The Dynamic Duo: Joe Kaiser & Ryan Sanders Named Among Most Important VCs in Rockies


In the three years since Ryan Sanders and Joe Kaiser were promoted to Managing Directors, they have undeniably left their mark on the firm and are carefully charting the course for the future of the fund.


The Dynamic Duo


Between late 2015 and 2016, Mercato made two of its most important decisions since the fund’s investment in Galileo Financial Technology in 2014—hiring the two hungry, talented, and well-connected 30-something investors, Joe Kaiser and Ryan Sanders. Sanders, an Austin-based Mezzanine investor with Escalate Capital, and Kaiser, a Blackstone trained leader of Vivint Solar’s Capital Markets during its $1.6B IPO, joined Mercato at a time when the firm was looking for fresh investor perspectives and future fund leaders. In short order, the decision paid off—both investors were named Managing Directors in late 2021.

In the three years since their ascension to MD, Sanders and Kaiser have already left their mark on the firm and have carefully begun to chart its future course. From leading the fundraise of Mercato’s $400M Traverse Fund IV to leading nearly all of the firm’s growth investments over the past four years, their collective leadership has been instrumental in laying the ground work to help the fund thrive over the next decade and beyond. In part, it was these joint successes that contributed to the pair’s recent recognition by Business Insider for their role in furthering the impact of venture capital in the Mountain West.

Named last year as two of Business Insider’s “23 Most Important VCs in the Rockies,” Kaiser and Sanders don’t only have eyes for Utah, however. Since implementing a firm-wide investment approach in 2022 that focuses more broadly on deploying dollars in undercapitalized and underrepresented geographies across the United States and not just the Mountain West, 80% of the firm’s investments have been outside of the state. From east to west, the duo has led out on this strategic divide-and-conquer investing approach, traveling weekly to meet founders in their own backyards—an approach that is embodied by Mercato’s belief that startups shouldn’t have to start on the coast.

Despite being not even half-way through 2024, the team has already traveled to 46 cities in just 20 weeks—not including a two-week international stint spent visiting limited partners—to meet with founders and connect with fellow funders. Not looking to slow down anytime soon, the second half of the year promises to be just as busy, if not more so than the first half, and will be anchored by the fund’s first annual meeting outside of its home state.

A recent introduction, Mercato’s destination-based approach to its annual meeting is a testament to the duo’s wanting to continually reinvest in and highlight the cities and towns across the country that have been instrumental in the firm’s portfolio construction. Last year, for example, the team traveled to St. George, UT for its annual meeting to highlight the home of portfolio company, Vasion. This year, Kaiser, Sanders, and the rest of the team will welcome limited partners and portfolio executives to Chicago, an important sourcing city that represents a swell of undercapitalized opportunity and is home to three active portfolio companies.

While both Sanders and Kaiser are in the early years of their MD journey, they are already making an important impact on the fund. The recognition by Business Insider is just the first of many accolades that we are confident these two will each receive, and we are eagerly looking forward to the continued and marked progress they will assuredly make at Mercato.



Interested in keeping tabs on our  travels? You can follow our weekly whereabouts on LinkedIn every Monday in our Mercato on the Move series. You can also find the full 23 Most Important VCs in the Rockies article by Business Insider here.