Welcoming a new Kauffman Fellows Class + meet August Capital investor/Kauffman Co-Fellow, Lisa Marrone!
It’s been one year since Kauffman Class 20 graduated from the Kauffman Fellows program and now we welcome a fresh new cohort of venture capital investors, Class 23, into the Kauffman family.
I’m grateful for having met amazing individuals through the Fellowship who are doing innovative work in their respective ecosystems.
I’m also grateful that we’ve made progress on the diversity efforts at Kauffman. One fourth of the Kauffman Fellows are female, yet until two years ago, none of us really knew each other. Claire Tomkins from Class 15 (now founder/CEO of Future Family) and I decided to change this and launched the quarterly Kauffman Fellows Women’s Breakfast series. Each quarter, a female Kauffman Fellow volunteers to host the female co-Fellows for a morning of catching up and curated content. We’ve now co-hosted these breakfasts with AngelList, Aligned Partners, Aspect Ventures, Citi Ventures, Future Family, Genoa Ventures, Portfolia, Ulu Ventures and Vista Venture Partners.
Thanks to the quarterly Kauffman Fellows Women’s Breakfast initiative, I get to meet, track and add amazing female investors to the master Women in Venture Database (tinyurl.com/y8d4ghrq). The database provides a centralized resource for founders, LPs, fellow investors, and conference organizers to find all the female investors.
I’m excited to introduce our co-Fellow woman in venture, Lisa Marrone from August Capital, who not only shares a common passion to best support entrepreneurs, but is also quite outdoorsy and loves taking meetings on a hike :)
1. Why did you decide to become a VC?
In the summer of 2014, I worked at the White House. Within the White House, I was at the National Economic Council, and more specifically, on the manufacturing policy team. My job was to keep a pulse on that sector: How was 3D printing changing prototyping? How were maker spaces seeding innovation outside of established ecosystems such as San Francisco and New York and Boston? How were best in class vocational education and apprenticeship programs preparing students for high-skilled manufacturing jobs? I loved the task of synthesizing lots of information quickly. I loved thinking about the trends shaping the sector and how they would play out over time. And, I loved that at the White House we sat atop the system, meaning that we had the ability make change--to take in all this information and to shift our national manufacturing policy, slowly, one degree at a time.
I was fortunate to meet David Hornik of August Capital soon after I left the White House. David’s talk was part description of the venture business, part standup. He focused on the importance of relationships. In particular, he talked about how being helpful was contagious and that the more folks he’d helped the more help he’d seemed to get. I realized that the job of a VC combined this people side of the business with the things I had loved about my job at the White House: synthesizing information, betting on trends, with the potential to steer the world towards a better future. I had a hunch I’d love it.
2. You recently started an interview series in which you profile founders you admire. What inspired that?
The best part about this job is working with entrepreneurs and getting to know their stories. I get to meet so many founders in a given week, and because of who I am and what my network looks like, that set of founders tends to be a diverse one. I wanted to do what I can to shine a spotlight on those stories. It’s nothing fancy—I’m posting an interview a week to a publication on Medium. But I hope that, over time, it will grow into a really compelling repository of stories. So far, I’ve interviewed Selina Tobaccowala, Alex Austin, and Erica Brescia and many more to come!
3. Given that the funnel of companies you see are fairly large, how do you effectively manage your pipeline and at what point during the diligence process do you bring the partnership in?
I meet so many exceptional entrepreneurs in any given week. At the end of the week, I block time to reflect back on who I met, what was their business, what were my notes from that meeting. I track everything in a homegrown CRM. Some of the companies I meet aren’t a great fit for reasons having nothing to do with their core business—perhaps it’s a sector that we have less expertise in, or is a stage too early for us. It’s on me to let those founders know that we won’t be moving forward. A smaller number of companies are incredibly exciting to me. There, the process can take any number of directions, given how collaborative we are as a partnership. I might do initial diligence myself, calling customers or interviewing experts. Or, I’ll raise it at our Monday partnership meeting, looping in one of my partners to take the follow up meeting and do diligence as a team.
3. How should founders think about the role of a venture principal pre-, during, and post investment?
Pre-investment, it’s easy to look at me as a gatekeeper. I hope you’ll instead look at me as an invaluable resource. If I’m excited about your business, I’m here to set you up for success and guide you through our process. And even if it isn’t a fit for whatever reason, I still aspire to be helpful in whatever way I can—connecting you to other investors, or potential hires, or like-minded CEOs. During the investment, we run a very collaborative process—I’m working alongside one of my partners to come to an opinion on the deal and then to convince the rest. Post-investment, my favorite portfolio companies are those that put me to work. I recently spent two days with one of our teams preparing for a board-level strategy session. I loved getting to experience the company’s culture first-hand and to be helpful in a very tangible way.
4. When a deal is done, what’s the best way for the founder to leverage the entire team they work with (partner and pre-team members)?
We have a flat partnership and an incredibly collaborative culture. Deals aren’t “my” deals, they’re “our” deals. By the time we invest in a company, our founders have met our entire team. Each of us has different strengths that we bring to bear, and I’d encourage founders to get to know each of us and maximize those strengths to the fullest extent.
5. What are 2-3 traits that are critical and you look for in a founding team?
- Grit: How have you persevered in the face of adversity, making the seemingly impossible possible?
- Analytical rigor: What are the metrics you are tracking in your business? How do you think through strategic decisions and their impact on those metrics?
- Leadership: How do you inspire those around you? Do you attract a team of people even smarter than yourself? Can you motivate them in good times and in bad?
6. Sectors you’re excited about at the moment?
Lots! I wrote about some for TechCrunch. In general, though, founders show me where the puck is going, and it’s my job to let them show me the way.
Thank you for sharing your story with us Lisa!
My claim to fame is that in sixth grade I dressed up for Halloween as a Windows 2000 PC. I was just that cool. By high school, I was a total science nerd and loved science fair and science bowl and the Research Science Institute at MIT. I graduated from Yale in 2010 and spent three years at Bain & Company in New York City. In May 2017, I graduated from Harvard with a JD/MBA. I love rock climbing, running, swimming, traveling, and making music with my husband.