Tell us about how you first got into “bad” venture capitalism, and what separates Vice Ventures from the pack.
My dad’s a bartender, I grew up spending nights at the bar with him. Beyond that, though, the area naturally held some appeal to me as a consumer investor. Alcohol has been a consistent source of some of the largest headline exits for startup brands in recent years, for example. When I was interviewing at consumer venture investment firms, I was shocked to learn that many of them couldn’t even invest in alcohol because of vice clauses. Explicitly focusing on these areas was the first thing that set us apart.
What’s it like being a female venture capitalist and working for yourself?
Being a female VC absolutely puts me in the minority—especially if you look at those running their own funds. I’m very happy to be a part of the next generation of fund managers, hopefully better reflecting the community we work in. Working for myself has been absolutely fantastic, and something I hope to never give up. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a boss. In fact, I have many bosses—my LPs. However, I do have the valuable flexibility to bet on my convictions. I’ve historically not fit in at larger organizations, and although my prior experience includes stints at Citigroup and Walmart, I’m most at home in a smaller-sized team where I can build deep connections and collaborate on a personal level. One thing that I’m incredibly passionate about is creating a positive and supportive environment of investors. I’m excited to share my experience of launching a young investor mentorship program.
How can investors and founders support each other within the world of investing, and why is that sense of community so important?
The sense of community is vital to what we do. Bad experiences with investors happen all the time. One such example happened to me recently, where Vice Ventures invested considerable time and effort into working with other investors on a deal, only to have one of those investors then present false statements to the company and insist that we be removed. These sorts of incidents aren’t isolated. Of course, in any industry (and especially when money is at stake) there’s conflict. One of the beautiful parts of early-stage investing, however, is that it’s a very small world. I want to be one of the forces to ensure that our small world continues to follow the principles of fairness, respect, and decency.
How do you and your team decide on which startups to back? What do you look for?
There is an incredible number of factors that we consider, and in many cases, the list of what we look for is both company and sector dependent. One of the constants, however, is founder quality. We insist on a leadership team that’s honest, communicative, and intellectually flexible. I don’t agree with investors who say the founder is everything but absolutely would concede that a top-notch team can overcome a long list of other obstacles. In the vice world specifically, I’m also looking for a team with expert-level knowledge in their vertical and any associated regulatory issues. Beyond that, most of our criteria look similar to those of a traditional consumer VC: brand quality, ability to reach product-market fit, exit potential (especially important at Vice Ventures), consumer engagement, etc.
Any recent or upcoming investments? Are there any particular vice industries you see trending right now?
Recently, we invested in Parade, a DTC brand selling various types of women’s underwear, that’s already demonstrated an incredibly deep connection with consumers. As customers continue to shift away from traditional brands like Victoria’s Secret, we’re incredibly excited about the strength of Parade’s body-positive messaging and exceptional product quality and design. The founding team exemplifies all the principles we look for and we continue to collaborate closely to continue their explosive growth. One of the things that impressed me most about the company was the clear strength behind their funding ask in such a challenging time. While they were raising in the middle of COVID-19, they made a compelling case for a short-term opportunity in DTC sales and a crystal-clear plan for how they’d use the funding.
What’s some advice you give your portfolio companies right off the bat?
The founders we work with are incredibly open and honest people, and we trust them to know the fundamentals. The advice and other help we offer to portfolio companies often are quite company specific. We might help one company find distribution partners, investors (we often have our LPs as co-investors alongside the fund), creative partners, PR/communications, legal, other service providers, etc. As a fund that focuses on industries with high levels of regulation, we also try to collaborate with our founders to operate both legally and ethically—though again we select founders who prioritize these aspects already.