Meditations on Power

I have a confession to make. I have put this off as long as possible. I have skirted around this admission and have finally decided to own it. Today is the day to announce: I am a powerful woman. And, if I’m honest, I’ve always wanted to be one. I remember being young and just so angry. Angry at the way I was treated unfairly by my dance teachers, angry at my parents for controlling my every move because they were terrified of letting a Black girl loose in this world, angry at my classmates who didn’t seem to understand why I got into ivy league schools even though I had 2x amount of extracurriculars than them and also a better GPA. I was so angry so often and nobody seemed very interested in listening. The most grating (and most common) response I would get to my anger was laughter or some semblance of “isn’t she so cute”.

If I could just get them all to listen to me… I have such important things to say!

So, I devised plans in secret. I would work at a nonprofit for a while to get me closer to my dream of being in politics. Then I realized that those in power at my nonprofit were actually business people! So I decided to go into business. I got into business school, and looked around again. Who, I asked myself, is running stuff here? How do I get to actually have a say? I didn’t have to look far to find VCs. Once I got into the VC world, the question was again, what do I have to do to prove to people that I have something to say? That I have something to contribute? That my vision for the future of business is important?

At the same time, I was also trying to figure out how would I start building wealth. I decided that real estate was the surest path. So I started negotiations early with my Berkeley landlord. After spending $50K+ in rent to him, he will sell me this duplex I’ve rented out for 5 years, right? Right?? Wrong. After this multi-year plan of mine died, I had to start from scratch. I found a house that I fell in love with in Oakland, and after two excruciating months, it was mine (well really it’s the bank’s for a few more decades, but for all intents and purposes, it is mine).

Now, I find myself with decision-making authority at a $100M+ fund, a house, a garden and honestly, a life I always dreamed of. I have more than enough.

Which means, by my own definition, I’m a woman with power. Because I have been so obsessed with this goal in mind, and so consumed by feeling like I didn’t have any, I have probably thought more about this topic than most. How do I honor the trust that people gave me to have this power? How do I not hoard the power I have? How do I create more space for more people to have more power?

And because I am a woman who is so used to feeling powerless, I am not a woman with power who is fearless. I still have a lot of fear. I don’t think I have accomplished anything so far without feeling a healthy amount of fear.

This fear may stem from the fact that I have so many critiques for myself. Before anyone else has something to say about my own work or accomplishments to try to humble me, I have probably already said it to myself. So when I see other people who I think of as whole – not as mythical characters, but real people – and also in power get critiqued by others, I’m reminded of myself. I was and am that person who is critiquing, and I’m also the person in power. It’s a weird place to find yourself in.

I think of this book I’m reading – Cracking Up: Black Feminist Comedy. And so much importance is put on the audience. While the Black woman is on stage, making the jokes, the audience has the power to laugh or boo or be silent. This is particularly true at The Apollo – there was an awesome meditation on it in A Little Devil in America. When we acknowledge that our power is only – as Brene Brown put it – power with instead of power over, who do we become? How do we facilitate meaningful feedback? How do we build trust? How do we forgive even when people have taken advantage of us because they saw us as means to an end and not as humans? How do we shed all of the ridiculous expectations that come with being the first or only and recognize that much of that is a trap created for us to fall into – to become mythologized to the point of no longer being human with flaws, interests and ideas?

Writing inspiration/other people’s work that vibez with this one:

  1. I want to watch this every week honestly. Kathleen Collins is a genius: https://vimeo.com/203379245
  2. I first heard of power with vs power over in a Brene Brown podcast, but this is a more succinct summary of the description: https://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/02/01/4-types-of-power/
  3. How do I stay aware of my own “Goliath”-ness so that I never fully become them? This speech was at my college gradution on that exact topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oMvVtIQuMk
  4. One of my favorite writers, Chimamanda’s recent post: This is Obscene. I have so many thoughts. Probably could be it’s own post.
  5. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote: “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” I love that this beautiful quote was buried in one of his journal entries.
  6. Weary” – Solange
  7. The Other Black Girl – Honestly I recommend the whole book, but this quote from this interview gets to the heart of why the book resonated so deeply with me: “The traits Nella would need to be a good editor – sensitivity to the world, the ability to feel and react deeply – are the opposite of what she needs to successfully navigate publishing to become an editor. I’m interested in the ways your book discusses compromising your authenticity and numbing yourself for survival.” I think this is true of VC too, the traits necessary to be a good VC require sensitivity to the world so you can feel it all and diagnose what is going on and how to plug into it. Yet VC is also a business. How do you square the two?

Risk Analysis: Failed Company Early Employee vs. Founder

One of the weird things about being in VC now for almost 5 years, is that there are some topics on VC Twitter that feel like groundhogs days. They are debated in earnest at least once a year, and nobody in that conversation seems to remember or care that this happened exactly the same way a year prior. I think this probably happens in many crevices of the internet, that is just the one that I occupy most time in so I see it very plainly.

One of those groundhog day topics is the VC Twitter version of oppression olympics. It’s the discussion about what is riskier: to be an early employee or to be a founder. The funny part about this topic is that most of the people who weigh in are founders. They weigh in as if they can speak for both founders and employees even though they have only been founders. In many cases, they are airing out their own traumatic founder experience and can’t imagine someone else saying that their experience could be more (or equally) difficult. Especially if those people are their own previous employees who they paid when they were depriving themselves of any salary. I get it, being a founder is an extremely isolating, expensive, and overwhelming experience. And I don’t want to take that away from anyone.

My experience though has only been as an early employee at Pre-Seed/Seed* companies that failed. The conversation I think we aren’t having enough is how to process your work product and history after a company you worked for fails. Especially as that pertains to your own feelings of self-worth. From my perspective, in every early startup I worked for, I was underpaid, overworked, and had few (or 0) coworkers to lean on or to learn from. If I had to pick the most important part of the riskiness equation though that made the early employee role that much more risky for me is that in those roles, I didn’t actually learn any skills. Instead, because I was constantly reacting to ever changing inputs, I had to rely on what I already knew to produce some semblance of a useful output. If I didn’t know something, Google was my best friend. The expectation at an early stage company is that as the company grows, the resources it has grows. Those resources can be used to help you hire a team, to get you access to information databases, to increase your pay. But what happens if those resources never arrive?

As a non-technical early employee, so much of the work that I did at the startups I worked for was very tedious, very unsophisticated labor. The lasting impact, in many cases, was nil because things changed so constantly. You didn’t know if anything you built or created would last until the next week. In my first role, I was in charge of supporting one person on the team to help her collect data into her spreadsheet to track the sustainability of the company. Then I moved into a more R&D role to explore a product launch (the product never materialized). In my next role, at a second startup, not a single one of the projects I managed actually materialized. So after a few months of that, the CEO transitioned me into more of a sounding board/advisor role where I was basically just performing emotional labor. Even in my early days at Precursor, I spent much of my time building (and then scrapping) CRMs, and tracking down a lot of paper trails. The administrative labor was overwhelming.

The hard part too about the employee vs. founder conversation is there is a strong bias towards founders. They are the avengers, the masterminds, the leaders. So as a result, “failed founder” has a certain gravitas to it that failed employee does not.

In my work as an early employee, on the good days, what I gained was perspective. I was given a spot in a growing ecosystem that I cared a lot about and so I was able to use that vantage point to better understand how I wanted to navigate that ecosystem. On the bad days, I was so exhausted by my ever-growing workload that I was in a constant fight or flight mode – unclear where I could even fly towards…

Obviously, things turn out well in the end. The third startup – Precursor – ends up not failing, my role expands and I get to grow in my own skills and experience. But I want to be honest about my early experiences so that others know what the real cost of joining an early company can be. I am also using my new position as an investor in companies to coach founders I work with on how they can be more thoughtful about their early employees and my hope is that this next generation of early employees receive the skills, experience and knowledge they need to fly towards something amazing.

*I can’t speak to the risk/reward profile to employees who join Seed+ companies

Inspiration from this post comes from:

1) a few conversations I’ve had with our MBA interns who are thinking about that first employee role at startups

2) a few conversations I’ve had with our founders – many of whom who have been founders before, but few of whom have been early employees are failed companies before

3) Yoni’s recent post – so honest, loved it!

4) Karla’s recent post really spoke to me and this is exactly the type of leader I hope to become, which requires being honest about the work I’ve done and how it impacted me

5) Ashley Ford’s interview on Brene Brown’s podcast about her memoir. Her decision to own her own story despite whether or not it implicated others is powerful and I plan to do the same. My story is mine.

Peeling back the layers of a quick VC diligence call

As part of my day-job, I invest in founders. A lot of them happen to be women. A lot of them also happen to be Black women. I am so grateful for the opportunity and the honor that I have to invest in founders at the earliest stages of their journey. It is really an amazing experience to be able to say: “I believe in you so much that here is a six-figure check to help you build towards your dreams.” If you told me as a young Black girl growing up in San Diego, that this was my future, I would have never believed you! This is an amazing privilege and I don’t take it lightly.

For founders who are starting technology companies, I invest in their Pre-Seed round. The expectation is that the founder will, after raising their Pre-Seed round, raise follow-on financing. Their Seed round, Series A round, Series B round…, all the way to IPO.

When founders in the portfolio fundraise for a follow-on round, I often get e-mails and requests from VCs who are considering participating in that round. The questions they ask are usually focused on trying to get to the same answer: “Do I trust your judgment on this deal?” Peeling back the layers on that question is: “Was your judgment similar to mine on this deal?” In these conversations, very few people are asking me to introduce new facts to prove them wrong, instead, they’re looking for me to confirm their own ideas. Some firms even have a name for this “confirmatory due diligence”.

Peeling back the layers on this again. The questions that I get from VCs about my decision – especially given that I’m investing in the Pre-Seed stage – are often specific to the founder. Which is fair. At the time that I invest, my main bet is on the founder. VCs ask me questions like: But she’s not technical and/or she is a solo founder, how did you get comfortable investing? How do you feel about her leadership skills? Aren’t you worried that she won’t be able to build a big business?

Peeling back the layers on this again. Most often, given the racial make-up of this industry, the questions I’m asked come from a white person. Sometimes a white woman, sometimes a white man, but white all the same.

When they ask these questions about a Black woman founder to a Black woman investor, there are undertones here. There is history here.

Which leads me to the questions I’m starting to build the courage to ask in response. They are: So, is this your first investment in a Black woman? I’d love to know if these questions were explicit parts of your diligence for other investments. Have you considered how it might feel for me, a Black woman, to try and convince you (who might not have any Black female co-workers, friends or founders) to invest in a Black woman? Or how it might feel for me, a Black woman, to convince you, a white person, that we see the world in exactly the same way? How might that diminish my own confidence in my own unique perspective? How might that be tied to larger issues about how you might not see Black women as leaders, or as convincing, or as likeable, or as capable of building billion dollar companies?

The list goes on. These dynamics cannot be ignored. The world is propped up by racist institutions and we have to acknowledge this openly and honestly and its impact. If we don’t we are complicit in it.

Why I’m Reimagining America’s Healthcare System

I grew up in the healthcare system. As long as I’ve lived, my dad has been a kidney doctor. I remember spending days I took off from school for being sick in his doctor’s office and following behind him as he would greet his patients one by one at a dialysis clinic. I remember watching him take tests to continue his board certification. I remember the lovely nurses who gave me all my shots and took extra good care of me because I was Dr. Thomas’ daughter. It was fun!

I also remember the day my dad came home and told me he didn’t want me to be a doctor. He said that his work was not like it used to be. It was harder and harder to make a living and really impossible to make a life (he was on call all the time).

Despite this lifelong education in healthcare, when I got into venture, it took me a while to start getting excited about healthcare investing because I felt like there was just so much to learn. Like you couldn’t invest in healthcare unless you had spent 10+ years working full-time in a healthcare system. It reminds me of a quote in Angela Davis’ book – Freedom is a Constant Struggle – where she talks about the challenge of getting people interested in building solidarity movements for the people of Palestine. She says: “too often people feel that they are not sufficiently informed to consider themselves an advocate of justice”. And it is so sad.

How much should you really need to know to be an advocate of justice? When a system deliberately obscures how it works so much so that getting involved in it feels “overwhelming” – who does that benefit? The advocate or the status quo?

All that being said, I did start reading about the healthcare system more generally. I was introduced to An American Sickness by a friend of mine and it was such a wild read. My final conclusion was that every single piece of healthcare is intricately linked to another piece in order to reinforce the underlying system. It is impressive and really terrible for citizens. I recommend it to anyone looking for window into the healthcare system.

This inspired me to focus on companies that were building radical healthcare solutions. It bears mentioning the definition of radical which is: of, relating to, or proceeding from a root. In order to fundamentally disrupt our current healthcare system -which is generating unheard-of profits to healthcare leaders while still inflicting economic uncertainty on the masses – we have to get to the root cause of it, which for me meant investing in companies that are challenging the current system with alternative systems.

How to support Black Women emerging managers in VC

There has been a lot of ink spilled on how to support emerging managers more generally in VC. A lot of it is written by First Republic Bank’s Samir Kaji. I am really grateful for his writing and think it adds a lot of value and context to this conversation!

One thing that I think is missing from this conversation is the discussion on how to support Black Women emerging managers in VC. I think that Minda Harts writes a lot about how to support black women in the work place generally so that should also been used as a preface to this article – if you have not read The Memo by Minda Harts book, stop now and pick it up! It also adds a lot of value to this conversation and is useful context to have before engaging here.

Also for context, I am writing as experience as a Black Woman in Pre-Seed investing. What Black Women in Series A/B/C+ investing need might be different.

As an emerging manager and a Black Woman, I have been thinking really deeply on ways that I have had people show up for me to get to this point and ways that I wish people would have showed up for me. I wanted to write this down to share tips with people who are exploring ways to support other Black Women in VC. The hope is that every Black Woman in VC who comes after me has an easier ride. Because frankly, these past 4+ years have been a rollercoaster!

1. Answer their e-mails or LinkedIn messages – better yet, e-mail them!

One thing that I still have a chip on my shoulder about is the list of people who when I was first starting out in this industry did not respond to my cold e-mails or LinkedIn messages. I also still remember, fondly, those who did respond. One of those folks was Scott Belsky. I cold e-mailed Scott Belsky and he responded with a single line that included “sending my best”. And let me tell you, that was all the encouragement I needed at that moment. I was so bolstered by that because someone who I saw as “powerful and successful” took time to invest in e-mailing me back.

I wish though, when I was first getting started, that more GPs at funds e-mailed me first. I know that it is not every day that a black woman gets hired in VC, and I think it’s important that the greater VC community – including but not limited to the Black VC community – pays attention to, and celebrates those hires. My request is not even that you do something big like “grab a coffee” or “go on a walk” with that new hire. Instead, it is that you share a little bit of encouragement. These can make a world of difference. An e-mail letting folks know that you see them. Letting them know that you are wishing them well. Letting them know that you are grateful they are in this ecosystem. These are the things I hope younger Black Women in VC get from allies.

2. Support the deals they bring to the table

One of the pieces of advice I got when I first got into VC is that – succeeding in VC is relatively easy, all you need to do is “find good deals”. That advice really rubbed me the wrong way. Because in VC, who decides what is a “good deal”? As the old saying goes, one person’s trash is another man’s treasure. I think it is true especially in VC. And in early-stage VC, whoever has the purse strings gets to be the final say on whether or not that is a “good deal”. Because if folks have uniformly agreed that a deal is “bad”, then more often than not, the company does not get access to the capital they need to prove these folks wrong.

So my advice to people who have the purse strings is, critically evaluate what you think is a “good deal” vs. a “bad deal”. For many, I assume that part of the calculus of whether or not the deal you have been presented with is good vs. bad is whether or not you trust the person who has presented you the deal. Why do you trust this person’s opinion so highly? Is it useful to trust this person’s opinion so much more than others’ opinion? Especially on a company that is building a future that none of us can predict?

I think once people critically examine why they green light some deals over others, the bias will start to expose itself.

How can you offer the same benefit of the doubt to people outside of your “circle”? I think one way is to trust that they are bringing some unique insight to their deal that you are not capable of having because of your differing backgrounds. Once you acknowledge their insight, put capital behind it. Let their insights guide deals that you wouldn’t have otherwise invested in and see how they do.

When reflecting on your carrier as an ally, I hope that one of the things you factor in is not how many IPOs or shots on goal you achieved, but how many GPs have you created. How many ideas have you greenlit from URM communities? How much power have you given away in order to create a more equitable (and honestly more interesting!) world?

3. Sponsor their promotions

Over the past four years, I have had the privilege of watching more black women enter venture. I started tracking the growth of this community in 2017 here. One of the things that has been really amazing to watch is the promotion and growth that I’ve seen folks go through from Analyst to Principal. The thing that has been missing though, is the promotion to GP. In almost every case, Black women have only received a GP title if they have started their own funds. This is unsustainable. Partly because, given the wealth inequality in the US, Black women generally have 10x less capital themselves and generally less access to capital than their white male peers.

So why have I yet to see one large VC firm sponsor a black woman’s promotion to a GP? This is unsettling and worrisome to me. I am looking forward to watching this change happen sooner rather than later. A great example of what this could look like is what Jesse at Flybridge built with Lolita Taub. I think it’s such an amazing example of what sponsorship looks like and how it can leverage the skillsets of both parties to create something were 1+1=10.

Business + Big Government = New bffs?

via GIPHY

One thing the government has not done in this crisis is shy away from their responsibility to help. I’ve been impressed by their swift action to improve lives of workers and employers through the CARES Act. Startups are eligible for the Payment Protection Plan, so I’ve gotten to watch first hand how this whole experience has gone for them. From navigating which banks to apply through, to receiving the cash in the door, it’s been really wild to observe just how quick this process went!

To share some context on why I was so skeptical, my background is in government! I worked alongside the NYC Department of Education during Hurricane Sandy and saw – first-hand – how immensely slow it took FEMA to invest in the repairs necessary for life to get back to normal for many schools and families across the city. For one school in Queens, it took over 2 years for them to finally receive a FEMA payout. Another example of the failures of government in time of disaster is its lack of response to Hurricane Katrina (if you’re interested in learning more here, check out Treme on HBO which documents the failed work of FEMA and its devastating impact in New Orleans). 

So the fact that COVID-19 hit aggressively mid-May and businesses had checks in their bank account less than a month later is really unprecedented. Congress adopted the CARES Act and it was signed into law at the end of May. This created the Payment Protection Plan (PPP). With the PPP, the government essentially authorized forgivable loans of $349 billion to companies in order to allow them to continue employing their workforce despite economic uncertainty.

The CARES Act has an additional provision that allows for a work-share program where if companies have to reduce staff hours, the staff will still qualify for full unemployment benefits. It reminded me of this one article I recently read about Germany. They have a system called Kurzarbeit which essentially is a government subsidy for companies who are experiencing hardship. When companies declare Kurzarbeit, the government pays their employees a portion of their wages for them. So it seems like, with the CARES Act, the US is becoming more like its European neighbors.

This is no surprise for those who study history. It is in times of crisis that the government expands. According to the WSJ, “the pandemic may, like the Great Depression, foster structural policy change that outlasts the calamity itself.”

The PPP has left its mark on public policy for good given the strings it attached to the money it loaned to large corporations and small businesses. These institutions are all now forced to comply with additional regulations that hold them more accountable to the public. Below, I’ve outlined some of my favorites impacts the legislation has had on businesses.

Companies who accepted the PPP are prohibited from preventing their workers to unionize

  • According to the WSJ, “some companies seeking federal funds are facing restrictions on their ability to oppose attempts to unionize their workforce. One of the new laws states they should “remain neutral in any union organizing effort for the term of the loan.””

Companies who accepted the PPP are subject to audit

  • Large companies are now subject to audit by the government and all of the companies who accepted the PPP are now on a watchdog list that journalists have been keeping an extra close eye on.

Companies who accepted the PPP are restricted in executive pay

  • “Businesses receiving aid face government limits on how much they can pay their executives, and the new law says they shouldn’t “outsource or offshore jobs for the term of the loan and 2 years after completing repayment of the loan.””

The bottom line is, after experiencing such an extended period of “late stage capitalism” where it felt like business was an omnipotent agent, COVID-19 was the real test. It shifted the ground beneath our feet and tossed business off its 1st place trophy stand. I think it’s safe to say the fight is over. Business lost and the government won.

The government not only won, but they showed that they can continue to win. The fed chair recently quipped that “when it comes to this lending, we’re not going to run out of ammunition.” The government has started using its power and I’m looking forward to seeing what else they do with it. My hope is that next on the docket for government expansion is permanently strengthening our country’s safety net. We have already seen elements of this across the country as different government agencies have forgiven student loan payments and put a moratorium on evictions. NYC is leading the way with its essential workers bill of rights bill and I think as the crisis continues to stretch, more governments will adopt similar legislation. I look forward to watching government step up in this moment!

How I Built a Track Record in VC Without any Money

One of my goals is to use my voice more. That means owning things I’ve learned with hopes that it can help others. This feels very uncomfortable to me! Anyone who knows me knows that I am more of a show, not tell type of a person. But as I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin, I have realized that I must tell my own story. This gives me serious anxiety – but alas, every time you try something new, it feels unnatural and uncomfortable. So in the name of growth, I’m working through it. A few days ago, I listened to Brene Brown’s new podcast on FFTs (f*cking first times) and that gave me the extra bit of courage I needed to post this.

I hope this post is useful to any and everyone who is trying to figure out ways to demonstrate both to themselves and to others that they are great investors. Without further ado, here we go!


A few weeks ago, I was really excited to see Nate Maslak — co-founder of Ribbon Health — announce his Series A led by A16Z. I met him for the first time almost two years ago when I invited him on my podcast, “Be About It

I created the podcast to show the world that the companies that fit my thesis could be successful. 

My thesis has focused on companies that are building products that give real people more agency over their lives. This can be financial agency, time agency or mental/physical agency.

By demonstrating that my thesis worked, I would also be building my track record. 

What is a track record? It is a scorecard of your investments. It is used by LPs (your investors) to determine whether or not you are a “good investor”. Generally, “good” means that your investments continue to grow in value. 

As CEO/Founder of this podcast, I was in charge of sourcing companies, ensuring they fit my thesis, finding times to meet with these companies, coming up with thoughtful interview questions and also running all of the mechanics behind the scenes to make the podcast live. I purposefully chose founders who were Pre-Seed because that is Precursor’s focus and also because it holds the most risk. If I could demonstrate to myself and the world that I could pick Pre-Seed companies that would advance, then I must be pretty good at finding outstanding founders & companies. 

After spending over a year and countless hours on the Be About It podcast, I was privileged to share time with 15 founders — all of whom I continue to be inspired by. Here is how their companies have grown:

Season 1 (2017) Companies

2017: 7 were Pre-Seed

2019: 3 were Pre-Seed and 4 were Seed

2020: 3 were Pre-Seed and 4 were Seed

Season 2 & 3 (2018) Companies:

2018: 4 were Pre-Seed and 4 were Seed

2019: 1 was Pre-Seed, 3 were Seed, 4 were Series A and 1 shut down

2020: 1 was Pre-Seed, 1 was Seed, 5 were Series A and 1 shut down

One thing I wasn’t expecting was my own growth between my first podcast and the second. In Season 1, I learned so much and brought that into Seasons 2 & 3. You can see it clearly in the numbers — Seasons 2&3 had a higher graduation rate than Season 1. 

The portfolio continues to mature and I’m excited to add another to the Series A list with Ribbon! 

The thesis behind my podcast — to find companies building meaningful businesses that provide mass markets access to what previously was held by only a few — is the same one I hold today as I enter into a full-fledged investing role at Precursor with the ability to make my own decisions and trust my gut. 

It’s exciting to enter into this new role with this track record and I look forward to building upon it — with dollars this time — in the coming years. 


The key things that I think are important to building up your track record without money are as follows:

  1. Develop and publish a thesis on what types of companies you like and why
  2. Publicly name companies that fit this thesis
  3. Wait a few years… (I never promised this was going to be quick!)
  4. Follow-up and see if those companies are doing well! 
  5. If they’re not doing well, write an article stating what you think went wrong and start at #2 on this list again.

A few examples of people/organizations that I think have done this well are Ben Thompson at Stratechery and Scott Galloway at No Mercy/No Mallice.


I hope this inspires many of you — particularly those who might not have the accredited investor title or the VC job —  an alternative way to create your own track record ❤ 

Have you also come up with a novel way to build a track record for yourself with limited resources? Or, do you have a company you’d like me to chat with that fits my thesis?

If so, I would love to hear from you! 

You can always reach me on Twitter: @sydneypaige10 or via e-mail: sydney@precursorvc.com


Note #1: More inspiration to everyone building, striving and creating who are also worried about owning their own success 🙂


Note #2: More deep dives into the creation tools behind the Be About It podcast if you’re interested here.


Note #3: There were a few additional founders I chatted with and unfortunately their interviews never made it onto the podcast. I’m still a huge fan of them! I didn’t enter them into the calculations above since I never formally processed their interview. 


Noted #4: Due to technical difficulties, currently, only Seasons 2 and 3 of Be About It are public.

2 Years After My Real People Thesis

In 2017, I wrote out a “thesis” (I know, very VC of me).

In it, I wanted to record to both the world and to myself, a promise that I was going to focus on founders building companies that give real people more agency over their lives.

Since I wrote that thesis, I’ve: completed 2 seasons of my podcast, had 1000s of discussions of entrepreneurs, made 394+ new investor “friends”, and supported 120+ companies in the Precursor portfolio. I’ve had all of my systems on overdrive to manage this growth both personally and professionally so thought it was time for some reflection.


Update #1: The underlying premise of my focus on “real people” still holds true to me.

This is unsurprising as I’ve spent the last 10 years of my career on this same beat. Whether it was advocating for low-income tax filers to the federal government or building a better CSR practice at a mid-stage company, I’ve always been interested in how to create systems that make this economic project of capitalism work better for everyone.

This is where I get the most energy, am most compassionate and think most creatively. In the words of Frida Kahlo:

Like Frida, I can get pretty insufferable — to others and myself — if I spend too much time thinking about things that are generally in vogue with cultivated people. Generally, I categorize these things in the following camps:

  1. Lofty ideas that have no likelihood of implementation — ie any conversation had at burning man
  2. Mediocre ideas that can squeeze more out of the “maker class” to make the “thinker class” richer

Update # 2: BUT, my thesis is too broad.

If I would have taken a look at the few companies I was really excited about  I would have seen the trend clearly, but alas here we are. Better late than never. Both of the companies are focused not just on helping real people access more agency, but on fundamentally altering economic systems. Essentially, this is a version of the old adage:

Give Someone a Fish, and You Feed Them for a Day. Teach Someone To Fish, and You Feed Them for a Lifetime

How do these companies address economic systems change?

  1. Red Bay Coffee: They source coffee directly from the communities making it via direct trade. Their company is also a co-op where employees have ownership.
  2. Lacquerbar: They are focused on giving nail technicians — a group of workers who have been historically treated very unfairly — access to premier education that will help them access new opportunities within their industry. This access also unlocks a new more equitable way of building and operating nail salons.

My focus is here because my interest is here. I’m interested in solutions that fundamentally alter our economic system for the better. The incremental bores and frustrates me. Thinking in big picture gives me hope.

An additional piece to this is if you’re building an economic systems change, you have to be targeting the long-tail, a harder to reach population that has been negatively impacted by this system. I think this is a competitive advantage and a huge moat because aggregating this long tail is so difficult that others can’t figure it out and won’t be able to copy you.

I have, I think, a good eye for how this can be done in asset-heavy businesses; however, I think that this can be done in asset-light businesses as well.

I am on the hunt to find them so that we, at Precursor Ventures, can invest! If you are building one of these companies, please reach out.

Update #3: I’m realizing that my interests are different than most VCs which makes it even harder.

I’m trying to support the creation of something that is fundamentally different and untapped. This means that there are few current proxies for their success. When I was feeling down about this, it was really helpful to read this from Paul Graham at YC.

…the average investor is, as I mentioned, a pretty bad judge of startups. It’s harder to judge startups than most other things, because great startup ideas tend to seem wrong. A good startup idea has to be not just good but novel. And to be both good and novel, an idea probably has to seem bad to most people, or someone would already be doing it and it wouldn’t be novel. That makes judging startups harder than most other things one judges. You have to be an intellectual contrarian to be a good startup investor. That’s a problem for VCs, most of whom are not particularly imaginative. — Paul Graham

One thing I didn’t realize though was how difficult it would be to divert capital from a widely acceptable “good” investment to a very polarizing “amazing/terrible” investment.

This is ironic because I think it is this polarizing nature of companies that can become the bedrock of its success. Revolutionary ideas are hated by some and loved by others. That’s how some of the greats were made.

Google revolutionized access to information.

Apple revolutionized access to computers.

Square revolutionized access to banking.

Amazon revolutionized access to commerce.

Shopify revolutionized access to building online stores.

I’m looking to do something on the same scale and think that for it to be done, it can’t be left up to broad consensus.

So that’s where I am now… if this feels incomplete, it is because it is. Still working through this and looking forward to reporting back on more findings in the coming years 🤓

let me know how i can be helpful

If you have taken a look at VC Twitter recently, you might have noticed the debate taking place around this one phrase: “let me know how i can be helpful.

Back story: Many VCs end conversations with entrepreneurs who they decide not to invest in with this phrase. It feels terrible to learn that your startup isn’t going to get money from a potential investor. But it can feel like salt in the wound where the person you just spent 1, 2 or 3+ hours with, gives you an open-ended phrase of “support”. The more generalized the feedback, the less actionable — particularly for first-time founders who don’t know what to ask of investors who have passed on investing in their company.

To help entrepreneurs understand what they can come to me for, I hope in this article to outline exactly how I can be helpful.

I’m your girl if you’re looking for an investor who:

1 Is Obsessed with Customers — Particularly those at the Long-Tail. My entire career has been spent trying to figure out how to serve the “hard to reach”. I think figuring out how to communicate and serve this population is one of the biggest challenges organizations face (the government included) and I have gone through many rabbit holes unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to do this well. I would love to help you avoid some of those!

2 Has a Very Different Opinion than Most Investors. As you might have guessed from my answer to the first point, I have spent the majority of my career in the public sector. I’m also black. I also identify as a woman. I also live in Oakland. I did not go to Stanford. I’ve never worked at Google, Amazon, Uber or Facebook. Can I stop now? Essentially, name one thing that you think most investors have in common and I probably don’t have it. So I’m here for you if you are looking for feedback from someone outside of the status quo.

3 Can Provide Feedback Based off of Employee Experience. I have never started my own company. I have also never been a CEO. This I think gives me tremendous empathy for the employee experience. As you are building your company and have questions around employee compensation, roles & responsibilities and want to think through ways to push back against some of the “tried and true” methods and and want to fundamentally re-think how you can organize your organization that both empowers employees to do their best work and also creates a safe environment, I’m your girl.

4 Has an Eye for Process Optimization. When I first joined Precursor, I had to envision all the ways to create processes for the firm that could scale not to 1–10 companies, but from 1–100+ companies. I love thinking through big-picture process design that helps you identify and build towards the goals you seek. As I have been involved with supporting founders at the Pre-Seed stage, what I’ve found is that the beginning stage of beginning a company is a lot of admin — so much admin. So I am happy and excited to help you brainstorm best practices here.

5 Is Obsessed with Complex Partnership Strategies. I have never worked in an industry where I had only one stakeholder. That sounds like the good life! In one of my first roles, I was in charge of preparing public schools over summer so they were ready to open in the fall. I had to think about the Principals, the students, the parents, the district office and many others. I’m used to making sense of, organizing and processing these complex maps and am happy to help you think through how best to do that for your company.

6 Has Relationships Across Diverse Talent & Investors. I never sought out to be “the only” in venture. I know there are amazing people of color investors, engineers, PMs and founders, and when I first got to this industry I looked to build coalitions to meet and support them. I’m happy to help bring these relationships to bear wherever it can be beneficial for all parties involved.

7 Has Seen Over 100+ Fundraising Strategies. Precursor has grown now to serve a lot of companies. Out of Funds I and II, we have invested in over 100 companies. I have seen a lot of permutations of startup growth — from fundraising strategies, decisions to grow to profitability to shut-downs. From this bank of information, I think I’ve developed a healthy amount of knowledge on how to explore any combination of these steps. Always happy to chat through and guide founders through the buffet of options available to them.

8 Listens a Lot More than She Talks. I love to listen and try to come with an open mind to most conversations while actively questioning opinions and ideas. Talking is less interesting to me because I know there is so much that I have to learn.

9 Brings Her Full Self to Conversations. The experience of building something new, asking for help and working with investors puts founders in a deeply vulnerable position. I am still figuring out my footing in service of founders, but one thing I try not to ever do is to compartmentalize your experience or mine in a way that makes things “easier”. I’m here for the messy, the random and the real-life conversations that creep into the everyday life of trying to do something revolutionary — build something from scratch.

10 Can Get You Some Sweet Software Discounts 🙂 I’m good at getting discounts.

Please don’t come to me for:

1 24-hour Support. I’m human, just like you and need sleep so I can be my best self for you, my family, the Precursor team and my community. I’m probably not the best person to support you if you want to talk to me at 3 am, again at 6 am and then once more at noon. To get the best out of me, expect extremely quick responses from 8am-8pm and a delay outside of those times.

2 Immediate Feedback. I’m a deep thinker and journaler! I pride myself in having thoughtful, well-researched feedback for questions or concerns you might be facing as a founder. To that end, to get the best out of meeting with me, send me a few questions in advance that you’d like to discuss and I’ll come prepared.

3 Sunshine and Fairytales. I am very direct and don’t like to pretend about anything. If you are very conflict-avoidant, I might not be a great fit for you.

4 Anything Bro-y. I just can’t with that life.

My User Guide

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 🤷🏾‍♀️

Long answer:

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 in the US 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.

References: Without Slavery, Would The U.S. Be The Leading Economic Power?

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.

References: 8 Successful and Aspiring Black Communities Destroyed by White Neighbors

References: African American Homeownership Falls to 50-year Low

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.

a. My imposter syndrome has nothing to do with a lack of pride and confidence in my own work. I work very hard. I produce high-quality work. I am really proud of it. I am very quick to anger when I am around people who don’t have high integrity around their own work product.

b. You can read more thoughts on my ideas of imposter syndrome here.

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.

a. One of the best places to start is with your own language. How are you talking about people who are different than you? I was just introduced to this quote by Toni Morrison that says: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” It is so true.

b. Another great place to start is with your own community. What are you doing to support people in your community who have different backgrounds than you? Do you volunteer? Do you donate? Do you support taxation that goes to critical infrastructure that you and others need?

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.

a. One of my other favorite traits is kindness. I just don’t know why people chose to be mean. I just don’t have it in me and it makes me sad when people chose meanness over kindness and compassion.

b. My third favorite trait is thoughtfulness. I am not one to make decisions in the moment. I need time to think and reflect before making decisions.

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.

References: How To Be A Better Ally: An Open Letter To White Folks

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

Pachinko —Culture Clash, Survival And Hope In ‘Pachinko’

Exit West —Escaping A World On Fire In ‘Exit West’

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

Updated: January 13, 2021

Updated: January 27, 2021

Updated: January 28, 2021

Updated: January 29, 2021

Updated: April 23, 2021