Office Hours: I co-founded and am General Partner at BBG Ventures where we invest in underestimated founders.Featured
Hi everyone! I’m Nisha Dua, General Partner and Co-Founder at BBG Ventures, an early stage fund leading investments in companies built by underestimated founders that are transforming our collective and lived experiences. Prior to founding BBGV, I was formerly the General Manager of AOL's millenial site Cambio, which I later transformed into the start-up BUILT BY GIRLS; the Chief of Staff for the AOL Brand Group; a management consultant at Bain & Company; and an M&A and securities lawyer at Australian law firm Blake Dawson. I have an undergraduate degree in Commerce and Law from the University of New South Wales in Australia, where I grew up. Ask me anything about launching a fund, investing in companies, pitching your ideas, leading teams, operating, how I ended up in venture, and more.
Thanks so much for joining us, @nish67. Elphas: please reply in the comments with your questions for @nish67 before this Friday. She may not have time to answer every single question, so please emoji upvote the ones that interest you most. Thanks!!
Hi Nisha; thx for doing AMA. What I'm seeing is there's a gap for women Founders many of whom aren't coders so they can't code a prototype themselves. I think we also aren't as willing as men to go to F&F for spark plug capital as those are our prized relationships. So what w/b amazing and greatly needed is a combination of tech resources (to help Founders code & test MVP and beta) and small spark plug capital (to legally organize properly and maybe protect IP) then go into any future rounds if needed, with everything tight, tested and validated. I hope this mks sense. Everyone seems to have the same investment tenor: find a tech co-founder (80% of the women at a recent pitch night said they were look'g for tech co-founders); have them code the MVP for sweat equity; get traction then come to us for capital. As such, women founders are not getting to square one b/c they can't find the tech co-founder and can't raise the $$ to outsource it. Thx for listening!
Sharing here a great resource that was very helpful for me and sounds like might be helpful to many others like me (female non-technical founder, in my case you can add immigrant, older than 25 and older than 50:): Hope Nisha does not mind, because this helps VCs too. https://www.femalefounderschool.com - great for structuring your thoughts from day 1 (=idea) and https://www.lindsayt.com - Lindsay is a great supporter of non-technical founders. And no, I am not affiliated to either, but benefited from both sources.
Hi Jo, I do agree that angel or F&F rounds can be challenging for women to raise - often because we don't make the ask. It is true that one of the things that we see work well to get a MVP off the ground for non-technical founders is they build deep relationships with technologists in the area of their business, start riffing on an idea together and the engineer builds in their spare time - often because they want to join FT when the founder raises money. It certainly is a bit chicken and egg but not impossible. I'd also agree with @mortylin that we don't necessarily need to see a full working/coded product - what are the ways in which you can hack together a product and start to show interest in your idea/solution; there are many off the shelf solutions that can help power this.
There are plenty of no-code tools and ways to validate an idea and get traction without coding (talk to users, get sign-ups with type form, build a website with Squarespace, or an app with bubble, Google AdWords and social media to see if there's interest)Even for things that are more complex e.g. needing machine learning - a lot of it can be validated by manually doing the work initially.Many investors want to see traction, not "has someone coded a product"
Any tips on cold emails? I'm always trying to think of some kind of clever subject line or something... So far I've emailed a couple early stage VCs and the only reply I've gotten was from a woman and I had soft intro to her. So while it seems like people are keen to say that warm intros aren't totally necessary these days, it feels like in practice, I don't even get a friendly "thank you" email from anyone, making it feel pretty discouraging. I'm reading Secrets of Sand Hill Road and he says straight up that investors view getting an intro to be a test of your ingenuity as a founder (which, ok). Do you think that is the insider truth? And that VCs just say that it's ok to cold email them so they feel they're not missing out on something? I'm just surprised to get zero response. Either they're not reading those emails or there's just too many for them to reply to. In any case, it makes me feel like those people are not people I'd want to work with. And I'm focusing a lot more on getting intros, which is fine as I get to talk to and meet more people, it just takes longer.
Hey Anna - great question. Cold emails are hard to write. First off, I'd say please don't be discouraged by not getting replies. It may be true that not everyone reads them (and I agree, you shouldn't encourage people sending them if you're not going to read them). To be transparent: the number of emails I get in a day, in addition to doing my job makes it really hard to respond to all of them in a timely fashion. It's not a great answer, but it's the truth. However, we do try to read them all! In fact, we've made 2-3 investments off the back of cold emails, and I take a number of pitch meetings off the back of them. If you don't get a response the first time, there is no harm in being persistent (as it could have gotten lost in the shuffle.) For cold emails I recommend: doing your research on the investor, making the email personal/relevant based on their interests, be concise but highlight your wins/interesting traction/what makes YOU unique to build this business, and if you can - offer yourself up as an expert to talk to them and share insights on a topic they're interested in. I get a lot of cold emails that say: "hi, my name is x, i started y company. do you want to talk?" which give me no way to filter it versus others. your cold email is like a mini pitch - use it to your best advantage to sell your company and yourself.
And, continue finding ways to get introductions or create a halo effect - an event the investor hosted, a panel the investor spoke on, an event one of their founders hosted. It isn't always easy to get the first intro at the beginning, so start finding ways to be part of the extended network - that can at least create a few degrees of separation and get you closer. Those events are also things you can reference in your cold email.
Thanks Nisha! That’s really great advice and thank you for the insight into how many and the typical content. I definitely feel like I’ve been failing on both following up and adding the most interesting highlights and traction. So I’ll definitely work on that, as well as finding ways to get intros. I emailed BBG in fact! ;) I will follow up.
Some investors get 20000+ pitch decks a year, so it makes sense to not respond to every email. This is more likely for consumer products. If you're doing something very niche e.g. b2b, deep-tech, there'll be fewer applications, therefore usually higher chance of your email being read / a response.Warm intros are usually of a higher quality, as it's gone through a filter already, imagine you were in their position, would you read the 1000 applications recommended to you by people you trust or the 20000 from strangers?Background: have been building an investor tool so interviewed dozens of investors.
Hi Nisha! I love this mission and message and a big thank you for answering our questions on Elpha.My name is Keriann and I’m the founder of Merge, a platform for the chronic illness and disability community that provides social networking and content, tools, and experiences to inform, engage, and empower users.As a first-time, solo, non-technical, early-stage female founder with a chronic illness (disability), I think I stand to be underestimated. What are BBG Ventures’ criteria for determining candidates for investment (as opposed to other VCs) and how can we stand out? Thanks for your time and thanks for doing what you do!
Hi Keriann! I also have a chronic illness - and have spent a lot of time thinking about how new technology solutions can support this fast growing group of people. The first part of our process at BBGV is whether the company fits into our thesis: we're looking at companies transforming the collective or the lived experience, and their impact on the way we view or interact with the world. These could be companies driving systems change within industries, solving gnarly consumer problems by delivering 10X better solutions or addressing a new consumer behavior or underserved/undervalued consumer segment. Once we feel a company fits within one of those buckets, we're considering things like: 1) How large is the addressable market? 2) Is there proprietary tech? 3) How defensible is the product/company? 4) Is this a 10X better solution than anything else out there? The biggest factor is the founder - do they have they a big vision for what the company can be, can they execute on that, what is their superpower, do they have the ability to surround themselves with the right talent to build the company, do they have a unique understanding of the consumer they're solving for and is that demonstrated in the solution they're building? Other factors we see in star founders are their ability to tell a great story, the ability to partner and create network effects, plus they are always thinking three steps ahead. This is in addition to the regular traits many VCs mention like ability to focus, resilience, nimbleness and flexibility/coachability. When we're considering investment know that there are some factors outside your control like: the size of the round, our ownership target/check size, what else we've recently invested in.
Hi @nish67 welcome to Elpha! I'm Niki, producer and host of Chief Best Friends (chiefbestfriends.com) a podcast for work besties everywhere.My questions are...1. Since BBG focuses solely on female founders, would you say females are more likely to go solo or seek co-founders? And if so, why do you think that is?2. Are there any limiting beliefs women need to address, based on what you've seen and experienced, in order to be successful at fundraising or bootstrapping?3. I'm also looking to fill my guest slots for Season 2 and would love to find a pair of women from the BBG portfolio if you have anyone to recommend? ☺️.
Hi Niki~ Cool podcast concept! My best friend and I were co-founders until COVID hit and then she hit the road. If you want to chat about what happens when the pressures of bootstrapped startup entrepreneurism crushes a 15-year friendship, I'm available!Be well, Brienne
I'm so sorry to hear this happened to you @BrienneD. Definitely worth discussing for sure. I'll DM you!
Hey Niki - thanks for your questions: 1) I don't think it's either or - we see an equal amount of solo and co-founders. We invest where there is at least one FF, so many of our co-founders are mixed gender teams; 2) biggest issue I see is pitching the business you're building today versus the big vision. We want to see the large opportunity available. 3) Plenty! DM me on Elpha.
You're such an inspiration and thanks for holding Office Hours on Elpha! I would love to hear your views on bootstrapping versus raising angel funds and what advice you would give someone who is currently bootstrapping but considering VC funding.
Great question! I firmly believe bootstrapping is a great option for many new businesses. Not everyone needs to raise venture, and much of the decision has to do with your goals. Are you focused on long term stable growth and profitability? Do you want to grow within comfortable limits? Do you want to own more of your company? If so bootstrapping is a great option. On the other hand if you want to focus on topline revenue and growth potential, have a high tolerance for risk and failure; want to try to get big as fast as possible and are ok owning less of your company and having Venture Capital milestones to meet then VC funding may be right for you. That may be a bit too textbook an answer, as I do believe you can build venture companies that focus on profitability, but as a rule VC funding does demand fast growth (because of the economic model of the VC business - we have to return money to our investors - Marc Andreeson has a great post on this called "The Truth About Venture Capitalists - Part 1"). One thing to really think about is: does my business have some new technology, new business model or creating a new category that it requires an infusion of capital to grow quickly? If so, then VC is a good route. Remember, you can still make a lot of money by bootstrapping - just look at the Native founders who sold their business to P&G!
Thanks for supporting "underestimated" founders (I love the wording!), Nisha! What stage companies do you invest in? What are the criteria? Many thanks!
Hey Joan! Thanks for the question. We invest in pre-seed or seed stage companies - typically companies raising $1-3M of institutional capital. More on the criteria and what we assess is in my response to Keriann's question above!
Hi Nisha! Thanks for responding to some questions here!I was wondering what goes through the minds of a VC when they encounter a founder that is not up to par with human interaction skills and is socially awkward. Is it instantly a 'no' in your mind? They say at the early stages that a lot of decisions are based on the founder. How do you evaluate if a founder that struggles with the social interaction has the right qualities to bring their idea to the next level?It would be so interesting to hear from your perspective. If you're wondering, the question is based on some of my real life experiences as a barrier that's difficult to overcome.
Really interesting question - thanks for asking. It's hard to give a good answer without knowing the specific interactions you're thinking about, but what I would say is: we'd never assume a 'no' simply because someone doesn't behave the way a societal norm has defined they should. Of course, we live in a world were there are undoubtedly norms we are used to, but it's our job to dig into the aspects of the founders character and their ability to execute (see my answer to Kerriann's question) to make a real evaluation of the founder and their company.
Definitely something I struggle with!!It's taken a long time, but I'm so glad I met a co-founder who has complementary skills and is far more likeable :pI find a lot of people who think they're not good socially are actually just hanging out with the wrong people... Or at least, that is the case for me. Twitter has been an amazing tool to find more people who think like me - the community is amazing (e.g. for finding advice on OCD, adhd, autism, depression, Literally anything!)
I just wanted to say that Built by girls changed my life. In the time that I was lost without a mentor, just graduated college, without anyone in the tech industry in my network, the startup gave me a mentor who worked in tech that encouraged me to start building things on my own. It's so nice to have you! I have a couple questions regarding process" how did you end up in venture capital? What were your first steps? What were you doing before? How do you deal with personal organization in order to accomplish all of your goals? What is the goal setting process for you? Thank you in advance, Nisha!
Hey Michelle, it warmed my hear to get this note from you - I am so happy to hear BBG was meaningful for you. And, I hope you come back as an Advisor! Anyone on Elpha can sign up here: https://www.builtbygirls.com/about-waveMy path into venture was quite serendipitous. I've always loved new business innovation and problem solving, but I started as an M&A lawyer, went into management consulting at Bain, moved to America from Sydney to work at the AOL Brand Group with Susan Lyne where we started talking about female founders; during that time I led Strategy and Operations for the group, relaunched our celebrity gossip website and founded BUILT BY GIRLS so I got a lot of insight into building an early stage company and running large companies. When Susan and I started talking abut launching a fund, it was a no-brainer that all my experiences had combined to create a great launchpad for venture. Organization is a great question: I try to set weekly goals on Sunday evenings with a TO DO list which is bucketed around my different responsibilities (e.g. Fundraising, Portfolio Company Support, New Investment/Diligence, BBG), marking out what are high priority tasks as well as what I can delegate, what's low hanging fruit and what needs strategic thinking time. I review that list every day and have slots in my calendar for meetings, but also for email time and strategic work time. I'm constantly iterating on my calendar to improve it.
Hi! Just interested in how/if you’re screening applicants during COVID. Usually the in -person meetings are the most critical part of investing. I would imagine you’ve slowed down new investments ? Respectfully , Andy
Hi Andy - great to hear from you. I think many early stage investors have slowed during COVID, not because it's hard to do over Zoom, but because we have been spending time supporting our existing investments. We are currently investing, and made one recently over Zoom. We've done those before, including one that came to us over a cold email - The Mom Project, founded by Alison Robinson. So, we continue to take Zoom meetings - we typically do multiple, both partners have to meet the founder/co-founders, sometimes we dig in with other team members also.
Awesome, looking forward to hearing from you! What is BBG looking for in terms of traction, are there certain benchmarks all your potential investments needs to have reached or is the team more important?
Hi Nisha! Thank you for your generosity of time and insight. I've been following BBG Ventures for some time and as a young woman aspiring to launch a career in VC, I deeply appreciate the trailblazing work that goes on behind the scenes to make BBG and #BuiltByGirls possible.I'd love to hear more about your early days transitioning into venture investing from an operator role and what resources or experiences best developed your pattern recognition. In retrospect, is there anything you would do differently for your career in VC? What do you know now that you wish you had known as...a sophomore in college? (a super loaded question, I know)Thanks again! (:
Hi Irene - thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it. My time at Bain definitely helped on the "hard skill" of diligence, and I've tried not to rely on pattern recognition too much as I think it can bias us and prevent us from looking at each investment on its own merits. Instead I try to use my skill with understanding people to answer some of the questions around founders I listed in my answer to Kerriann's posts. What I would have done differently early on? I would have trusted my gut more and not been afraid to speak up. VC is about opinions and conviction - it's important to read, research, explore and talk to people to arrive at those opinions, but developing a thesis and a belief system around how the world is going to change requires you to trust your gut and be brave enough to say it. What I wish I'd done differently in college? Followed my own passions/interests rather than listening to what everyone else was telling me was the right path to take - that's what will ultimately make you successful!
Hi Nisha, I'm Zora Chung the cofounder and CFO of ReJoule (www.rejouleenergy.com). I see a few companies focused on reducing waste (Full Harvest, Blueland, Industrial Organic). I'm curious if ReJoule would fit into BBG's investment thesis. We provide advanced diagnostics for large-format batteries such as those in electric vehicles and energy storage. If so what is the best way to connect w/ BBG?Thank you! -Zora
Hi Nisha, My name is Masaaki Furuki and my company Sokett is developing a hassle-free budgeting app for financial wellbeing automation. I'm looking for co-founders and still in the pre-revenue stage. I wanted to hear your thoughts on the consumer fintech market. Do you still see areas that need innovation? Thank you!
Hello Nisha! My name is Heather and I just joined Elpha today. I am a dentist and I own my own practice but I am also starting a company making tailored clothing for women more accessible. I also started manufacturing isolation gowns mainly for dental offices during COVID-19 times as we have had a hard time accessing washable fluid resistant isolation gowns. I am planning to seek investors for my clothing company, Curtesae, which also owns my ppe business. My main strengths are vision, recruiting amazing people to join my team and eternal optimism (could be also be a weakness). My major weakness right now is that I am having a hard time figuring out how to navigate the world of investors. I know it isn't exactly formulaic but if there aren't a lot of sales yet how do I inspire investors to take the risk? I have pretty strong sales for the gowns even though we just started selling a few weeks ago but I am still in product development for my tailored clothing company. I need funding mainly for more advanced tech for my tailored clothing branch of the company and also to buy a lot more fabric to mass produce a lot more gowns. I feel like I am from outer space when it comes to understanding the world and game of finding the right investors or even knowing if my business is even ready for investors. I don't even know how to break into that world and when I attempt to if it is even being done the right way. I guess my question is, do you have a recommendation for either resources or an "investing for dummies" break down for my situation? Here it is: a. Primary business is in product development phase, no sales, is what I perceive as world changing for fashion and has a great mission. Need more $ for advanced tech research. b. A branch of this business has some sales, need more $ for inventory. What do I do now? Thank you for reading all of this!Heather
Thank you @nish67, this is a wonderful initiative. After working in Diversity & Inclusion for many years and now building a start-up with a massive social transformative purpose I am so glad to hear about women caring for women. I have first hand experience in the european start-up world and can confirm that discrimination of women (especially over 50) is overwhelming and disappointing (even more than the corporate world I would say). We are 3 female founders and we help people to reinvent themselves professionally in the wake of the future of work (which is NOW) using digital technology. We often feel powerless because of the big obstacles just to be heard and seen by the players in the start-up field. Any suggestions for your sisters in Europe?
Hi Nisha! The industry that my startup (RSVP : http://rsvp.xyz) focuses on was devastated by the Covid19 lockdown (live music, events, venues). We quickly reformatted our ticketing platform to include an online video embed + donation + live chat feature which helps people generate revenue from home and connect with others during isolation. As of March we had the beginning of hockey stick growth and were planning on a Seed raise when Covid hit and things ground to a near halt. What is your advice to bootstrapping founders who are agile and can transform their business within the "new normal" but have Covid-affected growth metrics?
Hey @nish67 thank you for doing this! I'm the co-founder of an early stage Blockchain startup that is building a one-stop-shop platform for companies to upload their supply chain data, and we create carbon footprint of their products, and offer real time insights into how to lower their carbon footprints. We have a larger vision of lowering barriers companies currently face while going more sustainable - managing data, tracking assets in supply chains, sustainability reporting and tracking of products after final point of sale when it's resold in second hand marketplaces. We are tackling a rather niche subject that requires educating small businesses and showing them it won't cost them high budgets to start incorporating sustainability as an internal metric. My question is - almost everyone in Blockchain community insists on the importance of white papers and their impact during fundraising. Do you often read very good white papers that convince you to invest ? Particularly if the companies are in idea stage and don't have MVP ready? Also I have the gut feeling that a well made video would be much more impactful from a sales perspective and tempted to skip white paper altogether.
Hi Nisha, Looking forward to all your great answers. My name is Laurie and I'm working on an idea that will change the way we approach mealtime preparation and answer that dreaded question, "what's for dinner?' I would like to know, in your opinion, is it necessary for early-stage startups to go through incubator or accelerator programs to be seen as legitimate or credible when seeking funding? I look forward to your reply.Best regards,Laurie
Hi Nisha,Thanks for taking the time to answer all of our questions! I’m the co-founder of Arnie, an automated portfolio builder for the ethical investor. As a financial services company we face stringent regulations and can’t onboard any users and take their capital until our product is complete. We’ve self-funded the development of our prototype, but need additional funding to pay for necessary backend integrations (e.g. hooking up to a custodian). We know most VCs want to see some traction to prove product/market fit so we’re releasing a free tool that will audit your current investments, letting you know how sustainable (or not) they really are. We’ll then use this to build out a waitlist, along with a panel series and social media following. We are also conducting a beta testing program with our prototype to ensure our final release gives users what they want. Would all of this be enough to prove product/market fit despite being a pre-launch/pre-revenue company? Are there any specific metrics or numbers we should aim for?Thank you!Eliza