The estimated reading time for this post is 10 seconds
Video interview with Ann Miura-Ko, CoFounding Partner Floodgate. Ann’s investment interests include the innovations in e-commerce, security, and big data. In addition to serving at FLOODGATE, Ann is a lecturer in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, where she got her PhD focused on mathematical modeling of computer security. She teaches High Tech Entrepreneurship with Steve Blank and is a frequent lecturer in courses such as Technology Venture Formation, High-tech Entrepreneurship, and the Mayfield Fellows Program. Many of her students have gone on to secure Angel and VC funding for their ideas. Prior to joining FLOODGATE and her stint at Stanford, Ann worked at Charles River Ventures and McKinsey and Company. You can find Ann on Twitter @annimaniac
- Which themes do you like to invest, what is your sweet spot?
There are 2 categories in which we’re investing right now. For me, on the consumer internet side, I have an additional 2 sub categories. So within consumer internet the 2 themes that I’ve been really interested in are 1) what I call the sharing economy (others have called it collaborative consumption) but the notion that consumers now are actually sharing the things (not just information about themselves) but actually their goods & their belongings & their time. So examples of the at would be Zimride where people are sharing rides with one another. Task Rabbit where people are sharing their time, allowing people who are really busy to leverage other people who might have some free time to get some of their errands done.
The 2nd component of consumer internet that I’ve been really interested in is what I call social commerce. I’ve made 2 investments in that space. One is a company called ModCloth which empowers independent designers basically to sell through their curated website out to women who are really interested in independent fashion. And the 2nd component to that is a new stealth company in the jewellery space. That also has a strong social component & I’m really excited that they’ll be launching in April.
There’s been some incredible write ups about yourself, so you’re obviously something right. It’s always wonderful to hear about women that are successful & doing well but it’s just wonderful to hear these fantastic raves about you in the media. I’m just so pleased to be interviewing you.
Thank you. One other thing I would mention is that those are the investments I’ve been doing on the consumer side. I do investments also on the business software services side. Because my background is more technical in nature, my Phd involved a lot of work in computer security. So security has actually been an area of focus for me as well. Mathmatics has also been a core interest for me & that has been applied in the data area particularly with respect to analytics. So that’s also another category of investment.
I guess that then extends to the cloud?
- What do you look for in women entrepreneurs & startups that indicate interest to you in investing in their businesses?
You know it’s interesting for me, the difference between female entrepreneurs & male entrepreneurs & what I look for is not different at all. What I look for is truly authentic entrepreneurs & what I mean by that is that I can’t imagine them doing anything else besides this one startup. And they probably can’t imagine it either. What I also look for is a fundamental market or technological insight that they have. A lot of times that depends on being very authentic. Two great examples of female entrepreneurs who have that authentic market insight, one was Susan Gregg Koger about_us who was the founder of ModCloth. She had been vintage clothing shopping since she was 13 years old with her grandmother in Florida. She continued to do so throughout college & happened to set up a website where she could resell some of the vintage clothing that she’d bought. On the first day she had a sale. From then on she was addicted to this notion, of how can I really scale this business? How can I make shopping truly fun & feel like discovery for every individual out there? She’s driven by that vision. It comes from a very authentic place within herself. She is an avid shopper. She has an incredible sense of style. But she’s also unique in the sense that even in high school people would come to her from all sorts of different groups & ask her for fashion advice. People weren’t afraid to do that. She always wanted to scale that out. I love that vision where she believes that shopping doesn’t have to be scarey & fashion doesn’t have to be scarey. It can be a lot of fun! You see that when you go into the ModCloth site.
The other example is Erin McKean team from Wordnik who was a lexicographer at Oxford English Dictionary. She knew she wanted to be a lexicographer when she was 9 years old. As a result of her knowledge & working as an editor for Dictionary for so long, she understood. She had a very clear viewpoint on what a dictionary really should be in this day & age. And what was holding it back from fulfilling its full potential. I love entrepreneurs like Erin & Susan who have that truly authentic vision of what something can be. And I can participate in that vision, in that dream!
It’s almost as if they’re just following their destined path by the sounds of it? It’s a wonderful way of working out who you’re going to work with.
- Advice for pitching for venture is often correlated with dating. What sort of chemistry makes for a good match & is a success for both entrepreneur & venture capitalist?
I think fundamentally it comes down to trust! I’ve found that there are certain people when you say you click with someone else, it has to do with the mutual alignment of the vision of where you want to take things. But also a mutual trust in one another. I really do believe that one of the most important things between an investor & an entrepreneur is that you’re both aligned. That’s why I really love this truly early stage of investing where the entrepreneur & the investor are really aligned in terms of when we raise our follow on financing & if they get completely deluded, we’re probably facing the same thing as well. The dream on the part of the entrepreneur, not being jaded at that moment, is a wonderful thing for me as well. So at this stage of investing it really isn’t about the financial model. It’s not about the track record of what’s already happened. It really is about gut instinct & that’s where this analogy about dating really comes in. You can’t really tell someone why you fell in love but you just know that you did. That’s exactly the way it is with an entrepreneur.
Fantastic, thanks for that. Great to have a woman’s perspective on that.
- In your experience are there many women entrepreneurs that are unsuccessful in sourcing venture? We already know that the percentages of women who are successful are very low.
I think again for women & for men I would say, it’s exactly the same. What people forget often is that truly entrepreneurship & startups is a game of excellence. There’s a high failure rate for male entrepreneurs as well as for female entrepreneurs. I think there aren’t as many female entrepreneurs playing the game, so you don’t see them as often. But at the same time when people ask me, Are there really awesome female entrepreneurs out there? I have to say yes we have a ton of them in our portfolio. I’m super proud of them because we’ve held them to the same rigor & standard that we’ve held every other entrepreneur. We’re not making investments because they’re women. We’re making investments in them because we really think that they’re awesome!
- Do you think then that women feel that they have to perform even better than men? Some people have given me that feedback in these interviews.
It might be the case that that’s a pressure they put on themselves? I think that’s true of all women. If I look at myself versus my husband is a really good example. In college he told me that he never left an exam having thought he’d done anything but ace it! I actually remember every single exam being one where I thought oh problem number 4 maybe I didn’t do it quite perfectly – there’s another approach to that proof that I could’ve taken which was much more elegant. I would agonize over every single detail. It’s not that my husband actually aced every single test but he believed it. I think that’s prevalent with a lot of women. Even after you get out of school you’ve finished all your exams but actually you’ve got a lot of data points that prove out that your fundamental instincts aren’t right about how you’ve performed, yet still you have that nagging doubt. I think that is part of the problem. A lot of female entrepreneurs, a lot of female professionals will always feel that nagging doubt. You have to push through that. Whereas a lot of male entrepreneurs & male professionals will just believe. I think that’s the part that becomes very difficult in entrepreneurship is that there are so many people around you that are telling you no, this isn’t possible, these are the reasons why it’s going to be so hard. If you give yourself even the slightest bit of opening to even listen or hear those comments, then there’s a higher probability that you’re going to give up. So you have to see those barriers or those walls as minor speed bumps. That optimism is really, really important to develop. I think with women you really have to develop it internally.
So maybe women listen to everyone, more than the men. Because you’re right you do have to have that ability to against all odds keep going & in a butt headed way just ignore what everyone else is saying?
Yes be very, very stubborn.
So maybe that’s what part of the problem is?
- What can women entrepreneurs/startups do to increase their chances in sourcing venture?
I think that they just need to play the game! I truly believe that every woman that believes that they could be an entrepreneur, they can be! Especially when you’re young, you need to play that game. If you believe, even for the slightest bit, that you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to do it! You need to do it in that moment! You can’t hold off for a better time. You can’t hold off for a moment when things are more stable or you have a little bit more experience. You have to do it then! Too often I find that a lot of the students that I work with who are waiting till they have a little bit more experience, until they have a little bit more time under their belt having worked at another company or seen a few more successes. I do believe that there’s no better time than now for everyone. Especially today when the entrepreneurs have a lot of the power, it’s a great time for all women entrepreneurs to get involved. It’s just a matter of where do you find your inspiration? What empowers you? What are you passionate about? And going for it!
So it sounds like women really need to boost their confidence & just give it a shot? Not thinking about all the possibilities of what could happen?