5 Qs WITH A DEALMAKER
Jillian Manus, a managing partner at Structure Capital and a judge on “The Pitch” podcast, had a circuitous path to venture capital.
Earlier in her career, Manus worked in banking and media, serving as an M&A co-director of the technology, media and telecom group for Credit Suisse Zurich. She had just moved to Switzerland when her life turned upside down.
“I was in a domestic abuse situation that ended with me in the hospital for many months,” she said. “When I came out, I was so ashamed that I disappeared onto the streets. I had been successful before that, but when someone takes your pride away like that, you bottom out.”
In an interview with Term Sheet, Manus discusses homelessness, sexual harassment in the Valley, and the biggest mistakes early-stage founders make. Below is an excerpt of our conversation. Read the full Q&A here.
TERM SHEET: You mentioned that you were homeless for a period of time. How were you able to come out of that experience & start to re-build your life?
MANUS: I lived in shelters in New York for more than a year. I stayed at “hot & cot” shelters, meaning that you’d get a hot meal and a cot. In those days, you were unable to stay in a shelter for more than a couple of nights, so I was at my 16th shelter when I saw the soup kitchen was not being utilized properly. The teams, the volunteers, and the food — it just wasn’t organized well.
Because I had a business background, I went into the kitchen and started to put everyone on an org chart and began mobilizing people to collect extra food leftover from the local businesses. I created an assembly line in the kitchen, and I started to remember who I was and feel like I had something to contribute. Even if you don’t get paid, if you have a purpose, then you can address any challenge in life. When you have purpose, you have productivity, and when you have productivity, you have confidence.
You are now a judge on Gimlet Media’s “The Pitch,” making investments in Shift and LiquiGlide . You’ve previously said that you “abhor” Shark Tank because you think it’s predatory. Why did you decide to join The Pitch, which has been described as a Shark Tank-style podcast?
MANUS: The format is the same — four judges (or VCs) who are pitched. But my whole philosophy about venture capitalists is that I believe it’s about building people up, not tearing them down. If you have a criticism, follow it with something constructive that can help them. And that’s what we do with The Pitch. We’re not like Shark Tank at all — we don’t invest $20,000 for 80% of the company. We’re not predatory.
Sexual harassment allegations have plagued the VC community in recent months. You’ve learned a lot about this through your sexual harassment hotline. Can you explain how it works?
MANUS: It’s been going on now for a little more than three years. It’s called the “SOS,” and basically any founder, any woman, anytime can text me. It has to start with “SOS” and a message with what they need. Are they being sexually harassed? Are they in a dangerous situation? Are they being bullied? And do they need a call back right away?
I’ve created a little black book of all the predators, and then with the women’s permission, I connect them to other women who are in similar situations. Together, they’re able to out the predator.
Note: A Structure Capital spokesperson declined to share the number publicly, clarifying that each partner gives out their number to portfolio company founders who can then share it with colleagues or others in the industry.
It’s happening across many industries, but how do you think the tech community in particular can begin to address some of these problems?
MANUS: It’s about accountability, but my biggest concern is that the pendulum has swung so far that men are now being able to use this as an excuse to not take meetings with women. That’s a big concern.
Women were in defense mode, and then we went on offense mode. Now, we have to get to the point of being in diplomatic mode. How do we create better communication between men and women? In the last three months, I’ve been getting a lot of SOS messages from men, too. I think there need to be more forums where men and women talk more openly to each other about all of this. The next way to right the pendulum is if we’re not siloed, if we’re not pointing our pistols at each other.
Last year, women received 7% of all venture capital. Structure Capital’s portfolio is composed of 30% female-led companies. What is the reason for this disparity?
MANUS: At Structure Capital, we are not solely focused on funding underrepresented entrepreneurs. We are focused on investing in founders who have a diverse skillset and if that means a female founder, we don't shy away. We have seen a wave of female entrepreneurs, and so the risk of investing in female-led companies is finally being realized. Our fund will invest more in these companies because we truly see their results and their ROI. The contribution and intellect of females are 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. Currently, we've invested in 26 female-founded or co-founded companies, averaging 30%.
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HEALTH AND LIFE SCIENCES DEALS
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Polina Marinova produces Term Sheet, and Lucinda Shen compiles the IPO news. Send deal announcements to Polina here and IPO news to Lucinda here.