Carta Conversations: Journeys into venture capital

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Chase Emanuel, business development manager at Carta, interviewed Mercedes Bent, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, Jarrid Tingle co-founder and managing partner of Harlem Capital and Maria Velissaris, founding partner of SteelSky Ventures for a conversation about their journeys to venture capital, the role of operating experience in investing, their first investments and where they see the industry going.  

Chase Emanuel: I am a Business Development Manager on the Channel Partnerships team here at Carta. I’m super excited to be representing Black at Carta as the moderator for this panel on breaking into VC. I’m thrilled to have three very special guests with us today. Mercedes Bent, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. Maria Velissaris, founding partner at SteelSky Ventures and Jarrid Tingle, co-founder and managing partner at Harlem Capital Partners. Our guests are based across the country in Atlanta, New York City and San Francisco. 

They each invest in different stages with different investment focuses and they each followed a very distinct and fundamentally different path into VC. But before we dive into their stories, I want to give each a chance to introduce themselves in their own words and tell us a little bit about their firms and where they invest as well. 

Mercedes Bent: Thanks so much for having me Chase and Michael. We’ve loved working with Carta over the past couple of years at Lightspeed. To give you a little bit of background on myself, I grew up in North Carolina, the Bay Area, and Virginia. I spent a lot of time over the years getting to know different parts of the country and then started out my career working in corporate finance. I worked in the Federal Reserve during the last recession. I was there in ’09 working on what happened. I was at Goldman Sachs after that for a couple of years, and then switched over to the operator side in 2012. So I worked at startups for about seven years. I was at General Assembly, the edtech startup. I was a product manager and then a general manager there leading a couple of our divisions and also worked as a GM at a virtual reality startup. After that, I got back into the investing side, this time the private investing side, I’d done some public equities investing at Goldman, and started working at Lightspeed in the past few years. I invest in FinTech, edtech and consumer.

Jarrid Tingle: It’s great to see you all today. Love Carta, happy customers. We also push on our portfolio companies whenever we can, and we had a cool fireside chat with Henry too. 

I grew up in New Jersey outside of Philadelphia. I went to Penn for undergrad, studied finance there. Afterwards I went to Barclays where I worked in the Global Technology, Media & Telecom Group. Then I worked at a middle market private equity firm called ICV Partners, which is one of the five largest Black-owned PE shops. It was a great experience for me being in that environment.

Both my current business partner and I were both working at ICV Partners after being friends. We both went to business school. We were roommates at Harvard Business School. By the time we graduated, we were positioned to do our fund. We’re off to the races now. It’s been great. We focus on investing in women and people of color. We have done 21 investments out of the fund so far and it’s been great just leveraging our social media strategy and meeting great people all over the country.

Maria Velissaris: I am the founding partner of SteelSky Ventures. My background starts as an entrepreneur at Wake Forest University. I started their first student run business, which was an online shipping and storage company. Eventually, we grew to be the largest in the nation and eventually got acquired by U-Haul. So I learned a lot during that experience as a founder and spent the next few years really just picking up pieces so that I could be the best operator, I worked in branding, worked in consulting, worked in marketing. I went to NYU to get an MBA in finance so that I can really be well-versed in how to help startups run and then continued through my career and then ended up starting a fund last year that invests in women’s healthtech. We invest in any companies that create better access, care and outcomes for women’s health. We’ve already invested in six amazing companies. One has IPO’d and a couple of others have had pretty significant markups, and we’re also very happy as clients of Carta.

Pathways to venture capital 

Chase: When did you first learn about venture capital and when did you decide that it was going to be a path that you wanted to pursue? 

Maria: My first company had a million dollar venture capital investment, but that came relatively easy from friends and family. When I really got exposed to venture capital was when I worked at a VC-backed healthcare rollup. We had an investment from a large PE firm and I started working with them as they tried to help us build the company. I was really enthusiastic about what they were doing and how they were doing it, and so I wanted to learn to be an investor as well. 

I joined a group called Pipeline Angels, which teaches women how to angel invest. Since 2017, I had been syndicating deals through that network full time and after 14 deals, I felt confident that I could start my fund.I partnered with one of my colleagues at Pipeline Angels. We had invested in about four deals together in women’s healthcare and we found an opportunity there and decided to start our fund.

Jarrid: I’ve heard about VC since I was working in tech banking. So some of my colleagues went and worked there after doing an analyst program, but it really didn’t call to me. It was pretty opaque, what the industry was like, what compensation was like. I come from a low-income background so that was very important to me. Private equity, I got. It was pretty clear what the industry was about. We were investing in these later stage companies, some of them in rural parts of America, but they weren’t usually doing exciting things. We were really excited about all the headlines we heard about the high growth tech startups. We just wanted to get our feet wet and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to do angel investing and we learned from there.

We did notice that there was so much homogeneity in the industry and most firms didn’t have Black partners. If we did want to enter this space, then we would have to chart our own path. I think because of that observation and because our focus on wanting to back diverse entrepreneurs, a lot of doors opened up and we actually found that we got propelled by certain groups in the media because there were so few of us. I was less focused on the asset class and more focused on the mission. I fell in love with the asset class later. But I do think being mission-driven is a way to chart your career and then if you focus on things you love everything else can fall into place.

Mercedes: I first heard about venture capital when I was in college at Harvard. This was when I was about 20, but I don’t think I really had any inkling of what venture capital did until I was in my mid twenties. I was at General Assembly. And one of the roles I was holding was as head of new ventures, which was like an internal ventures role and the CEO there said, ‘Look, we’re going to set this up where I’m the VC and you’re the founder and anytime you want to do something new in the company, if you’re going to suggest a new division or a new geography or anything for us to do, let’s treat it like you’re asking for money from me, the VC, and you need to know all the metrics like what’s your to capital? What’s going to be your return on money? How are you going to use the funds and what is the return am I the CEO or the VC is supposed to see?’ And so that was super helpful framing. And I think that there’s a lot of lessons that startups can learn from intrapreneurship within the company about how VC works. I’m so glad he exposed me to that. Even then, that was kind of play VC. I didn’t really understand what VC did or consider it a career until I was 30. 

I was in grad school at Stanford and I joined something called the Stanford Impact Fund, that was a really great experience. It’s similar to Pipeline Angels and what Maria did in terms of a group that gets together on a part-time basis. We’re doing this outside of the main work and then looking at some training and also some investing capital. So I think programs like that are so important. I also run our Scout Fund here at Lightspeed, which Chase is a member of and I think programs like that are so special in terms of being able to give people dollars and training to start to build a track record.

Breaking into venture: joining a firm or raising a new fund 

Chase: A hundred percent agree. So what’s really been interesting to me about the panel we brought together is that, in the case of Jarrid and Maria, all three of you have the choice of either joining a tier one fund or starting your own fund. I think you all have a sort of different path in the decision-making process. For Maria and Jarrid, did you ever consider joining a fund before raising your own?

Maria: I did consider joining a fund. So I looked around because I was really bullish on my thesis of women’s healthcare and there were no funds that were specializing in women’s healthcare at that point. There was one kind of angel group that had done it and I tried to get in their portfolio FinTech fund, but they were closed. I said, ‘If I’m looking around and there’s no one doing what I’m doing, I need to start it myself.’ I felt that I had enough of an operating background, enough of a financial background, and investing a small track record that I thought I could go out and raise a fund. The thesis focus is what made me go in my own direction.

Jarrid: I was in business school when I had to make this decision. So by the time I entered HBS in August 2017, I had done two years of private equity, Harlem Capital. We’d made a couple of angel investments. And so we were really trying to decide, ‘Hey, do we try to enter private equity? Do we try to enter VC? Do we start our own fund?’ I was trying to do private equity. I didn’t get the one job I wanted. I could’ve kept recruiting. My business partner Henri didn’t want to go into VC. He looked at firms’ white pages and ultimately was mostly white males and eventually he’s like, ‘Hey, I can’t do this after working at a Black-owned PE firm. I just want to go somewhere where I know I’ll be valued and contribute, and just focus on doing well.’

That decision it was interesting. I did appreciate having the timeline to just really think about it and reflect. So I didn’t feel like I was rushed into it, but ultimately we decided to raise a fund instead of doing an internship. We went along the process. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to do it while I was asking for money, but once it got to a certain point, it definitely helped. Our angel portfolio was doing reasonably well and we’re able to get some good meetings with top investors. I think the turning point for us was getting a couple private equity folks and then the TBG team as our anchor investor. Once we saw it was a possibility, it got really interesting.

It was less again about the work and more about the problem that we were trying to solve. We were trying to get more capital in the hands of women and minorities. We knew the wealth creation and the lifestyle changes that can happen when we have this access and the problems that can be solved when people have the rope to really start a company. We saw, again, not just focused on a seed stage VC, we saw the evolution – what happens if we go in a later stage VC? What happens as we go into growth? What happens when companies get acquired? And that is what excites me. So once people started believing what we’re doing and we got some good coverage and founders liked us, it became more and more clear that there was an opportunity set and that’s what we’re focused on attacking and it’s been going pretty well.

 

Chase: Mercedes, I can count maybe on two or three fingers the number of Black women that are billion dollar plus funds, let alone as a partner. How did you get into venture?

Mercedes: On one hand, I think I got lucky. When you line up everything that has to work out, it was luck. On the other hand I think there’s also a lot of privilege involved too. I’m not terribly disillusioned by the fact that if maybe I hadn’t gone to Stanford and Harvard that they wouldn’t have looked at me and I don’t say that in a bragging way, but I mean that in terms of many of the venture firms don’t have people for underrepresented groups. We also know that venture firms tend to hire from the same set of schools over and over again. So I think that was probably part of the factor, just the access that you get when you’re at a place like Stanford. So I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing, but I think that it was part of what played into my ability to get there.

Then, the third thing is to prepare yourself for the job. I was very strategic about, ‘Okay. I don’t know a ton about venture capital, but I do have a lot of startup operator experience.’ I’ve been an operator. I also started my own business and had done that for seven years or so. So I can go into these meetings and focus really on what I do know from a sector perspective, I’d worked at a lot of education startups, and so I pitched all around my edtech thesis and how that was something I would dive deep on. I also had worked in a virtual reality startup. So I pitched all about VR, XR startups, and frontier technology.

Bringing those previous experiences to bear, I think made me feel a lot more credible and go a lot deeper in my initial ability to explore the role of venture capital, because it wasn’t just like, ‘Okay, how do I source companies?’ It was: what’s the crème de la crème of evaluating the top companies and showing them that I already know how to get in front of these founders? That was a lot of it for me.

Translating operating experience to venture capital

Chase: How does that operator experience sort of show up now as an investor when you’re evaluating founders or evaluating opportunities? Now that we understand that Mercedes, Jarrid and Maria sort of came from operator backgrounds of sort of finance and analytical background, and as a founder operator, how does those experiences shape your thinking? 

Mercedes: For me, I think there’s two areas where it’s helped out in terms of the operator experience. I think one, it just makes me much more empathetic for what founders are going through. The company I started was not a venture backed company, so I don’t have that fundraising experience, but I have worked at seed stage series A, B, C, D, I’ve worked at pretty much every stage, and I have worked at a public company. From the startup lens perspective, in terms of having that empathy of how hard it is to get from that seed stage. I remember using Carta back when it was called eShares. That early initial time frame where the company is going through the scaling phase of the company, which is normally a hyperscale growth to then this maturation, and how do we take over the market? I think being able to really empathize with founders is huge.

The second piece is being a board member. I remember my very first board meeting for the first company I led an investment in. I was very nervous because I was like, ‘Okay, I just led this company series A and now this is the first board meeting. What am I going to tell them?’ And I haven’t sat on boards for a long time. Really quickly, the operator experience came out. One of the first things they started asking about was strategic planning. We started going over OKRs and I started talking about North Star Metrics and how you can align a lot of the business around those. That was just instinct. I think it’s allowed me to be a lot better there as well.

Maria: I hundred percent agree with Mercedes. Empathy is something that I definitely take forward. I know what it’s like to be in the trenches. I know what it’s like when no one’s believing in you, when you’re pounding the pavement, trying to get your first dollar, trying to get your first customer. So I’m a little bit more there with them than some of the other investors that may be on the cap table. And I think that they feel that, and I care about these founders, not only what happens in their business, but what happens to them personally, because what happens with them personally impacts the business. So I think it’s really important to have a well-rounded approach to how you interact with founders. For us, we are really interested in post deal support because I’m an operator, so that’s my favorite part of the business, is after we do the check, after we do all that, and we roll up our sleeves and start grinding.

It was really important to evaluate the team, because is this a team that I want to be with when the ducks are down, when the chips are high? Is this a team that we can go through adversity? Because ultimately you will be going through some types of adversity throughout the journey of your business. Then there’s people that just have something very special, people like Henry. I met Henry Ward and when I was at Stanford doing a program and I just saw right when I met him, he had that magic and that is a rock star founder. I feel like there’s some people that are just special and he’s one of those people and I love when I’m able to find a founder like that, because you just know they’re going to be so fun to build with.

Jarrid: We’re in private equity, right? And I think that’s actually a cool skill set you do learn. We’re analytical. We try to be thorough. And I think founders appreciate that, because by the time we invest, we’ve turned over a lot of stones efficiently and after we invest, we actually show them our memo and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re thinking about the business. Here’s what we love about you. Here’s some areas we want to develop.’ 

The other thing we learn is that it’s a people’s business. I was at a Black-owned PE firm. They were going all across the country. They had to sell themselves like, ‘Hey, here’s why you should work with me.’ It’s not all about terms. It’s not all about brand. It’s about the person you’re working with, the emotional tie you have and how you feel about working with them and that really got embedded in us. We take that approach every day. It’s not like we’re doing the founders a favor, they’re giving us an opportunity to invest in them like real expensive equity. Right? So we always keep that in mind.

On the empathy side, I agree that’s a hundred percent true. We haven’t been operators, but we have built the fund, we had to will it into existence. It was the idea. It was nothing and we created it into something that is hopefully powerful. I think just going through that experience and being young, being under 30 while we’re doing all this, I think has definitely helped founders land with us. Our mission has really opened a ton of doors. We’re living for something that’s more than just money. And also it gave us access to some of the top VCs, because again, if we were just a SaaS fund in Silicon Valley, it wouldn’t be exciting. Because we have this mission. GPs of all caliber are willing to talk to us and we’re able to learn quickly on the fly, through just having their ear and learning best practices they’ve learned over six, seven funds.

First investments and building conviction  

Chase: What was your first investment and how did you build conviction around that? 

Mercedes: My first one. My first investment at Lightspeed was a Series A into a career discovery network called Forage. The website is theforage.com. I just think what they’re doing is so revolutionary. They’re working with employers and they’re going to them and saying, Hhey, let’s create courses about what it’s like to work at this employer. JPMorgan, BCG, Microsoft, all of these really big companies. It really opens up and shares what it’s like to do work at those companies. I think this is something I’ve constantly been looking for throughout life. Wondering, okay, you hear about the brands, maybe you go to Coursera or Udemy or Udacity. You take a course on a skillset, but how is that skillset and that role done at this company? And that’s something that’s really hard to tease out and they actually have you walk through assignments that real employees do every day at the company. In addition to being something that is just at the career discovery level, you can apply by submitting your assignment through the website for a job at the company, and the recruiters will reach out to you. I just think it’s just this amazing, career discovery to hiring solution that there’s really not a great other product market. So, sorry, I even forgot what the other part of the question is. I just get so excited by talking about Forage.

Maria: So my first investment was a company I was reading about online and I was like, ‘This company has been doing this interesting business model, but I’m not that interested in it.’ But they decided just to partner with another company to create treatments and cures for people of all colors, ethnicities, and genders. This company was 23andMe. So the day that they decided to announce their partnership with GSK, that they were going to be able to use a diverse dataset to create diverse treatments and cures was the day I knew that this company had a lot of opportunity. While it was a little bit more later stage I knew that this was the beginning of the company, and that was the company that I invested in. And so really excited that they just announced their IPO last month.

Jarrid: Our first institutional investment out of the fund was a company called Aunt Flow. They sell tampons and pads, menstrual products into schools and enterprises. So we fell in love with the founder. She’s amazing, she’s scrappy. She really cares about this. She just saw a problem where this product is working with a human bodily function and it should be free. There’s no reason why you should have to, if you’re out and you need to have the product that you have to find a quarter, which no one carries anymore and try to buy it. We loved her vision there. Tampax sells a billion dollars worth of quarter tampons every year. So we’re like, ‘This market needs to be disrupted. There are schools and enterprises that should have this as a free product.’ She’s been already lobbying and presenting to Congress and stuff, trying to get these laws changed in different states. We just thought her vision was great.

They’re not a typical VC space. It’s not a technical product, but we thought that given the white space and given the way she was going about it, she could really do something special and we’ve been so happy to back her. So that’s really how we got conviction and we thought, ‘We’re saying we’re focused on people of color and women. What better way to start our fund by doing this that no one ever thinks we would invest in?’ So we are so happy with that decision. The question may be, hey, how did this company do during COVID? Because schools and enterprise were closed. Claire is phenomenal. So she pivoted hard. She used her FDA approvals and her import relationships to do PPE. And so for period of time she hit her 2020 budget within a month and was able to pivot. Now they’re back to their focus, but a great founder like that will find a way to win. We feel so happy to be able to support her along this journey.

Lessons learned in venture capital

Chase: What are some of the sharpest lessons that you’ve learned so far? It’s such a long time lapse between when you make a decision and when you figure out whether or not it was the right decision. Talk to us a little bit about some of the lessons you’ve learned so far. 

Maria: I think one of the lessons was really coaching founders and realizing that they’re new and they’re learning. They’ll come to us with this crazy valuation and they have an MVP and they’re like ‘my product is with $20 million.’ It’s really just educating them. It’s not like I don’t think your product is special. It’s not like, I don’t think you’re going to be successful one day, but maybe today you’re not worth $20 million and we want to teach and educate them and I think that that’s really important. Because people will come in with all of the answers. A lot of the founders that we’re backing are first time founders. I think it’s really important to teach them and to tell them, and to be honest with them. Our core value is to be very honest with entrepreneurs where we think they stand, where we think is good for the business.

Even if we don’t invest in them, we want to make sure that we’re setting them on the right path and that we’re getting them great advice. But that’s the number one problem I see for most of these early founders is their valuations are just starting out the gate way too high.

Jarrid: We closed our fund without fully understanding portfolio construction. We had a model that made sense, but in practice it just didn’t work as well. Now we’re very focused on ownership and there will be exceptions like late stage stuff. I think getting in 23andMe is always great for example, but for a core strategy, we just see that being so important and a lot of early funds don’t know that because at the end of the day most outcomes aren’t that big. What ultimately matters is how much you own the company. Like you may get it at 10%. You may own 5% of the company when it’s all said and done. So having a good handle on that as an early manager helps, and it really helped our process.

I think some firms want to get great logos because it helps you get money and institutional capital, because we got some institutional capital for our first fund. We could just be more disciplined on the metrics. Its two sides of the same coin. I know Carta’s focused on ownership as well. So even when it comes to our teams, we say, ‘Hey, when you raise capital, don’t just take anyone’s money. Make sure you’re thinking about how much you own now, how much you own later, how much you get diluted.’ The best founders like the Jeff Bezos, Zuckerbergs of the world, they’re able to IPO with a lot of the company, maybe a third of the company, 20% of the company, because they were so disciplined about that. Knowing that you have to be disciplined going throughout can really help lead to some better outcomes and better paydays for everyone involved.

Mercedes: I’d say some of the biggest lessons for me when joining venture was around developing my eye for investment and discernment around what make a good investment. When you first start in venture, there’s this phrase that your first week, you like one in 10 of what you see. Your next few months, you like one in a hundred and then after a year there’s only one interesting company out of the last thousand I met. I think that it’s this idea that it takes a while to develop your idea of what is really good and that calibration is a constant thing that’s happening. Every time I meet a new company in a category that has set a new bar, I see what’s possible in terms of DAU/MAU and engagement ratios or what’s possible in terms of growth.

Another lesson has been in terms of how helpful you can be. I think that venture investor versus angel investor is a big difference. In the angel a lot of time you’re sending the money and it’s the feeling like you want to help this person. As a venture investor, I’ve really realized that we as venture investors really are not a big percentage of the outcome on a company. There’s a phrase we like to say in venture that the VC is responsible for maybe like 30% of the difference. The management team’s responsible for 30X the difference and the founder is worth 300X the difference of how big the outcome can be.

Key traits of the best entrepreneurs  

Chase: In this room of about 200 people, it’s more than likely that a few will become founders in the near future. We have a great founder as a leader. We’re building a best in class software. We will take those learnings and apply it somewhere else. Can you talk a little bit about some of the attributes you look for in founding teams?

Mercedes: Two main things that I look for in founders: one is classic, founder product fit, which to me is the idea of out of all the people that could have started this business in the world it makes so much sense that this is the founder starting this business. A lot of times on the enterprise side, that’s because of past work experience, but in consumer not always. Consumer ideas can come from good instincts, from hobbies, from good perspectives about things like storytelling. Jeremy, one of my partners, likes to tell the story of Evan Spiegel, who started Snap. It wasn’t necessarily that he had a long career experience because he was in college, but he had a really great insight on how stories were told and what was not working about Instagram that he wanted to start. 

The second thing is I really look for what I call learning animals. I wrote this whole post a couple of months ago about how founders become learning animals. People who are constantly turning every experience into a learning opportunity and they’re constantly thinking about how do I scale myself with the pace of the business, because oftentimes the business grows faster in a success case, then you can scale your own skill set. So how do you constantly keep pace and be the founder that the company needs at each step change? I see founders who really develop themselves or surround themselves with a group of peer founders who are often 18 to 24 months ahead of them as constantly trying to make sure that they know what’s coming around the corner. 

Maria: One of the things that we look for, number one, do I like you? Do I want to answer the phone when you call? Because there are some founders where I think, ‘You have an awesome idea, but I don’t want to talk to you tomorrow.’ So that’s really my number one thing. Do I like you? Because we’re going to have a long, long relationship. So that’s number one. And the number two is, are they coachable? Because you don’t know everything. We don’t know everything, but together we can learn and together we can figure things out. So if you’re willing to go on this journey of collaboration and partnership, then we are willing to go on that journey with you.

And the number three, to Mercedes’ point, is product founder fit. For us in healthcare that’s really important. There’s a lot of times there’s a doctor who’s been doing a procedure the same way for 30 years and he’s like, ‘If we just switched to this one thing, I think it could be better.’ Like that is the product, that’s the kind of founder that we like. They’ve been in the industry or they built it internally at a corporate and now they’re doing it on their own. We just invested in a company like that too, that spun out of Cigna. It’s like an at-home OB-GYN delivery care system. They built that within a framework. They know what they’re doing. They know the space, especially in healthcare it’s very intricate. It’s really important to have people that understand how to navigate health insurance plans and employer services. For us product founder fit is really important as well.

Jarrid: The two key things I look for are, can you sell? And are you analytical? So selling, I think is so important because you have to repeatedly convince people of your vision. You need it for fundraising, getting capital, you need it to hire employees, you need it to get customers. I think having that be a core competent CEO is so helpful and we’ve seen that really set apart our best founders. Analytical piece is great too, though. You need to be able to use data to drive your decisions. The best founders are actually looking at benchmarking like with standard for the industry, what are the market opportunities? How does the cashflow look? What are our unit economics going to be? All these things may not be perfect at the seed stage where we invest, but I think having a framework and actually using data to inform it, rather than just going off of gut feel what you think is best is so helpful. Learn through data, iterate constantly, get better and grow the company. Those are really traits that we love and we think makes the founder stand out.

The future of venture capital 

Chase: As the world continues to change, what might the future of venture look like? If we’re sitting in the Zoom in 2030, what do you hope will be different about venture capital by then?

Jarrid: We’re really excited about putting capital in the hands of women and minorities and seeing what they’re able to do with it and be so resourceful and scrappy. We’re always trying to get more people in the industry. So we have a really robust intern program. We’ve had 58 interns cycle through, 17 of them have already gone into venture or private equity. A lot of them are working at finance tech companies. Also building in public. So people know what we’re doing, and as a result, we hope to encourage more diverse people to start companies and become VC investors. That’s like the dream for us as a firm.

What I want for the industry is to have capital distributed. About 4% of capital goes to exclusively women or minority companies, and it should be much higher because we’re 70% of the population. That’s my dream to happen in 10 years. Maybe it takes a little bit longer, but I would love to see people have equal access to opportunities because entrepreneurship really enables life changing outcomes, pushes society forward and we’re so excited to see what happens when it’s more democratized.

Maria: I would piggyback on that too, as a women’s health investor, I want to see more women. There’s a very fine line between the dollars put in a women investor’s hands and the dollars that go into women-owned companies. Not everyone is as open-minded as Jarrid and is open to investing in women and people of color and women developing stigmatized products and services. So I want more Jarrids in the industry. I want more of a Mercedes and I in the industry, people that are just open-minded to invest in any founders that have great ideas and any founder can have a good idea and you can come from anywhere. You can come from Ohio State, you can come from Florida State, you don’t always have to come from the same target schools because there’s great ideas everywhere.

I really want to see the women’s health industry thrive. I think that it’s something that has been totally overlooked and underserved, and there’s going to be a billion women, for instance, undergoing menopause. A billion women that can buy a product to help something that they’re going to need for three to 30 years of their life. How is that not a huge opportunity? But I feel like a lot of people haven’t even looked at that opportunity because they don’t resonate with it and that’s why I think when you start to diversify the landscape of people with money, you’re going to start diversifying the types of products you see in the market.

Mercedes: I think that the number one thing I want to see is diversification of the investor base from a gender and racial perspective. And two, I think that will translate into more diverse founders. The other thing to add something new that I would say I am hoping to see is more places and more resources for founders to get funding. I talked about how in venture, unfortunately we are investing in one out of a thousand companies, but if you asked me how many of those companies are actually really good companies that I think should get funded, it’s over 50%. There’s so many good companies out there that deserve funding.

 

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