Investing and Empowering: What I’m Focusing on at Lightspeed.

Mercedes Bent
Nov 22, 2019 · 7 min read
Professional Me

I recently joined Lightspeed on the early-stage consumer investment team. It’s unlike any other team I’ve seen in venture. I’m the fifth woman to join our consumer team, which also includes two men. The last time I joined an investment team, nearly a decade ago, I mostly saw men when I looked around the room. What I love most about Lightspeed is that we all come from very different backgrounds, with diverse points of view. Diversity matters. Inclusion matters. Representation matters.

Some of the Ladies of Lightspeed (from left to right): Nicole North, me, Catherine Chen, Anoushka Vaswani, Amy Wu, Meredith Maines, Nicole Quinn, Merci Victoria Grace, Rachel Manson, Ashley Brasier, Jana Messerschmidt, and Jasmine Kriston.

The WSJ reported that I’m Lightspeed’s first black female investor. I’m also one of only five black female investors currently investing at any $1 billion+ VC firm in the US. The other black female investors at $1 billion+ funds are Megan Maloney at General Catalyst, Terri Burns at GV, Adina Tecklu at Khosla Ventures and Jessica Patton at Andreessen Horowitz’s Cultural Leadership Fund. I would love to have missed someone — please correct me in the comments if I have.

So, now that I’m at Lightspeed, what am I focusing on? Recently I had the pleasure of speaking about this very topic at All Raise’s Annual VC Summit — the largest gathering of women in VC in history — alongside other investors I admire (photo below).

Here are the investment areas I’m currently most excited about and you can find more information on each area below:

  1. Edtech / Future of Work
  2. Multicultural and Women’s-focused Consumer Products
  3. Latin America
  4. Immersive Technology

P.S. other areas I’m actively looking at but haven’t written a thesis about below include 1) fintech and 2) mobility / transportation

Pictured above from left to right: Kirsten Green of Forerunner, Nisha Dua of BBG Ventures, Anarghya Vardhana of Maveron, and yours truly, Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed.

Edtech / Future of Work

Education has always been a core value for my family. So much so that my parents created their own summer school curriculum for my siblings and I every summer. I might have complained at the time but I was incredibly lucky to have parents like this.

My mother taught at a community college earlier in her career and now works at Howard University in DC. She grew up on an HBCU campus in southern Virginia where her parents were college professors. The importance education has in my life is difficult to overstate.

It’s also a huge industry. Global education expenditure is $6.3 trillion and growing, with more than 2 billion current students. Over 6% of US GDP is spent on education and it is the second largest market, behind healthcare, in the US. Despite this size, just 3% of global education expenditure is on technology.

Recent changes in the education industry have prepared it for scale. On the K-12 side, school internet access has dramatically increased, with broadband penetration in school districts increasing from 5% in 2010 to 88% in 2016. Device penetration in the K-12 market also increased from 23% in 2012 to 54% in 2016, showing schools are finally getting connected.

Adult learners also need to constantly re-skill and adapt to the changing needs of the new workforce, making corporate learning a $130 billion market. McKinsey & Company estimates that in the next 10 years 75 to 400 million people could see their work displaced by automation. The OECD says high-skilled and low-skilled jobs are increasing while middle-skill jobs are decreasing. Other economists say middle-skill or blue-collar jobs are not vanishing but rather new ones are emerging.

I spent the last seven years of my career working in this space including nearly 5 years at a GM at General Assembly and am excited by solutions involving unique financing, community-driven learning experiences, and solutions that leverage existing incumbent assets. Another post coming soon with more thoughts on the space.

Multicultural and Women’s-focused Consumer Products

Another reason I was excited to join Lightspeed was that my partner Jeremy Liew had publicly spoken about his belief that women and underserved groups drive culture and forecast mass adoption.

Multicultural consumer products are inclusive products that take into account the new reality. Multicultural consumers include Asian-Americans, Hispanics, African Americans and multi-racial Americans who currently represent 122 million US residents (38%) and will surpass 50% of the US population by 2044. For people under the age of 15, non-white people became the majority in 2017. These groups can display unique buying trends in categories from grocery shopping to apparel to beauty. These consumers have increasing buying power and continually push the cultural edge of America.

On top of this, Black and Latina women have been the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs for several years now. American Express said: “While the number of women-owned businesses grew 58% from 2007 to 2018, firms owned by women of color grew at nearly three times that rate (163%). Numbers for Latinas and African Americans were 172% and 164% respectively.”

Despite the explosive entrepreneurial spirit displayed, these underserved communities traditionally haven’t received a proportional allocation of venture capital dollars. Women received just 2.2% of VC Dollars in 2018 and Latinx and Black founders together make up 2.8% of all VC-backed founders.

I’m excited to see solutions that address unique buying behaviors, push out the cultural edge, and focus on the unique needs of underserved demographics.

LATAM

My grandfather’s side of the family hails from a tiny Colombian island in the Caribbean called San Andrés. When I visited the island as a young girl, I was shocked to meet so many people with my last name.

You don’t need a personal connection to see that the headlines say it all: Latin American unicorns increased seven fold in the past 2 years. Higher valuations are being driven by greater funding. The Latin America Private Equity and Venture Capital Association reported seeing a 4x increase in capital invested into the region from 2016 to 2018 where it saw $2 billion invested. The region is taking off. With more than 50 cities with over 1 million in population (the US has 10 by the way), the continent provides ample opportunity for solutions catering to dense urban markets.

Well known hubs for entrepreneurial activity including Brazil and Mexico have been augmented by countries like Colombia where politicians have focused regulatory efforts on spurring the startup sector.

While Lightspeed has not yet made an investment in this region, I continue to be extremely excited about its prospects. In particular, solutions that address unique fintech, mobility, e-commerce needs and others are of great interest. Incumbents in fintech and transportation have traditionally wielded a large amount of influence in these heavily concentrated markets. The health and food markets have displayed similar characteristics and may be poised for startup innovation as well.

Immersive Technology

If you’ve read my past articles you know that I have been enamored by virtual reality for several years. I’m still a big fan of technology and love trying out new experiences, but I’ve realized that many early solutions sought a related problem and never found one.

Today I’m most excited by XR applications for productivity in enterprise and for group entertainment in consumer. XR refers to extended reality including AR (Augmented Reality), MR (Mixed Reality), or VR (Virtual Reality). The field has disillusioned many investors, but I continue to be excited by the long-term potential, even if the hardware still isn’t where I would like today. Continued advancements in computer vision engineering, 3D rendering, and graphic processing power have led to better and cheaper hardware every few years since I joined the industry in 2016 and will continue to do so.

I believe that in the next few years, successful XR applications will focus on location-based mobile XR entertainment and head-mounted enterprise productivity applications including applications in architecture, workforce training/education, medicine, real estate, etc. Once distribution, form factor, price and content align, this will be a highly promising technology for additional consumer applications.

Why I care.

Looking back, I can post-rationalize my journey to venture capital. At the time however it felt like anything but straightforward. When I left my corporate career in 2012 to join the startup world though, I remember feeling a bit lost and in search of purpose. But I found it soon enough. In my first few years at General Assembly, our team’s employee count scaled 25x. I fell in love with the fast-paced, figure-it-out yourself, no-you-really-you-do-get-to-decide hustle and agency of my work.

One of my roles at GA was as Head of New Ventures. Working closely with the founder/CEO, I realized that I enjoyed viewing the business from an investor lens. I also realized that I wanted to see more women and people of color around me launching companies. So I became a venture capitalist, and now I’m thrilled by my clear purpose: empowering founders from all walks of life bring their vision to fruition.

If you are such a founder or if we have overlapping interests, please reach out to me at mbent@lsvp.com and let me know what you’re up to. I’d love to help.

Outdoors Me

Lightspeed Venture Partners

Lightspeed is a VC firm focused on accelerating disruptive innovations and trends in the enterprise and consumer sectors. Lightspeed has backed 350+ companies globally in the past two decades including Snap, Honest Co., GIPHY, Nest, Nutanix, AppDynamics and MuleSoft.

Mercedes Bent

Written by

Hard work is never overrated. Always curious.

Lightspeed Venture Partners

Lightspeed is a VC firm focused on accelerating disruptive innovations and trends in the enterprise and consumer sectors. Lightspeed has backed 350+ companies globally in the past two decades including Snap, Honest Co., GIPHY, Nest, Nutanix, AppDynamics and MuleSoft.

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