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Three Tips from Inspiring Female Venture Capitalists
This Sunday is International Women's Day, a global-wide event that celebrates women’s achievements. While the exact origin of International Women's Day is not precisely known, it was undoubtedly inspired by the events of 1908, when 15,000 women trekked through New York City to demand voting rights, improved pay, and shorter working hours.
Since 1908 women have continued to strive for gender parity. Venture capital is no exception. We’ve made progress in conquering gender biases and a lack of gender parity, but there's still a long way to go. While the number of senior women VCs has increased in the last two years, nearly 75% of major firms still have no women as senior partners.
Addressing the lack of gender bias isn't just a social and moral imperative, it’s a financial one. Research published in Harvard Business Review found that the financial returns of homogeneous venture capital partnerships are far inferior to those of more diverse partnerships.
This year, as we reify our commitment to challenging gender stereotypes and overcoming biases in venture capital and beyond, we celebrate three powerful women who serve as role models and guiding lights. We’re humbled that they are also Affinity customers. They offer several insights about how aspiring female entrepreneurs and venture capitalists can advance their careers.
Mar Hershenson: Surround yourself with inspiring women
Mar Hershenson is a Founding Managing Partner at Pear Ventures, a Palo Alto-based venture capital firm. Founded by immigrants, Pear invests in seed and early-stage technology startups such as Dropbox and Path.
As a woman and immigrant, Mar has faced several obstacles over the course of her life as she’s climbed the ranks of venture capital. What is her advice for conquering perceived insecurities? Surrounding herself with brilliant workers. She explains, that she prides herself in “knowing where you are and acting a certain way – just like a car.”
There’s a real strength in numbers. Females especially benefit from surrounding themselves with inspiring others. Recent research by Babson College’s Rob Cross has found that women exhibit greater stickiness in their relationships over time. Specifically, he found that women are more apt to maintain relationships with co-workers from previous positions and jobs as compared to their male counterparts. Successful women leverage these strong external connections as boundary-spanning opportunities.
Susan Su: Zoom out
Susan Su is the Head of Portfolio and Growth at Sound Ventures an early-stage venture capital firm based in Los Angeles. Sound’s portfolio includes over 150 investments across enterprise and consumer categories. Prior to Sound, Susan held leadership roles in growth and marketing at Stripe, Reforge, 500 Startups, AppSumo, and Google.
We’re all guilty of getting stuck in the day-to-day drive. It’s easy to become so fixated on our daily work that we fall victim to myopia—when we tune potentially important things out of our purview. Susan emphasizes the importance of “zooming out”. She offers wise advice:
“At least once a year, if not once a day, it’s good to zoom out….The detail that rules your day or your life right now could be obsoleted by the next detail that comes along. We are not invincible.”
Importantly, while Susan advocates for the benefits of zooming out, this doesn’t mean that myopia is necessarily a bad thing. She adds,
“This isn’t to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” The small stuff makes up a life, and it matters….It matters whether we meet someone on time, whether our email was proofread before sending, whether we flossed today and yesterday. All of it matters even more in aggregate….We need a bit of myopia in our everyday lives to get done the things that are small but important."
By balancing myopia and zooming out, we can achieve the best of both worlds—the ability to focus when it matters and see the big picture when we’re susceptible to falling into a rut.
Jocelyn Goldfein: Data is not the new oil
Jocelyn Goldfein is a Managing Director at Zetta Venture Partners, a venture capital firm based in San Francisco. Jocelyn invests in AI-first startups with B2B business models. Before Zetta, Jocely held leadership positions at Facebook and VMware. She currently serves on the board of Harvey Mudd College and is a lecturer at Stanford University.
Data has become top-of-mind for all companies, big and small. While it’s tempting to adopt a “more is better” view of data, this can be detrimental. Jocelyn cautions against the temptation to view “data as the new oil”. She explains,
“Raw data is not nearly as valuable as data employed to solve a problem….Even when data is put to work powering ML-based solutions, the size of the data set is only one part of the story. The value of a data set, the strength of a data moat, comes from context. Some applications require models to be trained to a high degree of accuracy before they can provide any value to a customer, while others need little or no data at all.”
As the old adage goes, “garbage in, garbage out”. Jocelyn reminds us of the importance of thinking carefully about the utility of data before blindly incorporating it into models and algorithms.
This year's International Women's Day theme is "Each for Equal". It’s grounded in the notion that collectively, everyone is able to help create a gender equal world. These three inspiring women remind us how important it is to bridge the gender gap in venture capital and beyond.