Office Hours: I invest in visionary women & previously led teams at YouTube & 21st Century Fox. I'm Jennifer Neundorfer, Cofounder @Jane VCFeatured
Hi Everyone!I’m a Managing Partner at JaneVC. At Jane we invest in visionary women at the seed stage who are building high growth tech companies in the US and Europe. Prior to Co-Founding Jane, I ran a startup accelerator for 6 years. Before that, I launched and scaled media and digital advertising businesses at 21st Century Fox and YouTube. I have an MBA from Stanford and a BA in Social Studies from Harvard. Outside of Jane, I’m the mother of two young children and the wife of a serial entrepreneur. I’m excited to be here to chat with you about our work at JaneVC, how we think about investing during this uncertain time, our advice to founders as they manage their businesses in this new world, my observations about female founders and prospective founders as they raise capital and build their teams, and anything else you have questions about.Please share your questions in the comments below!P.S. if you’d like to chat with us 1-1, the best way to reach us is to DM us on Twitter (@JaneVentureCap) or email us at [email protected] We will do our best to reply if you send us an email.
Thanks so much for joining us @JenniferN !Elphas – please share your questions in the comments below. Jennifer will be online Answer your questions this Friday afternoon. She may not have time to reply to them all, so please emoji upvote the ones you are most interested in.
Thanks to @cadran and the whole Elpha community for having me. I'm honored to be here and look forward to sharing my perspective!
Thank you for being here and answering our questions!You mention this uncertain time and this new world, and I was just hoping you could elaborate on how you see investing changing in response to this. We've had a good number of people on Elpha asking if this is a "bad time" to start a startup or try to raise money, and I'm wondering if you have any advice for those folks.
I second this question. Thank you so much for taking the time! How are investors thinking about investing in these times? One source I have heard from an investor network is that only 30% of investors are now active. Secondly, if there are a few unfazed investors, then what sectors would they be focusing on?
@aardra - the answer here depends on how people think about active, but I do agree that most investors are reluctant to close on new deals right now. Things are changing so rapidly that this may change in the next 4-6 weeks, but most are paying attention to their current portfolios to help them weather this moment.That said, a lot of investors are looking at deals. Some are proactively reaching out to deals they missed or didn't have time to dig into, others are focused on companies that are able to turn this crisis into an opportunity - e.g., telemedicine, remote learning, collaboration tools. If you are raising now, I encourage you to be direct in asking investors whether or not they are making new investments. Understand how much capital they have left to deploy into new deals, and what their timeline is to making a decision.
@sandramedina - thanks for this question. It is particularly important for me because at Jane VC we invest in female founders, so my hope is that this moment doesn't stop women from starting great companies!I actually think this is a great time to start a company. Starting a company is always going to be hard, and there are some specific challenges to this particular moment (uncertainty, cautious capital - more on that below, economic contraction, etc.), but this moment also creates a moment for real innovation. We are already seeing significant behavior shifts due to COVID19 - we have seen individuals and businesses rapidly re-invent themselves, adopt new technologies to survive, and rely on new behaviors and norms. The scale of this change, and the potential for a prolonged period of remote interactions, creates significant opportunities for innovation. (We just published a blog post on some of the areas we're tracking.) 2008/2009 was a similar moment of crisis and uncertainty, and the list of unicorns started in those years includes: AirBnB, AppDynamics, Asana, Druva, Clio, Cloudera, Stripe, ThreadUp, Thumbtack, and Uber, among others.Investors recognize this opportunity and are looking to put capital to work, particularly at the early stages - maybe not in the next month, but in the next 12-18 months.
Hi Jennifer - thank you for joining us! Would love to better understand your advice for female analysts/associates in VC working at male-dominated firms/teams? Specifically, would love to get your advice on how we can best support female founders?
Tacking onto this one, any advice on the career path of how females have typically landed in the VC space? After landing, what's the career trajectory like?
@wbollu - the answer to this question is still evolving because there are still so few women in venture. Currently 9% of VC investors are women!One way to get into venture is to join an established fund and work your way up. Often people will rise up to a certain level and then switch firms for a partner promotion, although some firms have a track record of promoting partners from within. In theory, this path should look similar for women and men, although like many career paths reality is often different.Another way to get into venture is to gain experience as a founder or operator, and then make the move over to the investing side, typically by joining a fund as a partner. A third, and increasingly more common path for women, is to start your own fund. This path is not for the faint of heart - starting a fund is not easy. But speaking from experience, it is incredibly fulfilling.Regardless of your path, a critical part to succeeding in venture is building your network. Focusing on this early will yield dividends down the road. Understand where in the market you want to play, and then build a network that will support you in that path. And while it's important to have strong relationships with other female investors, it is equally important to have strong relationships with male investors.
Great question @jessicali! It's no secret that venture (like tech) is a male dominated industry. As a female analyst or associate at a fund, you likely aren't in a position to write a female founder a check, but here are some ways you can be particularly valuable, regardless of whether or not your fund decides to invest:1. Be transparent with female founders about how deals get done at your firm: what is the diligence process like, what metrics do you look for at what stage, who has check writing authority, how does the partnership weigh in, etc. The inner workings of venture funds are often opaque to female founders, and by sharing this detail you help founders become more savvy about the fundraising process.2. Provide actionable and honest feedback on their pitches. You see decks and pitches every day and have pattern recognition about what stands out, what breaks through the noise. This feedback is invaluable to female founders and too often VCs don't take the time and energy to provide it. 3. Make introductions - to people internally at your fund, investors (male and female) at other funds, potential customers, prospective employees, and potential advisors or board members. The downside of venture is that it is all about access - many people require a warm intro (quick plug that at Jane VC we welcome cold pitches and aim for accessibility). You are in venture so that puts you on the inside - use this position to bring more female founders into the fold.-
Thanks for doing this office hour Jennifer!I'd love to hear your observations on where founders tend to get stuck and your advice on how to get unstuck. Would also love your thoughts on how to hold your presence as a woman leader in a room full of men, and influence the direction of the conversation.
@vickybeeamp - great question. Here are the top areas that come to mind: 1. Interpreting market feedback: Every founder will tell you that they are looking for market validation, but it is often hard to interpret market signals and translate them into implications for the direction and viability of a startup. The founders who get unstuck and identify real insights take the time to dig deeply into market data and are intellectually honest about what it means for their business.2. Trying to manage everything themselves: By the nature of the role, founders shoulder endless responsibilities. But at a certain point, founders don't have the bandwidth, expertise or energy to do it all. The best founders are able to delegate effectively - to their team, to their investors, to their advisors. By communicating and sharing responsibilities, founders let others in on their priorities, problems, etc. When a larger group is invested, companies can begin scaling.3. Pitching their biggest vision: This is something I often see with female founders, who are more likely to pitch investors on their base case - an impressive vision, but one that they know they can achieve. The problem is that investors always haircut someone's vision or projection - we know it's risky and make our own mental adjustments. So founders do themselves a disservice if they pitch the base case because their broad vision gets a double haircut. To break this mental model, founders should pitch their best case - the one in which they raise all the capital they need, hire top tier talent, find worldclass product market fit, and generate outsized returns.As for your last question, I don't think there is a one size fits all answer. I don't believe that women should try to act like men to fill the space of have influence. Instead, I believe authentic leadership is much more powerful. Understand your authentic style and lean into that. Also, know your stuff - there is nothing more powerful than informed points decisively delivered.
Hi and thanks for your time and doing 0H! I'm a serial Entrepreneur who's raised $45M in a prior startup that had good success...currently with a grand vision to reinvent e & m shopping from the ground up. One comment and one question:1. There is a funding gap for pre-seed, women-owned deep tech, many of whom also need tech talent, along w/ a small amount of spark plug capital. 2. Have you considered an EIR or SIR (Startup in residence) program for experienced or serial entrepreneurs where you help them with mvp, patnerships &/or spark plug capital and/or to find an appropriate tech cofounder or outsourced partner? It could be as simple as 100k and a couple phone calls, and is a goldmine of talent and untapped VC opportunity! The speed with which these entities would be up and running would be amazing...thx!
@joclark - couldn't agree with you more on the funding gap. We did a survey last year of early stage male and female founders, and for every $1 that a male founder raises at the early stage, women raise $0.37, and the stats for women of color are even lower! We believe this is a huge opportunity which is why we invest in early stage female founders.I used to run an accelerator where we had EIRs, and I agree that the program works well. We haven't done something similar yet with Jane just because we are a new fund and want to focus on nailing our core model before expanding. But definitely something to consider.In general, we see the studio model exploding across the venture ecosystem, so there are many funds who offer this sort of support and partnership for experienced founders.
Thx Jennifer-I'd love to be your EIR experiment if you're up for it (haha) as the timing could be opportune for such experiments given that everything else is on hold or has slowed, etc. Either way, thx for weighing in and if you can refer or intro someone, of course I'd be very grateful. My LinkedIn is https://linkedin.com/in/joclarkinc if you prefer to see my background before referring, etc. Thx again!
Amazing to hear about your background and so excited about your work with JaneVC. Wondering if you have recommendations for incubators/accelerators that do a particularly good job with underrepresented entrepreneurs (women, POC, etc.)? If so, it'd be great to hear about the values/beliefs/systems at work to make that happen. I'm a Latina founder and am especially interested in partnering with inclusion-minded firms. Thanks!
Thank you for joining us here Jennifer! It was great to meet you at Ascent NY last year. As an early-stage start-up founder, the most obvious question in my mind what is the investor sentiment right now given what is going on? Covid-19 has introduced a lot of uncertainty as we all know, and many of my potential investor conversations have been deferred. We are pivoting our product to align more with current events and going ahead with the launch anyway, but concerned about long-term.
@vidhya - this is definitely on everyone's mind!You are not alone in feeling like access to capital has changed overnight. Given the scale of this pandemic and macroeconomic correction, investors across all stages are generally taking a more cautious approach. Although many venture funds have dry powder, they are being cautious about investing until there is more certainty in the market. In addition, many funds are focused on bridging their current portfolio or investing in deals that were already in their pipeline or who they know well. The exception to this are companies who have real opportunity in this moment. We're seeing those deals get done quickly.At Jane, we have capital to deploy and are actively looking at deals now. That said, we're taking more time to understand the startups' ability to weather the various scenarios that might occur depending on how long the pandemic lasts and how deep the economic impact cuts. The trick in all of this is that founders raising capital in the near term will have to run a compelling fundraising process that is virtual only. At Jane, we are comfortable with this reality and believe that a virtual process can be just as effective as an in person one. Furthermore, we think that pre-seed and seed stage deals will continue to get done in a virtual world. That said, it will likely be harder for Series A and B rounds to get done.
Hi, thank you for doing this.My question, my ongoing debate is: should I focus more on growth in users, or revenue?When I offer my product free, I get lots of organic growth (nearly a million downloads) and I do have clear plans to monetize that long term.When I offer it paid, growth slows quite a lot, but I have revenues - they’re small but growing, and at least I am able to prove that people will in fact pay.Which would you say is more important to an investor?(For context, I make PuppetMaster, an app that lets kids make animated videos out of their artwork, toys, whatever they want to animate - just by moving their body or touching the screen. www.puppetmaster.com) Thank you!
@michalfinegold - your company seems to be perfectly positioned for all of the parents who are trying to figure out how to occupy their kids for days on end. I know I will check it out for my children!This is a great question because it highlights a shift in the venture world over the last ~6 months. Overall, there has been a shift away from growth at any cost to a focus on business fundamentals. This shift started as some high profile failed IPOs highlighted the drawbacks of businesses with exponential growth but shaky underlying unit economics. This shift has been intensified in the last few weeks as the macroeconomic environment has changed so significantly. Obviously there is a balance here, and I can't tell you what the right balance is without knowing more specifics of your business. But I would urge you to prioritize revenues and prove to investors that you can grow, but grow with attractive, sustainable economics.
Thanks so much for this, and your replies to the other questions too - very illuminating.Oh and yes I'd love it if you tried PuppetMaster with your kids and let me know what you think. https://itunes.apple.com/app/puppetmaster/id438080891 Would love to see what they make with it too!
Hey Jennifer! Thank you for doing this :) I am loving these Office Hours; at Elpha :DBeing at a VC firm you would be seeing a lot of ideas, people coming up with these ideas and how successful they become. What is your experience so far with immigrant women? Do you see feel there is good representation of these women when asking for funding? are there challenges because of legal obligations?
@shwetakamble - This is such an important questions, and one I'd love to see the startup world pay more attention to. The short answer is that I think there are many immigrant women who are starting businesses, but I think VC's don't see as many as they should. Part of that comes down to my earlier part about networks and the problems with the warm intro requirement so many VCs have. By accepting open pitches and proactively reaching out to many groups of women, we hope to see more immigrant women through our process.But the legal challenges are definitely a factor as well. Many immigrants, men and women, are here on visas that are supported by their employers. This means that they don't have the luxury to leave their jobs and start a company. The irony is that many of the most well known startups have been started by immigrants to this country. I've long been a proponent of the startup visa programs that have been floated that would make it easier for immigrants to maintain their status while starting a company.
Thank you for your response @JenniferN, I am very aware of the huge gap that exists from growth perspective amongst immigrant women. Melinda Gates put it so well, everybody has different starting lines in this race, if only we could come together to alleviate those obstacles in between. And I see more and more women like yourself stepping forward and helping out which is super cool. I want to be able to help in this as well, and I try in my own little way till I can scale this. But putting my oxygen mask on first :) Thanks once again!
Hi Jennifer. Thank you for taking the time to answer questions for the Elpha community.For many of us, our careers and education to date have been defined by a 10+ year bull market. What advice do you have for those who are starting a career in investing as we face a vastly different economic environment going forward?
@meganrichards - this is such a great question. I graduated from college in '03 (in the economic wake of 9/11) and from business school in 2009 (in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis), so this contraction feels somewhat familiar.My main piece of advice is to put this moment in perspective. The global pandemic is a wild card that makes this particular moment unpredictable - we've never seen a moment like this. But there are many learnings that we can apply from prior cycles.A big one is that there is going to be great opportunity coming out of this moment, and that great companies will be built by innovating based on current shifts in consumer and corporate behavior. For the past 18 months+ in venture, we knew we were nearing the end of a cycle - now it has happened and the question is when does the next cycle begin. We believe it will be soon - for context, Cambridge Associates data proves that the gross IRR of software companies who received their initial investments in 2008 and 2009 far surpassed those of companies who raised initial capital in the 8 years prior. This suggests that although the bull market is over, the time to invest in the next great software companies is ahead.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! The main issue my co-founder and I are facing is that we can't show any real traction until we launch the final version of our product, but in order to launch, we need more funding. We’re building an online automated ethical investing platform (“robo-advisor”) that creates complete portfolios customized to fit each user’s sustainability values. Because we’re a financial services platform, we face stringent regulations and can’t onboard any users or take their capital until our product is complete. There are a few third-party service providers we need to integrate with (clearing and custody firm, for example) that require monthly minimums which we need more funding to meet. We do, however, have a dummy site that is accepting waitlist emails to show some sort of traction and are building out our social media presence. What advice would you give to a startup that doesn’t yet have users or revenue to show? And do you think building a stronger social media following in place of traditional advertising makes sense right now, given everyone’s focus on social while quarantined? As a former writer at creative agencies (McCann, Grey), it seems to me there is a particular opportunity here to engage with an audience that would otherwise be more distracted.
@elizaarnold - I don't know the specifics of your product, but we have invested in companies in highly regulated industries. My advice to you and other founders in your shoes is to find some way to show that the product works and fills customers' needs in a way they will pay for it. Even though you can't take people's money, are you able to simulate the plans and advice they would get by using a shadow portfolio? It is hard for investors to take your word that it will work and people will like it. Plus, by testing with users along the way, you'll have the market validation to support what you are building.
@JenniferNHello Jennifer,I hope you're doing well.Thanks for doing the Office Hours!2 Questions1 What are tips for managing imposter syndrome?2 What is your go to motivational song?Thank you.Warm Regards,Ekua
@ekuacant - Imposter syndrome is SO hard. I wish I had a silver bullet to share, but here's what helps me: 1. Remember that everyone feels it at some point or another - even the people who you think have made it, have it all, and have nothing to feel insecure about2. When that imposter story starts, turn to your trusted confidants to tell you the opposite story. Have them brag about you, remind you why you deserve what you have, and why you're the best person to be doing what you're doing.And motivational song - I love that question! Depends on what I'm motivating to do but often includes Reflektor by Arcade Fire or Unstoppable by Sia.
So great to see you here! I pitched you for my first start up. I have since left (took a board position) and onto my second startup (was my first love and it was time to create it) and also advising several other startup entrepreneurs getting them ready to meet awesome people like you! You were terrific! So glad you are here! Fellow elphers...Jennifer is terrific and gives you specific feedback which is so important when building your startup.
@janicetaylor - it is great to "see" you. Thank you for the kind words and best of luck on your new startup - very exciting!
Thank you @JenniferN for hosting office hours. Thank you for the work you do.How do you define, discover and evaluate visionary women?
@lisastory - I want to focus on the discovery part because I think lack of discovery is what has hurt women who are looking to raise capital. Venture capital is a network business - it isn't known for being open and accepting. Women are often outside of these networks, so it isn't surprising that women have historically received just 3% of venture dollars. At Jane, we're committed to being accessible to founders - we want to see the broadest group of founders. To that end, we have a process for founders to pitch us directly - no intro required. We encourage founders to review our investment criteria and, if they fit it, email us at [email protected] to start the process.
Hi Jennifer! Thank you for your support of the female founders. You've done a good job, I've been following you on Twitter for a couple of years.My question is do you think niche communities (specific beauty communities, sneakers lovers, etc.) can play an important role in forming an opinion about products? Are VCs interested in community/advertising startups?
@marinafilina - we don't invest in consumer products, so I'm not the best person to answer your question. That said, I do believe that innovation often comes from a small group of experts rather than from asking consumers/customers broadly what it is that they want. The Swiffer is a great example of this - consumers wanted a better cleaning product, but could never have articulated that the Swiffer was the product they would buy.I see a lot of interest in community-oriented startups, particularly in the last month that people have been physically distanced and looking for virtual connection. In general, VC interest in advertising tech has cooled - I believe part of that is driven by the increase in subscription vs. advertising based businesses.
Hi Jennifer,Thank you so much for sharing. Would you have any advice for small startup company to run ads? Thanks again.
@ybai1719 - the answer to this all depends on your business, who you are targeting, and how you are going to market. If you are selling direct to consumers, then it probably makes sense to run ads. If you are an enterprise company selling through distributors, then it may not be a priority. If you do run ads, I suggest A/B testing the channels, copy, landing pages, etc. to understand where you can acquire customers most efficiently.
Thanks for giving your time. I help female founders scale businesses. Obviously lack of access to funding is a huge factor in female founders being unable to get past that $100k mark in revenue. What do you see as other factors? I believe networks are another big one. Is it the type of businesses they are starting - fewer big tech, for example? What do you think are the biggest challenges for women as they transition from Founder to CEO?THANKS!
Hi @JenniferN, I'm a new solo entrepreneur with a startup on the side. I built an MVP with a capital raised from friends and family. It's been launched for 6 months and we've seen steady usage from a small group of people and have 1000+ sign ups. I'm starting to gear up to have investor conversations in the next 3-6 months I think, and I'm wondering if you have any advice for getting to the next stage as a first timer founder. I have definitely put JaneVC in my list of people to reach out to! I'm thinking that now is a good time to compile a list of potential investors to talk to, but I'm nervous about reaching out. I really appreciate the fact that you up front said that you're open to talking to people and hearing pitches, I'm just nervous not all VCs seem to operate that way. How do you know who is and who isn't?Thanks,Anna
Hi Jennifer,This is my first time using Elpha and it seemed as though the universe just sent me directly to you. I am the founder of a maternal wellness company called, Mindful Mamas. We launched our mindfulness and self-care app called Mindful Mamas on March 19, 2020. We are just one check away from closing our pre-seed round and it's been quite the shift going from building the product and the business at the same time to being forward facing with customers while still trying to close the round during this pandemic. My question for you is more related to the product/marketing piece. Any crafty ways to market this product while we fight to close this round? I am worried about our cash runway until we close and apps are much different to market than say e-commerce. My dev team is working around the clock to help us gain customer visibility. I tend to be extremely data driven (it's the psychologist in me) and to not have data on consumer behavior is driving me up the wall. Currently, we need to focus on brand awareness and driving downloads while we build out the backend to gain more clarity into customer behavior and conversions. You seem like the perfect person to ask this to.Thanks!Terra