Aaref Hilaly

Aaref Hilaly backs founders building AI infrastructure and applications. Prior to joining BCV, he co-founded two companies and spent seven years as a partner at Sequoia.

Bay Area

Portfolio Highlights

About Aaref

I moved to Silicon Valley after graduate school, with pretty much just two suitcases and the ambition to start a company.

When I became a founder, I learned to never lose peripheral vision for unexpected opportunity. Nothing worked out as I planned.

My first start-up, CenterRun, couldn’t find product-market fit and we sold early. My second, Clearwell, grew from almost zero to a $100m revenue run-rate in four years. For both companies, we raised seed from a multi-stage firm and it really helped. Talking to my board members each week helped me grow from being a terrified founder into a confident CEO. I joined Sequoia and then BCV to help other founders in the same way.

I’m originally from Pakistan and grew up in England. Neither of my parents went to college, and I was very lucky to get scholarships and grants to attend great schools. Being among such talented people was eye-opening, and it raised my own level of aspiration. It also convinced me not to follow a conventional path – I never shook the feeling of being an outsider.

I led the seed in Clari in 2012 and am still on the board today. This is not unusual: it’s the same for Ajay with Bloomreach or Scott with Attentive. We are patient, committed partners because we know it takes time to build meaningful companies.


Clari is a good case study for how we work. Founders don’t just get a board member, they get a team of experts from BCV. At board meetings, I’ve learned a lot about strategy from Ajay and about scaling from Enrique. Andy, Clari’s founder/CEO, has become an expert at calling on different people for different areas of expertise.

As a board member, I’ve traveled the path from idea to IPO twice and to successful acquisitions many times. In every case, it’s been a gut-wrenching journey. My focus is on supporting founders through it as a close thought-partner on the most difficult issues. Most of that happens outside board meetings, in unscheduled calls, weekend walks or over Slack.


The entire enterprise tech stack is turning over. There’s a new architecture, built on data and powered by AI/ML. We’ve backed companies at seed that make data more accessible, like Hightouch and Redis, and others building core primitives like Docker and Momento. It’s exciting to see a new generation of technical builders take fresh, creative approaches to old problems and demand more from their tools.


Generative AI creates huge new startup opportunities, but founders will need to choose carefully. The obvious ideas (“Co-pilot for X”) will be taken by incumbents. Successful startups will need to be more forward-looking and creative. We’re working closely with new companies in all parts of the stack, from foundation models (Contextual) to apps (EvenUp) to infrastructure (CleanLab) to help them navigate as huge new markets take shape. You can find about our thoughts here.


There’s just as much innovation at the application layer. Apps are more composable and quicker to build. Consumer-grade design makes adoption more product-led than ever before. More is possible in the browser and collaboration has become a focal point, as Docusign has shown for contracts and Felt for mapping. There are also new monetization models from embedding fintech, helping software creep into every vertical and small business.

Climate tech is an emerging area where I also spend time. There’s so much potential in technology for carbon removal and reduction, and to re-engineer supply chains for sustainability — it feels like we are on the cusp.


One thing people often forget is that we love the early stages of company building. It’s how I worked with my venture investors as an entrepreneur, and what I look for as an investor. Most companies we work with are at the seed or Series A stage.

We like to dream with the entrepreneur, to imagine the world as they see it, and then ask ourselves what we can do to support them.


My advice to founders: tell a story. We only partner with a small number of new companies each year and we’re drawn to those with a clear, compelling narrative.


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Momento: Data Retrieval Doesn’t Have to Be a Pain in the “Cache”

There are two big movements in infrastructure software. One is open source, epitomized by Confluent and Mongo. These are projects that often incubate in large companies, or as hobbies for their talented founders, before blossoming into independent companies.  The other is “serverless”, which asks engineers to accept closed-source in exchange for ease of use, infinite…

Aaref Hilaly 3 min read
Spotlight Infra Seed

Felt, Thinking In Maps, And A New Collaborative Layer for Apps

by Aaref Hilaly, Bain Capital Ventures Once you start looking for maps, you see them everywhere. Today, it’s often maps tracking the spread of disease or wildfires. But beyond that, maps are central to many industries: real estate listings, retail locations, supply chain and logistics, energy exploration, conservation efforts, government services — anything where location-based data…

Aaref Hilaly 4 min read
Spotlight Apps

Aaref's Selected Portfolio Companies