It’s 7:30 in the morning, and Tom Chi is in a philosophical mood. Maybe it’s because he was once an astrophysicist, a profession prone to thinking expansively. Maybe it’s because his mother is a Buddhist. Or maybe it’s because his three-year-old venture capital firm just raised $375 million.
“Sometimes I say that I typically think in only two time frames: right around now — like now, the next two weeks — and 1,000 years from now. It’s actually not that uncommon for me to wake up and try to understand the dynamics of something. The 1,000-year perspective is interesting because a lot of things are unstable in a way that they couldn’t last 1,000 years,” Chi told me.
“The idea that everything is impermanent is just part of the way I see everything.”
When I mention that most venture capitalists tend to think five to 10 years out, a relative middle ground compared with two weeks and 1,000 years, he counters: “A person that is comfortable with impermanence is actually in a pretty good spot for venture capital.”
He’s certainly not wrong about that. Venture capital has had its ups and downs, and climate tech has had a few, too. It first rose as clean tech in the mid-2000s before collapsing and slogging through a wintery 2010s before. Five years ago, it hit its stride once more.
Chi’s firm, At One Ventures, where he’s co-founder and general partner, is emblematic of climate tech’s most recent incarnation. He filed the firm’s initial paperwork with the SEC on December 23, 2019, mere months before COVID upended the global economy and sent people into lockdown where they rethought their lives and, in some cases, founded climate tech companies. It also didn’t hurt that venture dollars were flowing at record levels up through 2021.