Office Hours: I’m Pam Kostka. I’m a serial entrepreneur and EIR at Operator Collective, a next generation VC firm where I’m advising and investing in enterprise start-ups. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Pam Kostka. I’m an Operator in Residence (and long time Limited Partner) at Operator Collective where I am advising, investing in enterprise start-ups and building a diverse community. We’ve pioneered a new venture model where over 150 of tech’s most sought-after operators, investors and founders from diverse backgrounds are engaged as LPs, advisors and mentors, accelerating the success of the founders we invest in. We are 90% women, 40% diverse and 100% successful!

For the last 3 years, I was the CEO and a Board Member of All Raise where I raised more than $20M from supporters and allies across tech to create a new fly-wheel where women, non-binary and underrepresented individuals prominently participate in the funding, founding and scaling of technology start-ups.

I started my career as a Product Manager at Connect, Inc. an early e-commerce infrastructure company. From product management origins, my career expanded to encompass marketing and sales on my path to CEO. I’ve spent most of my career in enterprise startups – from virtual assistants to cybersecurity and even tax automation – scaling category-defining companies to successful exits. Along the way, I’ve navigated the highs of scaling companies to successful IPOs and acquisitions as well as the turbulence of pivots, wind-downs and two major tech downturns and rebounds.

I’m passionate about venture disruption, the future of work, SaaS, and the care economy. I’m an advocate, ally and continuing student of DEI, and am currently an LP at Acrew Capital’s DCF fund and an advisor at Girls Crushing It. As an entrepreneur, runner, cyclist and adventure traveler, I embrace living at my edges as a way to continuously explore what I’m capable of.

Ask me anything about fundraising, VC, scaling start-ups (profit, nonprofit, or combo), DEI in venture-backed tech ecosystem, community building, leading in difficult times, or anything else!

ElphaStaff's profile thumbnail
Thanks so much for joining us @pamkostka!Elphas – please ask @pamkostka your questions before Friday, February 11th. @pamkostka may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
joclark's profile thumbnail
@pamkostka first Wow! What a bio! Second, I'm a non-tech Founder of a deeply technical pre-seed Startup. I have a CTO who is get'g offers $$ when I can't pay him. I have 55 User surveys to challenge our assumptions; one tested prototype that kind of failed that we pivoted/ and changes to pivoted prototype that we're re-coding, I have 16 LOI's from Companies who want to pilot the pivoted product (B2B2C); Should I raise capital now (wish we could wait until after pilots and convert them to paying customers) just to pay him so I don't lose him? Thx for doing OH.
royakhosravifar's profile thumbnail
@Pam Kostka- Operator Collective is a very exciting VC model. Are there such models for early-stage, high-impact, biotech companies?
pamkostka's profile thumbnail
The Collective Venture Model that Operator Collective pioneered is gaining momentum. Unfortunately, I'm not in bio-tech so I'm not familiar with any but asking on Twitter is always a helpful process given Twitter is a visible venture platform.
yihuang's profile thumbnail
Hi Pam, thank you for sharing and hosting office hours! Being a very efficiency & process driven person, I'm particularly curious about your perspective of scaling up companies, both for-profit and non-profit. If you were to give top 3 factors that help/foster scaling up an enterprise start-up, what would it be? Could you give some examples of your past experience and tell us a bit more about why you think these are important factors? I'm particularly intrigued by any company SaaS as well.
MadelineKeulen's profile thumbnail
Thank you @pamkostka! I've benefitted so much from your work at All Raise and am thrilled for all the impact I know you'll continue to have across the ecosystem. I'd love to hear your perspective from an LP lens on what makes emerging managers stand out. Separately - what we can do to bring more diversity into the LP ecosystem? Are there current initiatives you know of that help educate women on how to allocate into venture?
pamkostka's profile thumbnail
Love what you and the Victress team are doing!As you know, VC is going through its own disruption at the moment which is good. Emerging Managers stand out when they have a unique perspective to tap into underserved and ignored investment areas where they can create outsized returns or have a disruptive approach that ignores the tried and true approaches to venture. I firmly believe they are better when they build themselves as diverse teams as their networks and thus access to founders will be more diverse.LP diversity is truly the crux and we need to get innovative here. I joined Operator Collective because it was founded on the premise that operators were critical to building great venture backed companies, yet they were completely absent from the venture model. We pioneered The Collective Venture Model where active phenomenal operators who are actively building the iconic companies of today could become LPs and thus are (literally) invested in the success of the portfolio companies, lending their expertise and advice to help them succeed across every stage of their journey. 150+ operators learn and engage in venture, while still being active in their day jobs, and founders see the value of the investment from OpCo as getting a dream team of advisors across every stage. We built our LP base intentionally for diversity as well -- 90% are women and 40% are people of color -- and not surprisingly we've seen the trickle down impact of the reach of those diverse networks -- who generate over 50% of our deal flow -- in the representation in the founders we back.
annadewargully's profile thumbnail
Hey Pam, would love to learn more about your work. I run a company called Tidal Equality, we invented a system called the Equity Sequence (think Lean but for building more equitable organizations) which we currently deploy in enterprises around the world via someone else’s technology, but we are just gearing up to build our own SaaS product to meet customer demand. We are founded by two women entrepreneurs and are looking for a couple of really special investors who get what we are trying to accomplish in the world. We’ve been a revenue generating company since day one, and we are serving lots of clients globally, which is great but is also making carving out the time to fundraise challenging. I have two questions for you. The first is would you be open to meeting with me given the strong alignment between our work and yours? The second is how would you recommend we go about efficiently trying to expand the pool of socially minded investors we know - we currently know very few investors because we have been so focused on client service. Any networks, slack channels, events that might be aligned with us that you can suggest? Ooh and a third question, what makes you a next generation VC? All the best, Anna
pamkostka's profile thumbnail
Recommend that you plug into resources like All Raise (allraise.com) or Graham & Walker (https://grahamwalker.com/ and investment firm that also runs the largest female founder accelerator) to help you explore your funding options and learn how to most effectively pitch. These resources can eliminate a lot of wasted time and effort in your process and make sure you are "game ready" when pitching. Both include incredibly effective networks that you can plug into and learn from similar founder CEOs.
rachelbraunscherl's profile thumbnail
@pamkostka Thank you for all you do. I am an angel investor and entrepreneur, and have watched your work. I would love to get your opinion on the optimal mix of bricks and mortar and DTC to drive acquisition.
valemanuel's profile thumbnail
I love this! I am having a hard time connecting with female angels. I have a new fem tech brand and I feel like I’m manspalining on all my talks so far with mentors. Two VC calls set up this week and I would love to know if you had trouble finding female angels? Where do we find real ones? I admire your expertise!
pamkostka's profile thumbnail
There are several resources available. Some immediate resources to check out: - All Raise has a network of women in venture (allraise.org) and gives the inside track on how to pitch and interact with VCs- Amanda Robson @ Cowboy ventures has a list of active female angels - Graham & Walker (https://grahamwalker.com/), previously Female Founder Alliance, runs the largest female founder acceleratorVCs hang out on Twitter so you can stay current there by searching for resources. Most importantly, find your CEO founding peers through forums list this. Networking is the tired and true model for finding trusted, respectful and safe angels.
Jacki's profile thumbnail
Thanks for participating @pamkostka! I'm inspired by the path you've taken and your success.I'm employee #3 at my husband's startup, which is largely based on technology I developed earlier in my academic research career. So we are not female-founded but I consider this company my baby as much as his =).I wonder if you have any experience or thoughts about the challenges inherent in scaling a TeS (tech-enabled services) company, vs more traditional enterprise SaaS. We are facing a long sales cycle in our large-pharma customer base, and so we don't get immediate feedback on what's working or not. For example, I'm thinking about what metrics to track as we grow and invest in our product-service offering: gross margin? customer satisfaction?Would appreciate any pointers to resources to help think more strategically about product development in this TeS space.
dj's profile thumbnail
Hi Pam thank you for sharing your journey. I’ve taken an unconventional path from government city planner to venture and seeking to continue to excel. Can you share what skills you acquired during from your time in product management to marketing/sales that set you up for success as CEO. I’d of course love to hear any essential skills you gained outside of these capacity as well.
pamkostka's profile thumbnail
A multi-functional career path to CEO gave me deeper understanding of how the various functional areas of a company need to work together for success.  The analogy of assembling the  best pieces and parts of an airplane is important, but if you can't align them to fly together in formation, you don't get lift-off applies.  Take every opportunity you can to walk in the shoes of other functions.Two skills I learned along the way that I still use every day:1). Management through influence.  Management through control is the least effective approach and philosophy.  The ability to share, communicate and sell where you are headed so that others sign on and can utilize their talents to help fulfill the vision and strategy of your company is key.  I learned this early on as a Product Manager where I was often the hub of the wheel, continuously selling the functions that didn't report to me -- engineering, marketing and sales  -- on why my proposed product direction was the right one.  2). Communication.  At every stage communication matters, but it ratchets significantly once it's more difficult to "fit in a room". Given the pandemic and a move to remote teamwork, communication is even more critical.  As a marketer I always asked, who is my audience, what's the purpose of this communication, what do I want my audience to do, and how do I want them to feel?  It built strong communication muscles that I use internally and externally as a CEO.
dj's profile thumbnail
Thank you so much for sharing and I love the aviation analogy (I’m a transportation geek). I’m in a technical space and specialize in soft skills like Comms and marketing and feel like I may be drifting away, so this is super affirming. Thank yooou Pam!
iasha's profile thumbnail
Hello @pamkostka, thank you for offering your time! I am a co-founder at a startup that is an AI-driven SAAS platform focused on the personal safety space. Our TAM is very large and revenue generating at the pre-seed stage. I feel as if a lot of companies see that value in cyber security by not necessarily physical safety. From a VC's perspective what would help you for VC's to see the value in the personal safety industry and get them excited about what we are doing?
pamkostka's profile thumbnail
Show vs tell is the most compelling evidence in venture. Make the problem come alive in stories from your users and prospective customers. Cyber security is a real threat in the daily headlines so the problem is felt and seen. While you can't create headlines, highlight the voices of your target market and show how they are collaborating with you, the significance of the pain they feel and are willing to pay for what you have built (e.g. is it a vitamin or a pain killer. Pain killers are more attractive to fund!)
jennyeversole's profile thumbnail
@pamkostka thank you so much for your AMA feature! I'm really inspired by your professional and life experiences. Question 1: What is the best way to achieve product market fit in an early stage startup? Question 2: What are the best ways to build community in the early stages of your startup? Do you recommend investing a lot of time social media to build community in the early stages of a startup or wait until you have good traction and resources to manage social media? Thanks for taking the time to answer any of these questions.
pamkostka's profile thumbnail
Hi Jenny! Not sure your stage or focus (enterprise, consumer, other), but PMF is like achieving any other goal, list the objectives you need to achieve with the KPIs -- both the quantitative (NPS, adoption rate, retention/churn) and qualitative (WoM, other inbounds) -- that you need to hit, chart a course based on hypothesis and then iterate like crazy. Having goals and metrics avoids any moments of delusion and helps prioritize on a doing the right few things vs all things. Common pitfalls to watch out for:1) Over-engineering the product: perfection is the enemy of progress and you want to be out interacting with your customers. Test and validate before you write more code. Listen more than you talk. Customers won't tell you the feature, listen for the pain point and how you can solve it.2) ID where your discomfort zones are and how to work around them. Surround yourself with experts who can help as advisors or team members.3). In the enterprise world, you and your co-founders are the first sales team. But WOM unlocks the flywheel you are looking for. Community matters but how you build it is unique to your business and requires just as much thought as you product. Social does not equal community. Love the constructs from People & Company (https://www.people-and.com/) for a thoughtful process for building community.
jennyeversole's profile thumbnail
@pamkostka, thank you for your thoughtful response. I really appreciate it and think your advice was on point!
MarinaRomashko's profile thumbnail
Hi @pamkostka - thank you for sharing your exciting journey and passion. It is inspiring to read about your path. I am a co-founder of tech startup www.heylayer.con in Web 3.0, and we are 3 co-founders with 2 being women co-founders. We are looking for women investors as our investors are only men. It will be great to have women onboard and we are having hard time finding women investors who are interested in Web 3.0/Blockchain/NFT space. If you have some information about women VC are interested in Web 3.0 startups please share. Thank you in advance, Marina Romashko
pamkostka's profile thumbnail
Congrats on starting LAYER Technologies, we need amazing women founders in the Web3 ecosystem! Applaud the thoughtful way you are thoughtfully building your company from the ground up including getting diversity in your cap table. Check out some of these amazing investors who are focused exclusively on Web3: Flori Ventures and PKO Investments which is an angel syndicate . Also the team over at Harlem Capital is compiling Diversity Report in Web 3 including a list of Black, LatinX and Women investors. Still WIP but follow Nicole DeTammaso on Twitter if you don't already!