Taking employee benefits to a whole new Level

The company: Level

Level is helping companies and their employees get the most out of their dental and vision benefit dollars by rebuilding insurance from the ground up. Simple plans, flexible networks, and instant claims mean companies can provide bigger employee benefits for less. Employees get more freedom, choice, and clarity in billing. And healthcare providers see claims processed in hours, rather than months. Level is changing the benefits game, and it’s giving everyone plenty to smile about in the process.  

Why you should pay attention 

Employee benefits are vital to attracting and retaining top talent and the traditional insurance model most companies use to deliver benefits is slow, confusing, and always ends up costing both companies and their employees more than expected. Level is disrupting legacy models with a modern approach for people-first companies. Now, getting the most out of vision and dental benefits, understanding what they cost, and paying for them is simple, clear, and fast for Level members. No more paperwork and bills in the mail. It’s a new model, and it’s all in the Level app.  

The details 

Founder and CEO Paul Aaron was one of the first employees at Square and holds numerous patents in the payments space. Level is making paying for vision and dental benefits as easy as any other purchase. Companies like Intercom, Udemy, and Docker are seeing savings as they give their employees lots more benefit flexibility and choice through their Level membership. First Round Capital saved 47% while bringing bigger benefits to their team. Thistle saved 41%

How it works

The Level app puts employees in control. Level members manage their own benefits with transparent costs and a continuously updated individualized benefits balance. Level members can find and visit any provider, and can easily compare in- and out-of-network prices before deciding where to receive care. The app sorts out all the paperwork before the member arrives for the first appointment, and lets members pay on the spot for any out-of-pocket copays during check out. 

Why we’re obsessed 

We’ve witnessed the modernization of virtually every aspect of the workplace in recent years. Yet benefits and insurance, which are among the top incentives companies have to land and keep the best employees, has yet to transform — until now. Level is revolutionizing the employee benefits experience. It’s driving simplicity, efficiency, and value into the system for employers, employees, and healthcare providers. This space is ripe for disruption, and Level is the company out front driving it.  

Get involved

Partner with Level to offer modern dental and vision employee benefits at your company. Get a demo to learn more. You might also want to check out their open positions here.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator-investors: What they are + why they’re important


If you spend any time with startups, it’s not hard to notice the venture world revolves around founders and VCs – the people who start the companies and the people who fund their growth. But until recently there’s been a critical piece missing: Operators. Operator-investors have become a hot topic in venture capital lately, so let’s take a step back and talk about what they are and why they’re important.

What are operators? 

In the startup and tech world, operators are the senior leaders who build and scale companies as they grow. They’re not usually in the limelight; most often they’re the ones working quietly in the background, studying tactics, analyzing data, and figuring out what works. Operators are vital for the success of any startup because they’re the ones building the right infrastructure for scale and long-term growth. 

Why are operators important in venture capital?

Experienced operators – the ones who’ve gone through the product development, growth cycles, funding stages, hiring, and more – have exactly the knowledge new businesses need to grow and thrive. Yet operators haven’t typically been involved in the venture process; the industry just wasn’t designed for people who give 150% to their day jobs and use any time leftover for their families and friends. 

We wanted to bring operators into venture capital, so we created the Collective Venture Model, which brings together founders, operators, and VCs to find, invest in, and support the next generation of tech. The Collective Venture Model was designed to jive with the busy lives of today’s most respected tech operators, many of whom are women. These operator-investors bring not only their tremendous experience, but also empathy, critical thinking, and deep networks.

How the Collective Venture Model works 

Our operator-investors actively engage at every step.  

  • We collectively source. Our operator-investor LPs are our #1 source for inbound leads.
  • We collectively diligence. We engage our 130 operator-investor LPs for feedback.
  • We collectively partner. Our connections result in customer intros, exec/board referrals, and angel co-investments.

Beyond that, they share their expertise with our portfolio companies and offer advice through sessions on topics like building a world-class customer success org, establishing an ecosystem, and incorporating diversity in your executive team.

Our operator experience is unmatched

We’re proud to have a community of operator-investors as LPs to help our portfolio companies as they scale and grow: 130 ultra-talented leaders who bring decades of experience building and growing the world’s most admired companies. In fact, they bring more than 1800 years of collective operator experience. More than 65 of our LPs have built unicorns, at least 38 have taken their companies public, and at least 77 have founded a company. The amount of revenue they own and people they lead is staggering.

Operator Collective channels this experience to bring new perspectives and a welcome level of diversity to any cap table. Please connect with us here to learn more, join our community, or submit a funding proposal.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


How we close the patent gap and diversify innovation

You’ve probably heard of the wealth gap, but do you know about the patent gap? It’s the term used to describe the discrepancies in the makeup of inventors and patent holders. Just like other gaps, the patent gap is detrimental to our system. We need to increase the diversity and inclusivity of our innovation ecosystem and help more women, minority and low-income entrepreneurs patent and commercialize their inventions.

I was recently invited by Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to testify and offer suggestions at its hearing on Improving Access and Inclusivity in the Patent System. A slightly edited version of my remarks is below.  

My background in patents

I’ve spent my career furthering innovation – starting with patents and now with startups. I’m an unusual combination of IP attorney, operator, founder, and investor.

For many years, I was the VP of Worldwide Intellectual Property at Cisco. When I was promoted to that position in 2005 there were so few women Chief Patent Counsels that it was front-page news. That led all seven of us to start a nonprofit called ChIPs, which is now the world’s largest organization for women in patent law with almost 4,000 members in 17 chapters worldwide. My ChIPs co-founder, Michelle Lee, was the first and still only woman, and the first and still only person of color, to serve as a Senate-confirmed Director of the PTO in its 219 year history. I then built up a startup called RPX that helps companies reduce and insure against patent risk. I’m also a member of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation.

Bringing diversity to venture capital

A few years ago, I actually invented something – the Collective Venture Model, which serves as the basis of my current startup, a venture fund called Operator Collective

If you spend any time with startups, it’s not hard to notice the venture world revolves around venture capitalists and founders. Both homogeneous groups that are about 90% male, predominantly white, and 40% of whom went to Harvard or StanfordBut having been a founder, investor, and operator, I saw a huge missing piece: operators. Operators are those who are often not the founders, but the ones brought in to build and scale companies as they grow. They are not typically in the limelight, but the ones quietly working in the background. 

So here are these wildly experienced operators who have exactly the right skill sets to help businesses grow and thrive, but they’re typically left out. Most people aren’t trying to exclude these operators, it’s just that the system was not built for people who give 150% to their day jobs and use any time leftover for their families. 

I knew operators were the critical missing piece. And since the traditional model didn’t work for them, I created a new model that would, rebuilding it from the ground up to optimize for bringing in busy women operators. To do so, we added three things: education, accessibility, and representation. 

  • We knew women operators didn’t have ready access to the right information, so we created short, enjoyable programs.
  • We knew a big hurdle was the cost of entry, so we created a sliding scale for financial participation. Another obstacle was time, so we made it flexible by crowdsourcing deals and diligence, and creating redundancies.
  • We knew women are often criticized for self promoting, so we built a supportive community that does it for them.  

In short, instead of making women conform to a rigid traditional construct, we changed the system to make it easier and more user friendly for women. Today, our $51M fund has over 130 operator investors who are 90% women and 40% people of color, over 70% of whom had never invested in venture before.

How this relates to patents and innovation

There are several parallels to the patent world. Data shows that “children born to parents in the top 1% of income are 10x more likely to become inventors than those born to families with below-median income,” and that whites are 3x more likely to become inventors as blacks. Women’s rate of patenting has increased from 2.7% to 10.8% in 40 years. (Assuming a consistent rate of increase, it would take 194 years to increase that to 50%.)

Securing a patent is complex, daunting, expensive. You have to learn a system that uses terms outside of everyday language. You need to dedicate time on top of your day job and family obligations. And you have to have the financial means to hire an attorney or agent. 

The system wasn’t built for today’s would-be inventors who have countless other projects and obligations. If we want to capture the innovations that reflectrst-time inventors having to recreate the wheel just to know where to begin, we have to make it easier to understand. We also need outreach to underrepresented communities early and consistently.

  • Second, we must make it more accessible in terms of access to resources. The America Invents Act added four satellite offices. A good start, but more would be better. Another idea is to revisit the USPTO’s patent pro bono program, potentially to have it apply to underrepresented groups with a traditionally low rate of patenting.
  • Third, representation. Highlighting inventors from diverse backgrounds helps create a new normal. It’s always easier to do something when you s the contributions of all of America, we need to evolve the system. That includes the same three things: Education, access, and representation. 
    • First, education. Instead of fi

    ee someone like you doing it already. This includes having a USPTO Director from an underrepresented background.

We cannot measure progress if we do not track our results

Finally, there is one fundamental piece that underlies this all, and it’s something the tech industry has been doing for years: data. The PTO is not permitted to track even the most basic demographic information, such as age or gender. Senator Hirono’s IDEA Act goes a long way toward ensuring this fundamental piece. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


A data workspace flex? That’s Hex.

Hex is a Data Workspace platform that makes it easy for teams to connect to data, analyze it in collaborative SQL and Python-powered notebooks, and share work as interactive data apps and stories. The company was founded by ex-Palantir and TrialSpark engineers – all users and builders of data tools. They’ve felt the acute pain that Data Scientists and Analysts endure having to distill insights from fragmented sources, make do with inadequate tools, and report out in antiquated ways. That’s what inspired them to create the data workspace product they always wish they had: Hex.

Why you should pay attention 

Data Scientists and Analysts are among a business’s most strategic players: they illuminate insights that can bend the trajectory of a business. Yet they’ve had to work with tools that are riveted to the past: jumping between local Python notebooks, traditional BI platforms, spreadsheets, SQL scratchpads, visualization tools, and scripts and more. Hex is changing that game. Companies all over the world including Glossier, Imgur, Pave, and many more are using Hex to bring a whole new model to how they explore data, collaborate on analyses, share quick reports, build complex apps, and bring strategic insights to light. 

Game changer 

Not long ago Data Scientists and Analysts had to also be software engineers. No more. With the Hex data workspace, configuring local environments, data connections, and compute backends is history. Sending copy-pasted charts, emailed CSVs, one-off decks, and PDF’d docs is in the past. Data Scientists and Analysts now have advanced tools that allow them to get out of the weeds and elevate the impact they’re making to the business.  

How it works

Hex integrates with popular data warehouses, including Snowflake, Redshift, and BigQuery. It stores credentials securely, eliminating friction around environment variables or plaintext tokens. Its built-in SQL cells are fully-featured SQL editors. Hex has a Python and SQL notebook environment with a built-in Chart Cell that makes visualization easy. Its collaborative notebooks deliver a true analysis workspace for teams with features including real-time multiplayer commenting, granular permissions, and version control. The App Builder makes it easy to turn analyses into interactive, shareable apps. It lets stakeholders see for themselves “what happens if…” by using pull-down menus and check boxes that anyone can use. It’s built from the ground up to support secure data connections, deployment to customer clouds, full end-to-end encryption, SSO integration, and other security-focused features vital in today’s data-everywhere world.

Why we’re obsessed 

Hex helps data teams make their work more impactful. It turns notebooks into collaborative, interactive documents and apps. Hex’s simple but powerful UI allows the entire organization to benefit from dynamic analysis and modeling. Hex’s users are vital to every business, and Hex turbocharges their productivity. Data Scientists, Analysts, and the stakeholders they serve can see and share real time data and immediate outputs with Hex. This company is defining what’s next in Data Workspace.

Get involved

Access to Hex is currently invite-only, but new teams are added every day. To get on the radar, reach out directly to Hex and share why you’d love to join the early access program. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Demos that wow? Here’s how.

The company: Demostack

Imagine this: You’ve been invited to give a product demo to the decision-maker for a marquee account. This person is well known for being all about “show me, don’t tell me.” To win this business you need a fully customized, interactive demo that reflects their real production environment. And you need it immediately because the client wants to meet ASAP. Usually you’d need to call in a favor with the engineering team to build the demo and close this sale. No more. 

Demostack delivers issue-free product demos, personalized to the prospect and delivered across any device. The product helps SaaS companies set up, control, and maintain demo environments without having to redirect any precious engineering resources to engage in sales support. With Demostack, sales leaders can create custom product demos in minutes so their sales teams can go in and close business. 

Why you should pay attention 

A CEB/Google study of 1,500 B2B major purchase decision-makers revealed that the sale is nearly 60% complete by the time a prospect engages a sales rep, who would have the opportunity to do a demo. Demos are a vital part of closing business — but building, customizing, and ensuring demos perform flawlessly has always been to sales professionals what the boulder was to Sisyphus: a grueling form of punishment. Populating a demo with sample data, creating prospect-specific scenarios, ensuring the demo is on-brand with the client, and resolving technical and bandwidth issues is an enormous, arduous, and perpetually recurring task.

How it works

Demostack’s demo environment and experience management solution enables sales, and other customer-facing teams, to create a front-end replica of their product in minutes, without the help of engineering. Teams can then create and customize as many unique product demos out of the replica as they want using point-and-click editing tools. Everything from the text and numbers to the images and graphs can be tailored to tell a story that will resonate with the prospect.

Product demos created with Demostack look and feel exactly like the product, but are completely independent. This means they are not only able to be personalized, but also, typical issues that pop up during software product demos are eliminated. Technical bugs, accidental sharing of sensitive data, connectivity issues, and more issues that cause salespeople demo anxiety become a thing of the past. Demostack demos can also be shared by URL so prospects can explore the demo and easily pass it around within their organization.  Robust analytics are available for every demo, offering insight on what screens of the product were shown during the live demo, who viewed the demo within the prospect organization, and more.  With point-and-click personalization and seamless, issue-free delivery, Demostack delivers product demos that shine with zero code, technical, or design expertise. 

Why were obsessed 

The company is founded by serial entrepreneurs Jonathan Friedman, Aaron Hakim, and Gilad Avidan. This dream team delivers a seamless solution to a problem that every company faces: how to deliver tailored product demos that resonate with prospects without taxing engineering resources. The future of Sales Enablement is bright and Demostack is poised to take the space by storm.    

Get involved

The early access beta is now under way and limited spots are still available. Connect with Demostack to learn more and explore joining the beta. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

BlocPower to the people: How old buildings are driving a green revolution

The company: BlocPower

BlocPower is a Brooklyn-based climate technology startup that’s greening American cities by installing air source heat pumps to heat and cool multifamily buildings, churches, and community centers. The company is driving up energy efficiency, driving down building operating costs, and increasing value for the residents and owners of the buildings they retrofit with clean energy. 

With more than 1,000 urban clean energy projects completed, customers are saving anywhere from 20% to 40% on their energy bills, and going green as they bank those savings.  

Why you should pay attention

The bigger story is how BlocPower is fighting climate change one building at a time since buildings are responsible for up to 28% of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The company developed a proprietary software platform that’s used to scope and estimate retrofits to make buildings greener, smarter and healthier. And they’re starting in historically disadvantaged communities that typically lack access to funding for clean energy systems and have higher exposure to harmful pollutants. Retrofitting these structures can help build more resilient cities and BlocPower’s success serves as a model for how greening buildings can help drive the post-COVID recovery.  

How it works 

BlocPower’s software allows building owners to enter their address and get a set of preliminary recommendations on the kinds of green equipment suitable for their buildings. BlocPower’s algorithm uses big data, machine learning, and mechanical engineering insights to produce these recommendations. A financial model maps out the costs of doing the retrofit along with the energy savings that would result from the project. This is used to secure the financing needed to cover the retrofit costs. Customers sign 15-year leases and use savings from reduced utility bills to repay the retrofit costs. Small and minority-owned businesses partner with BlocPower to do the upgrades and hire and train underemployed workers from the communities being served.

Leading the movement

The personal story of BlocPower’s Founder & CEO is as entrepreneurial and inspiring as the solutions he’s bringing to market. The son of immigrant parents from Guyana, Donnel Baird was raised in a Brooklyn building much like the ones his company now retrofits: His family often had to use the kitchen oven to heat their apartment. He’s passionate about addressing energy inequity in underserved communities because he’s lived those disparities himself. His professional path has taken him through the country’s top universities and into established business circles where he persevered against racial bias to find partners that could help bring his vision to life. Operator Collective is proud to be one of them. 

Why we’re obsessed 

Climate tech can help save the planet. BlocPower is giving residents, owners, and congregants in underserved communities a path to leveling up their heating and cooling capabilities as they dial down their costs and environmental footprint. The company is delivering value to every stakeholder in its business model. And it’s addressing systemic social inequities and some of the world’s biggest challenges as a public benefit corporation. At the helm of the company is a dynamic leader who has assembled an exceptional team. They’re building a blueprint for transitioning buildings off of fossil fuels at scale across the country. 

Get involved

BlocPower plans to announce a first-of-its-kind campaign that will give individuals an opportunity to become impact investors and fund clean energy projects in select U.S. cities. Follow BlocPower on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to get the latest news. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Ensuring change in insurtech: Meet AgentSync

The company: AgentSync

AgentSync is modernizing one piece of the complex, fragmented, and antiquated insurance ecosystem – how brokers and insurers connect and do business – by building a modern producer management tool. The deeply entrenched insurance industry is far from a “sexy” space for a startup, but AgentSync fundamentally believes that technology can bring scaled innovation to this unsexy sector. 

By bringing state-of-the-art technology, transparency, and accountability to high-risk regulatory requirements previously handled in spreadsheets, AgentSync’s compliance-as-a-service solution is disrupting insurtech, and gaining notable attention in the process. 

Why you should pay attention 

Insurtech is just getting started. Insurance as an industry is around 300 years old and represents $1.32 trillion per year in the US alone. Its enormous size, multifaceted surface area, established processes, and highly regulated nature make it especially tricky to disrupt. One particular pain point is that insurance carriers and insurance agencies are required to track licensing data and carrier appointments to protect their customers and stay on the right side of compliance regulation.

The existing systems that carriers and agencies rely on to track vital producer data are stuck in another era. AgentSync is rocketing the sector forward with a SaaS solution built directly on the Salesforce platform that includes seamless integration to the industry’s repository of licensing data, the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR). 

The details 

The cycle of managing insurance producers – onboarding, contracting, licensing verification, and ongoing compliance management – must be carefully managed to maintain compliance in this highly regulated industry. As you may guess, the details of doing so are incredibly complex. Licensing requirements vary state by state, as do renewal deadlines. Agencies and carriers must keep up with the latest regulatory changes in each state and pass those through to their producers. 

AgentSync helps businesses navigate this with features like batch onboarding and applications, saving hours of time and eliminating tedious manual data entry, as well as automatic alerts and compliance reports, which reduce risk and offer peace of mind. It helps everyone move faster by eliminating friction and making the end-to-end experience better. Best of all, producers love using AgentSync – it takes the burden of paperwork off of them, so they can focus on doing what they were hired to do – sell insurance. 

The platform can be set up in a week and customized to fit the needs of each unique carrier or agency. AgentSync is built to evolve and scale alongside each business using it, and the team is constantly listening to customer feedback and building new features to best fit their needs. 

Why were obsessed 

The sector is ripe for disruption. The outdated manual tools agencies and carriers have available to them are slow, inefficient, and highly prone to introducing errors.

AgentSync co-founders Jenn Knight (Dropbox, Stripe) and Niji Sabharwal (Zenefits) are the dynamic duo that’s well positioned to bring change. They have deep experience in both compliance requirements and technical infrastructures. (CTO Knight has built a technical team that’s mostly female, yet another way in which AgentSync is blazing the path forward.) And we’re not the only ones who can see AgentSync’s star is rising.  

Get involved

It’s easy for insurance carriers and agencies seeking compliance-as-a-service to get into AgentSync’s orbit. And that gravitational pull is also attracting top tech talent as the company grows to meet demand and capture the potential of this enormous market.

(P.S. They’re hiring!)  

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Wanna checkout fast? Check out Fast.

The company: Fast

Fast is the one-click, no-password e-commerce shopping disruptor that is making buying online faster, safer, and easier for both consumers and merchants. By making it simple to complete transactions across devices and across platforms the company is shaking up the multi-billion dollar ecommerce market. 

Co-founded by serial entrepreneur Domm Holland (Tow) and operations heavy-weight and tech investor Allison Barr Allen (Uber, PwC), Fast lets consumers track shipments and reorder items all in one place. It helps merchants improve the e-commerce checkout process and push those dreaded abandoned carts through the checkout process and onto business’ sales ledger. 

Why you should pay attention 

The young company was named as one of the Retail Tech 100 innovators who are transforming retail and it made Business Insider’s Top 100 Starutps of 2020. It’s garnering such early attention because it’s improving the online purchase checkout process, which has remained stagnant for 30 years. Customers abandon up to 80% of potential online purchases because of friction during checkout, which can involve filling out an average of 23 fields just to make a single online purchase. Fast is making buying online fast, easy, and safe and in doing so they’re building the world’s fastest online login and checkout platform. 

How it works

Fast Login and Fast Checkout enable a one-click sign-in and purchasing experience. The company’s products work on any browser, device, or platform to deliver a consistent, stress-free purchasing experience. Fast is entirely consumer-focused and invests heavily in its users’ privacy and data security.  

Why we’re obsessed 

Fast lets consumers forget passwords, skip long entry forms, and shop securely online with a single click. It gives businesses the checkout button that increases conversion, boosts sales and delights customers. Fast Checkout installs for businesses in minutes and Fast Login gives consumers a hassle-free experience and lets them check out in seconds. It’s safe, easy, and fast.

How Fast? 

One click. No passwords. Get the world’s fastest checkout. Get Fast. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.


The great 2020 knowledge exchange

How much can you learn in a year? That depends on your mindset – but perhaps 2020’s unique challenges gave us an even greater knowledge exchange. We learned a tremendous amount from others, shared our own expertise, and expanded our minds in new ways. As we celebrate Operator Collective’s first birthday, let’s look back on all we learned. 

We started out with value learning

We kicked off the year by offering tips to build a thriving community from scratch and discussing how we brought so many first time investors into venture capital. We even threw back to the OG feminist movies that moved us. Inspiring topics – clearly we had no idea what was coming in the weeks ahead. 

Angel investing is always a hot topic for investors (and those who want to be). First Susan Kimberlin told us everything we wanted to know about angel investing, but were too afraid to ask. Later we offered a legal checklist for angel investing, and Einat Meisel led us through the financial aspects

We shifted to pandemic learning

Then COVID-19 hit and our community immediately jumped in to help. Our Operator Collective core team shared their tried-and-true tips for working from home, while our LP base shared their favorite at-home activities, books, and podcasts to keep us all productive and sane. We learned to steady on from the amazing Dan Scheinman, while Iris Choi told us what companies should strive for in a down market. Jenny Sohn gave us her best 3 CFO tips to adapt your finances in a downturn, and Erica Schultz gave us 6 tips to keep building revenue and sales

Around that time we also launched The Challenge Series so our wildly experienced operator LPs could offer their support and advice to others in our community… but then we chose to cancel the final one in solidarity as the country struggled through multiple devastating racial and social injustices. (We’re grateful our amazing customer success leaders ended up answering our questions anyway – thank you, Christina Kosmowski and Nick Mehta.) 

We supported equality and social justice 

In light of those devastating social injustices, LP Merline Saintil offered 6 wise words to help you act against injustice. Then Lexi Reese and Bernard Coleman explained how voting helps us create the future we want to see. Behind the scenes, under Leyla Seka’s leadership, we created and launched Black Venture Institute, a curriculum-based program to bring more Black operators into venture capital, in partnership with BLCK VC and others. 

There were moments of good news, too. Three of our LPs published books within weeks of each other, and we celebrated the rise in women’s voices in publishing. Leyla Seka let us in on why it’s important to build a partner ecosystem and answered some of the questions she gets on the topic. The fabulous LaFawn Davis offered four tips to help you build an inclusive org

We love to lift up our operators

Through it all, we wanted to showcase some of our radically accomplished operator LPs, so we shined a light on HR leader Cindy Robbins, DEI leader Aubrey Blanche, executive recruiter Lynn Carter, partnerships leader Bonita Stewart, Chief Technical Officer Rathi Murthy, data and analytics queen Anita Lynch, engineering leader Yanbing Li, fashion mogul and activist Suzanne Lerner, founder and COO Michelle Zatlyn, executive producer Danielle Renfrew Behrens, and talent leader Michael Kieran

We also shared solid words of wisdom and operational advice from Leyla Seka, Ambrosia Vertesi, Tekedra Mawakana, Lexi Reese, Bonita Stewart, Erica Schultz, Li Fan, Dug Song, LaFawn Davis, Rathi Murthy, Monique Covington, Cindy Robbins, and Claire Hughes Johnson, plus a few words from me too. Whew! 

We shared our diligence

And along the way, of course, we made some investments! We are a venture fund, after all. Of all the investments we made this year, we were able to tell you more about our obsession with Guild Education, our uncomplicated love for DataGrail, and why our tie to Ironclad is simply binding. We showed you how to SetSail with a unique take on sales productivity, get smarter with Forethought AI, and check your productivity with Spekit. Need more? Find out how Textio helps your words matter, and learn how your sales team can Outreach, outlast, and outperform. Finally, we’re ready to introduce you to the Origin of financial wellness, as well as a new BFF for your CFO: Cube

How much will we learn next year? 

We learned a lot this year, but our number #1 lesson wasn’t from any of the great content above. We learned that our community is what keeps us going and grounded. We’re so thankful to have an amazing group of operator LPs who are not only radically accomplished, but also so happy to share their knowledge and support our #RiseTheTide mission.  

We barreled through our first year like a freight train. And as we look to 2021, our momentum is still going strong. We picked up and shared a huge amount of knowledge – but as always, this only gives us a baseline to beat next year. Onward!

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator Collective by the numbers: Our first year in review 

One year ago we launched Operator Collective as a new model for venture investing. We dismantled the traditional fund structure and rebuilt it from the ground up to optimize for bringing in operators from diverse backgrounds. Pictures from Operator Summit and our launch party – both near the end of 2019 – show bright faces giddy with hope and anticipation. We had no idea what this year would bring, of course. No one did. 

The world has changed so much since those photos up there, but despite the once-unimaginable challenges 2020 brought, we steadied on. We set out determined to rise the tide in the venture ecosystem, create an access point for operators from underrepresented backgrounds, and bring our broad skill sets to support the next generation of game-changing tech founders. We stayed focused on investing in humble, lifelong learners from all backgrounds who share our belief that culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. We believed this would lead us to companies with better financial performance, especially in challenging times when the cracks are amplified

What we ended up with was a fund that included more than 130 operator LPs – 90% women, 40% people of color — who’ve built and scaled companies like Stripe, Zoom, and Salesforce. And what does an enterprise-focused fund with a diverse LP base look like one year after our public launch? I’m a data-driven person so I thought I’d share some numbers.

We leverage our community for deal flow

Every investment begins with deal flow, so let’s start there. We built Operator Collective to be a more collective approach to venture investing. Creating a collaborative model to serve as more of a flywheel than a traditional funnel would allow us to concentrate more time and energy on what is most sought after by our community: efficiently engaging busy operators.

First, we believed a diverse and active community of LPs would lead to a great number of warm and contextual intros to high potential founders. As it turns out, LPs are our #1 source of referrals. 

We also believed that if we built an operator-focused fund, other VCs would see the inherent value and refer deals to us, deals they were leading or in which they were considering investing. And VCs who are outside of Operator Collective referred our second highest number of deals.

Finally, founders are our next most significant source. We love it when our “customers” refer other customers – it’s the ultimate validation.

We love to invest in the unsexy 

We’ve made 10 core investments and 13 supporting investments. Our focus remains on early stage enterprise/b2b startups, with a preference for the unsexy – the often not-visible solutions that have the potential to transform industries in need of disruption. COVID has accelerated the digitization of the workplace, and we’re fortunate that 3 of our core investments are receiving pre-emptive follow-on rounds already.

Here’s how our first-year investments break out by sector:

  • 31% are in productivity platforms, like SetSail (revenue data analytics) and Spekit (digital enablement)   
  • 22% are in developer solutions, like Balsa (tools for builders) and Hex (data project sharing) 
  • 17% are in financial or insurtech solutions, like Fast (payments), Cube (FP&A planning), and AgentSync (insurance licensing) 
  • 17% are in workforce platforms, like Guild Education (re-skilling workers) and Textio (business communications) 
  • 13% are in regulatory and compliance solutions, like Ironclad (contract lifecycle management) and DataGrail (data privacy) 

We invest in founders from all backgrounds

Given our LP base, there’s often a presumption that we only invest in female founders or founders of color – but that’s not the case. We’ve always looked to invest in founders from all backgrounds. Studies show that funder diversity has a natural trickle-down effect on the companies and types of founders being funded, and our data supports that. 

Looking at our portfolio companies:  

  • 74% have a founder of color (48% Asian, 17% Latinx, and 9% Black)
  • 35% have a CEO of color (17% Asian, 9% Latinx, and 9% Black) 
  • 57% have a female founder, while 35% have a female CEO
  • 30% of our companies have a female CTO or technical co-founder
  • 13% of our companies were founded by an all-female team   

We anticipate and expect these numbers to bounce around over time, and we’re always striving to be deliberate at expanding to reach beyond our current immediate networks.

There’s no finish line in the fight for equal opportunity 

We are still in early days, and we have much work ahead of us. We’ve already been busy thinking ahead to where and how we can improve in the future, but as our first year comes to a close, we’re also taking a moment to reflect on what this collective has done so far. We set out to create a new kind of venture fund, one that brings together the most respected operators in the world to find, invest in, and support the next generation of amazing tech companies, and it’s working.

An enormous thank you to our operators, our founders, our collaborators, and of course our dedicated Operator Collective team for believing in our vision and joining us on this inaugural journey. We would not be where we are today without you. I can’t wait to see what this collective can accomplish together from here. Let’s do this! 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.