Increasing venture capital going to female founders will result in a better world - Cat Lee, MaveronFeatured

What are the skills you feel are essential to succeed in your role?When I first took on this role as the newest partner at Maveron, I immediately thanked the woman who introduced me to the Maveron team and asked, “What can I do to help you?” Her answer, “Just do your job well. 😄”While I’m just getting started and can’t address this question as a seasoned VC, I’ve now interviewed many investors and founders, read and listened to countless blog posts and podcasts, and have been angel investing for the past year. I thought it would be helpful to share what I’ve learned so far and how I’m going about my role everyday. First, what does success look like? Success for me is to leave the world better than when I found it. What motivated me to pursue this path as an investor is to improve the ratio of 2.2% of venture capital going to female-founded teams because I believe it’ll result in a better world, and to pursue this vision shared by Dan Levitan at Maveron: “....we back consumer-tech companies that achieve outsized success because they stand for things that matter, are ubiquitous, and improve the lives of millions of consumers.I will be most proud when the founders who created those businesses come from all walks of life, are fully representative of the gender and racial diversity that make up our country, and choose to partner with Maveron because our brand and network attract world-class entrepreneurs who refuse to accept the status quo. We are going to treat the Maveron team, the founders we back, and everyone who comes into our world with humanity, respect, and curiosity. We will continue to look for products that make people’s lives better and brands that build us up and bring us together. We will continue to partner with a diverse set of non-normal, maverick entrepreneurs with the vision to see where consumers are going. In fact, 20 years ago our name — Maveron — was created from the combination of Maverick + Vision.” With these things as my north star, tactically day-to-day, I’m focused on honing my skills in four areas:- Sourcing- Selecting- Winning- PartneringSourcingThere are many ways to discover and source new opportunities i.e. people and companies to invest in. Some VCs are proactive, thesis-driven and deliberate about their sourcing. Some people are entirely reactive. Some are very vocal and put themselves out there in the Twitterverse and others have built strong networks behind-the-scenes. There’s no one right way to source and what matters more is honing a strategy and playbook that is authentic to you and your strengths. Honing your sense of curiosity and an innate desire to learn leads to better sourcing. In addition, being 100% human and genuinely developing meaningful relationships based on trust and respect leads to good outcomes. Generally, I’ve relied on putting myself out in the universe (in trusted communities like this one), building programs around my areas of expertise (culture, growth, product), reaching out to people in many of my areas of interest (see bio), worked on building stronger relationships with seed investors since I’m primarily a series A investor, and developing a more prepared mind in various industries/categories.SelectingThe skill you’re often most judged for as a VC is your ability to select which companies to invest in. Many investors prioritize and assess companies across the criteria of: people, market, product, brand/marketing (not necessarily in that order). Other investors are seen as visionaries (e.g., can see where the world is going) and find companies that fit that vision. In either case, one of the key skills needed is your ability to diligence an investment. You need to hone your judgement despite several unknowns and the delayed feedback loop, it takes ~3-10 years before you know how well the company has done.One way to do this is to focus, spend time on what matters/drown out the noise. You must maintain objectivity and act quickly. Unconscious bias training teaches us that we should set consistent, objective criteria for decision-making. Though I’m not super skilled at this yet, I’ve been trying to quickly hone and assess investments across a consistent criteria based on my own personal experience of choosing to work at Facebook in 2008 and as an early product manager at Pinterest in 2012. It also helps that often times, investors have constraints to help guide your selection process. For example, at Maveron, each partner typically makes 5-9 seed investments and 1-2 series A investments ($4-8mm) a year. Once you’ve made your decision, getting back to a founder promptly with authentic feedback and rationale for your decision is key.WinningAnother big part of becoming a successful VC, especially in today’s competitive world, is to earn the right to partner and get the term sheet negotiated/signed. One of our four values at Maveron is to “win the right way.” We want to be astonishing in our capacity for doing the right thing, especially when it’s hard. You’ll never hear us disparage our competitors nor take advantage of our founders. We’ll always win with integrity and the partnership will happen as a result of the the value we bring and ensuring it’s a win-win for both parties. Skills needed here are integrity, negotiation, conviction and passion.PartneringAs a series A investor, we’re generally taking a board seat and partnering with founders to grow and scale their companies. The most important skills here are to listen, coach, and use our abilities to help our founders go from obscurity to ubiquity. This is where having experience as an operator scaling teams across product, growth, marketing, and culture helps. Building a network of experts to recruit from is also useful. As important as it is to partner with founders we’ve invested in, it’s equally important to be a good partner within the firm. At Maveron, we operate as a team. We push and encourage each other to become better.Honing these skills increases your chances of delivering a good return on your investments as well as achieving the vision I outlined earlier. I’m at the beginning of my journey as a VC. This is currently how I’m thinking about things. Always happy to hear from others who have feedback and are on this journey with me!Cat is the newest Partner at Maveron. Prior to Maveron, she spent the last six years as an executive at Pinterest (Head of Culture, Growth, Partner Marketing, Product). Before that, she was at Facebook (Platform product marketing) and Lockheed Martin (software engineer). She has an MBA from University of Michigan and BS in Computer Science from Stanford. Reach out to her if she can help!
Hi Elphas – as a reminder – this is part of our new #spotlight public posts series sharing conversations with women across tech on the topic of #careergrowth. Please share your perspectives and thoughts in the comments below.Cat, thanks for sharing such a detailed and thoughtful essay with us, there's so much to take away whether you're an operator, founder, or investor.
Thank you for sharing your journey and vision, very inspiring and impressive Cat! I totally relate on the partnering side, and being authentic in this process. Founders share their dream, and to be a true partner you have to instigate it and empower them in the better way you can.Would love to share an overview of our portfolio startups, and talk about deal-flow funneling when it makes sense. If you got time in the next weeks, let's chat. Here is my calendar. THANK YOU!
Thanks for sharing what you've been learning, Cat! I'm curious to know more about the four values and Maveron and how you define them (ex. "win the right way"). When I'm considering partners, whether angels or vc, I'm most interested in whether or not our values align.