We are excited to announce that Jess Leão has joined Decibel as our newest partner. Jess is a successful early stage VC who grew up in one of the lowest socioeconomic parts of Brazil where very few people could afford a computer. Her passion for learning new languages and computer science ultimately brought her to Silicon Valley, where she became an early investor in startups leveraging modern AI and Large Language Models (LLMs). Her portfolio included some of the pioneers in Generative AI including MosaicML, which was recently acquired by Databricks for $1.3 Billion. In her new role at Decibel, she will be investing in the next wave of AI engineering tools and autonomous software platforms that will help us reimagine how traditional enterprise software is built and used.
Jess shares more about her background and vision for the next phase of Decibel in our Q&A:
I grew up in Salvador, Brazil, which is one of the most diverse, beautiful, but also crime-ridden cities in the country. I was raised by my mother, a very courageous woman who used every resource to provide me with an education. In my community, very few women without means are told to dream big and my mother taught me the importance of perseverance even when others had disbelief. To succeed in disadvantaged parts of Brazil, you need to work hard to create opportunity and overcome numerous obstacles along the way. We didn’t have a car or a computer growing up and, for much of my childhood, I commuted to school alone on a public city bus for two hours every day, and walked to internet cafes at night to do my homework. Crime is also prevalent in Brazil - I’ve been held at gunpoint and had my abdomen slashed by a knife while defending myself in a mugging. Though I wouldn't wish to repeat some of my experiences, I am nonetheless grateful for the person they have made me. I learned to use these obstacles as motivation and ultimately earned a scholarship to attend college in the US.
Palantir was famously one of the first companies to use modern data engineering and machine learning for the US government, and I was drawn to the company by what was possible when advanced ML was applied at scale. I was a Forward Deployed Engineer on a team called R2D2 that was known for its rapid execution and reputation for “getting things done”, and when I joined we were given the task of expanding the ways we served our government customers using AI. Palantir has an incredible mission, and its technology helps with everything from combating terrorism overseas, stopping human trafficking at home, supporting cutting-edge cancer research, and fighting climate change around the world. In my last year I was tasked with creating our first paid WSJ ad to promote our mission, which I still have on my desk. It is the constant reminder of what is possible when we apply AI for everyone’s benefit.
The field of AI is not new but I feel fortunate to have started my career in venture in the era of transformers and large language models. At Palantir we had seen the power of machine learning but also the challenge that many organizations had in building, deploying, and maintaining their own models. AI was transformative, but not accessible to all without a substantial amount of money and expertise. I was privileged to have a chance to invest in Naveen, Jonathan, Hanlin, and the team at MosaicML who had been early pioneers in deep learning and had a vision for solving this issue. Their goal was to make it easy for enterprises to rapidly build their own LLMs that were pre-trained to be used without the time and expense of starting from scratch. It was exciting to see demand surge for their product and they were ultimately acquired by Databricks for $1.3 Billion. I am a strong believer that AI-enabled applications are ultimately as expansive and complex as the human mind, and there will be a large family of AI and LLM-native platforms that will need to be built to bring these new products to market.
I have a belief that the biggest dreams often seem the most unlikely, but they happen when people show enough conviction and never give up. It has been true in my personal life, and it has been true in many startups. You have to fight, but you can win. I bring that mentality to everything I do. I have a personal passion for enabling those who are underestimated, and have found that the most fulfilling work is helping technical founders from the very beginning when they need true believers. The team at Decibel cares deeply about creating a highly differentiated founder experience from the earliest stage - and building the next great startups through a partnership that is unwavering in its commitment to put founders first.
If you are a founder or future founder who is building with AI, please join us at our AI Pioneers Summit at the end of October and always feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com if you want to connect!