Gabriele Tinelli


'Sit down with founders and builders and have them teach you about their trade for 2 hours. You'll find that more valuable than 20 hours of analysis.'

Gabriele Tinelli

My Backstory

Where were you born?

I grew up in Essen, the industrial heart of Germany, where people are known for being hard workers, straight shooters, down to earth, and easy to grab a beer with. My parents taught me the value of dreaming big and working hard. My mother founded a successful biomedical startup in the 1990s, growing it for 15 years before selling to a large firm. She taught me about perseverance, breaking through barriers, and doing simple things better than overconfident incumbents. My father started as a car mechanic before founding his own dealership in the 1970s. He saw success come and go with industry changes, but his amazing relationship skills allowed him to relate to anyone.

Starting at age 8, my parents had me help out on a small farm, which helped me appreciate physical labor. In my teens, I worked admin roles at my mom's startup, learning efficiency and attention to detail. At 16, I took a monotonous job besides high school at a bank’s account statement printing department that taught me patience - which is valuable as an early-stage investor. I studied energy management and finance, doing my undergrad in Germany before a Master's at Purdue and Tsinghua.

After university, I started in corporate finance and M&A, focusing on renewable energy deals. I then joined a large utility amid industry transformation during and after Fukushima. My role changed to business development in batteries, grid storage, and distributed energy. I also supported early tech investments at the intersection of energy and power retail tech. Later, I helped a global engineering firm leverage its vast hardware expertise to partner with early-stage hard tech founders - right before embarking on my own journey as a founder (unsuccessfully).

Where were you born, where were you raised?

I was born and raised in Noci, a small town in the Itria Valley of Italy (the Apulia region).

What is the area you are from famous for?

Production of food and beverage (mozzarella and oil above everything) is the key value driver of my region. Apulia is also famous for its amazing beaches and vibrant party life in the summer. Sad to see most of my friends go away to pursue opportunity elsewhere !

What did/do your parents do?

My parents are both music teachers. My mum teaches Cello in a specialized high school while my dad is a professor in a conservatory of music and has toured the world playing in major orchestras and ensembles.

Any siblings when you grew up?

Only child !

What are the two things (outside of school) that you spent the most time on when you were a kid or teenager?

Coding and swimming. I’ve always loved automating things, above all when it could save me or make me money (automating a click-ads bot to buy myself a new competitive swimsuit is an example that I mention often). I’ve swam for almost 10 years competitively but then abandoned the sport when I moved to the US (and moved to more fun stuff like fighting).

What are you missing from your younger years?

My contact with nature ! Having lived in big cities for 6 years now, I look back nostalgically at my times in the boy-scouts, where half of my summer was spent in the woods, around the lake or hiking mountains. Keeping myself out of my comfort zone for so long every year, has taught me to fight adversities and to adapt. I feel sometimes that training may be fading away unless I put some time back into nature!

Did you have a side job during school?

I did not work, yet I was modding PSPs to install pirate games for my friends. Does that count?

What did you study, and where?

I studied Aerospace Engineering at Politecnico di Torino. After collaborating with a SpaceTech specialist fund for my thesis, I moved to a master in Econometrics and Quantitative Finance at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In the end I dropped out of it - I hated it.

Summarize your work after university and before Foundamental.

After and during my masters, I interned at ING Ventures and Antler in Amsterdam. These two experiences sit at polar opposites with respect to fund strategy (one’s sweet spot is Series C and Antler’s cohort program aims to be the first check in for newly founded teams). After that, and finishing my masters, I moved to Berlin to work for Earlybird’s early stage deep tech team.

What is your story of getting into Foundamental?

I first was rejected in April 2023 when I applied for a fellowship. A year later I was trying my luck again, because I knew that Foundamental fit my values: opinionated, harsh but fair. When the analyst vacancy came out, I was super excited to apply again. I took the three interviews in three different countries (Netherlands, Italy, Hong Kong) and the offer call in Berlin. By the first time I had met Adam, I understood this was going to be my place - the rest of the team just confirmed it. A lesson in some good things happening a year later.

I Am On The Lookout For

What makes a great VC investor?

Thinking from first principles: energy, money flows, unit economics, work per unit. All of these atomic measures allow a good investor to scope out and supersede positive/negative biases when judging a business.

Empathy and excitement: connecting with founder on a deep intellectual level is what creates long lasting trust relationships. Venture investment is a marriage, not a one-night stand.

Outlier intellectual curiosity: diving deeper than anyone, as a hobby.

What are 3 things you look for in a founder?

Deep knowledge of the problem/solution set - someone building a scheduling solution that has never been one day of his life on site is probably not going very far;

Pragmatism and result-driven attitude;

Excellence and discipline in the first hire.

What are the things in a business that excite you?

Generational outlook - if the firm’s vision comes to life, existing power relationships are rewired;

Unfair execution advantage - the team is a world class squad of operators that can make things happen better than anyone else;

No-brainer financial viability - no matter when the monetization engine turns on, once it does it is impossible to shut down.

What are mistakes that AWESOME founders don’t make, but many other founders make and you see repeatedly?

Fundraising for the sake of raising money, rather than with specific goals and milestones in sight.

What are values that are ultra important to you in other people in business life. Why?

Intellectual honesty - without it, you’re doomed to fool yourself in the future;

Leaving always a good mark - leaving a room, after saying/being said no but with everyone happy is something to strive for.

Describe what 'partnership' means to you.

Trust, continuous support and excitement to be together in a challenge.

What are you chasing in your life?

Peace and understanding - the tricky balance between being at peace with the world around me and understanding it deeply. Usually the Dunning-Kruger effect is a force of resistance to this balance.

What intrigues you? As in, you see or hear something like this, you stop whatever you currently do.

Scientific reads - in unfortunate days where a few of my favourite long read newsletter come in, I am the least productive …

Any favorite readings?

Although sometimes inefficient in making a point, I love reading non-fiction for topics in which I have no context or strong previous knowledge. With that said, I stick my eyes to the book when I’m reading amazing science fiction.

My favourite authors: Vaclav Smil, Brian Potter, Gwyneth Cravens, Carlo Rovelli, Marc Andreessen, Liu Cixin, Isaac Asimov, Grace Donnelly, Noah Smith, Matt Clancy, Robin Hanson, Razib Khan, Richard Dawkins, Carlo Piccardi, Cesar Hidalgo.

What is your favorite quote or mantra that can be applied in a business context?

Two points look like one if you watch them from far enough. Also a mathematical observation, but can be applied in a ton of contexts.

Cool. Now give a second quote or mantra you like in a business context.

'What’s smart at a price is dumb at another.'

What is your secret ninja-skill?

Writing my own scripts to automate boring stuff. When I get really frustrated, I put my coding cape on.

In what ways do you feel inferior to some people you look up to?

I feel inferior to people that have continued their STEM education until the highest point and have truly mastered the dynamics and concepts of science.

If you were a super-hero, what would be your super-hero name?

Climbaman? I’m bad at coming up with name.

What is one person in the world you would like to have dinner with?

Richard Feynman.

What can you nerd out over for hours with the right discussion partner?

Geopolitics and what will the world look like in 100 years.

When someone who knows you in your business life very well were to describe you, what adjectives would they use for you?

Seemingly distracted, distracting (I shoot a couple of nerf gun extra), opinionated and (paradoxically) focused.

Is there something you would never mind spending a lot of money on?

Climbing gear and music gear.

Selected Partnerships