At 36, Tatyana Gray has already filled a powerful résumé: A move from Russia to the U.S., two degrees, careers in software coding and corporate law, angel investing and podcast hosting.
Gray, who lives in Sun Valley with her husband and 3-year-old son, says she’ll soon launch her latest career iteration, startup investment firm Gray Capital. She hopes to pool groups of accredited investors seeking to invest between $2,000 and $10,000 apiece — small sums by angel-investing standards — in technology startups, tapping into experience from each of her careers.
Gray plans to form a new investment group, or syndicate, for each pooled investment deal, including herself as an investor in each. Her goal is to attract young investors, especially women. She says she has already drawn interest from her every-other-week Angel Investing Podcast, which features guests from the startup and investment world. It averages about 350 downloads per episode.
Gray is forming the first syndicate to invest in a Boise software startup she has not named. Eventually, she hopes to build syndicates large enough to pool more than $100,000 each into two or three startups a year. But for now, Gray says the pilot syndicate will invest more than $20,000.
Q: How did you wind up moving from Russia to the U.S.?
A: Growing up in the Soviet Union and living through the economic collapse in mid-’90s, I wanted a better life. I dreamed of coming to America. I happened to meet two Mormon missionaries. They told me about Brigham Young University and gave me a few names of people and organizations in America, saying maybe somebody would sponsor me. My family didn’t have the money to send me. After two years of writing letters, a family in Provo said they’d sponsor me.
Q: You were sponsored to come to America by a Mormon family and you earned a bachelor’s and law degree at Brigham Young University. Are you LDS?
A: I joined the LDS Church in Russia in 1996 when I was 16. I have not been active for the past five to seven years. Coming to BYU was a huge shock on many fronts: a new country, new culture and new religion. Grass-roots efforts in Russia in the mid-’90s were very different from the fully established experience of Provo, Utah.
Q: Was assimilating difficult?
A: The language barrier was tough at the time. I think one of the many reasons I decided to study computer science was that the programming languages are very universal. People might have had a hard time understanding my English, but they definitely understood my code.
I wish my English and my knowledge of pop culture were better when I was in college so I could fit in better. Law school experience was very different for me, even though I was still at BYU. My English was dramatically improved and law students cared significantly less about pop culture. Plus, law school is a very competitive environment, and as a former competitive sprinter, I thrived. I graduated law school in the top 10 percent with most of the honors you can get.
Gray worked as a computer programmer at Novell Inc. in Provo, Utah, before becoming an attorney and practicing at large firms in Moscow, Silicon Valley and Salt Lake City.
Q: What brought you to Idaho and angel investing?
A: My husband is from Sun Valley, and he convinced me to move here. I explored different options, looking at how I could use my skill set. As a fan of the TV show “Shark Tank,” I’ve always been fascinated in how the sharks support growing companies. [I heard about] the Boise Angel Alliance. I went to a meeting in Boise and liked it, and I decided to join.
Q: What deals did you make with the Angel Alliance?
A: No fund was open at the time, so I invested on the side. I invested in Boise startups Healthfundr, GenZ Technologies, LeanLaw, Blac-Rac Manufacturing and Wevorce, and I invested alongside the angels in a Utah company, Covr Healthcare. I also invested in two companies, Kiban and Sow, on my own.
Q: Why start Gray Capital?
A: I kept hearing from entrepreneurs that we don’t have enough capital in Idaho. I started researching, and unfortunately, the statistics are very sad. About 9 million people legally have the means and sophistication to be accredited investors in the U.S., but only about 3 percent are active angel investors. I saw entrepreneurs struggling because of the lack of capital. I decided to do something.
Q: Why go with the syndicate model?
A: I don’t have or want the infrastructure to see a lot of startups pitch. Part of the model I envision is working with established organizations, like the Boise Angel Alliance, or micro venture-capital [funds]. If they’ve done due diligence and are prepared to invest a large chunk of money as lead investor, that’s where I make sure the startup aligns to educate the next generation of angel investors.
Q: What’s the education component?
A: Each syndicate will have three educational webinars. The first will be for the startups to pitch [to prospective syndicate members]. The second will be going over the due diligence report where the lead investor can explain, educate and answer questions. The third will be on the term sheet, where somebody from the lead investor who helped negotiate will explain and answer questions. As syndicate lead, I will facilitate.
This is a great fit for me to be able to build something from a small resort town in the middle of Idaho and have national reach. It's definitely a long-term play.
Gray Capital founder Tatyana Gray
Q: Who are you trying to attract to syndicates?
A: People in their 30s and 40s who are inexperienced with this kind of investing and who want to learn. Maybe they can’t invest $50,000 in a startup, but they can invest $2,000 or $5,000 in a deal.
Q: What can you say about the pilot syndicate?
A: It’s an Idaho startup that develops software in the clean-tech space. We’re looking for about a dozen members to raise around $25,000. The commitments are in place, but nothing is official.
What ‘accredited investor’ means
An accredited investor is a Securities and Exchange Commission term for investors who are financially sophisticated and need less than the usual protection provided by certain SEC filings. An investor must:
1. Earn more than $200,000 per year, or a joint income of $300,000, in each of the last two years, or
2. Have a net worth of more than $1 million, individually or jointly, or
3. Be a general partner, executive officer or director for the issuer of a security being offered.