When I meet someone socially and it comes up that I work in the venture capital industry, their interest is immediately piqued. Is it like Shark Tank? How close is it to HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’? But, when it becomes clear that I’m not someone who makes investment decisions, the conversation sometimes falls flat. People don’t realize that the contributions of the non-investing team members at a venture firm are often what makes the place work. Knowing how they work will help you navigate the tricky VC waters. With only so many hours in the day and overloaded in boxes for all, we can be your advocates.
My career has included time at two venture capital firms, four early stage startups, and three large public companies. Each time, I worked in an administrative or operations role. Each experience built upon the last, and I was fortunate to work with people who valued a great administrative partner. I’ve tested new software, worked trade show booths, crawled under desks to troubleshoot IT issues, and answered more cold calls than I care to discuss. You may not be surprised to know that this year, there has been an uptick in calls asking if we invest in Cannabis Tech.
Because we answer the phones all day long, see all the email traffic, negotiate and juggle to get the right people together in a room, we actually get a sense of where companies are in their life cycles — when they’re building, struggling, fundraising, or recruiting. Observing, taking note and being sensitive to what people are dealing with, helps us be more effective.
But the important thing to realize is that the startup ecosystem is very small. Even if our investment team chooses not to move forward, we’ll likely cross paths with that founder or team again — and you should assume you’ll encounter us in the future. Which means even if it didn’t happen this time, don’t be a stranger. There are so many companies that hit our radar multiple times before we engage and founders who we’ve been following for years before they build something we can invest in. So come to one of Costanoa’s many networking and educational events carefully curated by our Operating Team and expertly executed by the administrative team. Even when you think you can’t spare the time, connecting with the community is always useful — I find it grounding.
Because Costanoa invests in early stage companies, they are often not large enough to have administrative staff, so sometimes we step in to schedule board meetings or interviews of key hires, provide conference room space, and in the case of the companies that incubate with us — office space! It’s an adventure every day to share work space with some of the companies that we invest in. Speak to anyone who has “lived” with us for a year at Costanoa to get the real story, but we provide a nice environment, friendly folk, productive hallway conversations in lieu of multiple emails, and a few good snacks. All are welcome, but I draw the line at dogs — it’s enough having to clean up after people!
So no, it’s not like ‘Shark Tank.’ Although HBO has filmed scenes for Silicon Valley at the Philz Coffee on our block, that’s about as close as we get. Every one of us at Costanoa Ventures has a hand in nurturing the network that keeps us in business and helps our portfolio companies be successful, each day and for the long haul.