Silicon Valley’s newest female general partner has this advice for VC firms ‘aggressively looking for women’
Published on April 11, 2017
Caroline Fairchild, Senior Editor, Technology and Startups at LinkedIn
When Jenny Lefcourt started working for Freestyle Capital in 2014, she didn’t really care what her title was. A serial entrepreneur who founded e-commerce startups like WeddingChannel.com and Bella Pictures, Lefcourt was interested in what her day-to-day-job would be within the early-stage venture firm more than anything else.
In other words, she wanted to make deals.
“From the moment I arrived at Freestyle, I very much felt like my voice was heard at the table,” she said, getting the opportunity to lead investments with growing startups like BetterUp and Narvar. “That’s the most important part.”
Lefcourt’s original thinking was relatively sound, but we all know titles can matter. That’s why it was big news yesterday when Freestyle announced Lefcourt would be promoted to general partner alongside its new $90 million fund. Freestyle, founded by Josh Felser and Dave Samuel, grew to $40 million around the time Lefcourt joined and increased again with a $60 million fund in 2015.
There are very few women decision-makers writing checks at both large and small U.S. venture capital firms, a reality that Lefcourt feels strongly will not be case for much longer. Since getting into venture, Lefcourt says she’s watched as the network of female founders and VCs has grown tremendously. Soon, the power of that growing network will create another highly lucrative club that every major firm will want to be a part of, she said.
“It will become a disadvantage for any firm to not have a woman,” she said. “The more of us that are here, the more it will make [firms] want to have a female partner. There is this beauty to having a different lens to work through deals with.”
As one of the few women working in venture capital at the partner level, Lefcourt tells me that she is routinely asked for advice by male investors working at other firms. They are “aggressively looking for women,” to bring in as partners she said, but usually want women who have a proven track record for investing that just isn’t realistic. Venture capital deals at the early-stage take several years to come to fruition, so if you wait around until an investor has a series of big wins before bringing them in as partner, you are missing out on great talent, she said.
“We are here to succeed, so if you don’t feel like an equal on your team, it’s not as sustainable,” she said. “It is less about looking back at a person and what they’ve done and more about looking forward That isn’t a woman thing, that is the reality of venture. You have to have reason to believe that the person will perform as well as your partners looking into the future.”
Describing the decision to bring on another general partner as “initial agony,” Felser said he decided it was time to make the leap with Lefcourt when he realized that the growth she was bringing to the fund would offsite any ownership that he was giving up. He may have at some points joked with Lefcourt about not needing another “white dude as partner,” but his push to create a more diverse team has never really been a laughing matter. Since starting his own fund, Felser has made a point to go out of his way to meet founders who could diversify his profile. Despite Lefcourt’s robust network of female founders and investors, Felser has invested in more women-led startups than she has.
“Jenny, regardless of gender and ethnicity, satisfied everything that we were looking for,” he said. “We are enriched by adding her as a partner not just because she has a different network, but because she has a different perspective.”
Felser and Samuel launched Freestyle in 2011 and the latest round of capital represent its largest to date. Lefcourt says that’s a reflection of how much larger seed-stage investments are becoming in Silicon Valley. Having more capital to work with will allow Freestyle to take more ownership over the startups that they work with. Rather than make a lot of investments and hope something works out, Freestyle is interesting in making just a few investments a year and getting “tremendous upside,” she said.
As for Freestyle’s investment thesis with the new fund, Lefcourt was clear: They don’t have one. She said she could pretend to pontificate about what tech the firm is interested in, but it’s really what every other firm is looking for. She is more focused on finding smart people with a great vision that the firm can get behind.
“We work really hard with our entrepreneurs and hustle alongside them,” she said. “We want to make sure we have enough ownership to make the math work for the fund, so one of the only differences with this fund is that we will be writing bigger checks.”