How I approach my work within venture capital
Ah‚ you’re part of something way bigger
Bigger than you‚ bigger than we
Bigger than the picture they framed us to see
But now we see it
And it ain’t no secret‚ no
— Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, “BIGGER”, The Gift Album
I recently realized that when I enter conversations with other VCs, I have a pretty complex background song playing. It’s not always Bigger by Beyoncé, but it usually has a similar tune. 🎶
To help people understand how to work with me and get the beat down of the song playing in my head, I decided to create a user guide. A “user guide” (or manifesto or first principles) is a list of your own values.
I decided to create a User Guide when I realized that I’m pretty complicated & putting my values down where everyone could reference them could be a useful resource to decrease stress & anxiety of interactions
Here is my first stab. I hope you’ll treat it as a living document that reflects the living, evolving person I am.
Let’s begin with a quick summation of my life story:
I grew up in San Diego, CA
I spent summers in West Virginia with my mom’s side of the family — that includes, but is not limited to 11 uncles, 1 aunt and 20+ cousins
I graduated from Duke University with a major in public policy, just 4 years after the lacrosse scandal
I drafted legislation for the City of New York + lobbied the federal government to pass it
I conducted tax preparation services for low-income New Yorkers, supported a multi-city roll-out of a city program & raised money from private sector organizations like Nike to invest in New York City’s public schools
Then my background starts to get boring…
I went to business school at Berkeley-Haas
Then it gets exciting again!
After business school, I helped Charles Hudson manage and operate Precursor VC
Cool cool cool, if you have read this far, thanks for getting up to speed – we are now the same page.
So let’s get into the question I really came here to answer: “what is my relationship to venture capital”.
Short answer: It’s complicated 🤷🏾♀️
1. Venture Capital has a transformational ability to support and finance companies that are building scalable solutions for people and places that have been systematically under-invested in. That excites me more than anything which is why I’m here. 🎉
More background on my POV: Why I’m Betting on Real People
2. At the same time, the relationship between capitalism and black people has been fraught since slavery.
a. Black people were brought to the US to build foundational pieces of the economy (agriculture, railroads, construction) while venture capitalists’ invested in them and reaped the rewards.
b. After emancipation + reconstruction, many black people had the capital that they accumulated stripped away from them leaving us with today’s issues of extreme wealth inequality between races.
c. There has been little action taken to decrease this inequality and instead, immense work has been done to reinforce a brand of meritocracy. As a result, the word “meritocracy” and the assumption that folks with power deserve it or earned it hurts me.
References: The Perils of Meritocracy
3. This informs my own imposter syndrome as a black woman in VC — I know that 1M+ black or brown people could be great at this job and yet somehow because of my own luck, I have ended up here. So I take great care to try and call in those left outside of the room & make their voices heard.
4. I struggle with the evangelization of technology and startups. Startups/tech/entrepreneurship is hard, but it is not the hardest job. Having family across the country with many different socioeconomic status’ keeps me grounded. A harder job to me is trying to making ends meet while working for less than minimum wage in the only job available to me in the small town where I live. I’m not in venture capital because it’s the hardest work available, I’m doing it because it has the widest impact.
5. We are all complicit in an economic system that has caused significant trauma on people, communities and countries across the world.
My favorite book that discusses this is American Spy — review by NPR here: ‘American Spy’ Is A Unique Spin On The Cold War Thriller
6. In order to be a productive member of society, being a thoughtful investor is not enough. The work starts with you. The arc of the universe does not bend towards justice if nobody does the work to make it so. How are you building a pattern of reflection and growth? How are you living your values? Do you wonder how what you say/do impacts others? What are you hoping to accomplish in this lifetime? How are you actively working to raise your own consciousness so you don’t become a reactive pawn in a greater system created by other people? These are questions I struggle with daily. One of the ways I work towards addressing them is by building a full life outside of my day job. I am an active supporter of Beyond Emancipation, the North Carolina Bail Fund, Esq Apprentice and am getting more and more involved in my own community of Longfellow, Oakland.
7. I think that listening to people different from you, and changing your opinion accordingly, is the biggest act of courage you can take. This is based on my love for humility. It is my favorite trait (right above gratitude) and one I try to practice often. Humility isn’t a widely appreciated trait in VC because it is at odds with industry standards of conviction, assertiveness and self-righteousness which makes this work hard sometimes.
8. The hustle culture of entrepreneurship and tech is problematic. It is particularly problematic for communities of color where the old adage that “you must work twice as hard to get half as much” rings true. That isn’t a life I wish to cultivate or to exhault. It leads to burnout and breeds exhaustion which can create even more anger amongst underrepresented communities. I recognize the privilege in this lifestyle choice and also believe that my ancestors wouldn’t want me to live in a way that hurts me if I don’t have to. I approach my life and my work within VC with this lense and work hard to build boundaries so that I can have a full work and home life. Please don’t try to e-mail me on weekends and please please please don’t follow me on instagram 🙃
a. That being said, one of the values that I hold deeply is that in order to be successful, you must be proactive. If you are reaching out to me cold and would like to speak with me, I expect that you have your questions prepared. If I have invested in your company, I expect that you will treat me as a valuable resource who can help guide you. One of the most frustrating experiences I have had, and would like to prevent, is feeling like the person I’m talking to isn’t taking full advantage of my time and and/or isn’t taking responsibility to make their situation better. One of the quotes I try to live by is: we all have agency over our own lives and I have continually developed a practice of proactiveness. In order to work together effectively, I need to see you model proactiveness as well. I try really hard and work best with people who are also trying really hard.
References: Black Workers Really Do Need to Be Twice as Good
10. Being a black woman doesn’t mean I have all the answers to inequality within this industry or outside of it. Please read a book (or an article) before asking me any questions pertaining to inequality, white supremacy, racism, etc.
a. I am still very much a beginner in learning about the different struggles that other communities of color experience. And welcome more resources that I can use to improve.
Some of my favorite books have been:
In the Midst of Winter —From Isabel Allende, a Novel of Three Immigrants and a Brooklyn Misadventure
Long Story, Short: I love venture capital and technology, but my relationship to it is complicated. This industry was not created in 1976 with the invention of Apple. Books are important, history is important and without those two things you can become an actor in a greater narrative that you didn’t know existed — I try my hardest not to be that actor, but mess up sometimes. When I could do better, I expect you to call me out and I promise to listen. To earn my respect, I expect you to try hard too. I also expect you to mess up sometimes — at which point, I will call you out on it and expect for you to listen. We’re all human.
First Draft Written: August 9, 2019
Updated: March 11, 2020
Updated: March 12, 2020