Amid a diversity gap in the VC world, Operator Collective creates a new model

Mallun Yen

This article by Teryn O’Brien was originally published on siliconangle.com.

Diversity in the workplace provides benefits that aren’t usually seen in a group of like-minded people, including increased innovation and creativity, higher employee engagement and lower turnover. Unfortunately, diversity in gender, race, age and other demographics still isn’t a feature of today’s venture capital world.

Continue reading here.

Operator Collective is a diverse group of leaders working together to redistribute access to wealth, help more founders succeed, and disrupt the venture capital ecosystem. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The Next Decade Will Bring More Venture Capital To Female Founders

Emily Weiss - Founder, Glossier

This article by Geri Stengel was originally published on forbes.com

The 2010s were a decade of slow progress in funding for female founders. However, the 2020s will see accelerated progress as investors see even more proof that investing in women brings stellar returns.

Continue reading here.

Operator Collective is a diverse group of leaders working together to redistribute access to wealth, help more founders succeed, and disrupt the venture capital ecosystem. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

VC firm draws $45 million fund mostly from women investors

The Fund Group Photo

This article by Anne Stych was originally published on bizjournals.com

A Silicon Valley venture capital fund that has more than 90 percent women among its more than 100 limited partners has raised committed capital of more than $45 million.

Continue reading here.

Operator Collective is a diverse group of leaders working together to redistribute access to wealth, help more founders succeed, and disrupt the venture capital ecosystem. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Why 90% of the Investors in This New Silicon Valley Venture Fund Are Women

FORTUNE MPW Next Gen 2019

This article by Michal Lev-Ram was originally published on Fortune.com.

On a recent Wednesday in Woodside, Calif., about a dozen Silicon Valley-based investors gathered to celebrate a new fund. These were some of the region’s top “operators”—the executives who make organizations tick day-to-day—from some of the hottest tech companies around, with many decades of experience (and financial success) represented in the room. But they also had something else in common: Nearly all of them were first-time investors.

Continue reading here.

Operator Collective is a diverse group of leaders working together to redistribute access to wealth, help more founders succeed, and disrupt the venture capital ecosystem. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The outsiders are coming in: The origin of Operator Collective

For most of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider. Whether it was being raised by immigrant parents who didn’t understand Western social norms, or my years as an awkward kid picked last for everything, or being one of the few women Chief Intellectual Property Counsels in the niche-y field of patent law, I’ve always been most comfortable working quietly in the background.

When you’re an outsider, you spend a lot of time observing. I’m often told I think outside the box, to which I silently respond it’s because I’m not enough of an insider to even know what the confines of the box are. And when you’re an outsider, you sometimes don’t even realize you have skills that would be useful to others.

Here’s an example. In 2008 I helped launch a venture-backed company we took from $0 to $100M and IPO in three years but I was such an outsider to venture that I didn’t realize this was unusual. There were the inevitable and valuable lessons learned during that period, and we ultimately grew the company to $300M.

After we sold the company ten years later, I started to spend more time with founders and VCs, mostly as part of the SaaStr community, which I’d been involved in from the early days (I’m married to the founder). And of course, I spent a lot of time where I’m most comfortable quietly observing. Here’s what I saw:  

  • The venture world revolves around VCs and founders. 
  • Roughly 90% of VCs and founders are white males, higher when you look at enterprise.
  • VCs and founders tend to hang out with other VCs and founders, and their networks don’t overlap much with operators, much less with women operators. 
  • Most b2b startups eventually want to sell their products to enterprise.
  • The majority of VCs and founders have either never worked in enterprise, or haven’t done so in decades.  

As I began to dip my toe in angel investing, I noticed something else: I was often the only woman on the cap table, and homogeneous groups were showing up again and again. I was bothered enough to ask a few founders if they’d noticed. These founders, to their credit, were horrified, and then even more distressed when they realized they hadn’t recognized it prior to my asking the question. They explained that they’d simply gone to their buddies for backing they didn’t know any women who might invest and could I please help.

The Buddy Syndrome strikes again
The fact is, they weren’t wrong. When you’re in the early days of starting a company, you turn to people you know the ones who trust you and are willing to take a chance. And people from your network tend to be people like you. (I call this the buddy syndrome.)

And beyond this, it’s a fact that fewer women invest. Women hold 71% of their assets in cash. They make up just 9% of venture decision makers and 22% of angel investors. And if you focus only on my area enterprise the numbers drop even more.

At the same time, I began asking my women friends: “Why don’t you angel invest?” Never been asked. Never had the opportunity. Didn’t occur to me that it was a possibility. No time to vet and not sure I know how to vet anyway.

Why aren’t more women investing?
I heard this over and over and from some of the most accomplished operators in the world, many of whom happened to be women… leaders who’d built the most successful tech companies in the world. In fact, many of today’s most respected operators are women.

Earlier this year one of our LPs, Reshma Saujani, Founder & CEO of Girls Who Code, released her book Brave, Not Perfect; this is based on the idea that from a young age, boys are praised when they take risks, while girls are expected to be perfect and steer clear of taking chances. Saujani’s experience is in the world of coding, but the translation to enterprise is clear: Women today are conditioned to be perfect at work, at home, and frankly in everything we do. As a result, we give 150% to our day jobs and 150% to our family and friends. We’re not looking to meet VCs and founders in the little time we have left over. Sprinkle in the gender pay equity gap and “gap table,” and the result is that most women don’t have the liquidity, much less the desire, to invest in people they don’t know and in startups they don’t have the time to vet. Yet they’re the very people with the backgrounds the venture world could use. So these women these ultra talented operators were also outsiders with no obvious path to get in.

On the flip side, there’s venture. Now the value of diversity has been well established, yet venture remains homogeneous not because no one wants the change, but because there hasn’t been a natural way for it to happen (birds of a feather, and all that). So what we wanted to do was help both sides of the equation: Give talented operators from diverse backgrounds a safe, comfortable way to join venture + make it easy for founders and VCs to bring in new experience and perspectives.

The origin of Operator Collective
The idea took hold quickly. Operators were thrilled at the idea (just look at the absurd amount of talent we’ve assembled), and they quickly referred their fellow operators. Even universities and foundations signed on as LPs, a rarity for a first-time fund. And of course as we operators have been trained to do, we built this fund to have immediate product-market fit to address that gaping lack of operational expertise in venture.

So here we go. The sidelines are bursting, and the outsiders are coming in.

Say hello to Operator Collective.

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

Infographic: The absurd amount of talent in Operator Collective

It’s no secret venture capital is an exclusive and homogeneous group that’s hard for outsiders to crack. Yet VCs and founders don’t build companies — operators do. So why don’t they have a bigger voice to decide which founders get funded and how they’ll be supported?

That’s why we created Operator Collective, a new venture capital fund with a community of ultra-talented operators built right into its DNA. Operator Collective is making venture accessible to exactly the people the ecosystem needs now: leaders from diverse backgrounds with deep experience from building some of today’s most successful companies.

Our limited partners include 100+ respected operators who bring decades of experience growing and running the world’s most admired companies — from Zoom, Stripe, and PagerDuty to Salesforce, Slack, and beyond. They have more than 1500 years of collective operator experience; more than 60 of our LPs have built unicorns, more than 35 have taken their companies public, and more than 80 have steered their companies through acquisitions. The amount of revenue they own and people they lead is staggering.

Learn more in the graphic below. What an incredible team to have on your side.

Operator Collective Infographic

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

Alpha Girls: 5 lessons from the women who earned their way to the top of Silicon Valley

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.

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

Learning From Operators: SaaStr Co-founder Mallun Yen’s Next Venture

This article by Gené Teare was originally published on Crunchbase News.

Mallun Yen’s latest endeavor, Operator Collective, launched its first summit bringing together operators of high growth venture backed companies.

As a writer focused on female founders and executives, I was invited to cover the event. Yen noticed that the venture world tends to revolve around founders and VCs. Yet her experience as an early team member at RPX and a co-founder at SaaStr is that COOs and operators are critical but do not spend time connecting.

Continue reading here.

Operator Collective is a diverse group of leaders working together to redistribute access to wealth, help more founders succeed, and disrupt the venture capital ecosystem. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Finding Empowerment in Community: Lessons from the Operator Summit

This article by Jen Yip was originally published on Medium.

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the first-ever Operator Summit organized by the inimitable operator extraordinaire, Mallun Yen, co-founder of SaaStr and founder of the Operator Collective. I left the event just as the sun was setting, reluctantly pulling myself away from a group of women still laughing together on the sidewalk, feeling more energized and inspired than I can remember having been in a long time. As someone who hosts and attends many tech events, I can say this feeling of kinship with fellow conference attendees is pretty rare. I hardly ever leave an event with this heady feeling of empowerment. This morning on my run, I spent some time reflecting on what made the Operator Summit so powerful.

Continue reading here.

Operator Collective is a diverse group of leaders working together to redistribute access to wealth, help more founders succeed, and disrupt the venture capital ecosystem. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.