Female Founders Fund
By Polina Marinova
March 8, 2019

We all know the stats. Only 2% of venture funding went to female founders, and just 8% of partners at the top venture capital firms are women. But in honor of International Women’s Day, I decided to highlight something else — the people behind the stats.

I’ve conducted 49 interviews for Term Sheet’s ‘5 Qs With a Dealmaker’ series. Of those, 21 have been with the industry’s most powerful female investment partners. Below is a compilation of their nuggets of wisdom:

On the value of operating experience:

“By the end of my time at the Pinterest, I joked that I felt like one of these veterans that you see in World War II movies. They would be sitting there, smoking their cigarettes when a little bomb goes off. All the new recruits run for their guns or jump for cover, while the veterans are still smoking their cigarettes. By the end of your experience at a high-growth company, you’re the veteran smoking the cigarette. And that’s who you want on your board. You don’t want the person who is going to be jumping for their gun or running for cover when there’s a little bump in the road because there will always be bumps. You want the person who isn’t frazzled by it and is always focused on the long-term. You can get that from 20 years of being a venture investor or from a few years of being an operator.” Sarah Tavel, Benchmark

“Having been a founder, I think I’m more optimistic because I feel like if I could do it, the person in front of me can make it happen too. I also think it makes me more empathetic — especially in the fundraising process but also during the different inflection points in the lifecycle of the business. It makes founders more comfortable to reach out to me knowing that I was recently in their shoes.” — Hayley Barna, First Round

On investing in the time of SoftBank:

“I think what the Vision Fund has done has created this layer of ‘super-haves.’ And the ‘super-haves’ are almost untouchable in a way because they’re in a whole different stratosphere from a competitive perspective. If you are an early-stage venture fund, you have to be thinking pretty hard about, ‘I hope I’m backing the company that ultimately becomes a ‘super-have’ because they seem to have an unfair advantage.’” — Patricia Nakache, Trinity Ventures

“I tend to like that SoftBank is going after the category leaders, just like we are. They know who those are by the time that they’re investing and putting a ton of money behind them. They’re making very big bets obviously in each of the leaders in the respective markets, and it’s a very good strategy. Does it make our jobs tougher as growth investors? Yeah. It just means we need to be there before SoftBank is. We need to find the companies earlier.” — Chelsea Stoner, Battery Ventures

“It’s almost a completely different business. They are basically looking for the one deal in a decade. We’re very lucky to be in Airbnb, but that’s not the game I play. The game I play is that there are many entrepreneurs who are building thriving businesses that are going to get great returns. If you want to return money to your investors, being capital efficient and raising small amounts of money is actually the wiser thing to do. I know it’s not super popular to say that in Silicon Valley, but I do what works.” — SC Moatti, Mighty Capital

On the conviction to bet on a company others shy away from:

“Before investing, we ask ourselves three questions. The first is ‘why now,’ which is critical for deep tech investing. The other thing we spend a lot of time thinking about is whether this is feasible in the time frame that is conducive to venture capital. If a founder says they’ll spend 15 years developing something, it doesn’t work for the model. And the third question you ask is, ‘Given your timeline of development, how does a business stack on top of that?’” — Renata Quintini, Lux Capital

On the value of independent thought:

“These days, we don’t have the freedom to have a poor choice of words. You get crucified. I really miss the time where you could just put something out there and people could say, “You know, that’s a really crappy thing to think, and you’re super wrong about this issue.” — Cyan Banister, Founders Fund

On investment trends to watch:

“I think we’re going to be in a much more streamlined, multi-modal world. I think we will be able to have apps and services that stitch together to get you from Point A to Point B in the fastest, most fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly way possible. Every minute of every day, I should be able to open an app and know exactly which modes of transportation I’d be taking.” — Sarah Smith, Bain Capital Ventures

“Fintech is a big one. I think the category where the legacy companies have created a lot of fear, confusion, and distrust among their customer base is where technology can create a level of access greater than ever before. Another is around how can technology create access to healthcare and not just convenience? A doctor showing up at your door in San Francisco is convenient but access to products and services in consumer health that you may not have been able to get before at an accessible price point is a new level of access. Another bucket I am very focused on are new types of commerce platforms. We’re looking a lot at video and live-streaming and bringing new ways of creating customer engagement.” — Rebecca Kaden, Union Square Ventures

“There’s interesting opportunities in women’s health — whether it’s fertility or benefits that relate to women in the workplace. We’re seeing a lot in this area. The second area we’re interested in is around experiential commerce. You obviously had some really exciting brands built online, but at the end of the day what we’re seeing is that a lot of traditional retailers are trying to re-invent.” — Anu Duggal, Female Founders Fund

“I think the prescription marketplace is totally broken. A lot of these drug delivery platforms and convenience-focused startups really exemplify privileged, young entrepreneurs focusing on issues that they see. If you study the space, you’ll quickly see that convenience is not really a problem in healthcare. It’s really about cost.” — Kimmy Scotti, 8VC

On sexual misconduct:

“That power dynamic is changing because social media has allowed messages to get amplified. Now, obviously, there are pros and cons to that — there are unintended consequences and there are some bad actors who are out there promoting messages for reasons other than speaking truth. We are in some hazy days, and we are in a place where there are some difficult situations, but I do think in general, we are moving in the right direction.” — Heidi Roizen, DFJ

“It is the worst version of power play when people are seeking someone’s mentorship for things that are critical to their livelihood, and then they’re put in that position. Addressing it is speaking up. It’s women advocating not only for themselves, but also for each other.” — Cindy Eckert, The Pink Ceiling

On promoting diversity in tech:

“Some of these big firms often believe in the white guy in a hoodie disrupting a whole industry. So we’re going to disrupt it by making sure we’re indexing for women and minorities because they’ve got great ideas. I can’t totally predict when the stats will change, but I can put money where I think there are levers. And I think the LP community is one of the levers. When you see the LPs starting to move, that’s when I think you’ll start seeing pretty disruptive change, perhaps sometime in the next three to five years.” — Melinda Gates, Pivotal Ventures

“If you want to have great discussions within a partnership, it’s the diversity of backgrounds that makes that happen. Gender is obviously one aspect, but we should be looking for people of color and a variety of different ways that we can enhance diversity and perspective. It’s the things you see, but it’s also the things you don’t see, that make diversity so important.” — Ann Miura-Ko, Floodgate

“We’re taking a more intersectional lens to the diversity point. Ethnic representation is also incredibly important. You just need to have different points of view, right? And it varies from company to company in terms of how they want to quantify that. These points are being considered very early on by our portfolio founders because they recognize that diversity will be a big part of supporting their growth.” — Sutian Dong, Female Founders Fund

“The contribution and intellect of females is being undervalued and underestimated, and we know that the companies and the funds who have invested in more female-led companies have experienced better returns.” — Jillian Manus, Structure Capital

“I think role models are really important. Being able to use an example, show how someone did it, and imagine yourself in those shoes is so powerful. Seeing someone like Katrina [Lake, CEO of Stitch Fix], who’s done an A-plus job all around on so many levels — as a startup founder, as a leader who scales her company, as a leader who takes her company public — is hugely empowering.” — Kirsten Green, Forerunner Ventures

On the best advice they’ve ever received:

“When you stop learning, you perish. It’s a cliche thing to say, but I really think it’s an advantage. For me, I was in this crazy article in The New York Times about how I have a Gen Z mentor. It’s actually true, but it started just because I wanted to be helpful to a young woman who I knew was talented. At some point, I realized I was learning more from her than she was from me. It constantly reminds me not to be ageist or industry-ist.” — Kara Nortman, Upfront Ventures

“I go back to something that [former Time Warner CEO] Dick Parsons said to me when I was a much younger executive. We had been sitting at a table together negotiating something, and he came to me afterwards and said, ‘One thing to remember as you go through life is that it is always wise to leave something on the table—that a victory for one side or the other is a prescription for failure. So be careful. Just because you can get someone to agree to very tough terms doesn’t mean it’s going to be in your long-term interest to do that.’ — Susan Lyne, BBG Ventures

“Go home. Take the day off. Stop working. I’m a big proponent of self-care, and I’ll never stop talking about it. If self-care isn’t part of your daily and business routine, you’re doing it wrong. It’s about recognizing how valuable you are, and you can’t run a company if you’re not able to take care of yourself first.” — Arlan Hamilton, Backstage Capital

This article originally ran in Term Sheet, Fortune’s newsletter about deals and dealmakers. Sign up here.

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