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Victoria Ransom has been an entrepreneur since her early twenties and has developed three companies, all of which are successfully operating today. As founder & CEO of Wildfire Interactive , Victoria has led the company to profitability in just one year and has built a client list that includes major brands and agencies including Facebook, Pepsi, Unilever, Sony, AT&T, Ogilvy, Publicis and Digitas. Wildfire is a two-time winner of the fbFund; investors include Facebook, Accel Partners and the Founder’s Fund. You can find Victoria on Twitter @victoria_ransom
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- Could you tell me briefly about your past history in sourcing venture capital?
Sure yes so we actually managed to run a company, probably for quite a bit longer than most companies before we raised venture capital. We got to the point of not only bringing in revenues but profitability in the company before we decided to take the plunge. So that was really great & very, very much benefited us when it was time to raise money. We were able to do that partly because we ran the company really, really lean & bootstrapped it & did things that really helped us to save money early on. We ran the company for 2 1/2 years & at the end of 2008 we actually won a grant from the facebook fund. So that provided us with our seed capital. It was enough for us to build the technology, get our first customers, get to profitability. So we sort of avoided a lot of that early stage trying to find money, it really helped. But we did eventually, early this year (2010), start to think seriously about raising venture capital money. That was really because the space we’re in is growing so fast, we saw the huge potential we have. Although I definitely think we could have continued without raising money, supporting the business through the cash that we generated, we just felt that it would be good to have that cushion so we could grow as aggressively as we like. To start it really took about 6 weeks from when I first got serious about it. We had been talking to a lot of vc firms along the way because they’d shown a lot of interest in what we’re doing. But when I first decided ok let’s go for it to when we decided on a term sheet or agreed on a term sheet, it was really only about 6 weeks. So it closed early March, went through the due diligence process that was closed in April & we raised a little over $4m.
Yes it’s been great. We raised it from Summit Partners which is a little bit of an unusual choice because they’re growth equity fund not a vc firm. Their option was open to us because we were a profitable company. We just really liked the firm, liked their philosophy. They offered us great terms & I really, really liked the partners. So we’ve been thrilled with that firm. But it was a little non traditional for a company of our stage.
Congratulations, sounds like a win-win all the way through.
Yes thanks it’s been great. Obviously with any business, there’s been ups & downs & lots of things to worry about. But it’s been a pretty great run for us.
- What personal lessons being a woman have you taken out of your successes &/or failures in that regard?
I don’t know if these are different because I’m a woman or just in general lessons? Certainly things like perserverance & being well prepared for meetings, I think was very important. Coming in, having thought very carefully about what questions you might be asked. Presenting a good compelling story where you’ve thought everything through, I think is really, really important. That served us well. I think using our network was really, really important. So we really didn’t have that experience of having to knock on door to door trying to get a meeting. In most cases either it was because a vc firm reached out to us or because we had a friendly introduction we were able to get in the door that really helped set the tone I think. The other thing is I spent a lot of time really getting a lot of information, before we made the decision about the partner that we were going to be dealing with. Talking to as many people that we possibly could. Trying to make sure that we would be really comfortable with a firm yes.
Yeah, it’s a long term relationship, isn’t it?
But it’s the partner that you’re dealing with all the time. I see that even more now. Yes we’ve gone with the firm Summit Partners & through them we’re really happy. But its the partner there, Harrison, that I’m dealing with all the time. So being comfortable with that person, feeling like you’re on the same page, that you share similar values, I think is really important. So one is getting firms to talk to you. Another is getting a term sheet. The next is choosing between those, that was definitely a stressful process. But I think really, really thinking clearly about who it is you’re going to work with is really important.
Yeah, so being careful about that at the outset.
- What attitudes towards you being female have you noted (or not noted) from venture capitalists when you have been sourcing venture?
Honestly I didn’t notice any. You never know what someone might be thinking or talking about when the door is closed.
But it sounds like it was helped by the fact that you were having referrals or that they approached you.
I think so. Probably going back to the other question, I think a thing that really, really helped us was waiting as long as we could before we raised money so that we had traction. We had a really good story, we had proven success, we had proven that we could scale a team (even though we were much smaller than we are now in terms of team). We brought in revenues, we’d proven we had customers so I think possibly, to the extent that some vcs have concerns about women entrepreneurs, maybe if you’ve already proven it to them? Maybe if you said Look I’ve already built this company, I have these revenues, I’ve had success. But the honest truth is that I didn’t feel anything like that.
So you would be one of those path finders, because you do have proven success. Fantastic, good on you.
- What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need specifically for sourcing venture?
Like I said, I think we had a pretty dream run in the sense that there was a lot of interest in our business & we actually took money when we didn’t actually need to take money. So that’s a great position to be in. So some of the things I would say that you probably really need to have are (I probably didn’t need to have in this scenario). But things like perserverance & having a thick skin, I think are probably really important for a lot of people who are raising money. If you’re not in a situation where the vc firms are reaching out to you & you’re trying to get in front of them then perservering & perservering & perservering. And not taking it personally when you do get rejected, I’m sure are very very important. I think negotiation skills are important. When you get to that point of having a term sheet & choosing who you’re going to work with, I think it’s pretty important because it can get fairly intense. Then being really articulate, being a good sales person, telling a story, so you’ve got to be convincing & be able to get the investors really excited about your vision & about your story, so being able to articulate that really well. I think beyond that it’s really what qualities do you need to be a good entrepreneur because that’s what the investors are looking at. So really the most important qualities to get vc funding are that you have the right qualities to be a good entrepreneur. Then people are going to want to invest in you.
Then they trust you?
- In your opinion what percentage of women would qualify then as regards having these qualities? Could they be developed? If so what are your ideas about how this could happen?
I think a lot of women have these qualities. Perserverance & hard work & leadership skills & creativity. All the things that it takes to be an entrepreneur. I think plenty of women have those. So probably it’s more what does it take to encourage that? In college or maybe even earlier making women aware (or making anyone aware) that that’s an option, that that’s actually a career choice you can make. Because certainly when I was in college it didn’t occur to me that one option would be I could go & be an entrepreneur. The other thing for vc funding specifically, generally the vc firms are investing in technology. So getting women interested in technology is probably going to be pretty important to get more women involved in being entrepreneurs.