On community building, investing, and the future of VC: a conversation with Kate McAndrew at BoltFeatured

I spoke with Kate McAndrew, an investor at Bolt who focuses on pre-seed and seed stage startups at the intersection of the digital and physical world. Kate is also the founder of Women in Hardware, a community of women and non-binary people building the future of hardware. Kate shared her advice and perspective on community building, company evaluation, and the future of VC. Investing Shortly after graduating from university, Kate worked as an AmeriCorps service member with Habitat for Humanity. A fellow volunteer seemed to know how to build or fix anything. When she asked how they learned these skills, they said “I was never afraid to open the box. Most people are afraid to open the box.” This statement stuck with her and has informed how she approaches investing in pre-seed founders across the economy. “As an investor, it is crucial to stay humble and not have an ego,” Kate shares. (Of course, most investors are known for having huge egos.) She believes it’s not her job to predict the future, but rather to identify the people who will, and then to back them with conviction. “There’s a lot of pressure to know it all when you’re starting out in VC. Embracing curiosity over omniscience is a faster path to knowledge.” Rather than focusing on knowing it all, Kate focused on building a network of experts and allies who could help her cut through the noise of critical questions. “If you approach each conversation with genuine curiosity and a growth mindset focused on learning rather than proving something to others, you’ll get the heart of the matter much more quickly.” In other words, you accumulate experiences that help you make better decisions over time. You will not be an expert immediately, but patience, reflection, and intentional work will steadily improve your knowledge base and skills. Community BuildingKate founded Women in Hardware in 2015, based on her personal experience starting out in VC. She felt isolated and disconnected; while she met a lot of people, each interaction felt like a one-off, too transactional. After sharing her perspective with other women in the industry, she realized many of them felt the same way. Many of them were also the only women on their teams and were looking to meet and cultivate authentic, long term relationships with other women in their field. Kate put together a happy hour, inviting the most interesting women in hardware she knew, asking them each in turn to bring one other woman or non-binary person. The initial happy hour lasted into the wee hours of the morning; it was clearly filling an authentic need for community. To scale the group, Kate partnered with other attendees to host events at their companies. Each interested woman would advocate for resources internally (drinks, snacks, etc), which distributed the work of finding sponsorship and running event operations. This also helped Women in Hardware grow as each company promoted the event to their networks, folding in new interest areas based on the host’s industry vertical - like aerospace or consumer products. Rather than promoting the event aggressively through social media, Kate trusted the power of word of mouth. This helped her build a long term, high quality community rather than a short term, overhyped buzzy group. Moreover, word of mouth proved to be much stronger messaging (relative to generic virtual pubs), and more effective at truly engaging people to attend and keep coming back. Kate has kept Women in Hardware events offline and in-person to foster a strong sense of connection. Each event is capped at 100 attendees, with the goal of keeping events inclusive but intimate enough to encourage open sharing. Her only rules for each event are 1) no beer and pizza, 2) feature a woman in leadership from the sponsoring organization, and 3) content should focus on an area of the speakers’ expertise rather than exclusively on gender as a topic. This keeps the content fresh. While she originally set out to solve a personal desire for connection, Kate says Women in Hardware has also become a powerful professional tool. She’s invested in multiple founders she met through the events, and additionally, the group has helped her investment portfolio hire more diversely. Future of Venture VCs have the unique role of quite literally ‘voting’ for different versions of the future. Looking ahead, Kate is excited to see a greater focus on founders seeking to rebuild the economy in a more equitable way: “Transformational companies will be led by transformational leaders. I’m dedicating my career to finding them and giving them everything I’ve got.”
PaulinaSzyzdek's profile thumbnail
This is great! Thank you for sharing :)
jessicali's profile thumbnail
Thank you for the read!
michellewong793's profile thumbnail
This is awesome. Especially love no the no pizza and beer rule. I personally enjoy pizza and beer, but for sake of deleting the whole tech bro trash from my life, I’m absolutely willing to sacrifice. XD
jessicali's profile thumbnail
Yes! I love it!