Timeless, scalable advice from successful female leaders to ambitious young professionals

Angel Investor, Suzanne R. Fletcher, shares her career journey & Stanford GSB experience

Lead by Example: Episode 2

Lead by Example
Dec 4, 2019 · 7 min read

Suzanne Rombeau Fletcher is an active angel investor and venture partner with Prime Movers Lab. Previously, Suzanne was the manager of the Stanford-StartX Fund. Prior to her work at StartX, she was a Managing Director in the Secondary Private Equity Group at Paul Capital Partners.

In this interview, Suzanne shares her career journey — including her MBA experience at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and her journey into Venture Capital.

How did you start off your career?

I started off my career at an investment bank in New York, where I did IPO underwriting and buyout-type work focusing on the technology industry.

A few months into my job in NYC and at the age of 22, I decided to seize an amazing opportunity to move to our office on the West Coast in the SF Bay Area. I learned so much, so quickly! Not only about finance — but also about how companies operate and how to work efficiently and productively. I felt honored to work alongside inspiring and hard charging people.

The experience helped me develop a really strong work ethic at the beginning of my career, and it gave me the ability to power through difficult situations. This has benefited me greatly. The very early, very intense training I received in banking has been invaluable to me and given me the confidence to pursue other opportunities with intensity and vigor.

What ultimately led you to pursue business school?

I was always interested in going to business school. I studied business and information systems in undergrad, but for my master’s degree I had a different goal in mind.

For me, business school was about being more introspective and thinking deeply about what I wanted to do going forward, while surrounding myself with awesome people. I feel so fortunate to have gone to business school at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. It enabled me to expand my friend group immensely. You know — people will say business school is about facilitated networking… but at Stanford I really think of my “network” as just great friends and fellow humans.

The GSB experience more permanently rooted me in the world of the Bay Area, while also inspiring me to find my passion and identify where I wanted to have an impact. The experience wasn’t about following a predefined path, but forging your own. And that was another kind of turning point.

How did business school shape your approach to career decisions?

Coming out of college, I took a very predefined path — I was interested in investment banking and participated in on-campus recruiting efforts that led me there.

But coming out of business school, I was much more focused on carving my own path, doing more introspection as to what I really wanted to do. For example, doing my own kind of recruiting process and not going through a standard funnel. That path led me to a secondary private equity fund focused on very diversified portfolios including venture capital, private equity and mezzanine assets. My “ah-ha” type moment was realizing that I loved being a generalist and having a pulse on a lot of different industries. I thrived on context switching — which has also really helped me as a VC and angel investor.

But it is no wonder that so many great entrepreneurs come out of the Stanford ecosystem, because it was so deeply personal. So very focused on what drives you as an individual, your strengths, and desired impact. Rather than a prescriptive approach based on the types of companies or industries you’d like to work for.

After your time at a secondary fund, you joined Stanford’s StartX accelerator. Can you tell me more about what led you to that opportunity?

I had done investing across diversified asset classes at a secondary fund for 10 years, and wanted to do more direct venture, specifically, earlier stage investing. And for me, that was a career pivot.

An opportunity came up at StartX, which enabled me to work on the Stanford-StartX Fund alongside great entrepreneurs. I am so glad that I took the risk to do something new, because it was very transformational.

StartX embodies Stanford’s entrepreneur community and it’s a nonprofit. It’s about helping entrepreneurs achieve more together than they could individually. And it put me squarely in direct investing on the venture side helping entrepreneurs and startups. It was a very different type of organization than what I had been in before. And, you know, I went from a somewhat formal work environment to yoga pants, a comfy couch, animals in the office, and things like that. For me, learning to get out of my comfort zone was very valuable.

But having seen entrepreneurial journeys up close and having had the chance to work with more than 500+ companies that have come through StartX — including some really well-known ones — has given me such an appreciation for what entrepreneurs do, and how folks in that ecosystem such as advisors and investors can better support them.

So for me, the role was originally a risk. It took me out of my comfort zone, away from something I had been doing with proficiency for 10 years. This move essentially led me to embrace much more of a growth mindset. I credit Cameron Teitelman, the founder of StartX for really helping me with this.

This was a really valuable shift in my thinking. One that has also definitely helped me now that I’m a parent. The experience made me more ok with the unknown and more comfortable embracing what I may not yet know. It made me further convinced that all skills are learnable and it is important to examine what limiting beliefs you have in order to move beyond them.

Can you tell me about a professional experience that was challenging at the time, but ultimately led to growth?

Every fund needs to ensure that founders choose to work with you for their fundraising round. Personally, I never thought of myself as a salesperson. Sales was something I would shy away from — I didn’t see it meshing with my personality!

But working at StartX, I met all different types of entrepreneurs. They’d often ask, “Why should I accept money from your fund?” And, you know, that’s a very blunt question. But also a very good one. It made me realize that I was selling — both the fund and my personal brand.

The earlier you realize that almost every career has an element of selling — even if you aren’t a “salesperson” — the better. Because throughout your career, you’ll have to practice your pitch. Especially every time you articulate why someone should work with you or for you.

You recently left StartX to begin angel investing. Can you share more about your experience so far?

I am currently advising and investing on my own. Essentially, I’ve been angel investing and spending time with founders whose companies/industries I’m deeply passionate about. This has enabled me to support companies such as Riva — which helps people negotiate job offers with data. This has been so inspiring because one of their target groups is of course, female engineers who are notably underpaid versus their male counterparts. Being able to advise a diverse set of startups has been super fulfilling.

Advising and investing aside — I’ve also really enjoyed making the leap to doing something on my own. The experience is pushing me to grow, and to think very deeply about what I’m doing. It is also getting me more comfortable with being uncomfortable. The experience has been very exciting and I’ve loved it so far.

You’ve worked with 500+ startups throughout your time at StartX and angel investing. What key piece of advice would you give to current and future entrepreneurs?

A secret to success that I’ve seen from entrepreneurs is the ability to stick with things when they get very hard. Because they will inevitably get very hard… in any kind of entrepreneurial journey. So the ability to build support systems around yourself in advance of those tricky situations is key.

StartX is an example of great support system, as are advisors and other entrepreneurs. But preparing yourself for those tough times and thinking about how you’re going to deal with them is very important.

Are there any challenges that you’ve seen be very unique to the female founders in which you work with?

In general, being an entrepreneur is a very difficult path. But certainly, being in a very small minority of founders produces additional challenges.

I’ve been so impressed by the female founders that I’ve worked with — their sheer persistence is amazing! But I do think that when female founders meet with investors, the frequently asked questions tend to be more focused on risk rather than opportunity.

However, that is changing. And I’m really optimistic about where the industry is going as well as the level of interest and awareness surrounding this. But the female founders that I work with are definitely cognizant of some of the biases people may have and are learning how to tackle those challenges head on (e.g., pivoting risk-based questions into opportunity focused-answers).

Which female founders or mentors have inspired you throughout your career?

I’ve been fortunate to have both formal and informal mentors throughout my career. I’ve known and worked with Kate Mitchell from Scale Venture Partners for about the last 12 years. We met during my time at Paul Capital, when Scale Venture Partners was spinning out of Bank of America. She’s been so phenomenal throughout the course of my career. She’s consistently supported me and been a sounding board. I feel very fortunate to have had a female role model in venture capital, who’s helped me with the transition into direct venture investing.

Additionally, I’ve been so inspired by the female entrepreneurs and colleagues I worked alongside during my time at StartX. From them, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about leadership.

Formal mentorship is very helpful, but I’d also encourage you to seek out informal mentors. There is likely a broad network of people that you can consider informal mentors that are willing to give you advice and feedback on topics. Don’t be too intimidated by the task of having a formal “mentor” — look for informal opportunities as well.

Lead by Example

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