Walking into an awards ceremony for Dallas’s top business people of the year, Marcus Stroud ’16 was stopped in his tracks. A fellow attendee handed her used plate to him. Stroud, an honoree himself, was stunned.
“I’m getting an award just like Mark Cuban or David Bonderman, yet you’re handing me a plate?”
Moments of shock like these still permeate his life. But Stroud, a Princeton Football alum and venture capitalist, wants to show others that Black excellence is also general excellence.
“I would go to the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, and I would stare at those pictures in [the] Nassau [Inn],” he said, remembering how one of his unconventional routines motivated him as he moved into venture capital. “They would have alumni from Jeff Bezos to Michelle Obama to Meg Whitman. I would just look at those pictures all the time. And I would say, ‘Marcus, you should be on that wall.’”
Stroud began his career in business working for MarketAxess in N.Y. before he moved to Texas to work for Vida Capital. Though Stroud enjoyed his time at both companies, he wanted to push for more. Alongside his former roommate and best friend, Brandon M. Allen ’16, Stroud reached out to other Princeton alumni and cold-called venture capitalists left and right. Armed with unwavering confidence and a Princeton degree, Stroud and Allen then co-founded TXV Partners, a venture capital firm focused on human performance and health innovation.
Stroud and Allen, both Black themselves, said they were determined to be seen as top venture capitalists regardless of their race. As they were building their company, Stroud and Allen refused to accept any donations from DEI organizations.
“I don’t want you to give me money because of the color of my skin, I want you to give me money because you think we know how to invest the capital,” he said. “There has been systemic inequality in business for Black people, but when you’re a Black Princetonian, or you’re a Black Harvard [alum], or you’re a Black Yale [alum], you automatically have catapulted yourself to the top one percent, but it’s up to you to think like that.”
Stroud grew up in a small town in La. before moving to Prosper, Texas in middle school. In Texas, Stroud attended Prosper High School, where he played All-State level Linebacker defense for four years and led his team to two district titles.
Though Stroud was talented on the field, his mother pushed him to have a more well-rounded profile.
“My mom [was] almost definitely the biggest supporter, advocate, and voice for my dreams and helped me aspire to do bigger things,” he said.
In addition to pushing Stroud to look at top colleges, Stroud’s mother worked hard to ensure that her children were surrounded by inspirational Black leaders. When he was 14 years old, Stroud’s family hosted then future-President Barack Obama in their Texas home. That moment served as a source of encouragement to further his educational and athletic careers at a top university like Princeton.
“I wouldn’t ever have dreamed of Princeton, or Stanford, or whatever if it wasn’t for Barack Obama and the influence he had over me.”
Now reaching for the Ivy League, Stroud’s recruitment process was far from seamless, and he even had to retake his SAT subject tests while his family went through an eviction. With all the challenges he faced during the application process, Stroud’s acceptance letter to Princeton took him by surprise.
“There was absolutely no reason I should have gotten into Princeton. When my coaches came into my high school and told me I got into Princeton, everybody cried their eyes out, everybody. All my teachers were crying, all my coaches were crying, my family was crying,” Stroud recounted.
After facing adversity and emerging victorious, Stroud came to believe nothing could stop him from achieving his dreams.
“I knew the second I got into Princeton that there was absolutely nothing I couldn’t accomplish in my life. If I wanted to be the President of the United States, I can easily make that happen. If I wanted to run a Fortune 500 company, that’s going to happen.”
But at Princeton, Stroud faced further challenges. After living his entire life in the southern United States, moving north to N.J. alone was daunting and he turned once again to his mother’s advice.
“My mom always said, ‘Hey, this is just the start. If you think this is tough, and you’re upset, you need to suck it up, because it’s only gonna get worse from here.’”
Stroud’s time at Princeton was challenging. During his first year, Stroud suffered a season-ending injury after only managing to complete one tackle the entire season. His second year was no better on the field, as Stroud made only two starts during Princeton’s 2013 Ivy League Championship season. Stroud also felt out of place in the classroom.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes that I perpetuated myself. Nobody treated me like this, but I treated myself like the dumb football player from Texas.”
“My first couple years [at Princeton] I didn’t know who I was — I had lost my identity,” he recalled. “I was this person that I never recognized: a kid who was scared to take risks in classes, a kid who didn’t really want to branch out, and a kid who looked more at my problems than I did solutions.”
But by the end of his sophomore year, Stroud started to feel like he belonged in the Princeton community with the help of his teammates, coaches, and residential college dean.
“I was really fortunate to have teammates who really put their arms around me and were like, ‘Hey, we’re going to be okay, we’re all going to be alright, we’re all struggling.’”
Though his first two years at Princeton were difficult both academically and mentally, Stroud views that time as some of the most formative years of his life.
“When you go through really tough things in life, it sucks in that moment, but then you realize, holy cow, I have the endurance, the understanding, and the empathy for this situation because I’ve entered it before.”
At the start of his senior year, Stroud recounted being more confident in himself than he ever had been and credited that resilience with carrying him to career success. In 2020, just four years after graduation, Stroud became the youngest person ever to be on the Dallas 500, a magazine that highlights notable business leaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area.
Now, as one of the major faces of venture capital in Texas, and informed by his past experiences, Stroud has set his aspirations elsewhere: advancing equity and inclusion in the venture capital market, just like he says his grandparents would have wanted him to do.
“My grandma and my granddad were very, very humble people: a school teacher, and somebody who worked at a factory and did custodial work on the side,” said Stroud. “How do I honor them? By honoring more African Americans and helping them out. That’s what success looks like.”
“It’s not about what TXV is in five years or 10 years, or about the amount of deals or accolades that Brandon or I receive,” added Stroud. “It’s all about how we elevate more Black people in this industry and finance in general.”
At TXV, Stroud and Allen routinely donate and sponsor programs that bring Black finance professionals together. Additionally, when choosing summer interns, they try to invite more women than men and at least two people of color.
But beyond donating and hiring interns, Stroud believes that his biggest responsibility is being a role model and figure of support for the next generation.
“I don’t care how busy my week is, I don’t care how busy my schedule is, I don’t care what I got going on in my life. If any Black student reaches out to me, I’m gonna get on the phone, I’m gonna sit there and talk, and I will do whatever I can to support them.”
“If we can do that for more Black students, especially Black Princetonians, there will be more successful outcomes for all of us.”
Brian Mhando is an assistant editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
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