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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.
Transcript follows & video above. This is Part II of the interview.
- What can women entrepreneurs/startups do to increase their chances in sourcing venture?
I think women tend not to be as assertive as men sometimes. I think women are more loathe to seek out help along the way. So I do think that women could be much more proactive in leveraging their network. So I think if they call people & ask for help or ask for the opportunity to run an idea past someone who understands the sector. I think people will want to do that more than women think they will. I think it’s probably part of our behavior to just get on & do something. I do think women can really gain a lot from looking out & bringing people into their company’s ecosystem who could help them & I think they will find a lot of people willing to do that.
And I have heard that women often have a problem asking for money which of course is a huge problem in the venture capital world because that’s what you’re basically having to do. So that really lines up with what you’ve just said that for some reason we think we’ve just got to shuffle on alone or do what we can. It’s a change in consciousness for women really, isn’t it?
Yes I think women are more loathe to talk about money. They’re certainly more loathe to promote themselves. But there are ways to do it that you can feel comfortable with. I think if you take all the steps & realize that you’ve got a great business then you feel much more comfortable saying this is my business opportunity here, this is the team I have, this is the market opportunity here. Look at the defensibility that I have with this plan. In order to achieve this, I need this investment. And this is how I’ll deploy these funds & this is what it will achieve over time. So talk about raising money as part of the business plan & so you’re not just asking for money.
It’s not like a handout?
No it’s not like a handout! This is what I need to achieve this plan & you can feel more comfortable with it. And certainly in most presentations, if the presentation is going well, the vc will ask ‘And how much money do you need?’. So really they will ask the question for you. And you can put it on a slide so that it’s there, you don’t have to be so embarassed about that. But vcs know that if you’re coming to them, you’re asking them for money, essentially you’re asking them for an investment. So you shouldn’t feel embarassed by that at all.
That’s really practical advice, I appreciate that, thank you.
- What sort of challenges do women face if they become a venture capitalist?
Well you know venture capital is an interesting career for women in many ways! So there are hugely attractive things about being a venture capitalist. Its a very exciting career in many ways because you’re right at the forefront of technology or working with lots of different companies. If you have any curiosity about you its amazing because you’re looking at very different & exciting deals. You’re working with many different people. There’s just a lot of excitement about it. But in the venture capital industry itself it’s a little less teamcentric than if you had been in an operating environment. So as partners we do work closely together particularly on Mondays when we have our partner meeting. So you’re working as part of a firm but you also have an individual franchise so you have to feel very comfortable about working on your own. And so you have to be very comfortable about going out & seeking new opportunities. You have to be very comfortable networking. I think the people who make good venture capitalists (& they have to make decisions about investing money) have a lot of confidence, often a lot of ego. I think women tend to be more comfortable working as a team. But you have to be comfortable stepping out of that & being yourself as well. So you really have to have built a lot of confidence along the way because it’s not as collaborative. Even with other vcs you syndicate deals but you also compete. So its not as collaborative as being in an operating environment.
I was interviewing a woman venture capitalist the other day & mentioned that venture capitalists need to be very persuasive. Because when they take a company on board & things get rough & they can’t actually shut the business down. But they have to be good with people enough that they can actually persuade the entrepreneur to go in the direction that they see is the right direction. Would you agree with that?
Yes I do think you have to be persuasive actually. I think you do have to be able to, in a considered way, get your point of view across. Often you’re on a board with a collection of people that might not necessarily have your point of view as well & of course you’ve got the CEO & you have to be able to get your point of view across. You know women are great at that, some of the best sales people in the world are women. So I think that’s something that women are great at. One thing I would say for women who come into venture capital its really important is be good at something, know a sector well for example. You can be an expert in mobile or wireless or internet. Really understand a sector well or have a functional expertize. Because I think if you go into a meeting or you’re part of a firm or if you’re looking to win an investment opportunity in a company, having that area of expertize really helps. Then you’re known for what you are good at, you’re known for what you can do, you’re known for that value add, you’re know for that expertize. It’s not about being a woman, so people just know you for what you are & what you can do & what you know.
- What needs to happen for venture companies to employ more women venture capitalists?
I think the venture industry, relative to other industries, is still not a huge one. So there aren’t that many opportunities in partnerships. And the way to really become a partner is to know the people in that partnership. Just like we are loathe to invest in companies where we don’t know the team or don’t know the people, you like to bring a partner on board (because it is a partnership) whom you have some track record with, whom you know. So building a relationship with a venture capital firm is important. One of the ways to do that of course is to come up through their portfolio, having led a company. So I think as you see more women in the broader industry, more women starting companies, founding companies, leading companies then you’ll see more women come into venture capital. One great way to do this is if you have been involved in a company & you’re fortunate enough to get an exit is to join a firm as an EIR for example. Then you get a chance to see more companies, see how venture capital firms work & get a sense if it really is the right sort of opportunity for you. But build relationships with those venture capitalists.
- What qualities & experience are necessary to be a woman venture capitalist?
I think to be a successful venture capitalist (& it’s a tough industry) because you’re investing in a few deals so you have to be very careful about those deals that you do invest in & bring the right people to help you along the way. So certainly you need to be entrepreneurial & to love technology or to love new areas of business. So to really have a passion for that is really important. You need to be very good about networking. You need to be able to sell yourself, to seek out deals. Deal flow is really key to the success of being a venture capitalist & you really need to be able to assess a deal & analyze a deal. So bring those analytical skills together to invest in the appropriate companies, obviously leveraging your partnership as well. But I do think you need to be a fairly resilient person, you need to be a fairly outgoing person, a confident person because you do have to make some fairly significant decisions along the way, obviously investment decisions. Then as a board member, you’re making decisions about the team, the CEO, helping to direct the strategy & those types of things. So you really have to have a certain confidence & be a really well rounded person. Again I do think having some sort of domain expertize is really helpful.
- What is the key, from your experience, to bridge the gender gap with male venture capitalists, both for women venture capitalists & women entrepreneurs?
I certainly see a little more of the gender gap in venture capital & the startup world than I saw in the corporate world. I think if you look around, even though there are not so many female CEOs or as many board members. I do think up to a certain level in the corporate world we see more executives who are female. Sometimes I think that you don’t see more women at the CEO level is those women choose not to take those roles for a whole variety of reasons, often it’s a life balance. But we should see more women in this industry & I do think that the opportunities are there. Certainly nobody is saying we don’t want women to start companies, we don’t want women as venture capitalists. I think it’s really getting women to feel the confidence that they can go out & build companies. In certain sectors we’ve seen that, we’ve seen very successful women in the internet sector. But maybe women feel more comfortable with that? So really applying what they know to the internet world. I think that’s a really interesting sector where we see more women. I think we see less women in certain sectors, semi conductors for instance, maybe it’s not an area of interest? But I certainly think we are seeing more women. Women are really grasping what the internet can do & opening up new opportunities, whether its ecommerce, gaming, entertainment, those sorts of sectors. And I would just encourage women to really go out & build a strong team around them because I do think women like to work as part of a team. So I think if you can be part of a great team, you’ll see more women entrepreneurs coming forward.
Brilliant, brilliant! Thank you so much Janice for your contribution today & I really appreciate it!