I’m Black. And A Woman. This Is My VC Story.
I get a lot of questions about how I came to find my way into the VC world as the Community Manager at NYC and Boston-based Flybridge Capital. Cold emails from young, inquiring minds desperate to break into the VC or startup industry any way they can. I can understand why they seek me out: I’m a virtual unknown on the VC scene and even though I’ve worked in the startup/tech sector for a few years now, it’s mostly been for one company on an admittedly junior level. There’s also the race/sex component: I am a Black woman who has somehow infiltrated an almost exclusively all male, all White club. It’s no wonder that people of varying backgrounds are curious about how I went from selling insulin pumps to diabetics to watching VCs debate whether to invest millions of dollars into the next big thing.
My story is similar to other women and people of color who suddenly find themselves in lofty industries with ambiguous titles. I graduated college, moved to the big city, and immediately took the first job that was offered to me (the lack of options didn’t leave much room for thought). I was woefully overqualified and underpaid, but ultimately happy to be there. I thought myself lucky as most of my co-workers were young, wealthy, connected, and, well, White. Many of my coworkers from my first job in NYC went on to work at some of the most sucessful NYC startups as their first few employees and were spending this time simply dipping their toes in the workforce in an attempt to add value to their resumes. They knew they were going to move on quickly and most importantly, they knew they had the network to do so. But I lingered at that job long after I realized it wasn’t right for me. I didn’t have the network; I wasn’t friends with all those confident groups of White guys who decided to drop out of their Ivy League schools and start companies. It was just me, alone on a (literal) island struggling to make a way into a scene that was cracking at the seams with opportunity.
It’s access to these very opportunities, coupled with the lack of exposure to and confidence in the unknown, that ultimately obstructs women and people of color from taking advantage of things that, given the chance, we could excel at. So I did what many women and POC do when they realize that, for a variety of reasons, they are not positioned to inherit such coveted opportunities — I created my own and paved a way for myself. The journey was humbling and at times incredibly frustrating. I had to to work much harder to source opportunities and when I found them, equally as hard to hold onto them (even if they weren’t worth it). I briefly worked as a tech recruiter for a firm in Midtown. It was single handedly the worst experience of my professional career, mostly due to the cutthroat and uncollaborative nature of the job. Looking back, this experience was the impetus into the unknown for me, the confidence booster I needed to kick me in the ass and believe myself when I said that just because I didn’t automatically have the tools to make this journey even slightly less difficult, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t do it.
So just like the young and hungry inquiring minds who cold email me today, I cold emailed and applied to work at a young startup called WeWork nearly two years ago. I found them by literally googling “best startups in NYC” alone in my tiny Brooklyn apartment on a Sunday night, fresh off my newfound confidence to grab my life, my path, my journey, with both hands and steer bravely into the unknown. The next day, I was eating dinner with people who would later become my coworkers and friends. Grabbing this opportunity opened the doors for me in many ways. The first is that it allowed me to develop the confidence and skills to hone my side hustle as a sales consultant for emerging startups. The second being that it allowed me to build relationships with amazing and influential people, which ultimately lead me to where I am today at Flybridge Capital Partners.
So what do I say to those inquiring minds? Never stop learning and never stop pushing yourself and others around you to be better. To the women, the people of color, and the LGBTQ crew: believe that you can do something even when the odds are not in your favor. Create and learn everyday. Move forward with a purpose and never give anyone the power to tell your story for you. And when you do find a landing spot, make sure it’s with a team who gives a damn. Surround yourself with people who do good work like this and this, people who aim to create opportunities and level the playing field. And keep those emails coming.
Credit: Kendall Sherman