Anne Glover (Amadeus Capital Partners)
Bindi Karia (Molten Ventures, formerly Silicon Valley Bank)
Diana Noble (Kirkos Partners, formerly CDC Group)
What happened in the tech and VC ecosystem in Europe and the UK in the last three decades? We spoke with three of the most senior investors in the space: Anne Glover of Amadeus Capital; Bindi Karia, currently venture partner at Molten Ventures; and Diana Noble, a PE and VC veteran, about the evolution of European venture capital and their experiences as females in the ecosystem. One of the core learnings: you needed to behave like the men (be confident, like sports) to get ahead; while this is slowly changing, deep-seated structural issues, including in-fighting among women, are not truly behind us, even today.
Interviewed February 2021
Growing Into Leadership in the UK Ecosystem
Johannes Lenhard (JL): How has it been coming up in the UK’s tech world?
Anne Glover (AG): I started in venture capital in ’89, when I moved back from the States. I had been working there in consulting to small tech companies for a little while. A fundamental difference was there were not a lot of tech investors in the UK at that time. I did all kinds of deals, from retail to leisure to technology. I found that I was much more in my own milieu, because I was talking to people about products and things that I understood, and they understood and could explain to me. I then gravitated back to tech from general business, because I could establish my credentials and my legitimacy more easily.
Eventually, I joined and was COO of one of my companies for a couple of years, when it was listed on the London Stock Exchange. Sometimes, when I was sitting next to a guy, whoever the guy was, all the questions would be directed to him, even if I was the right person to answer them. When I set up my own firm, those kinds of things improved. Then people needed to converse with me. That was 23 years ago. Overall, I found that tech is actually more welcoming than general business.
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Bindi Karia (BK): I have been part of the UK ecosystem since about 2000, working alongside venture or partnering with venture since then. Have I felt barriers as an Asian female? I have. But do I let that stop me? I tend not to. Bruce Lee said this and I did a talk on this about four years ago: “I am like water.” If I hit a brick wall, I find a way in, through, around, and over it. That has gained me decent amounts of respect with the men I have worked with. Even to this day, I find that in the network I have, I am getting pretty powerful men approaching me to work alongside them.
I think that partially is because of the culture. I learned working at Microsoft, which was super male-dominated. I was working initially in the sales team, before I joined the startup and ventures team. The guys there were really alpha and very macho, and you had to act a bit like them in order to fit in. I was working in financial services, then tech sales. As long as you proved you could do it and demonstrated you were capable, what I found is I gained their respect. To this day, I continue to get calls to do work.
I see a lot of female entrepreneurs getting funded at pre-seed, seed, and Series A, and I observe that deal flow is definitely increasing. Having said that, I see fewer female founders that are getting Series B and onwards funding. I know that there is a massive pipeline coming from pre-seed to seed and now popping into Series A. But I still see some barriers when you get to the growth stage. With a lot of the growth stage investing, you are looking at the metrics and the scaling possibilities of the business. The challenge is how do you get to that level of metrics that are required at a certain stage of investing in the business.
Diana Noble (DN): The themes that we are talking about here are our ability to gain credibility and respect, and as a result, have influence on our audience. That is largely about two things. It is about the competence you have, and obviously that changes over your career. It also changes based on the knowledge that you bring. It also depends on the person or group of people you are dealing with and whether they have bias against females.
I will quickly contrast the period that I was in private equity, from 1987 to 1999, and then tech VC, which is a relatively short period from 1999 to 2005. During that first period, my confidence per se was low and when I look back I realize I was trying to form judgments beyond my experience and training. I was assessing industries, such as engineering, that I had no real empathy with. All of this created a large credibility gap, both in my own head and also in reality.
Funnily enough, my issue was not with my colleagues at the time. There were actually three female partners out of nine partners, which was very unusual. That ratio would also be unusual today; we have not moved forward that much. And so it did not feel like an intimidating environment internally at all. That’s not to say that there weren’t the occasional individuals with whom you just felt, as a young woman, it was difficult to have influence. It wasn’t about anything explicit, just those subtle inferences that make you feel rather small.
When I moved into VC, with EVentures Softbank, and then Reed Elsevier Ventures, it was different. I was CEO. And so you do start with that credibility with investee teams. You walk into the room and it is your agenda. You are not fighting for credibility. Also, the people I was dealing with were pretty young, West Coast tech entrepreneurs. That generation did not care whether I was female or not, the question was simply, “Do you understand what I am trying to do? Can you speak my language?”
Supporting Women from Grade School to the Boardroom
Erika Brodnock (EB): Is the world of tech and VC really as bad as it is perceived to be? Why aren’t there more women in tech and venture? Are women not trying hard enough? Is that why they are not there?
AG: If we only go back to what is happening in our careers, we are missing the point. I ended up studying sciences, because my parents were scientists, and I loved it. They made it exciting for me and they treated me as an equal with my brother, who was also an engineer. When I get asked this question by audiences, and I frequently do, I usually say, “How many of you have daughters? What are you encouraging them to study and do when they are nine?” Some of them think about it, and some of them just shuffle in their seats and look awkward.
Your proclivity for tech as a field of interest happens very early. It is down to schools and parents. There are female engineers and they are brilliant, as well as female scientists and mathematicians, but the pool is always smaller. We have to work within the school system to get women more interested in STEM subjects and to get them to realize that these careers can be creative, exciting, and compatible with having a family life. When you look at VCs, it is the compatibility with a family life that is the later problem, but the tech problem happens early.
BK: In career management 101, you are taught, go for a job that is 80% stretch and 20% of what you have done. For women, from my personal experience, I see the standards assigned to us is 80% of what you’ve done and 20% stretch. Men are more likely to get jobs where it is 80% stretch, because we just have to look at these first-time fund managers who come from the right family and the right background, and they can raise £80M for a first time fund with zero track record. Then, if I went out to raise a fund myself, I would never be able to raise that money, not without someone by my side who has also had that track record.
It is also a confidence thing. I may come across this confident, but I always have imposter syndrome and confidence issues. We are all good at wearing the mask. I am just a venture partner and I am not full-time there. There are times I am in the deal room and I think, “I am not sure if I belong here.” It stops me from speaking out and asking questions, even though my own questions are valid and viable, based on 20 solid years of operator experience.
The other thing—and this is controversial—is that I find some of my biggest detractors have been other women, not men. One of my favorite mantras is that sisterhood is not a zero-sum game, there is room for all of us! For a certain generation (mine!), when you get to a certain level, we have been taught that there is only room for one of you at the top. It is the establishment at the top that has historically generated this attitude, and this needs to change. At least, this has been my own personal experience.
But I would also say that is an old-school attitude, and I observe that this is definitely changing (I hope!). Based on the calls I am getting from headhunters and the advent of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) thinking everywhere, I am hopeful that this mindset is at last beginning to shift. That being said, we still have a very long way to go! You just have to look at the recent Diversity VC/BBB/BVCA study to realize this.
Moving Beyond “Fit”
DN: This is multi-layered. To answer your question about what has changed is, the very obvious misogynistic, individual behavior is largely gone. In a way, that is easier to identify and easier to get rid of. What remains is a culture of guys feeling comfortable with guys, if I can put it like that. When it comes to who makes partner, who really climbs the tree, there can still exist this inherent bias, which hides behind phrases like “fit.” Fit can be used as, “You are like me, I like to have a beer with you. We can talk about football or rugby.” That is what starts to exclude and that is going to take a lot longer to break down. It is not necessarily even intentional; it is human to want to surround yourself with people like you because it is comfortable.
BK: I 100% agree with your comment about “fit.” If you look at client entertainment, for previous roles I have held we mainly attended sports events. I would go to rugby, I would go to cricket with male clients all day long, or we would take them to tennis or Formula One. We would mainly have the male VC partners in attendance, as this was a form of client entertainment that catered to their tastes. But I would rarely see the female VCs in attendance, as their comments to me were along the lines of, “I cannot go, I have family priorities that come first.” Why do we not do something that is more in line with what that audience wants and is slightly more inclusive?
AG: The 80/20 point that Bindi made is exactly right. I ticked every box; I ran teams of people, I did strategic consulting and small company startups before I got into venture capital. Nobody was going to say I had not done it. That is not the path that most guys take—they take the opportunity that a mate of theirs offers them as soon as they can, because they have better networks and people are more willing to take risks on them.
JL: We heard quite a few people say, instead of trying to make it through the ranks of existing institutions and pushing in there, why not start something else?
BK: I sit on the board of the European Innovation Council (EIC) where I am also co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion working group, so we are exploring this quite closely. For example, the EIF (European Investment Fund) is one of the biggest LPs in Europe. Anecdotally speaking, the number of female-founded funds that have been turned down for EIF funding is eye-opening. Someone wrote me recently, “You have to have the first name Alex to be a fund manager from Germany and you have to have the first name Peter to be a fund manager from CEE [Central and Eastern Europe].” Then she sent me the names of all the general partners of all the funds in Germany and CEE, and the majority of the names are Alex or Peter, I am serious! We are trying to make the point that actually the LPs have got to start thinking about diversity when they invest as well. This is about the entire value chain of investing, from LP to investor to founder. It has got to start from LPs where you ask, can you trust first-time female fund managers because of their other life experience, which means they are going to get this across the line? It is interesting food for thought, and all I know is that things need to change.
DN: That is the phrase that gets to all of this: “Take a risk.” Why is it a risk when looked at objectively?
BK: One hundred percent true that they are not a risk. My observation is that there can sometimes be a self-belief that we are a risk (and that can be both internally and externally reinforced). From the internal perspective, this stems back to the confidence thing. We are not a risk; we get things done. We have the right instincts and insights to pick the right investments, and we can get it across the line. Why do we have to spend the time convincing LPs and others of the 80% of what we have done? In tandem, we also have to get rid of that self-belief that we are a risk as well!
AG: I would not have been able to raise a fund had I not partnered with Hermann Hauser, who is a very well-known technology entrepreneur. That was a deliberate choice by him and by me, because all successful enterprises need a team. I am extremely clear about that and so is he. In that sense, the partnership worked. We both needed each other. That is how we got things started.
Advice for Future Female Founders
EB: If you spoke to your 25-year-old or 18-year-old self, what would you say about your biggest learnings and experiences growing up as a female in the tech world?
BK: Be bolder. Have more confidence in yourself; that has held me back constantly.
DN: At 18, that is the time to say to someone, build your substantial knowledge in what you want to do. If you want to be a VC, go out and understand what building businesses is all about, go and work in companies. If you want to work in a tech company, then go and start at the beginning and move around. Learn a function, learn how it works, go and get an MBA. I hate having to say this, but you win by substance, and you win by confidence. This overcomes the barriers, which are still there.
AG: It is certainly belief in yourself. Then frankly, do what you enjoy, if you are going to work hard in this life, just do what you enjoy. Some people are driven by status and money, but I actually think it is better advice to choose what you enjoy.
DN: I would slightly disagree with “do what you enjoy.” I tend to say to people, when you are 18 to 24, it does not actually matter what you do. It is who you are working for. Choose organizations that have really high standards, because these standards will stick with you for your whole career and you can apply them again and again. Secondly, make sure you work for people who actually care about you and your learning experience and are generous with sharing their knowledge and input into your career path. You will then get a huge amount out of those early years.