Introducing Shaper Capital

Travis May
6 min readSep 24, 2023

Over the coming months, I plan to announce several companies focused on solving data fragmentation in various industries, drawing on the playbook and lessons learned from my experiences building LiveRamp and Datavant. Shaper Capital will be the holding company for these businesses and will help to launch and build each venture.

This post dives deeper into Shaper Capital, and my motivation for starting it.

The Shaper Capital Mission.

Shaperism is the belief that individuals can shape the world for the better. Too many people are too quick to accept perceived constraints and don’t deeply believe they can change the world; they view outcomes as luck or destiny. Yet much of the world we live in was built by shapers who believed in exceptionalism and believed that they could change the future — and worked relentlessly to shape it.

Our mission is to build companies that shape the world. We do this by finding exceptional talent and cultivating individual shapers, and working with that talent to build businesses that can transform industries. We focus on building businesses in industries we understand well (i.e. data and middleware businesses) where we have a playbook that can defy the odds.

Over the next 10 years, our aspiration is to build at least 50 companies that transform industries.

Why Start Shaper Capital

In launching Shaper Capital, I have three driving hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1 — This is the best time ever to start a company.

More than ever before, there are a number of “obvious ideas” — whitespace that somebody will capture in the next 5–10 years — that come down to execution. This is because of underlying industry changes (most notably, AI) that create opportunities that markets haven’t solved yet.

The abundance of ideas couples with an abundance of talent; in the last decade, the number of talented people who have decided to focus on engineering and decided to work on early-stage companies has taken off. Now that markets have corrected, there is less “noise” in the market from ineffective companies, and an abundance of great talent eager to work on big challenges.

Relatedly, many of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the world today can be addressed by startups. From curing diseases to improving education, from reimagining energy to reducing car accidents, many of the most important problems of our time are being addressed at least partially by technology. The positive feedback cycles in capitalism allow exponential impact for ambitious shapers who focus on businesses that matter for the world. I believe that my greatest impact can come in the form of creating businesses that matter.

Hypothesis 2 — Businesses that solve data fragmentation challenges are needed in every industry.

In addition to being a great time to start a company in general, this is an especially great time to build “middleware” businesses. Middleware businesses are platforms that help connect an organization’s data and applications to work together interoperably.

Middleware businesses thrive when: i) data is extremely valuable, ii) data is extremely fragmented, and iii) applications using data are extremely fragmented. In an age of AI, all three of these conditions are more true than ever — creating more and more value for companies that can help organizations navigate this complexity.

I expect nearly every industry will generate a $1+ billion middleware company this decade (and some substantially bigger).

Hypothesis 3 — The playbook I’ve built from the Datavant and LiveRamp experiences can scale.

LiveRamp is a middleware business that solves data fragmentation in marketing. Datavant is a middleware business that solves data fragmentation in healthcare.

Aspects of this playbook are replicable across industries to solve data fragmentation problems.

There are high-level take-aways that I learned from my experience leading LiveRamp and from founding and leading Datavant, ranging from:

  • how to obsess over talent & culture from the early days (and win on execution)
  • how to create a reputation for neutrality and trust as an industry utility
  • how to build a land & expand engine and focus the team on relentlessly building a network effect
  • how to obsess over delivery and make sure customers are delighted while you build a culture of automation/productization
  • how to build a partnership-centric business that focuses on win-wins
  • how to create clarity of vision and cultivate true believers (both internally and externally)
  • how to grow inorganically as a startup
  • etc.

But so many of the take-aways are frameworks that help with micro-decisions — pattern matching for challenges that have come up in multiple contexts.

These takeaways make me a better CEO today than I was in the early days of Datavant, and at Datavant I was a better leader than I was at LiveRamp.

With Shaper Capital, a big part of my goal is to get leverage behind this playbook — and apply it at scale across similar business models. I plan to do this by building a lean central company-building engine and personally going deep on several businesses simultaneously, while empowering incredible founder-CEO’s who are all-in on each business.

The Shaper Capital Model

Our model is to co-found businesses with great CEOs. These businesses are focused on playbooks that we understand well — generally solving data fragmentation challenges in various industries — with an opportunity to transform an industry. We actively help the CEO build the business and play a close role in building the company.

We are operating with the following guiding principles:

  1. We obsess over talent. We aim to be the best place in the world for a CEO to accelerate their odds of success, for people with entrepreneurial ambitions to become a CEO or join a founding team, and for high-capacity individuals to find roles where they can rapidly grow while delivering impact. We will actively recruit within Shaper Capital and help our companies become talent magnets.
  2. We stack the deck for high-probability & high-expected-value outcomes. It’s a myth that startups have a low-probability of success. With the right team and the right initial decisions, a great entrepreneur can almost always get a good outcome while shooting for an exceptional outcome. We will help stack the team and playbook to help change the odds for founders. And we will only build businesses where we believe we can change the odds because of our relationships and playbook (eg. data & middleware!).
  3. We will build a long-term reputation of win-win-wins. We will build a brand where i) we are the best place in the world for aspiring entrepreneurs to build companies (by increasing their odds of success, accelerating the path to success, and increasing expected value), ii) we are the best place in the world for great talent to join the best companies (by creating a high personal growth environment), and iii) we are exceptional partners for investors and acquirers to work with (by consistently generating high-quality companies).
  4. We only back companies we can shape. Rather than take a large number of small stakes, we will focus on shaping companies where we can own large/majority stakes — and play an active role in working with the CEO (or co-found the company with the CEO ourselves). We do not make passive investments. We continue to invest and stay involved throughout the company’s journey.
  5. We are not a partnership or a fund. Most funds have dynamics of partners convincing other partners of their decisions, and make slow (and risk-averse) decisions. We will have a CEO and operate at the pace of a business, not a partnership. Funds also need to spend effort focused on investor relations with LPs, and too many decisions are based on optics and short-termism. Instead, we will operate primarily with personal capital, allowing us to move quickly and focus on long-term results.

Come Join Us!

We’ll be announcing our first few businesses in the coming months, and we are hiring shapers across these companies — ranging from software engineers and product managers to potential CEOs. If you’re interested in shaping the world, please reach out to jobs@shapercap.com!

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Travis May

Entrepreneur, Investor, and Board Member. Founder & Fmr CEO of LiveRamp and Datavant.