Obvious” spawned both Twitter and Medium. (Williams said he has “not yet” sued himself for copyright infringement.)

Obvious Ventures is in the process of raising its first fund, but it has already made 11 investments, most of them in software with a smattering in packaged goods. Focus areas include sustainability, the sharing economy and healthy living. We have written about some Obvious-backed companies over the past few months; others include Flux, a spinout from Google X that helps with energy efficiency in real estate, and Olly, a new vitamin company from the founder of soap-maker Method.

Sami Inkinen, Vishal Vasishth, Ev Williams, James Joaquin and Virginia Sapp
Sami Inkinen, Vishal Vasishth, Ev Williams, James Joaquin and Virginia Sapp

While Williams plans to stay focused on his job as CEO of Medium, the two main Obvious Ventures partners are Joaquin, the former CEO of Ofoto and Xoom and a venture capitalist for the past seven years, investing in companies like Plum Organics and Opower; and Vishal Vasishth, the former chief strategy officer of Patagonia and an investor in Zipcar and Eye-Q in India. They’ve also recruited Trulia co-founder Sami Inkinen as a venture partner.

The initial investments from Obvious do not seem dramatically different from those another venture capital firm might pick, but Williams describes the distinction as choosing “things we want to exist in the world” instead of “things to make money,” speaking in a conference room at Medium’s downtown San Francisco office, where Obvious Ventures is currently squatting.

That’s not to say the people at Obvious aren’t trying to turn a profit — just that they feel there is a better way to do it. “It is inevitably a value judgment,” Williams said. “We have to hold ourselves to be intellectually honest: Do we really feel good about this? At scale, does this have an impact? We won’t do anything where the technology or product seems negative.”

For instance, Joaquin said, the smart home company Nest could be looked at as an energy efficiency company — but really, the reason people buy its thermostat product is because it’s nicely made and it works well. (Williams was an early personal investor in Nest, and had a nice exit when Google bought it for $3.2 billion.)

“The opportunity we see is that [Obvious portfolio companies] can create win-wins,” said Williams. “They’re not going to get mainstream attention because they do good, but because they are good. I think Tesla’s an example of this. It’s just a badass car. It’s extra-awesome that it’s electric. We’re at a time when that is possible across many different sectors.”

By the way, Williams will be a speaker at our Code/Media conference in February.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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