Costanoa Access Fellowship Spotlight: Sophie Lalonde

(Top, fourth from the left: Sophie Lalonde at Portfolio Reserves Review)

When we saw Sophie’s submission for our Access Fellowship, we were impressed with her original thinking, analysis and initiative. It wasn’t a surprise once we saw her background — Bain & Co., Accenture and a short stint at a Chicago-based venture firm, OCA Ventures before landing at Booth for her MBA — but we were struck with her thoughtfulness and that she always had an opinion. Here are some highlights from her summer so far, in her own words:

What have you found most surprising in the venture capital business?

Every day I am blown away by the raw intelligence and passion shown by the entrepreneurs who share their stories. I find myself walking down University Avenue after work trying to patch together the entrepreneurial viewpoints together to ponder the vision for the future. Will software automate most jobs? Can we make coding easier to empower the workforce? Will interpersonal skills matter more than analytical skills in ten years from now? The latter thought distracted me enough to almost land me in a bike crash, so there may be something behind the old adage “curiosity killed the cat.”

What have you found interesting working at a boutique VC firm like Costanoa?

I love the firm’s belief in high conviction and concentrated investing. Every diligence is carefully crafted to ensure that not only the startup is the right bet that we want to make, but also that Costanoa is the right match to provide strategic advice. Even further, Greg/Neill/Bucky/John/Mark, our investment team, all try to make the diligence process as helpful to the potential company as possible by frequently turning positive reference calls turn into potential customers for the startup.

I also look at the guidance that Martina/Jim/Rachel/Mike (and our Executives-in-Residences Tom and Drew) provide in their respective fields and have a hard time to find any other words besides “Costanoa’s secret sauce” to describe their impact on our portfolio. I think it is quite rare for a seed-stage/series A investor to invest so heavily in such a concept, and I believe it is a true testament to Costanoa’s mission.

Costanoa Ventures Team

The mission of the Costanoa Access Fellowship is to give someone access to the first rung of the venture capital ladder. What has that felt like to you?

I think the word I’m looking for is thankful. I have had the chance to see every component in the venture capital industry ranging from a LP meeting, to a CEO workshop for our portfolio companies. Costanoa has kept me on my toes, taught me to be almost annoyingly curious, and challenged me to use a startup mindset. I feel strongly that the access I have been provided has helped me evaluate my career and where I fit into the larger tech ecosystem.

Right now is an interesting time for the VC industry with the news about inappropriate conduct by VCs. How do you directly feel about it? How do you think of VC as an industry? Do you see any solutions?

I recently had a conversation with a female entrepreneur with an impressive product and it was difficult to hear how discouraged she felt about the fundraising process. At times, she didn’t even feel like she should reach out to VC’s because many VC websites only feature white male entrepreneurs. At pitch events, she felt like she received different types of questions than her male counterparts. While it is obvious that conscious biases have to change, there are solutions we can all work on to fix unconscious bias.

  • Check your underlying thoughts — Dedicate an afternoon to unconscious bias training, and offer a session for portfolio companies as well.
  • Assess your approachability — Reflect as a firm if your messaging, interactions, and actions give special privileges to a certain type of entrepreneur.
  • Actively increase the pipeline — Identify continuous sources of intel on startups with diverse talent.
  • Listen to their stories — Mandate that members of the investment team should start a conversation with at least one person that is a different race at every event.
  • Even the playing field — Ask the same type of questions during pitch meetings, especially since this HBS report finds that VC’s ask males more favorable questions.

What are your impressions on the different aspects of VC: the investing, operating, and entrepreneurial roles?

These aspects, in combination, are a true triple threat. I enjoy assessing the strength of different components of a business and how to prioritize what kind of due diligence needs to take place prior to investing. I enjoy watching the emotional intelligence it takes to build the skills and roles around the founder for the startup to be successful. I admire the different lens an entrepreneur can bring to the investment team. Venture capitalists that can do all three well are high up in my mind and Twitter feed :).

You’ve been at Costanoa for a month, what do you want to get out of your final month?

Working on my edge computing thesis, so for any readers interested in this space please contact me (sophie@costanoavc.com)! While I am definitely not kidding on the former, I also want to leverage all the investing and operational intelligence from the Costanoa team so that when I head back to Booth in September I feel like I learned as much as was intellectually possible.