“I started out as a woman in finance in 1971 and ended up working for a Fortune 100 company as a security analyst and portfolio manager. This was 3 years before the calculator was invented; I started out using a slide rule for calculation. I interviewed for the position after receiving my undergraduate degree in finance from Indiana University.
Luckily, we had a CEO at the Fortune 100 company that I left who believed in cross-pollinating different people through our investment department. He asked a few of us in each area of investment to go spend a year in another area; in my case, I was working in common stocks and had to spend a year working in bonds. The next place I went was the venture capital department. One of the innovations there was to use our big dollars in venture capital to become a key limited partner in some of the California partnerships with some of the new venture firms like Sequoia, US Venture Partners, and Mayfield.
Working as a limited partner through my Fortune 100 company, I was on boards with those partners, we did investments together, I got to know them well, and when they raised a new big fund in 1979, they asked me to join them as a general partner. It was a wonderful job opportunity.
I moved to California and joined a US Venture Partners as a 6th partner. There were not many women in Silicon Valley or in venture capital in 1979. Venture capital is innately an innovation business. My firm, US Venture Partners, invested in Sun Microsystems when Scott McNealy came down Sand Hill Road from Stanford with his master’s thesis, along with Bill Joy. I’ve been in venture capital ever since– I retired in the 1990s, couldn’t stay retired, and I joined a Massachusetts-based venture firm in the late ‘90s, which I retired from just a couple of years ago.
My whole life has been full of innovation and having the privilege of funding companies that create new medical and technical innovations, among others. That’s really where innovation starts– big companies can’t afford to be investing in leading edge innovation. It’s too risky, there’s too much failure, and they don’t encourage failure. Big companies encourage safety, so innovation comes from outside of big companies in small companies that are very high-risk, but very innovative. That’s the role of angel investing and venture capital, to bring innovation into essentially all industries. I’ve you’re not innovating, you’re falling behind– there’s no standing still in our global economy.
“Every time I try to retire from the venture capital business, I always miss working with the most optimistic people on the planet, which are entrepreneurs. There’s no other type of person whose adrenaline is triggered by innovation and calculated risk taking. They see a vision of the world bigger than everybody else and are driven to make that happen. I’ve been privileged in my career to see a lot of innovation happen and to be able to be part of an innovation ecosystem. I’ve been able to find some innovation, even in some sleepier industries, like retail and consumer products– there is innovation in everyday products. Helping innovators solve problems has been very gratifying for me and it makes it hard for me to stay retired.
“The two keys to what helped me most in my career were finding a way to become relevant to a network of venture capitalists and through that, becoming known and then getting the opportunity to actually join a Silicon Valley partnership. Earlier, the mentorships that I had really helped in my professional development. In any organization, there are sort of the written rules, and then there are the real rules, and mentors help you with the real rules.
There’s nothing more encouraging to a young person starting out their career than having a person you respect believe in you enough to take time and effort to encourage you along the way. That’s what mentors did for me, that’s what I try to do when I’m mentoring young entrepreneurs, to let them know I believe in them and to help them migrate the minefield that’s out there for all of us.”
“After leaving US Venture Partners, my husband and I were looking for a little college town to retire to. We were looking up and down the west coast at college towns, but they just felt like ‘yuppieville.’ Ashland and Medford in Oregon, Seattle, Santa Barbara– they just didn’t feel comfortable. We had 3 kids at the time and my husband suggested that we consider Bloomington, where we both lived during our undergraduate years at Indiana University. I never thought we’d come back to the midwest, I hadn’t even considered it before that.
“We made an exploratory trip to Bloomington and it just made sense for us. It felt like home. I’m now finding that a lot of smart tech folks are interested in right-sized towns with arts/culture lifestyles because San Francisco, Boston, and even Austin are becoming unlivable due to cost and congestion. In Bloomington, I can get to the opera in 15 minutes, instead of the 90 minutes it takes in San Francisco.
“Like us, a lot of people become ‘Bloomerangs’ when their kids are young; they want to be closer to family and they want to have a better balance between work and personal life. Bloomington offers that opportunity. It has all the advantages of a big city without the handicaps like traffic and cost. I like swimming in a pond this size — the initiatives here are sized to be able to accomplish them.
“In terms of investing in Bloomington innovation, it has been different, but it has also been a welcome change. Certainly on the coasts there are more investment opportunities, but the competition for good deals is intense. It’s hard to get into those good deals unless you originate them, which is very time consuming and costly. Here, there are naturally fewer deals, but they’re just as promising and their valuations are more reasonable. One could argue that it’s harder to make money in a more competitive environment because the competition drives the valuations way up. Regardless of location, deals find the money.
“Whatever profession a person is pursuing, it’s important to develop relationships with a wide range of people. I think highly successful people know innately that they have an incomplete frame of reference, but they know that there is a bigger world out there. They’re always trying to look around corners to see what opportunity might be there. Where most people make a big mistake is coming out of school at 22 or 25 and failing to continue to pursue new relationships, both from a professional and personal standpoint. Devoting oneself to personal growth through new experiences and new relationships is the key to success.
“You can’t see around corners when you’re 22 or 25, but beginning to develop new relationships and meeting with people even when you don’t want to will end up benefiting you in the long run. How many times have you met with someone and you think it’s going to be a waste of time, but all of the sudden a new world opens up and you think, “wow, what an interesting person!” Now you grow your network in a whole new vein that you couldn’t have predicted.
“When I graduated from college and went on to graduate school at the University of Chicago to get my CFA, which was a 7-year program, we used to make 5-year plans. I came out of college with a 5-year plan, but even in those first couple of years I kept revising my plan. Had I stayed on that original 5-year plan, I would’ve been working at a Fortune 100 company and retiring with a nice pension and died of boredom. I would’ve missed so much because I didn’t know where life was going to take me.
“When I invested in those California partnerships as a limited partner, I had no idea that it was going to take me to California. In reality, you never know just where life will take you! I’ve always been a risk-taker and a pioneer. Having that adventurous kind of spirit would be my best advice– become the person that wants to live a life of innovation and new adventures. Take calculated risks and enjoy yourself along the way. And, more importantly, don’t forget to pass it on.”