Indu Navar, Serus: Leverage the Advantage of Being Different

Transcript follows & video below

Could you tell me briefly about your past history in sourcing venture funding?

Gosh it was probably close to 10 years ago when I started Serus Corporation. So my background is Im a technologist. I got my Electrical Engineering Bachelors in Computer Science. I guess I always knew I’m going to be starting my own venture someday. After school worked at NASA, worked in at Silicon Graphics & Healtheon on WebMD as a startup company. After it went IPO, 2001, I decided to start Serus, even though it was a downturn, that was where I was at the stage of my life where I wanted to go build a venture. Also what I was interested in was a journey I wanted to follow in starting a company. I really wanted to bootstrap it & see how it was having a customer knocking on your door when you’re still a very small company & you’re still in an alpha or beta stage product. That did happen.

Indu Navar

So you’re very experienced in raising venture?

I guess in building business I would say.

Indu Navar

What personal lessons being a woman have you taken out of your successes &/or failures in that regard?

You know I really don’t see myself as a female or male when I’m out there pitching my company, my ideas or what I want to do. Really that thought does not come into my head. So I guess not thinking about it or not worrying about it is one of the first things you’ve got to do.

Indu Navar

Sounds like a good secret.

Yeah. Secondly I think really focusing on what we have & what we’ve built & probably because I bootstrapped the company we already had customers to show for. So we had real revenue coming in. We had market validation already. So I think there was a lot more to show & tell about why this venture makes sense. Secondly I found myself at least there was a little bit of advantage about being a female when you go to conferences or you meet some people, just because they remember you. I like going to a conference with 50 to 80 people because it’s still small where it’s intimate. Usually there are 3 women to 50 men, at the most 3 to 5 women. So you’re always noticed. So when I send an email back & say hey do you remember me? Nobody forgot – yeah I remember you! So I thought that was an advantage to being different. If there was a big line, 3 or 4 people are waiting to talk to somebody. If I go stand in line, obviously they will always notice me & they would want to make time just because you’re different. So I realized that that was an advantage & I really went after to meet people & said if it’s a conference if its a meeting place of 50 to 100 people I’m going to be there. So that was my way of trying to stand out there in that work! There are some different thoughts that it might have been probably difficult if I was doing the same thing as other people or other male counterpart would have done. That is you have an idea, you go in & pitch the idea. That’s not what my experience was & that’s not what I wanted to follow. I had a lot more to show, I had customers already. The CIOs of big companies who’d take a call & say why is this team doing well or why is this market big enough for a vc to come in & invest? That has been my experience.

Indu Navar

Great that’s fantastic feedback.

What attitudes towards you being female have you noted from venture capitalists when you have been sourcing investment?

Very good question. Like I said I really don’t notice.

Indu Navar

So it’s all positive really, they just take notice of you really?

Yes I do not notice if they were any different because I do not know if they are any different. So I don’t focus on it. I felt in general men in board or investors, I think they tend to be a little more gentle. I found that they tend to be a lot less abrasive in their speech.

Indu Navar

More considerate?

More considerate. I’ve even had people come in afterwards & say I hope I was not too hard on you? I said Wow obviously even in a group if they did admit. I’ve had a lot of them come in & say I hope I wasn’t too hard on you or Are you OK? I felt that that is something they probably don’t do to male counterparts. I haven’t heard a male counterpart receiving that. Probably more gentleness & there have always been times when I’ve noticed (I think at a meeting in Japan a person didn’t give me his business card but he gave it to my VP & every other male because he thought I was an admin there or he thought I was really a translator which he admitted later & apologized). Things like that probably do happen but I don’t take any notice. It’s actually fun to see their reaction after when they realize.

Indu Navar

What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need specifically for sourcing venture capital?

I really think focusing on the value. I really think right now is a good time for women to be in the world & trying to say I can make a difference! Because we’re not really proving anymore. There was a lot of other women who’ve been very successful, look at the CEO of Pepsi or look at Meg Whitman that have actually proven that they can run a business & be very successful at it. So I don’t feel I need to prove but at the same time not many women have come out & said I’m going to take my career very seriously & have the same amount of perseverance & dedication & commitment to anything else I do to my career. I think that’s what somebody would want to see that is that you are really committed & you are going to make sure that this is one of the big goals in your life. It’s not an experiment, it’s not a test! So I would say the attitude should be not to worry if you are a female or not, not to worry that you are different. When I started the company, I went to a lot of women forums & there were people telling me that I should be dressing up in pin stripe suits, too not put on too much makeup when I go because I don’t want to stand out too much as a woman.

Indu Navar

Because you’re too beautiful or something?

And you need to play golf, you need to do… I would say don’t be anything but yourself because that’s where the whole magic happens, it’s who you are & what you bring to the table. Very interestingly I’ve had more men who’ve actually invested, who’ve helped me through my career, who’ve told me ‘I have a daughter & I hope one day she will be just like you!’ So I think the world has changed where people are beginning to wonder what will happen to their young children & young daughters. I’ve been surprised about how many people have actually come & told me that. My feedback is don’t worry if you’re female or male, really focus on the business. Bring what you really have to the table.

Indu Navar

And be determined, I gather from what you’re saying?

Yes & show your commitment that you are committed to building your career. This one is important. I do have an eleven year old child but my career is as important as being a mother. I think that has to be well within your own self realization as well.

Indu Navar

I understand! Fred Destin did say that you were a woman that would not say no & would not be stopped & that’s why you became so successful! So obviously men are seeing that about you, that you have that determination & commitment & passion for what you do! And you’re successful! Great role model!