Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: “Be confident and inspire confidence”, With Candice Rezvanian of Florida Funders
Be confident and inspire confidence: I was fortunate to have an incredible high school teacher, Mr. Baird, who encouraged me to pursue public speaking because I was so very shy. I competed nationally, succeeded and went on to coach other students, later politicians, and now I get to coach founders in pitching their business. Public speaking gave me tremendous confidence. I love teaching others how to share their story and business through speech. It gives them confidence and inspires investor confidence in the founder.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Candice Rezvanian, the new Director of Founder Success at Florida Funders, a hybrid of a venture capital fund and crowd-funding platform that invests in early-stage technology companies in Florida. In her role, Rezvanian works directly with founders and portfolio companies to identify opportunities and assist in obtaining the resources they need. In this very hands-on role, Rezvanian also works closely with sponsors, subject matter experts, entrepreneur support organizations, and Florida Funders 1,300+ network of accredited investors, to serve as a direct resource to Florida Funders’ portfolio companies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific technology career path?
My career in venture capital started with a chance encounter that completely changed my career path. After dropping out of the #1 dental school in the country and getting another degree, I interviewed for a Beef Sales & Marketing role at a biodynamic grassfed beef farm. Growing up on a farm and having a few agribusinesses under my belt, it seemed a natural fit. During that interview process, I met the farm owner’s husband who happened to be the principal of a Louisville, KY based impact investing venture fund — something I’d never heard of. He asked me to come to work for him doing this ‘startup investing thing’ instead. With nothing to lose, I said ‘yes!’ I made a total career pivot and dove head first into learning as much as I could about investing in startups. I eventually went on to work for two other funds and entrepreneur support organizations, Village Capital and Endeavor, before relocating from Louisville to Tampa, to accept the role as Director of Founder Success at Florida Funders. I’m glad I took that leap nearly a decade ago and discovered my passion for supporting startup founders. No regrets!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at Florida Funders?
Well, it’s early as I’ve only just joined the team one month ago, but I do have one thing to share. My second week on the job I opposed a deal that everyone else on the investment committee agreed was investable. My team was shocked, but proud. It can sometimes be tough sharing your opinion when you’ve just joined a team, but it’s necessary to drive conversation and arrive at a decision all can feel confident in at the end of the day. We have to make tough decisions as we evaluate companies for investment.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve not had this happen yet, but give me time. I’m sure to make a mistake as that’s what makes me human. I struggle with sending calendar invites for the correct date and time, which can be embarrassing, so I’ve learned to rely on tools like Calendly.
What do you think makes Florida Funders stand out? Can you share a story?
Florida Funders has a tremendous network of partners, portfolio companies, investors, and a unique crowd of over 1,400 accredited investors. It’s rare coming into my role and seeing a fund with this kind of extensive network. Usually, a fund raises capital, starts making investments, and only later realizes they need to differentiate themselves by attracting the caliber network Florida Funders has garnered. Today, founders are looking for more than capital. They’re looking for a partner; an investor who is willing to dive into their business and support them in their greatest areas of need. Founders are looking for investors like Florida Funders who can offer value added services, access to a deep network, and provide opportunities for them to learn and grow their business.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m currently meeting with all of our founders to identify their needs and how Florida Funders can shape founder support initiatives around those needs. Additionally, each new company we evaluate for investment, we are now asking how we can support the founder(s) beyond capital. The insights I’m gathering from these meetings confirms there is a greater need beyond capital and founders are hungry for direct support with details like learning how to hire and fire employees, manage a board of directors, prepare for another raise and more.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I grew up in an agrarian society where my family made a living in agriculture. A historically male dominated industry, it was always challenging when my single, agribusiness owning mother sold our livestock into the market or attended all male county meetings to discuss issues facing our community. In time, that industry made a shift into where more women are leaders in the agriculture industry and have been a creative force to drive innovation in a suffering industry. Wives of farmers have evolved from the homemaker role into value added product innovators.
I think the tech space will see a similar change and there will be a shift in the status quo where more women are innovating and being creative problem solvers to sustain our society. I hope it doesn’t take big problems like those faced in the agriculture industry for women to be empowered to make their way in tech. It took agriculture, arguably the oldest industry, more than 11,000 years for women to see positions in leadership and impact. If the status quo regarding women in tech is to change, some dynamics and traditions I witnessed in the agricultural industry would have to be mirrored in the tech space.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Women are perceived as risky or less committed. We are perceived to be a risky hire because we are more committed to family and less committed to work. To address this, employers should create a balanced environment/work culture that allows all staff to prioritize family first. One of my mentors, the late David Jones, Sr., CoFounder of Humana, shared with me an important learned leadership lesson, “Number 1: Family is first- do your job, but enjoy your family and other interests. Have a life!” Mr. Jones was very successful in business, but most importantly, his wife and children all adored him. I think he had it all figured out!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in tech. Can you explain what you mean?
We don’t need to coach female founders, especially those of tech companies, to pitch their business in a way that pattern matches what VC funds look for in male founders. Instead, VC funds need to broaden their perspective and recognize the strengths of female founders and the way they lead their businesses. Some approaches a female founder takes may be different, but perhaps it’s different because you’ve heard 10,000 male founders pitch.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Family first: I took a nearly three year hiatus from working in institutional VC and moved back into a family office fund when I found out my husband and I were unexpectedly expecting our daughter. It was a big shift in my personal and professional life, but I made the decision to prioritize family first and I don’t regret it.
2. Be confident and inspire confidence: I was fortunate to have an incredible high school teacher, Mr. Baird, who encouraged me to pursue public speaking because I was so very shy. I competed nationally, succeeded and went on to coach other students, later politicians, and now I get to coach founders in pitching their business. Public speaking gave me tremendous confidence. I love teaching others how to share their story and business through speech. It gives them confidence and inspires investor confidence in the founder.
3. Be accountable: If you make a mistake, own it! I don’t have a story for this as I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life, especially in business, but in time, I learned to own it and grow from it. Especially as a leader — — if your team fails, you fail. Accept accountability and inspire others to do the same because it leads to growth.
4. Focus: It’s so easy to be attracted to the next shiny object or get warped into the ideas of others. Earlier in my career I used to say ‘yes’ to everything, take on every project, and try to be all things to all people. Ultimately, it deeply impacted my workplace happiness, and negatively impacted my ability to focus and achieve certain goals. I learned quickly that I had to do what I know, do what I’m good at, and focus on the initiatives I’m proficient in doing.
5. Solicit and receive feedback: This is crucial to growth! Ask your peers and team for help. Ask them for a fresh set of ears and eyes. I’ve spent countless hours hulled up in my own head on projects only to figure out I could have saved myself a headache if I had just asked for help and feedback. Asking for help is okay!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Do what you know and what you’re good at. Don’t try to sell yourself for more than you are and try to be all things. Focus on your strengths, own your weaknesses, hire for your weaknesses, appreciate your team and give them praise.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Give your team the latitude to prove themselves; give them the opportunity to fail. If they fail, you’ve learned and hopefully, they’ve learned. Micromanagement is not sustainable for your health or scalable for the health of your business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My former employer, Benton Keith, Principal of Radicle Capital, really took a bet on me almost a decade ago. Offering me my first job in VC with zero experience, he empowered me to learn, grow, and fulfill my potential. He supported me in going to school in CA, encouraged me to work for other organizations to gain experience, and invited me back to the fund to manage it for three years before moving to Tampa to work for Florida Funders. Though he was sad to see me go, he supported my goal to earn this role doing what I love most- supporting founders.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I was born in one of the poorest cities in the country and it wasn’t until middle school that my family became more stable. Since becoming a parent, I am constantly motivated to achieve and do more for the sake of my young daughter. I want to provide her the resources, love, and support she deserves in order to achieve her own version of success. I work to pave a way for her so she can do and be even more than I am. I believe she is my greatest success and pouring my efforts into her in hopes she’s a kind, compassionate and productive citizen is the best good I can do in this world.
You are a person of enormous 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’d love for all children to have exposure to agriculture, to understand where their food comes from and develop an appreciation of the importance food plays in our diet, culture, and environment. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the National FFA Organization which instills the values of premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. I think we could all live a better life if we had a better understanding of such a core industry. I get excited when I meet tech companies innovating in agriculture. It gives me hope for the future!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Ben Franklin is noted for saying this, but my highschool agriculture teacher, Mr. Baird, had this written on the chalkboard for as long as I can remember. It stuck with me because it’s true. You’ve got to work hard and prepare if you want a positive, favorable outcome, and you must work even harder if you wish to sustain that success.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Jillian Manus, Managing Partner at Structure Capital. She has an incredible life story prior to her career in VC. I can relate to her life struggles and triumphs as she broke into VC. I’d love to learn her perspective, lessons learned, and advice for having a long term career in venture capital.