Leisa: Hello, I’m Leisa Holland-Nelson and welcome to another edition of Women Mean Business, brought to you live today from the Greater Houston Women’s Conference for 2015. I’m excited to be here with Jeanne Sullivan, the founding Principal of StarVest Partners and one of Forbes five most powerful women changing the world in VC and Entrepreneurship. Jeanne welcome to Women Mean Business.
Jeanne: Thank you Leisa, thank you so much.
Leisa: So tell me about StarVest Partners.
Jeanne: So we founded StarVest in 1998 and we raised $400 million over the next 15 years which has been thrilling because it’s a great time to be investing. And we invested in business to business, tech enabled business services kinds of companies; software platforms that serve the enterprise. And we were early to be one of the first to ever invest in the cloud and SaaS; we knew that that was the future. And we invested in one of the leading SaaS companies, Net Suite, and subsequently invested in many more, about 30 more cloud and SaaS companies.
Leisa: Okay so I think your partners are women?
Jeanne: I have two other women partners and we have one trophy male and because of that, that’s what happened; people started calling on us to speak. How do you become a VC as a woman? How do you break in? How do you get your business funded as a woman? That turned me on with such passion to show the way to women on how to make that happen.
Leisa: So I know that’s your secret sauce but can you share a little of it with us now?
Jeanne: Listen, I love to make sure it’s not a secret; I love to demystify this. Women have to know what to do and how to do it in order to get the wallet out of our pocket. And that means you’ve got to understand how to scale the business, the business of the business, understand the numbers; the financials are critical to be fluent in that. And I have a signature line, you can learn this stuff. I think it’s important to be very fluent on the financial part of the business and get someone at your side to show you the way or be your CFO so they can help show you and teach you that.
Leisa: So how did you choose your first investment?
Jeanne: You know, being a good investor means both your gut and your brain have to agree. You do a lot of due diligence, you really dig in. Can this person execute? So there has to be a great product or service – not just good, a great team – not just good, but then can the scale – can this CEO and the team get the business over the finish line? Those are the things you have to look at and measure.
Leisa: And how did you choose your partners?
Jeanne: One of us knew all of us and brought us together and we each had a deep investing background already; you do need that kind of track record. And so that’s how we got in business and we got our first set of LPs this was a great day because that put us in business and it’s been thrilling ever since.
Leisa: And my last question on this subject is the investors themselves; how did you find them? How did you find the money as three women starting an investment firm?
Jeanne: You are right to observe it’s hard; it’s even hard today and it was very hard back in the late 90s. But you have to have two things; you have to have a differentiated strategy, which we did. We were early to see cloud and SaaS, even though it has a different name back then, as the long tail. And then you have to have a team with a track record, so we had and we have wonderful limited partners, investors, who believed in us and still believe.
Leisa: So I think you might have already said this once but I want to really emphasize it through the next generation of VCs – up-and-comers – what’s the most important thing, the best advice you could give somebody trying to achieve the success you’ve achieved in your business?
Jeanne: Well you’re kind to say that. As an investor would you say? I think it’s really important to have operating experience to understand what’s going on, how to build a business, and I was lucky to get that at Bell Labs and AT&T. And I’ve always been a geek inside so I think it’s important to have domain experience and bring that to the team. So those are some of the metrics.
Leisa: Thank you so much for being with us today.
Jeanne: Thank you Leisa.
Leisa: There you have it, my interview with Jeanne Sullivan, Founding Principal of StarVest Partners and one of Forbes five most powerful women changing the world in VC and Entrepreneurship. I’m Leisa Holland-Nelson, President and Co-founder of ContentActive, Houston’s leading web and mobile design and development company. You can find me at ContentActive.com or follow me on Twitter @LHNelson. We’ll be back again next week with another edition of Women Mean Business.
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