Phoebe Peronto of Salesforce Ventures: “We need to encourage (and celebrate) our young women who have entrepreneurial interests”

Jason Malki
Jul 11 · 6 min read

As part of my series about the “5 things needed to close the VC gender gap”, I had the pleasure to interview Phoebe Peronto. Phoebe is a Principal at Salesforce Ventures, where she focuses on investing in enterprise SaaS companies in various industry sectors, including retail/commerce, developer tools, and emerging technologies (AI/ML, blockchain). She joined Salesforce by way of the investing team at Google Ventures, and operational roles at both Google Inc. and Rocket Internet. Phoebe holds a dual degree from UC Berkeley in Political Science and Business Administration, and graduated with high distinction as a George Baker Scholar from Harvard Business School. Based in San Francisco, Phoebe has become one of those crazy obsessed coffee people.

Thank you so much for joining us Phoebe. Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

I like to say I “jungle-gym’ed” to venture capital. Growing up, I had parents who modeled career fluidity, pursuing highly creative (read: animator, ballet dancer) and highly quantitative (banker, engineer) careers at points in their lives when they craved a new challenge. Molded by that perspective, I’ve always viewed my career path as just that, a path — not destination-driven.

I’ve sought out opportunities at different points on the path that stretched me, spoke to a passion, or simply presented a new experience. I worked on the Hill for Dianne Feinstein, moved to the Middle East for a startup, learned the ins and outs of marketing at Google, and more. I then landed in venture capital, because a team took a chance on me and I was drawn to working with founders who constantly tested boundaries, thriving in risk. I stayed in venture capital because every day is a different challenge, experience, idea, founder, company. I walk out of the office every day having learned something new or unexpected. To be able to work in an environment that encourages testing the boundaries of what’s known is exactly where a jungle-gym’ing person thrives.

Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?

Every investment presents new variables, people, and dynamics. I find the most meaningful lessons by assessing the aggregate. At Salesforce Ventures, we invest in strategically-aligned enterprise SaaS businesses. Since starting, I’ve been intentional about investing to where the puck is going, where enterprise SaaS will be in the next 5–10 years. This demands assessing companies, founding teams, and markets with a new framework and frame of mind. Oftentimes, many of these spaces are still emerging and forming: blockchain, drones, artificial intelligence.

I’ve learned three meaningful lessons from this experience: 1) in order to ask others to suspend judgment around the traditional boundaries of how we invest, you must do the same, and constantly challenge your own assumptions; 2) be transparent about what you don’t know, what you do know, and what you’re still figuring out; and 3) bring everyone around the table along in the process, enabling them to participate in what your (and the founder’s!) vision for the future looks like, and how this company accelerates us toward that future.

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?

At risk of being cheeky, I’d say see above. Where I’ve been less successful is when I haven’t consulted those three lessons.

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?

I’m a strong believer in being a change agent in narrowing the VC gender gap. Being at a fund that aligns with those beliefs, I have harnessed internal support to actively increase the number of women on both the founder and investor sides of the table. At Salesforce Ventures, like at Salesforce, we believe in Equality, and that trickles down to our investment thesis. We have invested in top female founders and CEOs in enterprise software, including Ellevest’s Sallie Krawcheck, Helpshift’s Linda Crawford, Guild Education’s Rachel Carlson, and more. However, we know that it’s not just funding that is needed. By helping to close the resource gap for women, we can increase the number of women we see in boardrooms and executive roles. I spearheaded Salesforce Ventures’ Leadership Classroom, a leadership bootcamp for high-performing women at the fund’s portfolio companies. Leadership Classroom equipped this group with resources, skills, and a community of fellow women to rocket successfully into senior leadership in highly entrepreneurial environments. We are committed to engaging women in the Salesforce ecosystem through initiatives like our Leadership Classroom, hosting VC Office Hours for diverse founders, bringing together Female Founders for breakfasts and more. This is just the start.

Can you recommend changes that need to happen on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap.

On a societal level, I see two incremental changes we can mobilize tomorrow to start narrowing the VC gender gap. One is to encourage (and celebrate) our young women who have entrepreneurial interests. We move mountains to help them pursue dance, musical instruments, sports, etc. I’ve yet to see the same for young women who want to be technologists, creators, and builders. Camps, resources at school, and the societal narrative of who is celebrated in history can help. This begs the second incremental change: add ‘technologist, entrepreneur, and founder’ to the traditional career paths we conversationally revere in society. Introducing new vocabulary and intent around what women can be will help young women grow into women who inherently do not adhere to those traditional boundaries of founding and investing, boundaries that currently reinforce the VC gender gap. These young women can grow into women who become advocates, implicitly and explicitly, for each other.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve always read Vanity Fair for answers to the Proust Questionnaire. The questions are broad, though ask the interviewee to be very vulnerable, and many successful people across disciplines have answered them over the years. My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” quote comes from comedienne Tiffany Haddish’s Proust Questionnaire when she is asked, “what is your motto?” Haddish answers: “She ready.” I read this as an empowered ‘bring it on, world’. I thrive in unstructured environments, because that’s where I learn the most. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is my version of ‘bring it on, world.’

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. :-)

Brene Brown. I work in an industry where I do not look like the majority. How I interact with other investors, founders, and teams will be inherently different. As a female investor, I have a choice: I can embrace that difference or minimize/hide it. Brene Brown’s work on the role of vulnerability and its relationship with courage gave me the tools, vocabulary, and oomph I needed to embrace — and lead with — that difference.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Jason Malki

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Jason Malki is the Founder & CEO of StrtupBoost, a 30,000+ member startup ecosystem + Flex5, a startup investor relations, marketing, and design agency.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.