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Video interview with Nancy Pfund, DBL Investors. Nancy is a Managing Partner of DBL Investors. She currently sponsors or sits on the board of directors of a number of private companies, including SolarCity, Solaria, Brightsource Energy and Pandora. Nancy also worked closely with exited portfolio company Tesla Motors. Previously, Nancy was a Managing Director at JPMorgan.
Transcript follows & video above.
- Which themes do you like to invest, what is your sweet spot?
Well, being a venture capital firm that’s oriented towards both strong financial return & social return, we gravitate towards sectors like clean tech, healthcare, IT. Where its very easy (well it’s not easy, it’s a lot of hard work) but we can fulfill our mission of both great returns for our investors but having a social impact.
Fantastic, & that’s something to really feel passionate about too!
Absolutely, it’s a lot of fun & it’s good to see the impact of your work.
Yes, making a difference, yeah.
- What do you look for in women entrepreneurs & startups that indicate interest to you in investing in their businesses?
Well let me just start by saying that I would love to have more women entrepreneurs, more women venture capitalists & its great that you’re helping to facilitate that. Having said that whether you’re a woman or a man we look for the same things. We’re looking for a great idea, passionate work ethic, curiosity, the desire to change the world, to change a business segment, to transform it, to turn something upside down because really the odds are against small businesses from displacing big incumbents. So you have to have a little bit of pizzazz & moxy to feel that you can pull that off. At the same time you have to back that up with just canny analysis, attracting good people, having the vision, dotting the i’s & crossing the t’s.
Brilliant, so no bias here heh?
- What can women entrepreneurs/startups do to increase their chances in sourcing venture?
It’s an interesting question because I think one of the issues for women entrepreneurs is that some of the networks may not be as available to them. Certainly historically they may not have been part of the venture capital club as it was in its first days. The good news is that it’s changed dramatically over the past decade or so & it’s very open. I mean we see people from all over the world approaching venture capital & being able to get funding if their idea has merit & if their personal qualities are right based on what I said before. Having said that it’s important for entrepreneurs & women entrepreneurs especially to recognize that it is a network where we don’t know everyone in our industry but it’s very collaborative. So getting into the network & getting to know some of the people or the vendors that we use, the professional service firms that we use like the accountants or the lawyers. You really have to work it as an ecosystem rather than a one shot ‘I’m going after this person & that’s it!’.
That’s a great overview, thank you.
- What sort of challenges do women face if they become a venture capitalist? I’m sure you’ve got some stories?
First of all it’s a very challenging field. It’s not for the faint of heart! It has immense rewards on all levels but it’s very difficult. You have to be comfortable with the fact that some of your efforts will fail because no-one has 100% perfect track record. I think for women really it’s not the kind of job that is as predictable & confining to a work place. It kind of takes over your life in a way. I think you have to have a mentality & a life style that’s accepting of that rather than resenting that. There are women & men that like that & then there are women & men that don’t. They want to have their work & then they want to have the rest of their life. I would just say that if you’re in the latter category it’s not going to be a happy job for you.
Right ok so to be aware of that?
Yeah. Of course it is dominated by men in the industry. The numbers speak to that. So you just have to not care about that.
You have to be comfortable working with men?
Yeah & the men in this field are very supportive of women in the field. It’s just that the ratio is different.
- What needs to happen for venture firms to employ more women venture capitalists?
I think you need to see more women in senior positions. It’s like any field the more you get women going up the ladder, you’re going to see more nurturing of women coming in. It’s not enough just to have a lot of women associates in a firm. You’ve got to have women partners & managing partners because that’s where you really get the flexibility & the authority to start thinking about what your firm is going to look like & making a difference in your hiring decisions.
- What do you think needs to happen for firms to promote more women from associates to partners?
It’s like any sales process, you’ve got to get the funnel, you’ve got to get people started in, perhaps get more women come in later in their careers when they’ve run a business. A lot of entrepreneurs-in-residence do that, most of them are men. But if we could sort of pepper the senior ranks with more women, at the same time that we encourage more women to train, then you’d get more of a balance. The more inputs, the more results you’re going to have.
- What qualities & experience are necessary to be a woman venture capitalist?
Patience, curiosity, a thick skin, ability to navigate through very changing often difficult circumstances & keep level headed & keep a team together & be responsive. A lot of times you start off in a business & you have to change because the world changes around you or your original thesis needed a lot of tweaking. So it’s important to be optimistic & use your intuition but also being really, really dedicated to testing & retesting & database query & making sure that you’re not drinking the kool-aid!
It sounds like women venture capitalists have to be pretty much well rounded & pretty much super stars really in a way because you’re covering so much!
I always like to say in this profession ADD is a benefit!
Because you are dealing with a lot of businesses & a lot of management teams, a lot of exogenous factors. Something is blowing up, while something is doing terrific. You have to be nimble, you have to like that kind of environment. A lot of people don’t & that’s why it’s a bit of a self selecting pool. It all comes down to the people & having that love of invention, of entrepreneurship. I mean we get to work with really cool people that are making the world a better place! So that makes all of the hassle worthwhile.