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Video interview with Janice Roberts, Managing Director, Mayfield Fund. Janice is a global communications executive and entrepreneur. She invests in networking components and systems, mobile communications and consumer-oriented companies. Prior to joining Mayfield, Janice built a successful early-stage investment portfolio as president of 3Com Ventures. She also led 3Com’s global marketing and business development operation and ran a number of the company’s new business initiatives, including the highly successful Palm Computing subsidiary. Previously, Janice was managing director and president of BICC Data Networks LTD., which was acquired by 3Com in 1992. Janice holds an honors degree in commerce (economics and finance) from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
This is Part I of the interview. Transcript follows & video below.
- What themes do you like to invest?
So one of the things thinking about themes is you have to embrace change because themes change, sectors change & sectors emerge. Right now I am particularly interested in communication infrastructure which is essentially wireless these days & applications that are associated with that. I love the mobile sector, particularly interested in mobile platforms, mobile payments & advertising, that type of thing.
And that’s really booming at the moment! Coming into its own!
Yes it is booming actually, yeah. So we’ve seen obviously huge growth in mobile telephony throughout the world, in particular the smartphone growth is generating a whole new set of applications & platforms. And also some of the new tablets as well, ipads & so on, which is really a whole new category. And I think that is very exciting. And then some consumer applications as well.
- And does the Mayfield Fund have a certain category that they invest in, you said that the themes change? Would they dictate that or would each venture capitalist able to identify their sweet spot?
Well what’s really important for us as vcs is to stay close to what is happening in the marketplace, stay close to technology innovations. So we’re always trying to stay on top of that! But we invest as a firm across most of the sectors from infrastructure, software through to consumer internet, digital media. So really across the board. We don’t invest in biotech or medical but we have recently started a clean tech practice.
Brilliant, thank you.
- What do you look for in women entrepreneurs & startups that indicate interest to you in investing in their businesses?
Well you know we look for the same in women in many respects as we do in men essentially. So when we’re looking at a new business we like to look at big markets. And I think most vcs would say that! We’re really looking for a big opportunity because we’re really looking for businesses that would evolve & develop & really make a difference. If a company makes a difference then it becomes most often a valuable company. So we’re really looking at something that can build over time. We look where it makes sense for defensible technologies. Now sometimes in the consumer internet world, there’s not so much technology, & we’re therefore looking more at the idea, the defensibility of it. You’re always looking for good teams, the ability to recruit additional team members. So it’s really important for us to invest in people that have good networks. I would say domain expertise is really important. And increasingly today the ability to execute. So if you have a really great idea, it can scale very quickly. So you really need a team that can execute & make things happen & be very efficient & effective.
- And would you be more interested in women entrepreneurs who are technical? This seems to be a point that people are talking about at the moment that we need more women technical founders.
Well certainly I think we want to encourage more women in technology. I have a young daughter now & I’m really encouraging her in math & science & things like that. And I think there are a lot of us women who are trying to do that. And sometimes I think that is a confidence issue. But certainly we’re in such a great place in Silicon Valley with Stanford & Berkeley & so on & there are a ton of women who are very involved in the technical field. So we do want that, we do want women to be as innovative as men right! But I don’t think you have to be a pure technology centric person in terms of your discipline to be a great entrepreneur. But you do have to have I think some domain expertise in what you’re doing. So we are seeing for example more women in the internet sector as ecommerce is taking a whole new life. You’ve seen deals like Groupon & so on. So we are seeing more women in those areas & they do have expertise. It may not be that they are great technologist but they do understand the domain & they do understand how to leverage the internet & the new technology. So you may not need to know how to develop that technology but you need to know how to leverage it & use it.
- That’s really reassuring to know for us non technical founders. As long as we have a technical cofounder on board then that sort of helps?
I sometimes think that we don’t think enough about the team. You don’t have to be everything! You need to look at yourself as a person, as an executive, as an entrepreneur & think what value can I add here. And then really build a great team around you.
That’s fantastic feedback, thank you.
- 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?
You’ve probably heard this before, but vcs don’t like blind dates!
Oh, no I haven’t heard that before! So quote unquote we’ll put that under your name!
So one of the things that we would always encourage people to do: first of all I think its really important that an entrepreneur really has enough confidence in themselves to believe that they can select the venture capitalist as well, you know. And so I would encourage them to do a lot of research in terms of looking at the type of firm & the type of partner that they believe would be a good match for them. So it might be that you are looking at prior investments in terms of stage or sector. Or indeed people that you’ve been referred to from other entrepreneurs. When you’re here in this area, it’s not hard to get to know someone who knows someone. So the way to get to the vc you want to get to, is through an introduction. So that’s what I would encourage people to do. The other thing I would encourage is if you’re putting together your presentation for a venture capital firm have some informal meetings first. It might be with that venture capitalist say ‘I’ve got an idea, I not quite worked it out totally yet but I’d like to get some thoughts from you. Or use an advisor or two & there are so many people here in this industry who want to help, who want to help discover the next new company. And they’ll help you put the pitch together. The pitch is really important! So often we get entrepreneurs come into us & the pitch is really not quite together. So it really has to have a well thought out positioning. So sometimes people come into us & they’ll present & say ‘Well the idea is a little bit of that & a little bit of this & a little bit of that & a little bit of this’. And we’re sort of ‘Well what is this?’ So really think through the presentation & make it very, very sharp & informative. I think it’s very clear that everybody knows that there are going to be risks in investment, so be open & honest about what you know & what you don’t know & what you have to do to make this business successful.
That’s an interesting point because I have gotten feedback from some venture capitalists who say that sometimes women aren’t so bold & will tend to present all those issues in a more transparent way. Obviously a lot of vcs appreciate that, but sometimes that can almost set women entrepreneurs back because they’re presenting the problems right at the very start rather than possibly some male entrepreneurs will come in & be brash & bold & not really & gloss over that sort of thing. How do you feel about that personally?
Well I think that women tend not to be, as you put it, so brash & so bold. But you also see other cultures are not that way either. If you look at the types of founders that we invest in today. We invest in founders from the USA. We invest in founders from India. We invest in founders from Israel. We invest in founders from China. So all these different cultures have different approaches to investing. And I would certainly encourage a confidence about what you invest & confidence comes from knowing what you’re talking about. So really understanding the domain is really important! So when I talk about being transparent about the issues, you still have to show the other side. So there’s a balance here, there needs to be a balanced pitch! So I think it’s really important to show the opportunity & how you can achieve it. But also show what you have to do to make it happen. One of the things I would say that is often an issue for entrepreneurs when they’re presenting is they’ll present lots of market data up front. And we’ve probably seen it about 20 times, because we don’t just see one mobile pitch or one internet pitch. So you can summarize the market data because we’ve seen the Gartner data & the IDC data many times. So if you start your pitch with 20 slides on that then we’re off thinking about something else.
We’ve lost you? I’ve got it!
You have to capture the attention in the first 3 slides. Also if you’re presenting an application where you can demonstrate something, demonstrate it! That’s really something that get’s our juices flowing!
Great, yes I’ve seen that too! Thank you.
- 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.
Well I don’t have any data but I have been involved most recently in the last couple of years with Illuminate Ventures which has been started by Cindy Padnos. She has started this firm to really try & attract female founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs & so on. The reason that she is doing this, is because she has seen that there are less women attracting venture capital. I think to some extent that it’s a matter of confidence in some ways. So first of all we haven’t quite seen the deal flow from for female entrepreneurs. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t see more women coming through these doors looking for us to source their companies. I do think vcs are generally open to diversity. Now some women have told me they’ve been asked questions about committment, family, time all those sorts of things. But I think it’s rare. I think it’s an issue of deal flow & an issue of confidence. To my mind what I would encourage women to do as I encourage men to do really, is have a really thought out business plan. Really show you understand your domain. Really bring together a great team & do the research on the venture capital firms that you want to approach & that you feel comfortable with. Really leverage your network. And these days, as you’re aware, there are many people out there who have been successful, who are angels or even super angels & they’re looking to help jump start some of these early companies. But network with those too, don’t just look at venture capitalists. Build together around you a group of people that can really add value & give you that confidence & help you make introductions to the people that you think would be a good fit for you. And I think once you do that prep work, you can feel more confidence in coming in & pitching your deal.