Take a “small wins” approach versus trying to “boil the ocean” — by which I mean let’s set reasonable goals that are sustainable and work toward parity one step at a time. Start with educating teams (managers and their subordinates) about bias. Evaluate where in the company’s processes bias could enter the organization. And set realistic and measurable practices in place to reduce this bias.
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Trzepacz (JT). JT is Wildcat Venture Partners’ Operating Partner and Chief People Officer, focused on operationalizing Wildcat’s proprietary framework — The Traction Gap; connecting talent and people strategies to accelerate performance for portfolio companies; and leading Wildcat’s Limited Partner relations efforts.
Prior to joining Wildcat, JT was Executive Vice President at Rocket Fuel where she oversaw global business operations that included human resources, legal, facilities, IT, business intelligence, project management, and communications. JT has more than 20 years of operating experience implementing human resources and operational strategies at several transformative and industry-leading companies, including LivingSocial, Salesforce, Electronic Arts, Yahoo, and CNET Networks.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the back story that brought you to this career path?
They always say it’s all about the network. My career path seems more like a lattice — all interconnected based on industry trends, talent markets, and relationships. I have been fortunate to be exposed to media, gaming, social, mobile, SaaS, and AI/ML, which are all converging in how digital transformation is reshaping consumer and enterprise businesses. I wasn’t looking for this career opportunity, but how could you not want to get deep exposure around new technology and business solutions, meeting the future leaders that will disrupt categories and create new ways of operating? How could I not want to leverage my expertise in helping these leaders bring out the potential of themselves, their ideas and their teams? I just couldn’t pass this up!
Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?
I am not an investing partner, so I don’t have a “most successful investment” story. But I can tell you that in my 25+ years of investment, working for amazing companies and now being exposed to more than 40 companies in my operating partner position, there is consistently one main theme that makes or breaks a company, regardless of industry sector, product, customer or tech: the people. This may sound cliché, but all too often I have seen leaders sit on people decisions far too long. Some have moved too slowly to hire someone in or move someone out. Others have compromised people decisions because it was just plain easier for them than facing reality or to save face. I’ve seen company executives challenged with balancing a “seasoned pro” over creatively leveraging the potential and passion of an up and comer. Even tolerating an ineffective board is ultimately a people challenge. In every instance, it all boils down to securing the right people, at the right time, with the right experiences to move the company to the next value inflection point. One false move (a bad hire that lingers for too long) can cost a company a lot in the end.
Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding “failure” of yours? Is there a lesson or takeaway that our readers can learn from?
Well, as I’ve said, it often comes down to people. People will contribute to both the success and the failures. I think we just need to get more comfortable with failure. Failure is what every founder and VC should expect. In fact, everyone should be very comfortable with encountering many failures along the way — it is those experiences which make us grow, adjust, learn, and thrive. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to accept failures or mistakes, and there are many leaders, companies, and cultures that fear failure. For women, failure is particularly tough, since we can be held to a different — and in many cases higher — standard by others. In fact, we are most definitely our own biggest critic and hold ourselves accountable to such high standards that failure can be devastating. I believe failure plays a large role in contributing to our main topic around the VC gender gap.
Was there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that?
There are many “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” stories that my firm has shared around passed investments. With each of these stories is a lesson around focus. We passed because we had to stick to our core expertise and focus on our key thesis areas, focus on solutions that were disrupting or creating new categories, and that identified a large trapped value opportunity that could be unleashed in the future. While there have been many companies that we’ve passed on, we remind ourselves that by staying focused, we are creating better outcomes for the companies we do invest in. In fact, one out of every four investments made by the members of our partnership over the course of their careers has become a unicorn, meaning they’ve achieved a valuation in excess of $1 billion. Do we regret some decisions? Perhaps from a position of ego, yes. But would we do it again? Likely so, if we are holding to our own standards and investing based on our filter of experience and criteria we believe will lead to success. It’s a fiduciary responsibility we carry and one that our LPs deserve.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2 percent of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?
While I could list the mechanics of efforts many firms, including Wildcat, are deploying, the most impactful influence around the gender gap for our own team has been the experiences our GPs’ daughters have shared. Hearing and seeing their experiences in the workforce and landing executive positions, our GPs are experiencing a side of the gender gap that is personal. They have heard firsthand stories of inequity around inclusion, assignments, advancement, pay, and share of voice. This personal impact has ignited a spark of concern, commitment, and consciousness to ensure our firm and portfolio companies are mindful and deliberate around diversity, while at the same time valuing the contribution of each and every individual within our portfolio, regardless of gender.
Can you recommend five things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap?
- Similar to Founders for Change — create a VC challenge where 50 percent of the male GPs take on mentoring a female successor. Provide the GP with a three- to five-year succession playbook to provide experience, exposure, and education to help them through a succession planning effort.
- Leverage firms such as All Raise, Athena Alliance, Women in VC, and other networks that have direct access to females in venture that could provide an amazing source of investing / operating partners, advisory / board members, and entrepreneurs.
- Limited partners set an expectation that in order to receive funding a firm must have at least one female partner with a commitment toward investing in female-led companies. This is a slippery slope because we also don’t want to encourage investment solely on the basis of gender. However, there are a lot of good ideas out there and women are owning many of them. We need to look harder for these companies.
- Take a “small wins” approach versus trying to “boil the ocean” — by which I mean let’s set reasonable goals that are sustainable and work toward parity one step at a time. Start with educating teams (managers and their subordinates) about bias. Evaluate where in the company’s processes bias could enter the organization. And set realistic and measurable practices in place to reduce this bias. Here’s a great article if you are interested in more on the topic: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/reducing-gender-inequality-work-one- small-step-time.
- Women really need to support one another and help each other out. We must put aside being catty, critical or competitive, and just have each others’ backs. United we are even stronger, and our networks reflect that. We can do this in small ways as well. If each woman could find a woman to mentor and a woman to look up to, we’d create a network effect.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I live a simple life. My idea is not groundbreaking — adopt a dog! Dogs bring unconditional love, happiness, and protection to you and your family. Dogs in the office can break down stress, lighten the environment, bring out the human side that puts people at ease, and occasionally get at the company snacks. We all need to chill in this intense world and a pup can help you through it!
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Go slow to go fast.” I am still working on this, but I have learned that if you go too fast, you tend to go alone. Having my husband, family and friends, team members, business partners, customers, and even my pup, Max, alongside me, makes the journey more enjoyable and fulfilling.
Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Michelle Obama. She leads with such strength, courage, vulnerability, compassion, and authenticity. She has a balance of approachability and command, and she does it with a great smile on her face. I admire how she owns her power.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.