On growth stage investing, diversity in VC, and mentorship with Jocelyn Kinsey at DFJ GrowthFeatured
DFJ Growth partner @JocelynKinsey invests in companies creating the next generation of category defining businesses, including Ring (acquired by Amazon), Collective Health, Helix, Mapbox, Splice, and more. Before joining DFJ Growth in 2014, Jocelyn focused on alternative investments at J.P. Morgan and was a member of the founding team at StartX, Stanford’s student startup accelerator. Jocelyn graduated from Stanford University with a BS in Management Science and Engineering. In her role as a growth-stage investor and an active member of All Raise, Jocelyn focuses on bringing value to companies moving through the scaling stage of development, increasing diversity in the venture capital community, and being a mentor to the next wave of investors. We recently caught up with Jocelyn to learn more about her role and insights as an investor.Q: How do you bring value to growth stage companies?As startup companies enter the growth stage, many of the processes that worked before are no longer effective and may cause the company to stall, or even worse, derail the success they’ve worked hard to achieve. As a growth stage investor, we advise founders and their teams on navigating growing pains and implementing processes that support scaling. There are many moving parts for a company experiencing hyper-growth, and our team has a deep bench of experience as operators, entrepreneurs, and investors to support them at every turn. I can honestly say, I don’t think there is anything our investment partners haven’t seen before! We draw on our collective experience to support portfolio companies with organizational development and hiring, go-to-market tactics, product roadmapping, customer and partner introductions, industry-wide benchmarking and knowledge sharing, and preparing for an IPO. Q: Name a project you’ve worked on that had the greatest impact on you, and what did you learn from the experience?There are many experiences that have been important in my development as an investor.My first investment was with Ring, our portfolio company that was acquired by Amazon for over $1 billion in 2018. Through Ring, I had a front row seat into the complete life cycle of an investment – from sourcing to due diligence to board governance to exit – which was a tremendous vantage point that continues to serve me in helping other portfolio companies. I learned the importance of bringing the human component to board discussions and recognizing that while there are patterns across growth-stage companies, each situation is unique. The private markets have long feedback cycles where exits may not materialize for several years. Therefore, it is crucial to have intermediate KPIs to track individually and as a team. We track each company we meet, regardless of whether or not we invest, to better analyze investment successes, investment failures, and misses. Each quarter, we review our anti-portfolio, or the companies we passed on, and note patterns and other learnings. Together with our team, we share actionable takeaways across industries to better identify and follow technology and market trends.Q: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self at the start of your VC career?Reflecting on my career, there are a couple points that come to mind. First, I’m thankful I made the time to focus on building my network early on. These relationships have been invaluable to my success as an investor. When it comes to relationship building, I’d advise quality over quantity and authenticity over transactional interactions. Second, learning complex skills of any kind takes time. There’s no specific formula for what makes a good investment and how to be a helpful board member. It’s important to be a sponge for new information, but also be patient in gathering, retaining and applying what you learn over time. Venture capital investing is an apprentice business that is learned through experience and mentorship over years, so patience and observation is paramount to the learning process. Q: What is the importance of mentoring women in the finance/investing world?I have been active in All Raise since it first formed and am inspired by the community of women pushing for improved diversity. The impact All Raise has had in starting crucial discussions and change across the industry is deeply felt by all women in VC and tech. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have mentors at DFJ Growth and across the industry that have championed me and passed on the tools of the trade. I believe its important to give back and mentor the next generation of women entering venture capital, similar to how so many mentors have invested in me over the years. When I talk with women, I often share the importance of finding and building a genuine relationship with a mentor, so they can truly become invested in your growth over the long term. By having an ongoing and personal relationship, a mentor can better provide tailored advice along your full career path rather than one-time, generic advice. Looking ahead, I’m excited about the All Raise programs that are focused on nurturing women investors towards partner positions, especially given the high rates of churn in the industry. Q: What were the most surprising learnings from starting StartX?StartX was where I initially became fascinated with Silicon Valley, venture capital and entrepreneurship. It’s where I first learned how transformative technology is across industries and how tech can be used to make the world a better place. I was part of the founding team at StartX that built the initial accelerator program, which included developing the program structure, application process, community, and mentorship benefits. We wanted to learn from successful accelerator programs, and so I cold emailed 50+ founders who had previously gone through Y Combinator and TechStars to hear their perspective on what works well and doesn’t work well. I was amazed by the number of founders that responded and were willing to share advice on how to best organize the program. Many of these founders raised their hand to participate as mentors. One of the beautiful things about Silicon Valley is the openness to mentor and pass down learnings with the next generation of entrepreneurs, something which I discovered firsthand at StartX.