Hello! I’m a VC. Here’s Why.
To celebrate the one-year(ish) anniversary of Sydney Thomas’ inspired blog, My User Guide, I decided to write my own.
I found Sydney’s idea to be particularly brilliant and relevant for many reasons, including:
- Self-awareness — An underappreciated and critical aspect of working as a VC, self-awareness requires diving to the root of one’s purpose and role in a much larger and constantly evolving universe
- Situational Awareness — Acknowledging what goes on around us is key to understanding people, market opportunities, and the like
The nature of being a venture capitalist in 2020 is particularly unique compared with the industry’s evolution spanning many decades. For one, the lack of representation (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status/background, alma mater, and more) has never before been as recognized and appropriately scrutinized as it is today. Ever. I touched on this in an article for TechCrunch where I recapped a few growing trends and what it meant to me personally to get a seat at the VC table.
Add the meteoric and global growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, skyrocketing VC $s YoY, the global pandemic, and ensuing economic uncertainty, and it would be safe to argue that the venture capital industry is entering new territory with each day that passes.
I digress. The purpose of this User Guide is one step along a perpetual journey to increase both my self-awareness and situational awareness as a VC. I believe it is important to promote transparency into the venture capital industry, historically shrouded in mystery and unattainability for the masses, as part of a larger movement to democratize access to capital in the private markets.
The trick with pursuing a role in venture capital is you won’t find out if you are any good at your job for many years. You will find out pretty quickly if you are bad at your job — no deal flow, no people skills, et al. And if you are looking for a 9–5, this is *not* the place to be. So barring the catastrophic, you can appear to be good at your job — deal flow, people skills, maybe some Tweets, showing your face regularly at events. Maybe you even do some deals, or maybe a lot of deals. None of this makes you a great VC. Writing checks is technically the easy part; it’s returning money to LPs and having supported founders who are thrilled with their companies’ outcomes that set VCs apart.
Now, a Seinfeld reference for those of us who grew up without cable:
The delta between good and great is wide and poses significant challenges. At the point in your career as a VC where you become aware of these challenges — the uncertainty of the future of your portfolio companies, the broader macro trends, and perpetual uncertainty in the world — is the same moment you realize you have no other choice but to dive into the very depths of your soul to question and examine your purpose.
So, Who Am I?
I was born in the late 1980s in Long Beach, California as an unexpected second family for both of my parents.
Growing up with older parents and older half-siblings means being the highest-energy person in every setting.
I became an aunt 6 days before my 3rd birthday and attended my dad’s retirement party while in the second grade. I’m now a great-aunt, which really confuses people.
Raised mostly as an only child, I became *very* good at entertaining myself. Books, movies, TV shows (local channels only), video games, early computer programs were everything. You, too? Let’s talk 90s pop culture.
(Yes, The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air practically raised me.)
I learned 5 instruments, was a figure skater, and attempted group sports like basketball, volleyball, and soccer, though I’m not very athletic, so that didn’t last.
I attended public school K-12, then applied to California’s state schools to minimize expenses while staying close to home (I call this the older parents dilemma — too risky to move too far away).
I worked up to 4 part-time jobs at a time and started working when I was 16. For one six-month period, I didn’t have a single day off.
I’ve been a restaurant host/busser/food-runner (EXPO)/server/barback/bookkeeper; an after-school program leader teaching piano, dance, sports; a retail associate for G by GUESS; an office associate for a privately-owned musical instruments store; a sales associate for a jeweler selling diamonds and precious gemstones; a gig worker for events large and small; a street team member for a group-texting app; and I’m probably forgetting a few things.
I dropped out of college for a semester to take a last-minute, full-time internship with TOMS Shoes in Santa Monica. I accumulated credit card debt as I had to quit my part-time jobs to accept the offer which, at the time, came with free housing and a $50/week lunch stipend. Hands down one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Toward the end of college, I moved *all* the way to Los Feliz, just 30 miles up the freeway. (For those who don’t know, LA is a world away from Long Beach.)
I graduated on Father’s Day, and my dad passed away suddenly 1.5 months later as I was starting to apply for full-time career opportunities (see ‘Tips For Grieving Sudden Loss Of A Loved One’ for my reflections on this).
Where’s the part about getting started in VC?
My first role outside of the service industry was a 30-hour/week engagement with a boutique consulting firm working with digital entertainment startups. It was during this time when I first learned venture capital existed, as many of the startups we served were venture-backed or pursuing venture capital.
I recall clicking through various VC websites only to be utterly confused by them— what were all of these startup company logos? What do these companies all do? What is ‘SaaS’? These websites included varying levels of detail on investment criteria and used vocabulary like “Series A” and “equity” and concepts I’d never encountered before.
Not too long after, I began attending more networking events and happy hours for startup founders, which led to accepting an offer to join a first-time fund. In month five since launching, I was brought on to lead investor relations through fundraising and beyond. Part of my job also entailed taking on executive assistant responsibilities for the founding partner, office management, HR, and CFO duties like filing our taxes/audit/you name it. While I had some transferable skills, I found myself truly learning on-the-job and Google became my very best friend.
The rest is history. TOMS is where I fell in love with startups, the consulting firm is where I fell in love with supporting multiple startups with project-based work, and the venture firm is where I fell in love with the role VCs can play in finding, funding, and working behind the scenes to help startups pursue high-growth and build our collective future.
Why I’m a venture capitalist today, and tomorrow, and the day after
A few themes central to my daily commitment to startups as a VC include the following. I may add to this over time, though this list constitutes my bread and butter as of today.
- A Commitment To & Perpetual Optimism For The Future — This is the toughest to write about in 2020, though it represents the #1 reason for my ‘why’ as a VC. Innovations dating back to the lightbulb and electricity, to safety measures created by automation and new industrial materials, to the growing list of resources made accessible through various forms of tech-infused democratization — I love it all. I love inventors, I love most inventions, I love the insatiable commitment of the innovation economy to moving the world *forward* in all of the ways. As a VC, I am grateful to play my own, small role as a supporter of inventors and their inventions to solve problems and create our shared future, brick by brick.
- To Chip Away At The Inequality In The Distribution Of Wealth — This topic really deserves its own series of blogs, but I’ll do my best to summarize. My dad picked cotton as a kid and teenager in the 1940s alongside his Mexican immigrant father and New Mexico-born siblings across the fields of New Mexico, Texas, and the greater Southwest. My mom grew up, by contrast, in the Redondo Beach, California area, raised by a single mother. I’ve witnessed firsthand across my family and loved ones the role money plays in having options. I can’t emphasize the word ‘options’ enough, honestly. People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in the U.S. can be faced with homelessness, subsidized housing challenges, abusive employment situations, health issues met with insurmountable medical bills — to name a few. Money = Options. The traditional way to earn money is based on time as the unit of measure, which is a limiting resource. Venture capital and high-growth startups, however, overwhelmingly create opportunities for accelerated wealth accumulation via equity stakes for those few names on cap tables and within employee option pools when liquidity events happen, disintermediating the relationship between time/hours worked and income potential. To have equity is massive. If it wasn’t, people in positions of power would have moved on from VC and startups a long time ago. When a family does not have money, the only options for this type of payout include winning the lottery or filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice or perhaps wrongful death. So unless you get the winning ticket from the gas station, or maybe lose a loved one, the majority of families in America are living paycheck to paycheck hoping they don’t get a flat tire.
- A Democratic, Capitalist Society Needs Democratized Access To Capital — A handful of years ago, ‘democratization’ became a really trendy word to describe tech innovation across a wide range of sectors. The one area needing it the most, IMHO, is access to capital. We are witnessing some movement in smaller-dollar corners of the market such as crowdfunding, with the maturation of this market progressing beyond Kickstarter and the like. With crowdfunding and expanding the pool of a company’s equity investors (and not just buyers or patrons of a product or service), a company can seemingly take back ownership and agency in their fundraising process by making their company investable for the masses rather than waiting for the traditional gatekeepers and private funding sources to “get” the market opportunity and write bigger checks. I would argue democratization takes many forms, and one element to this in venture capital is to pull down the veil of how the venture capital industry works, making knowledge-sharing the norm. We are seeing this with the outpouring of content creation from every corner of venture capital as a marketing tactic, though ultimately these insights scattered across websites, blog posts, podcast episodes, newsletters, and events democratize access to the capital landscape. It is my personal duty as a VC to accelerate connecting this knowledge base to a wider swathe of the population — including geographically — traditionally left out of the conversation.
- Checkwriters Need To Represent The Markets They Serve — I’ll keep this one short and sweet, because I am tired of explaining this one to people. Katrina Lake, founder and CEO of StitchFix (and the youngest woman CEO to take a company public in the U.S.) said it best, “The people writing checks are wildly unrepresentative of the market.” Let’s fix this.
- Service Industry Work Is In My Blood — I view my work as a VC through the lens of a service provider. By definition, I provide the service of responsibly placing LP dollars into strategically-made direct investments in high-growth startups. Venture capital falls under the alternative investment umbrella, affectionately referred to by our industry as “alternatives” and more specifically serving as a high-risk allocation within a given LP’s broader portfolio. So on one side, my role is to provide a service to LPs. On the other side, I provide a 24/7 service to startup CEOs and founding teams through access to capital and value-add services more broadly over the lifespan of that formal investor-startup relationship. As a former restaurant worker, I believe in hospitality and meeting the needs of customers. Much like a restaurant, VCs experience peak hours (like we are witnessing in the high volume of startups currently raising money) and quieter times (traditionally summer and through the holidays, though that was not the case in 2020). And, as was the case as a restaurant worker, my goal is to work as fast as my feet will carry me to create a positive experience for everyone I possibly can. This is not always the case when working with the public, as some people will never be happy no matter how many extra dipping sauces, napkins, and glasses of ice water you deliver. But nevertheless, you show up each day grateful to play a small part in making someone else’s day a bit easier.
- Paving The Way For Others To Tell Their Stories — I didn’t grow up knowing I would become a VC. I didn’t know it existed, and for a good portion of my career I was told in various ways that I was not cut out to be an investor. To pursue a role or opportunity, it is important for people to imagine themselves in those seats. Actually seeing people like you in those seats helps to bridge the imagination gap and instill confidence that you, too, can participate. Something that gets me up each day to greet my endless email inbox and all of the various challenges to performing this work is knowing that my face and voice will inspire future VCs to pursue this profession and jump in to help direct the >$100B annually invested into startups. It is entirely purposeful that I co-founded Build In SE and our Venture Fellows program as a platform for rising talent in the Southeast to participate in the local innovation economy. It is entirely purposeful that I co-founded VC Up & Comers (now in Beta) to empower aspiring VCs through a self-guided course and peer community. I will continue fighting for new voices to gain access to VC as a career path for the rest of my life. End of story.
- I Can’t Not Do This Work — After witnessing firsthand the power of the private markets to bring about change in the world, I can’t imagine doing any other work than what I am doing now. As much as I loved the day-to-day of working in restaurants and retail and non-profits and back-office for small businesses, I see my work today as a VC as making an impact at scale. If I play a role in funding an early-stage startup, and that company goes on to employ hundreds if not thousands of people, creating new jobs in underserved markets, and equipping thousands of customers with better products and services, and I do this work over and over again each year, my hours worked can rapidly multiply ad infinitum. And, if my role as a Latina VC in Nashville investing across the Southeast, broader U.S. and Canada, inspires more people to consider VC as a career path, who then write checks into even more startups, you get the picture. I can’t not do this work. I half-joke with people when sharing my background and less conventional path into VC that some days I feel as if I snuck into this industry and, now that I’m “in”, I won’t leave. We have a ton of work to do to achieve points #1–6, so let’s get to it.
If any of this resonates with you, here is where I get to plug my projects and opportunities to stay in touch:
Medium — Monique Villa is where you will my occasional blog on whatever I feel compelled to write about. There are no rules.
Twitter — @MoniqueVilla is my stream of consciousness in action, spanning tech, food, pop culture, and overall hot takes on whatever I’m thinking about.
Substack — Mood Board is my playground for capturing the various industries I’m currently thinking through and investigating for potential investments.
Mucker Capital — Pre-Seed, Seed, Seed+ & Series A investments. Are you raising capital or know someone who is? Hit me up → Monique@Mucker.com
Build In SE — Are you a founder, funder, or ecosystem supporter in the Southeast? Or perhaps an SE native who wants to support this rapidly growing region? Say hello!
VC Up & Comers — Are you an aspiring VC looking to dive deeper into the industry and develop your personal brand and voice, or perhaps know someone who fits this profile? Join us!