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I interviewed Jalak Jobanputra this week regarding women startups. Jalak has over 16 years experience in venture capital, media and technology, most recently with the NYC Investment Fund. She spearheaded the formation of NYCSeed in 2008, a seed fund dedicated to funding early stage tech entrepreneurs in NYC. She was previously a principal at New Venture Partners, a $300 million early stage venture fund that incubated technology at corporate labs. Prior to that, she was at Intel Capital in Silicon Valley and was on the launch team of online financial information startup Horsesmouth in 1997, during which time she first discovered the NYC sample sale scene in Nolita. You can find her on Twitter and her blog NothingVentured. The interview has been divided into 2 parts. This is the first part on Women Startups.
This is Part I of the interview.
The transcript follows & the video is above
- What is your firm’s sweet spot, the type of startup in which you like to invest?
Well we do everything from early stage seed which usually means that there is some sort of prototype. Not necessarily full revenue but some customers that are using the product or service. And then go all the way to funding Series A & Series B which usually have some revenue but needs growth capital. Currently invest in NYC & so by virtue of that we are currently looking at digital media, financial services, technology, advertising technology companies. So its mainly technology companies.
- Do you see many women entrepreneurs/startups sourcing venture capital coming to you specifically? What percentage do you find that are women startups that you fund?
I think by virtue of being one of the few female vcs out there, I end up attracting a lot of women who are looking for funding. And as more & more women start businesses where women are also the primary consumers of the technology or service, I think the number of women seeking venture capital is only going to accelerate. And I’ve been seeing that happen over the course of even the past year, so I think that is very encouraging. And it has a lot to do with the number of women who are using technology. I wrote a piece in VentureBeat that was just published yesterday on the Evolution of the Online Fashion Industry ‘Fashion is the new black online’. If you look at the number of startups who are creating the next generation of fashion & commerce, you’ll see that a lot of the founders are women. So I’d say its still a small percentage but its only going to accelerate & I’m encouraged by that.
- I quote from a comment you left on Fred Wilson’s blog ‘There are many groups in NYC that I have been actively involved with that are encouraging more tech entrepreneurship amongst women in NYC, including Girls In Tech, Astia, Springboard, Women 2.0. I have mentored, organized, moderated and participated on countless panels on the topic and have invited men (who make up a large percentage of my network) to attend but many do not. We need an inclusive conversation on the topic. One of them was held at Dogpatch and many of the 20 something male entrepreneurs there attended and commented that they found the conversation enlightening.’ What do you think needs to happen to encourage men to participate more fully with women in the entrepreneurial scene? What have you found that works & what doesn’t?
I think there are 2 issues here. One is general networking in the technology space. That is happening organically as more women are starting businesses & going to these networking events & understanding that this is where you interact with other entrepreneurs & vcs. That interaction is already starting to happen which is good. So I go to New York Tech Meetup & while it is still predominantly male, I still see a lot of women who I know are looking for funding, attending these events & interacting with other entrepreneurs & vcs, so that’s happening.I think there is another issue women & first time entrepreneurs in general being able to actually close on a deal & get venture funding. I think there needs to be a realisation that men & women are different. There has been a lot of press recently & I have to say that my own experience verifies that women are more conservative a lot of times when putting together business plans. In my experience they often weigh the risks a lot more & so there’ll be more downside scenarios in their plans sometimes. Or they don’t want to overcomit and vcs are used to seeing things through a certain lens in terms plans & doing their standard haircuts of the plans. So I think there just needs to be more an understanding (& again you dont want to overgeneralize) but there is some reality behind these real differences. So those were the topics & conversations that I think that the men that were in attendance said they hadn’t really thought about before & found it interesting because why would they think about it otherwise they were hearing some extremely successful women there discussing it.
- So what works is education or more awareness about the differences that women bring to pitching for venture?
Yes the differences and recognition of what those differences are so that it doesn’t negatively impact them when they are out there looking for venture.
- What are some of the challenges you have had to face personally to be a female venture capitalist? Is there a huge list?
I love the industry and I feel extremely fortunate to have found something that I love doing so much that most often it doesn’t feel like a job. That’s first & foremost. I think its always interesting to be the only one of anything in a room and there are times when I notice it & times I dont. But I am most often the only woman on a board and I do think I bring a different perspective, that’s being a woman & being a minority and there’s a whole set of experiences that I bring to the table & everybody brings their own. But there’s not enough of me out there in terms of perspectives. And often having to argue more for that perspective or recognise that I am going to have to sometimes work harder to get others to see that perspective but to me that’s a small price to pay for doing something that I love doing.
- And being a pathfinder, you’ve obviously got those qualities & abilities to break the ground for other women so that must also fire up your passion, I would imagine.
Absolutely, absolutely its the number of women from around the world who write me every day talking about that they heard me speak or they saw a clip or read something that inspired them. Or I put them in touch with somebody who was helpful. So to me that is a huge part of my work & what I can do to help encourage them.