Haute 100 Update: 7 Questions With Fuel Venture Capital’s Jeff Ransdell

Jeff RansdellPhoto Credit: World Red Eye

Jeff Ransdell found his calling more than two decades after beginning his career. Over the course of a fruitful and successful career at one of Wall Street’s biggest and best banks, Merrill Lynch, he realized he belonged elsewhere. While most people picture men in pinstripe suits running around the New York Stock Exchange when they think about “the markets,” Jeff knew he had been there and done that, and that the real excitement, and real impact, was happening far from Wall Street—at coworking spaces, college campuses and makeshift offices, where cutting-edge startups were frequently being born. In 2017, the Haute 100 honoree co-founded one of the Southeastern United States’ largest venture capital firms to help fuel the private markets, where big-ticket stocks get their start and generate the most value.

This year, that VC firm took on a new brand identity and name, now called Fuel Venture Capital. The Fuel Venture Capital name change was announced alongside other big news: Ransdell’s fund has inked a partnership with one of Europe’s most active new VC firms, IDC Ventures. The partnership has expanded Fuel’s portfolio of exponential startups to a total of 23 companies, including some big names you may be familiar with, like Boatsetter and Curve. That goes along Fuel’s growing list of other well-funded startups such as Soundtrack Your Brand, Taxfyle, PredaSAR, Bolt mobility and others.

We got together with Ransdell—a Haute 100-lister—to hear more about the evolution of Fuel Venture Capital, how the transition from the world of wealth management in New York to venture capital in Miami changed his day-to-day, and which snazzy Miami hotel is his favorite for deals and drinks.

HL: How would you compare your average day when you were at Merrill Lynch, to your average day now, as managing director of Fuel Venture Capital?

JR: When I was at Merrill Lynch, my average day looked like me sitting at a giant mahogany desk, hopping on and off conference calls all day long. I was on the operating committee and working with five other managing directors who ran the entire wealth management firm of the bank. We were making and enforcing policy and overseeing a really large business.  As managing director of the bank’s Southeast Wealth Management Division, I managed more than $130 billion of global private client investment assets, a P&L of $2 billion, and over 2,000 employees across my division. I had 14 market executives that reported to me, and they each ran numerous businesses. Nowadays, I wear clothes you’d never in your life see in the streets of the Financial District in New York, and I’m on the frontlines. My day is spent meeting face-to-face (or Zoom-to-Zoom) with founders, investors, and my team. We operate the business together as a team, and there’s no real hierarchy. We’re all in it and helping each other and playing a role in one another’s work. In my last position at Merrill, my energy and inspiration was diluted by many levels by the time it got to the end consumer. Now my energy to end consumers—founders, investors, everyday people—there’s no shift. My impact can be felt, and I’m really proud of that.

HL: You lived between Miami and New York City in your previous profession, and now are a full-time 305 resident with a penthouse in a downtown Miami skyscraper—what’s your favorite part about New York, and what’s your favorite part about Miami?

JR: My favorite part about Miami is everything about Miami. I love that it’s truly an international city, and each time I jump into an Uber, I’m challenged to communicate with whoever is in the front seat. It’s a true melting pot, which has led me to meet people from all over the world, understand different customs and cultures better than I ever could have without actually visiting those places. The food and nightlife scene is unparalleled. It’s just the best place. New York holds a special place in my heart, but the energy of the city didn’t mesh with my energy. In Miami, all the molecules are one and the same.

HL: You went into venture capital with Fuel VC in 2017, a time when most people in Miami didn’t know much at all about startups. That’s no longer the case. What do you think went into that evolution to make Miami a vibrant startup ecosystem?

JR: I like to think that Fuel played a big role in the expansion of the Miami venture capital scene in the last few years. There are lots of different ways an ecosystem can develop and mature, but capital is definitely a vital part of it. Being at the helm of a venture capital puts you, in a way, at the center of the action because you’re talking to all the different stakeholders: founders, their teams, investors, and other VCs. I was lucky to be in a position to start a venture capital fund, because I had a huge network in South Florida, and the Northeast, and Latin America from my career at Merrill Lynch. It helped me identify not only LPs but also the promising companies around Miami, and we were fortunate enough that these investors and founders believed in our vision and wanted to work with us. Now it’s about bringing more like-minded people to South Florida and getting them activated. For our part, we’re working on something really exciting that will energize the ecosystem even more.

HL: Your venture capital firm began with a different name, and today it’s called Fuel Venture Capital. Tell us about what went into that progression from then to now.

JR: Every business begins with a plan, and you move forward and things change. Any smart person knows that a business plan is a dynamic idea, not a static document. The name change simply came from the necessity that our firm evolved into something very different from what it was in the beginning. The new name allowed us to come into our own and embrace our independence so that the brand aligned with who we are. As we continue to change and develop, our identity will do the same.

HL: You share the Haute 100 honor with one of your founders: Marc Bell, Executive Chairman of Fuel Venture Capital portfolio company PredaSAR. How did you meet Marc and how would you describe your working relationship?

JR: In my past life, I was responsible for a lot of wealthy people’s net worth. When I left Merrill, a lot of those people wanted to continue to work with me in new capacities. Someone I knew from my Merrill days told Marc he should work with me, so we were introduced. Marc is one of the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. I’m extremely bullish on his most recent endeavor: PredaSAR, which is building and will operate the world’s largest constellation of these advanced satellites that use a unique technology known as Synthetic Aperture Radar. And aside from all success in business, he’s also been a producer on not one but TWO Tony-award winning Broadway plays.  It’s a pleasure to work alongside someone who is so accomplished, smart, and driven. Over the years, he’s gone from being not just a business partner but a dear friend.

HL: In addition to running a venture capital firm with companies and investors all over the world, you’re also very involved with philanthropic initiatives. Which nonprofit are you most involved in?

JR: I’ve been a donor to the Irie Foundation since 2014, and I consider Irie family. He’s one of the most special people I know. What the Irie Foundation does to help and empower underprivileged kids – giving them access to mentorship, leadership and other crucial resources – is so important to the community. When I first learned about the Irie Foundation, I got the opportunity to meet some of the kids in the program and hearing their stories literally made me cry. I couldn’t believe these young souls were exposed to some of the things they were telling me. I want to always help Irie and support Iriie because, wow, what a special person, but also because I want to help and support kids in our community who deserve a chance.

HL: What is your favorite place in Miami to take friends or business partners from out of town?

JR: I’m a huge fan of Coconut grove. It’s the ultimate live-work-play destination in South Florida, maybe even the world. I think it’s definitely the most special little place here in Miami. I used to live there and I’m trying to find a way to go back. I keep my boat docked at Dinner Key marina. The cobblestone streets make me feel like I’m in a European town. The MR C Coconut Grove hotel and their restaurant, Bellini, are two of my all-time favorite spots.  

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