James Kaplan


James joined NEA in 2023 as an investor on the Technology team, focused on consumer and AI apps. Prior to NEA, James spent time at early-stage startups, including GlossGenius, a PLG vertical SaaS business, and consulting with Frost Giant Studios, a Starcraft spinout game studio building the next generation of real-time strategy (RTS) games. He also spent time at Credit Suisse in its technology group. James graduated from the University of Southern California.

What’s a philosophy that guides your approach to investing and/or relationship-building?

I believe that the best founding teams share two qualities: they’re great storytellers and have fast cycle time.

How do you relate to a founder’s journey?

I founded a consumer mental health startup my freshman year of college, and I still bring that entrepreneurial grit when I partner with founders. It was a humbling experience. I made a lot of mistakes and learned how hard it is to build a truly generational product. I’m grateful to have that perspective ingrained in me, and because of it I have a tremendous amount of respect and empathy for founders navigating the company-building process.

What cultural artifact influenced you growing up?

When I was little, I watched a show called Dirty Jobs—each episode highlighting a “dirty job” (think: the people who clean gum off New York City sidewalks or chicken sexers). I was fascinated with understanding how these hyperspecific and unglamorous jobs played an essential role in the context of the broader world. I think startups can be a lot like those dirty jobs. They solve pain points that often sound niche when explained at a dinner party, but in actuality they function as a crucial underpinning to an aspect of modern living or working that we take for granted. And they’re run by hardworking people who love their craft and can get sh*t done. 

How is NEA different from other VC firms?

The founders we’ve worked with tend to be our strongest pipeline of dealflow. I believe it’s a testament to NEA truly partnering with founders and earning their trust.

How have your former operational roles served you as an investor?

Before NEA, I had brief stints across different types of startups and in different function groups. As a result, I spend a lot of my time helping founders think through GTM, building virality into the product and business model.

What’s something that you geek out over?

I love gaming and have been incredibly lucky to have grown up seeing the evolution of the industry from the $60 Age of Empires games to the Flash games I played as a small child on Kongregate to mobile games like DragonVale to free-to-play games like League. I love that part of my job is to nerd out with founders building the future of the industry!

The founders we’ve worked with tend to be our strongest pipeline of dealflow. I believe it’s a testament to NEA truly putting founders first and earning their trust.

James Kaplan, Associate