Venture capital needs a hero right now, and it just might be the Alpha Girls. Alpha Girls is the story of four women whose hard work and dedication pushed them to the top of the venture capital world. It’s an undertold, yet necessary piece that details not only the rise of the title characters, but also of the venture and tech industries.
The four Alpha Girls — Magdalena Yesil, Sonja Perkins, Mary Jane Elmore, and Theresia Gouw — are an inspiration and a force for good, which is why we’re so proud that three of them have partnered with us at Operator Collective (and we’re working on that fourth). Here are five things I’ve already learned from Alpha Girls — and now that these women are on the OpCo team, I have a feeling these kinds of lessons are just beginning.
1) Emotional connections are incredibly important.
Venture capital has typically been ruled by white males — ambitious leaders with dominant personalities. As charismatic as they come across, they’re often lacking in emotional intelligence. Sonja Perkins filled that void with great success as a VC at Menlo Ventures. In the book, she talks about connecting with founders and forging relationships that lead to future deals. Presenting to a room full of experienced VC can be incredibly intimidating for a founder; Sonja’s easy-going demeanor and outgoing personality helped to put them at ease, leading to smoother presentations and more investments.
2) It’s OK to make the first move.
There’s an old philosophy that women shouldn’t make the first move, but that kind of thinking is laughably antiquated. Like many industries, venture capital is all about timing, connections, and the flow of information, so waiting to make a move only opens the door for the next person to come in and take it. Theresia Gouw’s quick moves helped her firm land several deals, including Facebook, while Magdalena Yesil’s foresight and connections helped her become the first investor in Salesforce (for which I am very thankful!). These successes and others are largely dependent on the Alpha Girls’ abilities to think and act quickly.
3) You never know when or where a connection will resurface.
Connections are important in any industry, but in venture, they’re vital. You never know when an old acquaintance or former colleague might resurface, opening the possibility of a deal. Magdalena Yesil recounts the story of confronting Larry Ellison at the gym, of all places. MJ Elmore and Sonja Perkins discuss how their networks and connections lead to major new deals. And what a strange connection that Theresia worked with Timothy McVeigh at a Burger King in high school. It’s a small world after all, or so the song goes.
4) Find people who support you at work and at home.
It’s always important to find your people — the ones who support and challenge you, and the ones who’ll have difficult conversations with you when needed. Theresia Gouw was at her desk one day when fellow VC Jim Goetz came in to let her know about rumors circulating that she was sleeping her way into deals. Rumors like these were nothing new to her, so she blew them off — but how great to know Jim had her back. At the other end of the spectrum, MJ Elmore realized after many years that her marriage wasn’t an equal partnership. Her husband had been supportive of her career and they worked equally hard, yet MJ was the one handling all the household responsibilities. Eventually the imbalance lead to divorce; today MJ advises women to discuss things like this early on with their partners to establish expectations.
5) Pick your battles when it comes to sexism.
The feminist movement has shined a light on equality and is doing wonders for women around the world. More and more women are rightfully calling out sexism when they see it. But at the same time, as the Alpha Girls demonstrate, you’ve got to choose your battles. Theresia Gouw recalls stories when founders asked her to get coffee, assuming she was in the meeting to take notes. Sonja Perkins shares a time when she lived in a pool house for free, but was expected to babysit the homeowner’s triplets. Both women could have made a stink about gender norms, but chose not to: Theresia said the embarrassment these men felt when they realized their mistake was palpable, and Sonja didn’t mind the work exchange. Sexism is rampant, they said, but there’s no need to go looking for it.
Alpha Girls and Operator Collective
Alpha Girls offers a fascinating window into Silicon Valley as the four title women use their grit and intelligence to succeed in an industry that’s heavily dominated by men. Given their intimate experience in venture, the Alpha Girls are an incredible asset to the Operator Collective team as we work to diversify the industry, break down the barriers to entry, and encourage wealth redistribution. This book is a treasure trove of stories and inspiration, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for these four women — at Operator Collective and beyond.