Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m an former lawyer and ex-management consultant who moved from Sydney, Australia to New York to work with Susan Lyne at AOL running Strategy & Operations for the AOL Brand Group in 2013. I fell backwards into venture capital because Susan and I kept hearing the same story from female founders we met in NYC: that the men in the room they were pitching just didn’t understand the companies they were building or the market they were going after. As a result we founded BBG Ventures - our thesis was that female founders had an intuitive understanding of the dominant consumer and were going after large areas of the consumer economy - both of which could drive strong returns. Seven years later, we’ve seen over 8000 companies and invested in 76. I’m obsessed with wellness trends, a black belt in karate, and a favorite aunt to five nieces who are way smarter than me. I currently reside in Brooklyn.
What inspired you to create Built By Girls?
While running Strategy & Operations at AOL, on the side, I took over their millennial entertainment site, Cambio. In the course of nine months, I we grew it over 4X to 9 million monthly UVs rebuilding the brand and leveraging social publishing.. What we realized was that the core audience was 13-24 year-old girls - and their preferences were changing. I hired five 17-year-old girls (alumna of Girls Who Code) to help us redesign, reimagine, and rebuild the site. That was the start of the hashtag #BUILTBYGIRLS, and the experiment of what happens if you give a young woman exposure to the tech industry’s opportunities, practical skills, and network. The biggest question was how you provide those opportunities to not just 5 girls, but tens of thousands. That’s how we launched BUILT BY GIRLS Wave. - Wave is a matching platform driven by algorithm that conne girls and non-binary young talent across the country with professionals in tech to provide those opportunities at scale
What are 3 main things you look for when investing in an early-stage company?
Founder Fit - the best founders are the perfect combination of big vision, ability to execute, high conviction and who are uniquely qualified to build this specific company. Some of the most successful founders have an authentic connection to that problem, a deep understanding of the community they’re building for and relevant experience in the arena. In addition founders need a singular product focus, resilience, and the ability to do a lot with a little.
Large Market and a Must-Have Product - is this team going after a market that is building for a must-solve problem for millions of consumers? Are their market dynamics that mean there’s never been a better time to introduce this product to market? Is the product better than anything else out there? This boils down to “why this product, why now, why this team?”
Thesis Fit - Finally, BBGV is currently focused on founders addressing broken systems in the areas of Health & Wellness; Climate-Friendly Commerce; Future of Education & Work; and for Overlooked Consumers. We’re focused on pre-seed and seed stage.
Since you started your entrepreneurial journey, what’s been your biggest mistake?
Early on, my mistake was being too shy to tell my story or promote the things I was building on. Marketing, sales and storytelling are critical skills for any entrepreneur - people need to know what you’re working on, and it’s your job as a leader to be out there telling them about it. This is as important for your customers as it is for your partners and your investors.
What does a typical day in the life look like for you in this pandemic world?
I make time every morning to meditate, drink water, and work out - having that time sets me up for the day and makes me feel superhuman. I try to block out time for work in the morning so I can get on top of emails, strategic projects, diligence or support for our portfolio companies. I then jump into a team meeting to review companies we’re assessing or marketing we’re diving into, and follow up with an afternoon of pitch meetings or networking sessions with other VCs or start-up talent. I break to make sure I can spend time exercising (if it didn’t happen in the morning) and eating a healthy meal, which is also an opportunity for quality time with my partner, then close out the day with a couple of hours wrapping up important tasks, especially if we have a deal closing. I like to turn off my devices about an hour before bed and squeeze in some reading before turning in.
What advice do you have for women who don’t have a ‘typical’ background when it comes to entering VC?
Try to get as much experience as you can in related areas; for example, I was able to exercise founder DNA when I started BUILT BY GIRLS;I already had a lot of legal and operational experience and I’d learned how to assess market opportunities as a consultant which was a huge plus. It’s definitely possible to make the move into VC from an unrelated field, and may even work to your benefit as it did in my case. But I’d recommend finding your place in the start-up or tech world in some way - whether it’s working for an early stage company or advising founders in an arena where you’re an expert - and being vocal about it. Having a thesis about an area will make you stand out. Twitter or Medium is a great place to put your opinions about where the world is going into the ecosystem.
What industry are you keeping your eye on? Why?
At BBGV I’m particularly interested in two arenas right now - Climate-Friendly Commerce and the Future of Education. Today, most of the focus of climate change is on getting to net zero carbon emissions (rightly so), but we believe consumer behavior can play a crucial role in creating a groundswell of change. We predict consumers will become increasingly Climatarian, caring about their consumption footprint and wanting to consume responsibly. This drove our recent investment in Thousand Fell, the first full circle consumer brand and smart recycling management platform that facilitates recycling and collection for the footwear industry.
In the wake of COVID-19, we’re also focused on Education. School closures that began over a year ago have exposed a deep at-home digital divide and exacerbated inequities in the US education system. We’ve seen unprecedented demand for direct-to-parent and direct-to-student content and platforms, accelerating the potential for hybrid learning models to improve student outcomes. We just invested in a company called Fiveable that combines online learning with a social network, providing dynamic test prep resources at a much more affordable price point than traditional solutions.
As you know, community is everything to us! How has yours helped you with your journey? Personally or professionally.
Community powers everything I do. I got a taste of the power of community firsthand through BUILT BY GIRLS: the company has made over 20,000 matches to date by leveraging the power of the community for both growth and the utility of the platform. At BBG Ventures, the power of a strong founder community (for referrals or partnerships) and VC community (as co-investors or experts) is evident every time we make an investment. And,, some of our most exciting investments have had community at their core, including The Wing and Mighty Networks. Community is also the basis for my own OS: the way I operate is to pick up the phone and get advice from someone who knows more than I do. I’ve made it a habit personally and professionally to do that any time I’m entering into uncharted waters. I credit most of what I know and what I’ve learned with that approach.
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