Women must stop acting as polite guests in their own industries. Women need to realize that by nature we do have lower levels of testosterone than men. In many cultures, women are also trained from a young age to be docile. In order to get our views across in a male-dominated world, we have to speak out more and realize that our views are just as important and relevant.
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 Jenny Ruth Hrafnsdottir, Founding Partner and VC at Crowberry Capital. Jenny is a VC who has served on numerous boards of early stage companies, with managerial experience from publicly traded, privately held and venture capital backed companies in the States and in Iceland. She is passionate about supporting founders with building strong teams, focusing on social intelligence and cross-cultural team building as well as offering a different perspective to founders in the male dominated world of Venture Capitalists.
Thank you so much for joining us Jenny. Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
I’m an engineer by trade. I started my career working at a corporate medical device company, first as a designer and later as Product Manager. I next took on a leadership role at a spin out from the MIT Medialab, which was a company backed by Venture Capitalists. All of our backers were males, and I was the only female on the leadership team. I really liked the synergy between the VCs and the management team, but it lacked a broader perspective. Placing a solo female in the boardroom does not give businesses broader perspectives; on the contrary, it narrows it down because a solo female does not want to stick out from the leadership team and be labelled as the “activist feminist.”
When we (three female founding partners) decided to raise Crowberry, it was actually not at the core of our strategy to impact representation. But now we have come to realize that we are one of the few who actually can impact and challenge the status quo, so that is what we are doing now.
Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?
Crowberry was just launched late 2017, so we believe our biggest successes are still waiting for us. However, I will say — because successful companies are always backed by a group of investors — in order for female VCs to become successful it’s important that the bro’s club also permits us access to the best deals.
Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding “failure” of yours? Is there a lesson or take away that you took out of that that our readers can learn from?
Seeing as our fund is only 18 months into the process, we haven’t hit the brakes with any company yet. Our number one goal at Crowberry is to give great returns to our investors through responsible investments in new and innovative technologies, and part of that is to stop when experiments show negative results.
Was there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that?
Yes absolutely, and the main lesson that we learned was that we needed to restructure our investment strategy. The one that we started with was simply too narrow a framework for certain types of deals.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% 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?
Crowberry has invested in nine startups so far, of which five are led by male CEOs and four are led by female CEOs, or 44%. If we count every founder and co-founder of these nine startups, 24% are female. Our goal is to have a well- balanced portfolio led by both female and male CEOs, close to the 40/60 ratio of either gender. It has not been as hard for us to find female founders as many might think or claim. Many VCs say there is not a sufficient deal-flow of female founders. However, we at Crowberry don’t relate to that problem; our inbound traffic is very balanced, which is perhaps because our portfolio is living and breathing proof of diverse investing.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap.
- Private, Public and institutional investors need to diversify their Partner and Investment Decision teams. For example, how can investors support companies in building a diverse culture if they don’t believe in building a diverse culture for themselves?
- Women must stop acting as polite guests in their own industries. Women need to realize that by nature we do have lower levels of testosterone than men. In many cultures, women are also trained from a young age to be docile. In order to get our views across in a male-dominated world, we have to speak out more and realize that our views are just as important and relevant.
- Men need to be more receptive to different perspectives and more feminine approaches. Hofstede’s scale is internationally recognized as a tool to measure masculinity and femininity of countries and cultures. The Nordic countries score at the top in femininity, and these societies are well-off in comparison to others. Why should this not apply the same way for business?
- Both male and female Partners and C-level figures have to take their roles as coaches seriously for younger generations of women. It is not acceptable when companies and VC firms say they hire young females, but they just don’t prosper. No one gets promoted without a promoter!
- Money talks. Those VC firms who truly believe in diverse societies should commit to investing in female founders and hold themselves accountable to their progress.
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. :-)
Planet Earth is a closed system. The only way to sustain our planet, while increasing the living standards, is by looking at the earth as one system. I ́m a big believer in education and empowering people to make more intelligent choices. I would like to therefore help educate generations Z and Alpha on the urgency of focusing and sustaining our planet and approaching the project as one system. In order to do this, we must be willing to have a healthy and honest debate about our current living standards, and how we must adapt to survive.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“My daughter will stand equal to any man” — This is a quote my mom gave at her graduation. During my upbringing she was frequently reminded of it by friends and family. Firstly, it helped me realize there was a problem, and later it gave me the strength to fight for level ground.
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 US 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. :-)
Yes, and if they are reading, I would like to have a breakfast meeting with Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia Capital. To be honest, this is for a very selfish reason, as I want to learn more from him and do business with Sequoia one day.