5 Qs WITH A DEALMAKER
Before Rebecca Kaden was a venture capitalist, she was a journalist. She worked for the Economist in London and later as a special projects editor at an online literary publication.
“I was excited about the intersection of technology and content,” she told Term Sheet. “I quickly realized that where publications needed most help was around figuring out how content could make money.”
She then went to business school at Stanford to figure out her next step when she was introduced to the team at Maveron, a consumer-focused early stage venture firm. She worked her way up from associate to partner in a matter of several years and worked on investments including Allbirds, Dia & Co, Newsle (acq. LinkedIn), Periscope (acq. Twitter), and WayUp.
Just five months ago, Kaden joined Union Square Ventures as the first (and only) female general partner. She spoke with Term Sheet about her investment strategy, the intersection of blockchain and consumer, and how she’s worked her way to the top of the industry so quickly. Below is an excerpt of our conversation. Read the full Q&A here.
TERM SHEET: What are the similarities between journalism and venture capital that you think have helped you as an investor?
KADEN: Both are really people-centric jobs, particularly at the early stages of venture. You’re really trying to understand how someone thinks — what’s their motivation? What inspires them? What are they really trying to do? What are they saying versus what do they really mean? You need to be able to quickly develop a relationship in which they divulge things that they may not be telling other people.
You spent six years at Maveron, a firm solely focused on consumer companies, but recently joined USV. What do you focus on now?
KADEN: USV is also a very thesis-driven firm. We’re a tight partnership — there’s six of us. We think about how can we make some big bets on companies in the categories we’re interested in. When the firm first started, there was this macro-thesis of how network effect can create leveraged growth. It evolved from there to include a bunch of other things — vertical networks, the infrastructure that supports networks, and the decentralized Internet.
Network effect is obviously integral to blockchain and cryptocurrencies. How do you foresee those networks evolving in the consumer space?
KADEN: The intersection between blockchain and consumer is not quite there yet. I think it’ll get there, but the heart of blockchain is: Can we build something on a decentralized Internet that doesn’t have aggregated data that’s owned by a third-party?
I think it will eventually intersect with consumer, and there are a couple of use-cases that make sense so far. Collectibles may be the first one. But from a mass consumer point of view, consumers still gain a lot from a centralized Internet. A lot of interaction with brands is built on trust. You trust that someone is facilitating the interaction, and you know that when you have a problem, you can call customer service.
For blockchain to have mass consumer implications, it’s going to have to offer some level of convenience and ease that a lot of centralized services do. I’m just not really sure we’re there, but we’ll continue to keep an eye on this.
You were the first female partner at USV. What was it like to join an all-male partnership that was expanding for the first time?
KADEN:I’m a huge believer in finding lots of ways for venture to expand the percentage of women who are checkwriters. It’s not only healthy for the industry, I think it’s healthy for entrepreneurs. Do I notice that I can bring a different perspective than my partners? Of course I do. Maybe that’s because I’m a woman, maybe that’s because I’m 20 years younger than them, maybe it’s because I just have different life experiences. In general, producing new perspectives around the table is an important thing to do.
As a partner who’s relatively young compared to the industry average, what was it like working with founders in the beginning when you didn’t have decades of experience under your belt?
KADEN: Younger VCs who are rising up the ranks ask me about age a lot. Now, I can point to a list of companies I’ve invested in, but your reputation builds over time. In the beginning, how do you win when you’re just starting out? There are two main ways that worked for me.
The first is that I had really supportive partners, and that was true at both Maveron and USV. At Maveron, the other partners were really good at pushing me out in front and telling entrepreneurs about how great I was rather than talking about themselves. When you work with people who are going to do that for you, that can be your best asset.
And the second thing you can do when you’re just starting out is to tell entrepreneurs: “I’m going to work my ass off for you. Your win is my win.” You need to be determined to help them succeed and show a level of commitment that will stand out. Of course, there are some entrepreneurs that will want the most seasoned person in the room, but I’ve found that there’s a segment of founders who really valued that commitment and work ethic.
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• General Atlantic invested in Landmark Health, a Huntington Beach, Calif.-based risk-based provider group that delivers home medical care for chronically ill patients. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
• National Response Corporation, a portfolio company of J.F. Lehman & Company, acquired Cleanline Waste Water Solutions Ltd, a U.K.-based provider of specialty compliance and environmental services. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
• Strand Equity acquired a minority stake in Youth To The People, a Los Angeles-based superfood skincare brand. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
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