Planes, Trains & Automobiles: A Special Thanksgiving Message

Welcome back to The Sunstone Way, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Watching the Steve Martin/John Candy classic movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” has become a Thanksgiving tradition for many, including my family. It reminds us that no matter how much control we think we have, life is full of unpredictable twists and turns, and that we ultimately need each other — friends, family, and perfect strangers — to reach our destination.

I have much to be thankful for this year, both personally and professionally. Although there have been some major challenges — particularly for our loved ones in New York — I am incredibly grateful for the way that our family responds to challenges and grows closer in crisis. 

The broader world around us has also experienced tragedy — from natural disasters to man-made crisis in Ukraine and the Middle East—which makes me even more grateful for the amazing blessings that surround us in Southern California on a daily basis. I hope that this Thanksgiving week can inspire us all to recognize some of what we have to be thankful for — and how much more we have to share with the world around us in the coming year.

Giving Thanks

Our founder, John Shen, talks frequently about how thankful he is for the people that intervened in his own long journey. Like the characters in the movie, his story which is detailed in his book “Crossing The Swamp,” is full of twists, turns, and guardian angels who step in just at the right moment to save his life — literally in one case. John is a hero of mine because he has proven that gratitude, generosity, and Thanksgiving are the foundation for personal and professional success in life.

John and his wife, Stella Zhang, have started not one, but two separate foundations. I don’t mean to embarrass them, but their generosity in creating the Sunstone Community Fund has already enriched the lives of hundreds of student entrepreneurs and startup founders in the public university system here in California.

Here’s a taste of John’s philosophy from his book:

“I was grateful for all I had come to learn at this wonderful institution (Duke University). Despite my difficult times as a foreign student, I was thankful for my experience, and I eventually wanted to give something back.”

John continues to donate his time, talent and treasure to his alma mater — and many other causes — today.

Giving Back

John founded Sunstone and our sister company, American Lending Center, on the principal of giving back. It was one of the things that attracted me to Sunstone and convinced me to partner with him at Sunstone Management.

John talks a lot about his gratitude for the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. He spends a lot of time in “Crossing The Swamp” talking to first-generation immigrants to the U.S. and the special challenges — as well as the special opportunities — they face as entrepreneurs.

That ability to pursue the American Dream is true for us all. Sunstone Management’s employee roster is full of people with a vision — for our company and for themselves — that includes both a passion for success and a desire to help enrich our communities. I am very thankful for that.

Enriching Lives

What I love about California is its heritage of providing opportunity to immigrants. Long Beach welcomed my grandparents in the 1940s and provided my father with the opportunity to attend college — the first in our family — which changed the trajectory of future generations. He’s been giving back ever since building parks and working for the community until his retirement a few years ago.

Building on that foundation, I was privileged to have a great education and to serve the public for over 20 years as a public school teacher and civil servant for the City of Long Beach — the same community that provided so much opportunity for my family. It was — and is — a thrill to put that education to work here at Sunstone Management. I truly believe that we pay that opportunity forward as we work with early-stage entrepreneurs to strengthen our economy and enrich the lives of the people we touch.

We put John Shen’s dictum of serving our community into action. Those communities include the folks who become investors in the funds we manage as well.

Thankful For Friends

I mentioned the Sunstone Community above. I am thankful for not only their passion and skill, but for their culture, friendship, and sense of gratitude for the opportunity we have every day to enrich the lives of others. It might sound cliche, but we truly are a family here, and it’s great to be surrounded by friends and family every day.

I’ve made so many friends along the way. I think about our partners in the cities where we work – Long Beach, Irvine, New York City and many more. I’ve become close to political leaders, particularly in Long Beach and Irvine, who share the vision of economic development through entrepreneurship.

The folks who lead the Long Beach Accelerator and Lair East Labs, both administrators and board members, are more than colleagues. I am thankful for the work they do, and the friendship they share.

That’s true for the amazing educational scholars whom we have partnered with, as well. I won’t name names for fear of leaving someone out, but I am so very thankful for my friends at Cal State Long Beach, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Irvine, and all those across the California State University system.

Thankful For You

Yes, I’m talking about you. I’m so very thankful for those who share the passion for helping startup founders of all shapes and sizes, for walking alongside the young entrepreneurs in our universities. The journey is long and full of twists and turns (like the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), but if we work together, we all have something to give to a person who may need our help to get back on track.

I treasure those who read and listen to this blog. I appreciate all our friends interested in the activities of Sunstone Management, Sunstone Investors LLC, and the Sunstone Community Fund. 

I am thankful for the walk we get to share together in this life, and the chance to make a difference in this world.  We may not know it yet, but the community that we are building will be there for us someday when we (or one of our family members) need it. The Sunstone Community will be there for us, perhaps when we are trying to get home for Thanksgiving and must overcome life’s unexpected challenges through the help of others we have yet to meet.

Believe me when I say that you are precious – to me, to Sunstone and to the community. That’s The Sunstone Way.

And as always, be a Sunstone!

John Keisler

CEO & Managing Partner

Sunstone Management, Inc.


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Notes: This blog post is for information purposes only and is not intended as an offer to sell securities or the solicitation of an offer to buy securities. Such offers are made solely pursuant to formal offering and subscription documentation in an investment fund (“Fund”).

Interests in private funds such as the Long Beach Venture Fund are offered pursuant to an exemption from registration with the SEC and are therefore high-risk, illiquid investments. Those considering such investments should be able to afford losing some or all their money. For more information about the Long Beach Venture Fund, including a summary of risks, please request a Private Placement Memorandum from Sunstone Management, Inc.

More About Sunstone Management
Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital sponsor firm headquartered in Southern California that invests in diverse early-stage technology entrepreneurs who seek to build great companies. We believe in the aspirational power of the American economy to attract and inspire investors and entrepreneurs from throughout the world. We deliver new and exciting opportunities for economic growth through the creation of innovative public-private partnerships, and our unique experience across government, education, and private sectors. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row. In the second quarter of 2023, PitchBook ranked Sunstone the seventh most active early-stage venture capital firm in the country, and 18th overall.

© Sunstone Management Inc., 2023

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