Lakshmi Pratury talks today of her past VC stint and outlines the importance of experience and gender balance for the young company founders out there.
In my brief stint as an almost-VC in the Bay area at the turn of the century, I experienced the internet bubble. I still remember a meeting where two doctoral students presented their thesis as a product idea and asked for a $17M valuation. Needless to say, we did not even bother continuing the meeting (the name of the company or its founders escapes me and that should have some indication of how much I cared about them).
It upset me because I felt that they did not have basic respect toward the process. There was no prototype, no product, no market analysis – it was just two people who felt entitled to that valuation. There was a huge hype over e-commerce companies and venture capitalists spoilt the entrepreneurs by making them too valuable, too soon. The other thing I noticed about most of the companies that came through was that they had a CEO with no industry experience. And then the bubble burst and we got back to realistic valuations.
My VC journey stopped after that brief stint. I continued being in the Valley and watched some of the internet companies learn the importance of experience – Google got Eric Schmidt, Facebook got Sheryl Sandberg, Youtube got sold to Google and got Susan Wojcicki, Airbnb had seasoned hotelier and experience expert Chip Conley and so on. Each of them brought years of experience and gender balance to the often young, white and male founders. While these founders preserved their position, they also ensured that they got the right help at the right time. We can witness that they are still successfully striding forward, while many others faded into the background. When we see the Uber front runners, we see that they each bring that experience or gender balance. I think that an important balance most of the Silicon Valley companies need is that of gender.
I hope that Uber gets a strong, capable woman CEO who can reshape the current swashbuckler culture into that of being a company whose corporate culture matches the technology innovations that they pioneered.