In an industry with some rather recognizable names and star power, it's easy (or lazy) for startups to skip over what else is happening in venture. However digging deeper and spending more time researching is where founders will truly find venture gold. To help you out, here are six U.S. based women in venture to not only watch but to strategically find ways to add to your network. I stress the word “strategically”. Each of these women has networked or leveraged their existing networks in the pursuit of their careers in venture, so they have clear opinions on how entrepreneurs can effectively connect with investors (and the ways that should definitely be avoided). Take their advice to heart if seeking venture investment is the right path for your start-up.
Kara Nortman, General Partner at Upfront Ventures
Based in Los Angeles, Upfront Ventures seeks out tech forward companies across enterprise software, transactional consumer businesses and frontier tech.
Kara Nortman is naturally drawn to building things that scale, and that natural curiosity eventually led this political science major to tech and innovation. Nortman worked at big companies (Morgan Stanley, Battery Ventures and IAC) and founded her own startup (Moonfrye) before joining Upfront.
On how entrepreneurs should use their network to find investors, two tips from Nortman:
Ask other entrepreneurs about the VCs who have most impressed them, as introductions from other entrepreneurs are the best and most credible kind for both founder and VC.
Take advantage of initiatives like All Raise (which has created Female Founder Office Hours around the country to help build connections between founders and VCs) and events hosted by VCs (Upfront like others, hosts entrepreneur-focused breakfasts and events).
The biggest networking mistake entrepreneurs can make networking with Nortman is being inauthentic about why they’re building a company. “ Building a company is hard and if the passion and commitment are not real, it’s nearly impossible to build long-term value ” says Nortman, before adding “the other mistake is not taking ownership and responsibility for things going wrong, because they will go wrong and I want to work with someone who will accept responsibility and move forward to solve the problem”.
Angela Tran Kingyens, General Partner at Version One Ventures
Located in San Francisco, Version One Ventures focuses on companies leveraging network effects and according to Angela Tran Kingyens is “spending more time in bio/healthcare and crypto these days”.
Tran Kingyens earned three engineering degrees from the University of Toronto then launched Insight Data Science before joining Version One as an analyst in 2013. She was promoted to general partner in 2018. Like Nortman, Tran Kingyens strongly feels that the best way for entrepreneurs to network to find investors is actually talking to other founders , plus (as she is an active blogger) leveraging online tools from social networks to blogs, podcasts and media interviews, to read up on the people you’re interested in meeting. Not surprisingly, Tran Kingyens’ biggest networking pet peeve is when founder’s don’t do their homework on her before hitting send on an email. “It is totally okay to reach out cold but make sure to personalize your message or pitch to me. I am a very public person and often write my opinions on our blog (on who I am, what I like, and what I invest in)” she says.
Vanessa Pestritto, Xpring at Ripple
Based in New York City, Vanessa Pestritto is working on Xpring, fintech company Ripple’s initiative to support blockchain companies.
Pestritto studied Economics and International Business at NYU Stern School of Business. She’s worked in technology consulting, guided New York Angels as their Executive Director and launched her own fund (Lattice Ventures) before moving into her current role.
Knowing how her own career has benefited from networks, Pestritto advises founders to share with their existing networks what they are working on and to have specific asks (as well as offers) on hand. She highly recommends that founders “look into the networks they have today to find the people to connect with...and if you don't yet have the network you need, surround yourself with smart, interesting people and share what you are working on”. Applying this networking approach is how Pestritto landed her job at New York Angels.
After hearing thousands of pitches, the biggest mistake Pestritto still sees is entrepreneurs networking for a capital raise and having no idea what they’ll use the money for. “The “what” can be a milestone for the company or a product roadmap goal,” she explains, “without the what, I don’t know how to be supportive”.
Constance Freedman, Founder and Managing Partner at Moderne Ventures
Chicago based Moderne Ventures invests in technology companies in and around real estate, finance, insurance and home services. Moderne has invested in over 70 companies across its funds including DocuSign, Updater, August, Better, Hello Alfred, TaskEasy and Homesnap.
Constance Freedman has a BS in Management Information Systems from Boston University and earned her MBA at Harvard. She’s worked as a realtor plus as well as for startups before stepping into venture capital. Before Moderne, Freedman launched the National Association of Realtors’ venture capital fund, Second Century Ventures.
On networking to find relevant investors, Freedman stresses the importance of networking in and around target industries, for mentors, advocates, customers and quite possibly, investor sponsors. “ When an investor becomes a customer, true partnerships can be made ,” Freeman shares, having seen first hand these networking efforts catapult companies she’s invested in (such as, DocuSign, HelloAlfred, and Homesnap).
As there are simply not enough hours in the day to meet with every founder who asks, Freedman suggests that founders find a mutual acquaintance to make an introduction and should only ask for meetings when there is mutual value. Never, she adds “ask if you can pick a VC’s brain or buy us a cup of coffee”.
Anna Garcia, Co-Founder and General Partner at Runway Venture Partners
New York City based Runway Venture Partners is a pre-A fund focused on software companies.
A Wall Street veteran before stepping into venture, Anna Garcia previously held roles across capital markets, investment banking and asset management at J.P. Morgan, Jefferies and Merrill Lynch.
Garcia’s networking advice for founders echoes that of Nortman and Tran Kingyens: Do significant research on investors you want to connect with prior to asking for an introduction . “Fund websites, blogs and recent press are the best sources to learn about investors’ portfolio and current areas of focus” she says and “once you know who you want to meet, ask other entrepreneurs and investors in your network for introductions”. The biggest mistake in networking with Garcia is a simple one to remedy: remember to follow-up and follow-up with her in a timely manner.
Soraya Darabi, General Partner at Trail Mix Ventures
New York City based Train Mix Ventures is focused on innovation in health, caregiving, wellness and the future of work.
Before venture, Soraya Darabi worked in media (she launched The New York Times’ social media practice in 2007) and then became an entrepreneur (first working for a venture backed business before co-founding two more of her own). It took investing in 28 companies as an angel investor for Darabi to decide to start her own fund.
On networking to meet investors, Darabi feels entrepreneurs should connect with other venture-backed businesses first, and learn from those founders what they like or dislike about the investors in their company. Darabi has met the strongest candidates for investment through her existing portfolio companies. In the absence of an introduction, the best thing an entrepreneur can do when pitching Darabi is to write a personal, authentic email stating why the thesis on the Trail Mix VC website resonates with the business they are building. “The more specific that email is, the better” she stresses.