People

Women In Tech ConferenceJune 28, 2018

For the inaugural Gentry Women in Tech Issue we turned to two extraordinary women who are synonymous with “getting things done” in Silicon Valley: Jesse Draper and Jenny Dearborn. These dynamic ladies have forged a path, not only for themselves in the high stakes world of high tech, but also for encouraging and promoting countless individuals to push past their potential and discover excellence.

The Women in Tech Issue Guest Editor, Jesse Draper, founder/partner of Halogen Ventures as well as the creator and host of the 2015 Emmy-nominated television series, The Valley Girl Show, is a 4th-generation venture capitalist focused on early- stage investing in female-founded consumer technology. Draper spent a year curating a list of fascinating female founders, VCs, and entrepreneurs for the issue in your hands today.

Jenny Dearborn is SAP’s Executive Vice President, Global Head: Talent, Leadership and Learning. She is an internationally recognized executive expert in Human Resource Management, and a sought-after thought leader and speaker, globally supporting customers and organizations in their journeys towards the digital future of work. She is also a best-selling author, columnist, and blogger, superhero fan, athlete, artist, wife, and mother. When Dearborn learned of our Women in Tech Issue, she supported us immediately and brought SAP on board to host the first ever Gentry Women In Tech Conference on June 28 at SAP’s beautiful Palo Alto campus.

We are grateful for the support and leadership demonstrated by these amazing women, many of whom will be on stage at the Gentry Women In Tech Conference, and hope that you’ll enjoy reading their fascinating stories in the profiles below. And a special thanks to our sponsors!

 

Photo: Jack Hutcheson

Meeting Leah Busque at Fuel Capital’s South of Market offices is a whirlwind experience. Busque’s energy is palpable and it’s clear that her coworkers are invigorated by her presence. It’s precisely this energy and drive that propelled Busque’s brainchild, TaskRabbit, onto the scene in 2008 and fostered its growth for nearly a decade.

Born in the small town of Shirley, Massachusetts, to a career Air Force officer and a stay-at-home mom, Busque had dreams of being a dancer. “When I went off to university at Sweet Briar College, I thought I’d be a dance major,” she says, “but quickly switched to computer science and engineering. I loved the idea of building things.” Upon graduation, Busque went to work for Ray Ozzie’s (former CTO of Microsoft) Iris Associates, the original developer of Lotus Notes. “Lotus bought Iris and then IBM bought Lotus,” she remembers, “and I began my career at IBM. I thought I might spend my whole career there. I was offered a choice at one point to take the managerial track or engineering, and I stuck with engineering.”

Then, on a chilly February night in Boston, Busque’s life changed. “My husband and I were on the way out to dinner and had called a taxi to pick us up, and we realized that we were out of dog food for our 100-pound Labrador named Coby. Now remember it’s 2008, the iPhone has just come out, but there is no app store. People were not building location awareness into their apps, no one was leveraging Facebook [and other social media] yet. But because I was an engineer, I got really excited about these technologies: social, location, and mobile. I was passionate about the idea that you could mash these things up to get real things done. Waiting for the cab, we thought there really should be a simple solution. If a site existed where we could connect with someone in the neighborhood, we would have been willing to pay for their time. Maybe they’d even be at the grocery store right now. So I grabbed my phone and I typed in what I thought that site might be called. I saw that www.RunMyErrand.com was available and I bought it for $6.99 on the spot. I hated the name 20 minutes later, by the way.” But it was the start of what would eventually become TaskRabbit.

“The first year and a half, we bootstrapped everything ourselves,” Busque continues. “After the first four months, I quit my job at IBM and started working fulltime on building the site. I spoke to everyone about it, and a friend told me that her friend Scott might be interested in the idea. I emailed Scott (who turned out to be Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith) and he emailed me back! I was stunned. We met, hit it off, and Scott introduced me to some of our first angel investors.”

Busque’s next transformational step was to apply to a 12-week incubator program hosted by Facebook. She was accepted. “It was my first time on the West Coast ever,” she says. “I immediately fell in love with the area, but had to fly back to Boston to keep the business running. I stepped off the plane at Logan and received a call saying VC Tim Ferriss could meet with me back in Silicon Valley. At that point, spending $700 on a plane ticket was going to be tough, but I decided to brute force it and met with Tim, which turned into a second meeting, which led to our first $1 million round of funding.”

Back in Boston, Busque launched with a focus on the single square-mile neighborhood of Charlestown. “I had to target the Charlestown mothers club,” notes Busque. “These women were involved in everything and ideal candidates to hire ‘taskers.’ I met with the president and the 900 Charlestown Club members agreed to letting us run a beta program. I quickly realized how big trust was going to be, so I personally interviewed every ‘tasker’ we hired. We ran background checks.”

At that point, Busque’s company grew by word of mouth, spreading neighborhood by neighborhood. “2008 was a terrible time to start a business on one hand,” points out Busque, “but ultimately good for TaskRabbit. With the stock market crash and unemployment levels rising, people were looking for ways to supplement their income. The mission of Task-Rabbit was to empower small entrepreneurs from day one.”

Entrepreneur Busque continued to grow the company. In 2010 she changed the name to TaskRabbit and moved the headquarters to San Francisco, ultimately raising $50 million in funding over the next six years. There were ups, downs, and a reinvention, but TaskRabbit continued to expand. Busque brought on Stacy Brown-Philpot (a Google alum) and she herself took on the Chairman role while Brown-Philpot grew the company as CEO. In September 2017, IKEA purchased TaskRabbit.

Today, Busque is enjoying a second career as a VC and General Partner at Fuel Capital, working closely with entrepreneurs and leveraging her resources, connections, experience, and expertise to carve a shortcut for founders—so their energy is spent on building the future, instead of knocking on doors.


Written by Stefanie Lingle Beasley

Photo: Benjamin Schultz

Ever noticed how much of parenthood involves simply getting the kids from A to B . . . then back to A, then over to C? Many days, it’s not all that simple.

Joanna McFarland and her co-founders, Janelle McGlothlin and Carolyn Yashari Becher, were dealing with the same dilemma as they coordinated transportation for their combined 8 kids who were attending 5 schools and participating in some 20 activities. “We were really struggling as full-time working moms with how to make this all work. For me, I felt guilty telling my son he couldn’t do karate because I had no way of getting him there,” McFarland says from Los Angeles, where their solution—HopSkipDrive—is based.

The ride-sharing app geared especially for kids’ transportation needs launched in beta in 2014 and now serves Los Angeles, Orange County, the Bay Area, and, as of 2018, Denver. “We designed it from the beginning with our own kids in mind,” McFarland says. “What would we need to see to feel comfortable?”

The answers included “caredrivers” who are not only thoroughly vetted, background checked, and fingerprinted, but also are at least 23 years of age with five years of caregiving experience. Other moms, teachers, and nannies—the same people we trust our children with on a regular basis—are also providing these rides (in inspected vehicles). “We do far more than most families do,” McFarland says, “and we didn’t stop there.” Indeed, additional safety procedures include an orange-shirt dress code, customizable rides, two-factor authentication, parent notifications all along the way, as well as “a team of safety specialists monitoring every single ride,” she says.

The company also now partners directly with schools and nonprofits. “These aren’t just rides; this is access to activities and school for a lot of kids,” says McFarland, whose two sons are now 10 and 7 and currently participate in karate, drama, baseball, and soccer, not to mention school itself. “As they get older, what ends up happening is, you need somebody at 3 on Monday, 1:30 on Tuesday, and 4 o’clock on Friday. And it’s really hard to hire for that. You end up having a full-time babysitter just to make sure that you’ve got those few driving times covered. What we really are is this ad hoc driving babysitter when you need her for just the amount of time that you need her.”

The benefits to families go well beyond the rides themselves. “We really are enabling families to do things they couldn’t do before,” McFarland says of parents who can now go for a promotion or get back to work in the first place, and of kids who can now get to specialized programs and activities. “We’re providing families and schools peace of mind that the transportation piece of it is handled.” Look for that peace of mind to drive into new markets very soon.

Meanwhile, back home in Los Angeles, McFarland—who has been in product management and business development for various tech companies in the area, including WeddingChannel and Green Dot, and is a mentor with Female Founder Office Hours—also sees an open road for other women in tech. “I think there are a lot of women solving really interesting problems that affect everyone,” she says, just as HopSkipDrive has done. For women in tech in L.A. specifically, McFarland calls the landscape inclusive and collaborative. “L.A. is diverse geographically, it’s diverse demographically, it’s diverse from an industry perspective, so I think the startup community reflects that,” she says of founders of color and other female founders. “It’s a community that really wants to see everybody succeed and thrive.”

Thanks to McFarland and her co-founders, tomorrow’s generation of innovators and collaborators can also get a ride. —Jennifer Massoni Pardini


Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

Photo: Jack Hutcheson

Talk to any nursing mom who’s had to pump, and she’ll likely exclaim: “There must be a better way!” Janica Alvarez was once that new mom, readying to return to work full-time after her maternity leave and wanting to continue providing breast milk for her infant son. “Upon first use of that device,” Alvarez says of a standard pump she found to be both painful and inefficient, “I was really underwhelmed not only with the design, but with the functionality.”

At first, Alvarez thought her struggle was unique, but when she started talking to other moms, she learned nearly all were frustrated with some aspect of the pumping process—from having too many parts to clean to not receiving transparent data. So she decided to figure out that better way.

Indeed, she has, co-founding Naya Health with her husband, Jeff Alvarez, who happened to be a mechanical engineer specializing in medical devices when he took a closer look at the pump Alvarez was using at the time. He was surprised at how basic it really was, especially considering how long pumps had been on the market. Indeed, breast pump technology hadn’t advanced in decades, so Alvarez and her husband took that evolution into their own hands. “From a technical perspective, he was very motivated to try to re-engineer the entire architecture,” Alvarez says of Jeff, who is now Senior Director of R&D. Noting a surgical procedure that used a hydraulic system for targeted suction, Jeff wondered if that same movement of water could be used to extract milk.

And that’s how the first water-based breast pump was born, setting it apart from the pack of air-based systems on the market—and officially joining that market in early 2017.

The Alvarezes did their research, talking to over 5,000 women in order to focus on the features their target market most desired: comfort, efficiency, and portability. The use of water with medical-grade silicon makes it a more comfortable and efficient experience—one that further mimics nursing an actual baby rather than a vacuum—which was their intention. It’s also smart; the pump is connected to an optional companion app that tracks pumping sessions, helps manage “milk stash,” and more. “The goal of the app is to help mom understand what lifestyle factors affect her milk production,” Alvarez explains. In a similar vein, Naya Health’s lifestyle blog, The Loop, features curated content from moms and specialists for added mom-to-mom empathy and practical advice. As Alvarez, now a mom to three sons, ages 9, 8, and 7, says, “Our whole vision is to help families improve their nutritional health.”

And Naya Health is innovating beyond engineering when it comes to providing more flexi-bility for women. A subscription service is currently in beta so women can simply rent the pump. This year, Naya is also rolling out a Thrive Membership Program for corporations, whereby benefits packages would supply products as well as services, from executive coaching to nutritional support. In that way, Naya is part of a growing movement, especially here in Sili-con Valley, to better accommodate “a talent superforce,” as Alvarez calls moms returning to work outside the home.

All moms, however, should feel included. “I feel like Naya is really advocating for all nursing women,” Alvarez says, no matter which pump they may choose and whether they need a solution for the workplace or while they take time at home. “Because I think every woman deserves a better pumping experience.”


Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

Photo: Jack Hutcheson

Roseanne Wincek credits her high-school education with launching her into her tech-based career. “I attended Hathaway Brown in Cleveland,” she shares. “It was a progressive school that fostered a global love of learning. There was a math and science focus and general feeling that it was cool to be smart. I wish more kids had that opportunity.”

For college, Wincek set off to Berkeley for a BS in chemistry. “I was in nerd heaven,” she jokes. “I ended up staying and getting a Master’s in Biophysics.” She entered the PhD program and simultaneously cofounded an early Facebook app called imthemusic. She soon took stock of the often solitary life of a scientist and realized that she wanted more human interaction. “I was an extrovert in a lonely lab,” she explains.

Wincek turned her focus towards business and earned her MBA from Stanford, graduating in 2012. While in school she served as the Co-President of the VC Club and Chair of the Social Committee. She joined Canaan Partners, where she invested in companies including Metacloud (acquired by CSCO), Turo, and UNIFi Software. She also has been a Product Manager at NextBio (Acquired by Illumnia) and an Associate at McKinsey & Company in New York.

The dynamic Wincek sees venture as the academic side of tech. “But,” she points out, “it’s the most fun type of academia. You’re working to build models of what the world will look like with much better data collection. I think that’s insanely fun. I get to learn for a living.” After two and a half years at Canaan, IVP came calling for Wincek. IVP focuses on late-stage investing. “I had thought of myself as an early-stage person, but soon became intrigued by later stage,” she says. To date, she’s worked with Compass, Glossier, Lulus, Qubole, and TransferWise and serves as Board Observer for KeepTruckin and MasterClass.

“In late stage I think there’s more creativity, you get more invested in the relationships,” she notes. “We’re really excited about MasterClass. It’s this awesome group of courses taught by people who are at the top of their fields—for example, Gordon Ramsay teaches cooking, Annie Leibowitz teaches photography, Malcolm Gladwell teaches writing, and so on…”
Compass is another one of Wincek’s in-vestments. “Robert Reffkin is such an amazing CEO,” she enthuses. “He was raised by a single mother who was a real estate broker. Her job enabled her to provide for her family but it had flexibility. Reffkin has created a technology-driven real estate platform that is combining exceptional agents and best-in-class technology.”

In her rare and precious spare time, Win-cek loves to cook and entertain, especially for family. “I come from a family of six and I have 11 nieces and nephews,” she says. “I bought the Gordon Ramsay MasterClass and immedi- ately got to work—cooking is chemistry, and I love it!”


— Written by Stefanie Lingle Beasley

Photo: Jack Hutcheson

Clara Sieg hasn’t been wasting any time. After graduating from Stanford University in 2008, she passed on the expense of business school and went to work in financial banking. (Most will recall that 2008 wasn’t the luckiest year to enter the job market.) But Sieg credits hard work and luck to her success today.

With a few former colleagues, she set out to start their own restructuring firm, based on the premise that massive bankruptcies were on the horizon. “In reality, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was the economic stimulus package approved by Congress in 2009, was very effective and most companies were able to refinance and avoid major restructuring and bankruptcy processes,” she explains. “It was great for the U.S. economy, but counter to the thesis we were pursuing.”

Sieg soon teamed up with a former boss at a fund formation and secondary trading platform. While there, she got to know Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution, and co-founder of AOL, which is where the luck came into play—and a lot more hard work. “I helped work with the team to raise our first growth fund and then later joined full-time as a member of the investment team to help launch our $200 million venture fund,” Sieg says of her early role. “At that point, we invested in a number of exciting companies, including the likes of ZipCar, Revolution Money, and Everyday Health.” At 26, she and fellow partner David Golden opened Revolution’s San Francisco office. Today, at 31, she is a partner.

While Silicon Valley may be the capital of VC, Sieg and Revolution have always seen opportunity beyond the Bay. “Part of our strategy is investing dollars everywhere, not just focused on the Bay Area, so I’m on a plane quite a lot,” she says of portfolio companies that often take her to New York, Washington, D.C., Denver, and those the fund recently closed in Chicago and Los Angeles. In addition to being eclectic, their approach is also concentrated, with Sieg and her partners working hands-on with select companies each year rather than taking the “more spray-and-pray approach” common in VC, Sieg explains.

An “old boys’ club” is also common in VC. “Because there are so few women in venture, as a female investor you naturally tend to be introduced to more of the female founders,” she says with a nod to something of a “new girls’ club.” “Regardless of whether a founder is female or not, we partner with disruptive companies attacking massive markets with the opportunity to become industry leaders—many of them just so happen to be run by women.” Examples include Framebridge, Playa, PolicyGenius, and Revolution Foods. “I tend to lack sympathy for firms that seem to think there aren’t opportunities in backing women, be-cause we’ve found the opposite,” she adds.

Sieg does have three pieces of advice for female investors coming up behind her: don’t be afraid to ask for help, have confidence and a point of view, and remember the power of a network. “The more you can work on growing your own network and calling on that network—but most importantly giving back to it so you’re able to call on it whenever you need to—the more uplift and opportunities that will come your way,” she stresses.

The one thing you won’t find Sieg calling on, however, is a local cell phone number. While she lives in San Francisco and grew up visiting extended family in Los Altos, Sieg is a Pittsburgh native through and through, right down to her 412 area code.


— Written by Stefanie Lingle Beasley

Photo: Jack Hutcheson

Picture a typical sports fan. Now, picture the advertising and media typical of sports coverage. Are you picturing a woman? Is that advertising catering to her? We didn’t think so.

Research in fact shows that 51% of American women are interested in sports, explains Ashley Wellington-Fahey, founder of San Francisco-based The Relish, which has been “serving up sports for female fans” since 2016. A Seattle native, Wellington-Fahey is an avid fan herself—Go Mariners, Seahawks, and Golden State Warriors! (She switched allegiance after the Sonics were sold off.) As a woman, she also represents nearly 50% of baseball fans, the full half of the NFL’s fan base, and a third of the NBA’s quickly growing female fan base. But as she points out, most sports sites and platforms have a user interface and brand voice that skew masculine and don’t cater to women, or capture that potential advertising revenue.

With her experience working in sports, with sponsorships with the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants, as well as startups, including a long run with Pandora, Wellington-Fahey set out to change the game—by changing the landscape for women watching. “This problem I saw had a lot to do with the portrayal of female fans, lack of access to content information, and a general lack of experiences in the offline and online worlds geared toward female fan mindset,” she says. As a solution, she founded The Relish “from my own personal pain point of being a fan and not feeling there was anything out there speaking directly with female fans.”

The Relish works by “elevating the voice of women who care about sports,” she says, with video programming directly from the female fan perspective. “Rather than talking at her, we talk with her by giving her an opportunity to be the storyteller,” she explains. For its newsletter and social media platforms, women share stories of their history as sports fans, game-day attire, and timely or humorous sports info.

Today, four women are running the platform while the female point-of-view is also reflected among investors and advisors, adding up to what Wellington-Fahey calls “phenomenal women who are either a part of this or by our sides supporting this”—while bringing their own respective sports and tech experience (from EPSN, the NFL, and Twitch, to name a few). Together, they are dispelling the myth that women are secondary sports spectators (as well as the sexist assumption that The Relish focuses on women’s sports—it doesn’t, though Wellington-Fahey believes deeply in equal treatment and normalizing women’s sports coverage).

At the time of our interview, Wellington-Fahey and her team are “heads down in build,” readying for the Q3 launch of The Relish’s next phase: bringing their female fans together in community. So look for a site overhaul and new content experience coming very soon.

As for her female teammates in tech, Wellington-Fahey has seen changes, but not in terms of the numbers—the vast majority of venture capital still goes to men. “I have seen more women take the reins. I think that’s what’s changing. I’m seeing women who have risen in the ranks of power in tech and venture capital stand up, use their voices, and be the ones to create new opportunities,” says Wellington-Fahey, reins clearly in hand. “It’s my hope we see more of it happen in sports, too.”


— Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

Photo: Jack Hutcheson

Jana Lee is an entrepreneur’s VC. She has risen through the ranks of Silicon Valley’s venture community with an unconventional pedigree. Instead of the Stanford, Harvard, or Wharton MBA résumé, Lee’s been a hands-on entrepreneur building products for most of her career.

Speaking to Gentry from the Menlo Park offices of Blue Run Ventures, Lee discusses her early endeavors in consumer Internet and mobile technologies. She built a mobile publishing platform for 70,000 community journalists at Examiner.com and then co-founded two companies: Fun Org, a one-click-purchase social ticketing app, and Tapestry, a consumer storytelling platform.

“Tapestry grew out of John Borthwick’s Betaworks in New York,” recalls Lee. “It was an incubator lab at the time that was filled with early social analytics/ social flow companies like Tartbeat and Bitly—even the game Dots came out of Betaworks. Tapestry was a short storytelling platform that eventually turned into a native mobile ad unit.”

Simultaneously, Lee worked with several other Betaworks portfolio companies, but she knew that she wanted to move to the West Coast. “I flew out to San Francisco to speak with the team at Medium about a content role,” she says. While Lee was in town, she received a text from Blue Run Ventures’ Jeff Tanenbaum asking if she would be interested in a venture role. Her initial response was “no,” but she agreed to take the train to Menlo Park and meet Jeff, Jonathan Ebinger, and Cheryl Cheng.

Lee sees herself as an operator and a builder. The world of venture initially seemed foreign, but after conversations with the Blue Run team (the firm has invested in companies like Waze, Kabbage, Coupa, to name a few) she started to warm to the idea. She laughs, “After I accepted the job, I Googled ‘How does one get into venture?’” Lee is a quick study and relishes a challenge. Throughout her career, she has proven an ability to identify unconventional opportunities and turn them into businesses and products.

Her real-world consumer mobile experience has been one of her greatest assets as a VC, matched only by her ability to connect with people and mentor them—a key skill when working with early-stage entrepreneurs. “I love that at Blue Run we get hyper-involved with our companies,” she says. “We are in the weeds from the beginning understanding the business.” Lee contends that her value comes as a connector acting as a reliable source for bringing entrepreneurs together. “I’m always looking to add value to any situation.”

She is also a strong believer in mentoring, speaking to a wide array of audiences at forums like Social Media Week, Designers + Geeks, Princeton University’s Entrepreneurship Series, and SV Forum’s Women In Tech Festival about women in venture.


— Written by Stefanie Lingle Beasley

Photo: Jack Hutcheson

Coral Chung was born in China to a pair of academics. “Mom was a chemistry professor and dad an engineer,” she relates. “They eventually became entre- preneurs.” In the ’80s the family moved to Southern California. Chung focused on business in college at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and went on to work at Bain & Co. advising Fortune 500 companies on retail strategy. Her passion for luxury marketing led her to work with Prada’s COO and CEO of Americas on marketing, commercialization, and distribution-related projects prior to its IPO, and to become a Principal at Medallia, after earning her MBA from Stanford. Medallia, a leader in SaaS/ Big Data analytics, enabled Chung to work with leading luxury and global retail brands like Apple, Sephora, and Nordstrom.

Wendy Wen had a similar childhood, with Chinese immigrant parents who seized the opportunities before them in America and placed an emphasis on education. After earning a dual BS from MIT, Wen started her career in investment banking, then private equity. While earning her MBA at Stanford, she began working for Chanel’s Sales Planning and Development group, where she helped provide insight into sales performance across Chanel’s wholesale distribution network.

Both Wen and Chung experienced a disconnect in the luxury handbag market for today’s working woman. “I had a ton of luxury bags, but none worked when I travelled,” recalls Chung. “I began to think that luxury market was completely missing a segment of the market—the female executive.” Wen continues, “When I was in business school, I joined the retail club, and we took tours visiting luxury brands all over Paris. I ended up working at Chanel and learned so much, but also learned how much opposition there was to trying something new. They had no digital presence.” Wen collected multiple Chanel bags, but relates, “They stayed in my closet; they weren’t versatile enough for work. I ended up carrying ugly bags for work.”

A mutual friend from Stanford introduced Wen and Chung, knowing the women’s mutual passion for luxury. “We began to talk about this idea,” says Chung. “If we’re going to spend $2,800 on a bag, we would want to use it every day. But we eventually realized we wanted to create something just as luxurious but far more affordable.” So the pair started to interview potential customers ages 22-60 asking them what they wanted in a handbag.

Chung recalls, “It was a real process—it started with this vision of wanting to achieve a designer luxury look combined with other elements for a worldly woman. In order to do that we had to use some traditional luxury manufacturing processes to execute properly on the clear and strong vision. We are not technical designers, so it was important to work with designers who are experienced in luxury products. We actually worked with a woman who was at Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim for a number of years, and a gentleman who was an apprentice for Tom Ford and had worked on Chloé and Givenchy. We did a lot of prototyping until we were happy.”

The pair launched Senreve in early 2017 and have already garnered fashion darling status in the press as well as a celebrity following. But Chung and Wen are even more excited about the female executives who have discovered the brand. A friend of Chung’s traveling from São Paulo to San Francisco recently texted her saying she had spotted seven women in Business Class with Senreve’s “Maestra” bag. The company is currently experiencing rapid growth, but Chung and Wen are firm that their analytical backgrounds are prepared to scale.
When asked what’s next, they say the goal is to be omnichannel online and through partners like Nordstrom and ShopBop. “We want our clients to be able to shop in bed at 10pm,” says Wen. “Part of luxury is ease and convenience—it’s our goal to de-liver that.”


— Written by Stefanie Lingle Beasley

Photo: Drew Altizer

Shadi Mehraein’s journey to venture capital has been a fascinating one. Her story begins in Tehran. As a child, her family left Iran in the shadow of revolution and started a new life in England. Always a good student, Mehraein’s real passion was ice-skating. “I trained competitively for years,” she recalls. She brought her skates with her when her family moved to New York and she entered high school in Brooklyn. She hung them up, though, on the way to Stanford, where she went to study economics and begin a new sport—sailing (she was a proud member of the NCAA Division 1 Sailing team).

After university, Mehraein says, “I wasn’t certain about what I wanted to do next. Everyone says follow your passion, but I had not found mine yet, so I tried several things.” She started an investment career as an analyst at CIBC/Oppenheimer Corporate Finance Technology Investment Banking group. “I quickly realized that I did not want to be an investment banker,” she says. “I was much more interested in startups and working with smaller teams.”

So she took a job at Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP), a multi-stage venture fund with over $4 billion in commitments. At BVP, Mehraein helped guide the firm’s investment in Intacct Software and was also actively involved in researching and framing investment strategies for sectors such as e-commerce, SaaS, gaming, and digital media. Mehraein then joined Focus Ventures, a leading expansion-stage venture fund with over $830 million in commitments. She was responsible for sourcing diverse investment opportunities, including Marin Software (IPO), and was involved in other investments such as PCH International, Book-Renter, and DeliveryAgent.

“I reached a point where I said to myself, I love venture, I love working with founders, but I don’t want to work for anybody anymore,” says Mehraein. “I explored the idea of working in emerging markets around the globe.” But the draw of California ultimately brought Mehraein back to her beloved Bay Area.

That was nearly five years ago, at which point, she recalls, “I began to think about the deals that I’d been working on and realized that many looked the same, that many deals focused on female markets were being missed. I knew there was opportunity and began discussing it with Rebecca [Hwang], whom I knew from teaching a class at Stanford. We decided to raise our own fund. Christina Brodbeck and Stephanie Telenius joined the team. We all have very different skill sets and different backgrounds—a combination of investing that became the main thesis for the fund. We decided early on that 50% of the portfolio would be made up of female founders. We invest in companies in women-led markets where female usage, decision-making, and purchasing are crucial to company growth.”

The firm, named Rivet Ventures (a nod to WWII-era iconic can-do woman Rosie the Riveter), raised $15 million for Fund 1. “We’ve been fortunate to have early investors like Eric Schmidt, Tory Burch, and some large international family offices,” says Mehraein. “Raising funds was not easy. It’s hard work. There was a lot of sleeping on friends’ couches to avoid paying for hotels.”

Ultimately, it took the Rivet Ventures team just over a year to put together its fund. “We have some incredible investors who could see the opportunity,” says Mehraein. She credits her up-bringing and moving so much for instilling grit and resilience—qualities that have helped her throughout her career. “I think my coaches, too, were invaluable,” she says. “Always pushing me forward and, also, teaching me to live with failure. You learn a lot from your failures.”

When she’s not working with her portfolio of founders, Mehraein loves to surf and kiteboard. “Finding a balance between a personal life and work is so important,” she emphasizes. “You have to be proactive about it.”


— Written by Stefanie Lingle Beasley

Photo: Christopher Michel

When we speak, Anna Yen is in Manhattan, but she’s talking about Silicon Valley, Sophia of Silicon Valley, that is. Her roman à clef, published in April by William Morrow, has her out on book tour, with additional stops in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and back home in the Bay.

As it happens, key sections of the book are also set in Manhattan, as title character Sophia helps roll out the IPOs for more than one top-shelf startup during the Valley’s tech-bubble glory days, when, as Yen writes, “people inspired by the ‘unicorns’ of their era—the companies founded by daring 20-year-olds who became billionaires overnight . . . were all fighting for their share of the modern-day gold rush, and their hushed voices using trendy phrases like game-changing, pioneering, viral, or best of breed made my eyes roll. Best of breed? What is this? A dog show?”

Yes, the book is also very funny. And just as Sophia would prepare the main takeaways for potential investors in Treehouse or Ion (which may or may not remind readers of Pixar Animation Studios or Tesla, Inc.), Yen has approached her book tour stops with several themes she hopes readers take away, including overcoming challenges and taking risks.

“These are things that help us make it, not only through our professional lives, but also in our personal lives,” says Yen, who instills a similar resiliency and outlook in Sophia as she navigates expected and desired gender roles and calls out stereotypes.

Yen has overcome several significant challenges of her own, including Type-1 diabetes, cancer, and a kidney transplant. She has persevered and is doing well today. Professionally, Yen has made a name for herself in investor relations, leading the department for Pixar Animation Studios, Tesla, Inc., and MarketWatch. She also has operational roles with several startups of her own under her belt, including Lasso Logic and PocketTrap. Today, she is the Managing Director of Ellipsis, a strategic communications company based in New York and San Francisco, where Yen, who grew up in Woodside and attended Santa Clara University, currently resides.

Yen now adds an author quill to her cap. “Number one, I wrote the book because I wanted to convey a voice and perspective that I hadn’t heard or seen before relating to these icons. I did that by showing what it was like—through a lens that few would ever get the chance to see,” she says of working closely with powerful visionaries, including Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and David Drummond—all people who inspired characters in the book. Yen’s parallel inspiration was similar to the legacies those visionaries intently focus on in her story: her three nieces and two nephews. “I didn’t know if I would be around when they were older,” she says with poignant candor. “I really wanted to leave them some sort of playbook that would share the lessons from my life so they would have that forever.”

While Yen credits her mentors as well as her “immigrant mother, who really did not take ‘no’ for an answer,” for her ability to get just about anything done for anyone, when it came time to write her book, she first looked for a ghostwriter. “I thought about Amy Tan. She’s local, she’s Chinese, she’ll get it. So I emailed Sandy Dijkstra,” Yen says of Tan’s agent and now hers, too, who not only loved Yen’s idea, but also asked to see pages. “I sent her the prologue and she said, ‘You are a great writer. Why don’t you write it?’” So Yen did, including a running joke in the book where Scott Young (who may or may not remind readers of Jobs) tells Sophia she can’t write. Sophia proves otherwise, as does Anna Yen.


— Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

Photo: Jack Hutcheson

Born and raised in India, Trisha Roy came to the United States to earn her MBA at the University of Arizona. “I went on to work at eBay as a product manager,” she recalls, “and then at PayPal.” Focused on her career in Silicon Valley, Roy thought decorating her home in Menlo Park would be a fun process. “I didn’t want the plastic Home Depot shutters that came with the house,” she recalls. “So I began shopping for custom drapes.” She soon experienced sticker shock with quotes close to $15,000. With family members in India who own textile mills, Roy started to investigate pricing and materials. “I realized that there was an opportunity for a brand offering premium quality for good prices,” she says.

“Traditional retailers have layers of middlemen,” continues Roy. “I went straight to the textile mills and partnered with them directly, essentially marrying my technical experience with excellent sources to change the way people shop for custom drapes.”

When asked about launching the business, Roy recalls some anxiety. “I put the Barn & Willow website up and waited. And then we got our very first order. It felt like it proved my hypothesis. There was a market for this.” A market indeed: Roy’s firm crafts 100% custom made-to-order drapes that are shipped to the customer within seven days—a game changer in an industry that has a three- to four-week minimum for most custom draperies.

Not only has Barn & Willow captured the attention of home- owners, but interior designers have discovered the firm as well. “It’s a fast-growing segment for us,” relates Roy. “They are turning to us not just for residential projects, but also commercial and hospitality projects. The quality, price, and seven-day delivery are speaking to them.”

Roy says that she’s had a number of mentors in her career. “I always try to learn from the people I work with,” she shares. “Here in Silicon Valley, we’re surrounded by some of the smartest minds on the planet. I’m constantly learning every day.”

When asked what advice she would share with a fellow entrepreneur, Roy says emphatically, “Dare to dream and dare to launch quickly. It’s important to just go ahead and do it. You’ll never know what you have unless you start. I only wish I’d started earlier.”


— Written by Stefanie Lingle Beasley

 

 

Gentry Women In Tech Conference Sponsors


Presenting Sponsor

SAP

Gold Sponsors

Seiler LLP • Shreve & Co.

Silver Sponsors

Harker • Stanford Shopping Center • McLaren

Sponsors In Kind

Artisan Macaron • Bloomingdale’s • Duckhorn Vineyards • Fairmont Hotels & Resorts • Green Girl Bakeshop
Italics Winegrowers • Junity • La Mienne • Laughing Glass Cocktails • Recchiuti Confections • Round Pond Estate

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button