There are roles and even entire industries where being invisible is a plus, or even a requirement. Think day-of event coordinating, wedding photography and onsite fixing for films, and the like. When I’ve done these things in the past, I’ve been pretty decent at stealth-mode, relishing work behind the scenes. But venture capital is a different beast.
February 19, 2015
Hazeltine: Going Visible as a Woman in VC
Why women in entrepreneurship should get out of stealth mode.
I’ll unpack that statement a little.
Outing myself as someone who’s actively looking for interesting startups allows me to talk with people with big ideas. That’s brain food and potential deal flow. There’s no hiding once you utter the words “we invest” anywhere there are entrepreneurs and beer—read any networking event, ever. With “The Startup Factory” scrawled on my name tag, I’m the face of that potential resource.
Here’s the rub. Being that face means who you are is right out there next to what you do. The two are related, but the second half, the identity piece, has some tricky implications in a field where most investors generally look a little different than me.
Speculation in the New York Times last week that activist investors target female Fortune 500 CEOs points to the potential double bind for women in public business roles. Stay below the radar, and your leadership can be called into question; put your hand up and the same thing can happen.
Around the Triangle, we’re doing better on the visibility of women in venture finance—on top of the quantifiable departure from national trends. Still, saying that I’m on the investment team at a seed fund has implications, some of which have poked at my imposter syndrome. I’m not alone. The blogs female VCs and high flight women in startups—women like Julie Zhuo, a product design director at Facebook—write eloquently about loving and being excellent at what they do, but at times still feeling like outsiders.
Those sensations pale in comparison to the benefits of speaking up about what I do.
Every time I explain what I’m “up to these days” I have a chance to tap into my tribe, to use the term as Seth Godin coined to describe how humans organically congregate around ideas that matter to them. A passing conversation in the grocery store line can turn into an introduction, can turn into coffee, and then a species of solidarity. This web has connected me with college friends who ended up founding highly-valued second-hand furniture markets, others who are running innovation spaces in DC, older West Coast VCs who can show me the ropes, and a tech lady mafia who have helped me with due diligence. That’s worth the occasional question about whether I’m the marketing person or part of the investment team.
Having stealth mode somewhere I can access it doesn’t hurt, but neither does some time in the sun. My last post focused on how the Triangle is bucking the very un-pretty national trends about women in venture. I’d love to see that reality drive us collectively out of stealth mode to talk more readily about what we do and who we are.