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June 8, 2020 43 mins

It's no secret to anyone: Tech has a major diversity problem. And it's not getting better. How do we finally start making the necessary changes to fix the glaring inequity in Silicon Valley? How do we change the makeup of board members, make companies more diverse, and start putting our money where our mouth is? Venture Capitalist Sarah Kunst is someone who’s not afraid to speak out. She’s been leading a discussion on minorities in tech for a long time. She's made it her life’s work to change things for the better. These are times of listening and learning. We all have to do a better job of informing ourselves, listening to others, and changing our behavior. So let’s listen to Sarah Kunst.


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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
First contact with Lori Siegel is a production of Dot
Dot Dot Media and I Heart Radio. We don't travel anymore.
And it seemed impossible if you told anybody on February
first that you will not be on a plane from
March fifteenth until god knows when, people would have said
that's impossible, that's impossible, possible. The impossible has become possible, right,

(00:23):
so we know how quickly things can change, but you
have to have the will to do it. So I
think that what these companies and what these powerful people
to your point, who are disproportionately white and male, are
going to have to grapple with is this isn't working.
And our employees are telling us it's not working. The
press is highness, it's not working. The protesters high it's
not working. Right, this isn't working. They realize that the

(00:46):
time has passed where they can say, do we think
we should act? And the answer is we have to act.
There is a business imperative, and I think that there's
a moral imperative, and I think that Silicon Valley can't
set this out any longer. I love technology, I love

(01:10):
Silicon Valley. I've spent my career covering it. I'm also
frustrated sometimes it feels like we're asking the same questions
over and over and over again. I've known Sarah Kunst
as a person who will say things that other people
won't say, who will call out inappropriate behavior. She's quick

(01:30):
to speak, not just tweet. She's been leading a discussion
on the unfair situations for minorities in tech for a
long time. She's been a big supporter of funding women,
and I know her as someone who's made it her
life's work to change those saints for the better. My
question right now that I want to ask everyone in tech,
while there is momentum, how do we make sure we

(01:53):
finally start making the necessary changes in the tech industry
that it's not just about changing our profile photos, but
it's about changing the makeup of the boards, making companies
more diverse, changing legislation, and putting our money where our
mouth is. I know these are times of listening and learning.
We all have to do a better job of informing
ourselves and listening to others and changing our behaviors. So

(02:16):
let's listen to Sarah Kunst. I'm Laurie Siegel, and this
is first contact. First of all, it is so nice
to see. I know, it's so nice to see your goodness.
So I wanted to start by just talking about our
first contact, right, So first of all, for folks listening, like,

(02:36):
we've known each other for a really long time, especially
in tech years, Like do you remember our first contact.
We've known each other, I think for for two recessions now,
which is quite a long time. When you say it
like that, it sounds so long, it sounds so loud. Yeah,
I mean, I remember, you know, back when when we

(02:57):
were both living in New York and we were sort
of young, young people just starting out in the tech industry.
And you know, it's one of those things where the
tech industry there at the time was so small that
you know, if you went to three parties and two bars,
you knew everybody, and so it was a fun time
because it really did feel like a community. Yeah, and
I remember meeting you. We were it actually that it's

(03:19):
such an interesting thing. You brought up the recession. We've
talked about this entire episodes, Like there was a lot
of innovation happening and coming out of the recession. There
were a lot of really interesting companies that were coming
out of it. And there was this movement in New
York because people always sink San Francisco too, but there
was this movement in New York tech and you had

(03:40):
a lot of founders just going and coding different apps
and being creative and doing all sorts of stuff. And
there was a very small group of people. And I
remember meeting you then and it was that was our
first contact. I think it was at a party in Soho,
not to be specific. So that was cool. The only
place to meet anybody in two was a party in Soho,
right right? Um? And by the way, like those seem

(04:03):
like happy times. And I've been wanting to have you
on for a while because you've done so much work
I think as an entrepreneur and as an investor too,
and talking about a lot of issues and something I've
always liked about you, Sarah, and to give I always
like to kind of paint a picture of the people
I interview for our listeners, Like you're the person that

(04:23):
says the unpopular thing or not the unpopular thing. You're
just like the person who says things out loud. You
will say things when other people won't. You will call
people out. You know, we talk about us, you know,
being in tech back in the day, like you have
um said things to investors who have behaved inappropriately. You
have been talking about how things are unfair for minorities

(04:46):
in tech for a very long time, and so it
seems appropriate for me to have you on now, but
I should have had you on before. So I'm really
happy to be speaking to you right now because what
an extraordinary moment we're in. Thank everything going on. First
of all, how are you feeling about everything? How are
you doing? You're in San Francisco, I mean San Francisco, Yeah,
I mean it. You know, it has been an absolutely

(05:09):
insane couple of weeks on top of an insane you know,
a couple of months, and when it comes to, you know,
issues around racism in America, and on top of it,
on top of an insane you know, four hundred years right, So,
on one hand, what's happening right now feels unbelievable. And
on the other hand, do you remember that America as
a country that started out with you know, started out

(05:29):
with jettocide and then moved to slavery. And you're like, actually,
I guess these protests kind of makes sense, right. It's
probably more a question of certainly, you know, we saw
some of this stuff in the nineteen sixties, but it's
probably more of a question of why did it take
so long instead of why is it happening now? Yeah,
And I mean I've always looked at things through the
lens of tech, and like I had this moment where

(05:50):
I was looking at all these venture capitalists we know
and a lot of people we know who are you know,
talking about Black Lives Matter? And I'm so happy to
see people out there and posting and voicing their support.
But my question to you would be, you know, there's
so many issues and tech right and and there are
so many larger issues around this UM. The numbers and

(06:12):
in tech are pretty terrible for minorities. I think I
was looking and doing research for this UM. Someone from
Upfront Ventures posted blacks are underrepresented in the executive ranks
of startups by two more than all rounds raised go
to all white founding teams. So, you know, my my
first reaction as I was watching this whole movement happening
in tech and watching a lot of the people I

(06:34):
know changing some of their profiles and posting a lot
of stuff, was this is great, change your profile, but
also change your boards, change all these other things. And
so how are you feeling about I mean, what do
you think about stuff happening in your own backyard? Do
you think things will change because of this? You know,
I've I've been drawing a lot of comparisons to the

(06:55):
Me Too movement and what happened in tech then, and
you know, having been very involved in in that. It's
one of those things where, you know, the Reverend Jesse
Jackson likes to say that in moments like this, they're
kind of tree shakers and jelly makers, right, So there
are people who shake the tree that people out protesting
that people who are saying this is absolutely like, this

(07:16):
is we're done right where it's been four years, we
are not doing this anymore. This is done, and and
this being you know, racism and the systemic discrimination against
people of color, particularly obviously black people. Right. So, so
those are the people who are out there shaking the trees.
And then the jelly makers are the people who aren't
necessarily always on the front lines protesting, but who are
sitting there saying, you know, what can we do to

(07:38):
change legislation, What can we do to change hiring practices?
What can we do to make our boards more diverse,
to make the companies we invest in more diverse, to
make the investor based more diverse. Right. And and we
know from research that whatever your investor demographics look like,
your investments tend to look like. Right. So if funds
hire women, then they invest in more women. And I

(07:59):
think almost no funds, no large scale funds, have a
mandate when they hire a woman, saying, of course you're
supposed to invest in women. It's just that we tend
to gravitate towards what we know. So you know, we
we know that that works. And we know that there
are certain groups in tech that are incredibly underrepresented. Right.
Black people incredibly underrepresented, you know, Hispanic people incredibly underrepresented. Right.

(08:19):
Native Americans are underrepresented to the point where they barely
exist in tech. Right. And And so we know that
these groups are underrepresented, and we also know from data
that if we have more of them around the investing table, right,
that will invest in more of them because there's not
really a lot, there's certainly not a lack of talent,
and maybe five ten years ago, there is a lack
of founders in these demographics because they were very reasonably

(08:43):
looking at, you know, the the inability to get funded
and saying maybe I don't want to start a company, right,
maybe it should be a lawyer, doctor, whatever. Now we're
seeing something different, and we're seeing that there are a
lot of founders of these demographics who are brilliant, amazing.
They're coming from top schools, they're coming out of top companies.
You know, they are ready to go. They just deeply
struggle to get money raised. Yeah, I mean, I guess

(09:06):
I think about it, and I think about the circles
that we've been in in Silicon Valley, and I think
about the rooms that we've had the privilege of being
in and sometimes misfortunate of being in. But yes, right right,
I mean actually we should also we can have that
whole conversation. You're you're one of the women that called
out an investor for bad behavior and harassment and this

(09:31):
started like a whole whole thing where a lot of
other women spoke out against it. So yes, that that
is well, um, but yeah, we we have access to
the room. But you're a woman of color. I mean,
there are not a lot of people, you know that
look like you in the room all the time, you
know how and and so I wonder like it is
a boys club. And so while there's this momentum right

(09:53):
now and and this feels different hopefully, I mean, god,
I want there to be changed, like you know, specifically
in Silicon Valley. Um, you know, I get frustrated, right
like how many times have we heard the company line?
And even as um, you know, as someone of privilege
and as someone in the media, and I have a

(10:14):
responsibility to like, what can we actually do to just
not hear the company line over and over again so
we can get more more people actually getting funded, more
companies from diverse perspectives. You know, what do you think
specifically or like some action I ams that that we
could do. Yeah, you know, the the great thing is
right that that's easy and it's easy, but it doesn't

(10:37):
mean that it is simple, right, and so it's easy,
and that I love to use the example of crypto. Right,
I was really early in bitcoin, and you know, I
love to use as an example where before bitcoin was
invented right by whoever Setosia is, it didn't exist. And
then now a decade later, almost every big fund has

(10:57):
a crypto expert on staff, has invested in crypto companies,
has made a bunch of money right, and so black
people have certainly existed right far longer than bitcoin. And
so the idea that you can't go out and find
a source of viewpoints, right worldview and voices that you
haven't already had in your fund or in your company,
and that you can't bring them in and that you

(11:18):
can't empower them to do great work and give them
real capital is demonstrably false because we've seen people do
that in crypto right. People woke up in maybe and said, Hey,
crypto is a real thing. We're gonna go out. We're gonna,
you know, do some listening. We're going to learn about it.
We're going to talk to experts, we're going to get
to know people in this space. We're going to make
some small bets, and then we're gonna make some large bets,

(11:38):
and we're going to bring people in to do this
full time. And they did it right. Within a year
or two, almost no major fund had a crypto investor,
and now you know, sit by almost every fund did.
So if you can make that kind of change in
that short amount of time, take that playbook right that
you just ran. This wasn't twenty years ago. This was
five years ago, three years ago, and go and do

(12:00):
it around diversity. And we saw some of this post
me too where companies said, oh, should we hire women?
The answer is well, yes, right, because there's really only
two answers to this. You either fundamentally truly believe that
only white men are capable of greatness, in which case
you're probably not listening to this podcast and please stop
listening to this podcast. Um or you are acknowledging that

(12:22):
if you're only working with white men, but there's greatness everywhere,
and there's talent everywhere, that you're leaving money on the table. Right, Like,
I'm a venture capitalist. I'm not a full time activist, right.
I am a venture capitalist. It is my job to
take capital and make more money with it. And so
if I am leaving money on the table, I'm not
doing my job. Okay, we've got to take a quick

(12:45):
break to hear from our sponsors more with my guest
after the break. I look at even the controversy of

(13:06):
Facebook right now. I look at this idea that there's
this controversial decision over free speech and decision that Zuckerberg
made and a lot of people are talking about it
and saying a lot of employees are beginning to speak
out against it. But what's interesting, and I think it
was reported that that decision was made and there was
only one person of color in the room, Like so

(13:27):
there's a lack of diversity of perspective. And you know,
I guess like this isn't a new story, like and
the time that we've had our quote first contact, Like
how many times have we had this conversation? But but
I guess that maybe is the point, right, how many
times do we have to have this conversation because now
they're there's real world impact and we're seeing it trickle

(13:49):
out in these ways that are in many cases unhealthy
for society. Um and and so you know, what are
you hearing you talk to people? I feel like you're
kind everyone's confessional and like everyone tells you kind of
like their war stories. I have all the t I
have all Yeah, you have like all the t Like,
like what are you hearing like from people within these companies?

(14:12):
That's the thing, right, Like my like probably starting like
like Friday, Saturday last week, when you know this this happened,
George Floyd was was murdered, you know, like oh my god,
like lass than two weeks ago, and it feels like
a thousand years ago, right, And since then, um, that
has just you know, the the amount of phone calls,
text inbounds, you know, emails, uh and and and ask

(14:36):
for what do we do? What do we say? Right?
I spent the weekend helping portfolio companies and my investors,
you know, craft their statements and and you know, what
do we say? Who do we donate to? What do
we do? And the great news is there are things
that people can do right now in this moment that
make massive differences. Right. If you donate to the Bail Project,
you are literally bailing out a protester who is out

(14:56):
there saying, you know what, black lives matter, but they
can't afford the bail right, and so you're you're like
helping in the moment. And that is so important right
when you say you know, hey, black lives matter right
on your Twitter account, your Instagram or and your emails
to your companies and in externally. Yes, at some point
it feels like every company is just saying it to
check the box. But let me be very clear that

(15:16):
that's an important box to check, right because you need
to say when we live in a world where it
is not inherently obvious to every human that black lives matter, right,
that my life matters as much as your life and
as much as anyone else's life. Right, then we need
to say that. And but that's the bare minimum. That's
where you start. And I'm glad that people are donating
and glad that people are like really honestly truly saving

(15:37):
lives and helping to fund policy changes in real time.
But that's the beginning point. That's not an end point, right,
because the policy changes need to happen. But on the
other hand, you know, there's a lot we can do
without policy. I work in venture capital. It's private equity, right,
we don't really interact with the government much. So what
the government's doing doesn't have a ton of impact on

(15:58):
our industry. It's what we whoos to do with the money.
And so you know, I'm getting a lot of inbounds
from people are saying what do we do? And I say,
you know, think about your hiring, right, think about your
company's hiring. Think about the board seats right that you
have and that you control. You know, what are you
doing to to explicitly go out and look for this
and bring it in and support it, right. And there's
tons of great organizations already, you know on the education side,

(16:21):
like CODE and Black Girls Code, and you know their
organizations like Black Women Talk Tech and you know Black VC.
There's not a lack of these things, right. These people
are not hard to find. Um My LinkedIn inbox, you know,
has been overflowing all week because I've been having these
conversations with various media outlets. People can find you, right,
People can find you and there's also endless resources online

(16:45):
about how to do this. But at the end of
the day, if you're a venture funders, you know, an
elite tech company, and you are like, we only really
recruit from Stanford, m I T. And Harvard, great news, Stanford,
m I T. And Harvard have incredibly diverse student bass
right both at the undergrad and grad student level. You
can will find these people. And so it's not that
it's you know, I'm sure you remember around me too.

(17:07):
And even before that, right, there is this whole sort
of conversation nationally about where do we find women, Like, buddy,
women are over fifty percent of the population. Where can't
you find women? Right? And and so like that's really
the frustration is if you care about this, go do this.
If you don't care about this one like, I'll pray
for you, but to then like just just you know,

(17:27):
get out of the way and let people who do
care do the work. And so, you know, I'm cautiously
optimistic that some of the conversations that we've seen in
the last week and a half will turn into you know,
real changes in capital allocation, will turn into real changes
that who's on boards and who's hired and also candidly
who's fired. Because as we learned with me too, it

(17:49):
wasn't enough to say we're going to bring more women in.
You also have to have really honest conversations with yourself
and say, if I work at a fund that has
you know, a hundred people across the investment and platforms team,
and I've never fired anybody for being sexist and racist, right,
but my team is incredibly and diverse, Like, you have
to ask yourself, are you sure that you understand what's
really going on at your firm? Right? If you work

(18:11):
at a huge tech company and you've never fired anybody
for being sexist and racist, then we definitely know right
that you probably are not being you know, vigilant enough
about it, because you have to create an environment where
not only do you, you know, get people to come
work with you or to come, you know, let you
invest in their companies, but where you also are supporting

(18:33):
them so that if there are people on your teams
who aren't making it welcome, who are doing, you know,
things that that are incredibly painful to those people, that
you're weeding them out. It's sort of like when you
paint your house, right, you would never go to an old,
dirty house and just put a new code of paint
on it. You have to clean it off and you
have to like scrape it off and get the old
gross stuff off and then you can start fresh. How

(18:56):
do we like scrape off the paint and Silicon Valley,
I mean, that is a great question. The thing to remember,
right is that Silicon Valley is not very old, like
venture is. An asset class is younger than our parents
by far. And so when you think about the fact
that the asset class itself is barely fifty years old,
and that these companies, right name a huge tech company

(19:19):
and it is younger than we are, right, most tech
companies are not old enough to drive yet. Right. And
so when you think of it from that perspective, if
new tech companies can become unicorns, you know, in five
years and go from not existing, right, You and I
remember when we met in New York, Uber didn't really
exist in New York, right, and now it's like a
you know, ten pound gorilla in the room. So if

(19:40):
that can happen in the span of one decade, then
why not make a conscious effort to say, I'm going
to fund a more diverse range of incredible founders so
that the next Uber doesn't you know, have one the
same problems with that the first Uber has had, but
two that it doesn't you know, have a lack of diversity,
because we know diversity drives better business returns and drives

(20:03):
better business decisions. Yeah. I keep thinking, Um, you know
I love technology, I love Silicon Valley. You know this was, Um,
this is my career, right, Um, this is when we met.
You know, I've spent my career covering it. I am
also disappointed in many ways too oftentimes have to ask

(20:26):
the same questions over and over again. Like you can
hear sirens outside my place right now because people are
protesting on the street and they are frustrated. And there
are questions about free speech, and there are questions about
whether these tech companies are doing the right things. Um,
But most importantly, there are questions about you know, like

(20:47):
racism and the deep rooted pain this country is and
and and you want and so I've always looked at it,
and this is my way into it is saying, Okay, well,
what I know best is Silicon Valley and a lot
of these powerful, mostly truthfully white men at the top, right,
what are the questions, um, As someone who's been in

(21:07):
the room with a lot of these people too, what
are the questions we need to ask those people right now? Yeah?
I mean, you know, I I have a call later
today with a CEO of a Silicon Valley Unicorn because I,
you know, use the product. I know the product well.
And I noticed that they hadn't said anything about what's
going on, and they had, you know, they were promoting
multiple webinars that they had coming up in the zoom age, right,

(21:30):
and they were all white men, and like one, it's
we don't do that anymore, and to like this week,
we're really not doing that this week, right, So I
reached out and I was like, what's happening, and you
know it's going to be an interesting conversation. But my
general guidance is, we don't do this anymore. And when
you don't do something anymore than you just stop and
then you start to think about what we do do right, So,

(21:52):
like we don't travel anymore. Right now, we don't travel.
And it seemed impossible if you told anybody on February
first that you will not be on a plane from
March fifteenth until god knows when, people would have said
that's impossible, that's impossible, possible. The impossible has become possible,
right so we know how quickly things can change, but
you have to have the will to do it right.
And so I think that what these companies and what

(22:15):
these powerful people to your point, who are disproportionately white
and male, are going to have to grapple with it's
far past time they grapple with it. But I think
what they're gonna have to grapple with is, Okay, this
isn't working. And our employees are telling us it's not working.
The press is highness, it's not working, the protesters highn
it's not working. This isn't working, And candidly, you know

(22:36):
even if they're not out there protesting, they're feeling the
pain too, and that like most of the country right now,
in major cities, can't leave their homes at night. We
are under curfews in a way that like, this isn't
something that I think very many people at all are
comfortable with having happened in our countries. So when you
think about it that way, this is impacting you as well. Right,
we can hear sirens on one of our ends in

(22:57):
the background right now, So I think, I'm sorry from
sirens everybody. Yeah, But that's the thing, right, Like is it?
It is not working right, It's not working for this podcast,
it's not working for us. And so I hope that
as that becomes apparent to them, they realize that the
time has passed where they can say, do we think
we should act? And the answer is we have to
act right. Our customers are not letting us not act.

(23:20):
The things that I've heard from various reporters and friends,
you know, like you said, I'm the confessional booth of
Silicon Valley. I've heard so much unrest. It's going on
inside of companies. It doesn't hit the news where people
are just mad and The problem is when you have
an entire workforce it's remote, and they're just mad. They
don't really have to pretend to be working, right, They don't.

(23:41):
They don't really have to put on their A game.
They just they'm sorry, I missed the email at noon
on Friday. What are you gonna do? You can't walk
over to their desk. And so I think that there
is a business imperative, and I think that there's a
moral imperative, and I think that Silicon Valley can't set
this out any longer. You know. It's interesting. I heard
from a friend of mine who works at one of

(24:02):
the big tech companies, and I won't say which one,
but she is a woman and a minority and had
to in this reapply for her job, you know. And
some of the men in her unit did not have to,
but the women of color did. She did. And also,
um this week of all weeks in New York, you know,

(24:25):
and she had to do an interview over zoom and
and and with with people on the other end. They're
just saying, hey, how are you and and it just
seems like, you know, and it just seems like sometimes
there's this this disconnect between Silicon valley and the idea
that we can do good and that we are changing
the world for the best and we're going to have
the good outcome. And then you know, maybe I sit

(24:46):
here passionately talking about it because you can hear it
outside and you can see it, and I have, you know,
even the privilege of being inside at the current moment
talking to you. But you know, there's still that that
disconnect that I hope that um, you know that the
things really that really do change um in some capacity,
that this is a change for for that kind of thing. Yeah, yeah,

(25:09):
And that's the thing, right it needs to be, because
I mean, you know, that woman's experience sounds horrific, but
the thing is that people around her are seeing that
as well. A friend works at a company, actually a
startup in New York, and it's a big startup, very
well funded. They're doing very well, and they talk about,
you know, the values that they have on their posters
right on their wall, are you know, about equality and

(25:30):
freedom and all these things. And they hadn't spoken up
on this issue and they hadn't done anything about it.
And the founders, you know, are very successful, and so
you know, one of the engineers a white man, right
went to their Slack channel and message the entire company
and said like, are we not going to talk about this?
Are we going to pretend like this isn't happening? And
it's spurred action right within a day immediately the founder said, hey, actually,

(25:52):
you know we're working out. Of course, we're working on it, right,
You're just you caught us a couple of minutes beforehand.
We're working on it. They had to release a statement. Internally,
they did their stor those statements. They're doing fund matching,
they're doing donations, they're elevating vices of color. So you know,
and that's just one one guy writing candidly. The fact
that it was a white guy who did it is probably,
you know, one of the more powerful things you can do. Right, So,

(26:14):
if you're listening to this and you have a ton
of privilege, and and you know, you're like, how do
I spend it? Like yes, donate, Yes, you know, go
out and protest if that's if that's what works for you.
You know, talk on social media, be incredibly clear, have
conversations with your friends. Right when somebody makes a joke
or says a thing like shut them down and make
it clear that this is not okay, this is not welcome.
But you can also do that in your workplace, right

(26:35):
and you mentioned Facebook, and if change comes to Facebook
from this, it's likely going to be because a bunch
of very highly paid white guys say, you know what, No,
this isn't gonna work. We are done. Well. You know
what's really interesting about if you look at the petition
or some of these employees who are talking about whether
you agree with what they're saying or not about the
company stands on free speech, but there's a lot of

(26:57):
unrest at the company right now, um, and a lot
of that. You know, if you look at some of
the you know, it's like the head designer for Portal
white man, you know, the guy who resigned white man,
you know, I mean, and by the way, the company.
You know, there are diversity issues at every major company.
So it is interesting to see that some of the
people speaking out around this moment in Silicon Valley are

(27:18):
exactly kind of how you described yeah yeah, and and
that that I think matters because it shows, you know,
that this isn't a siloed thing. One if you don't
feel like there's enough of an imperative to to care
about people's lives just because it's not you. I mean, you,
as a Jewish woman, understand this, you know very deeply, right,
it's not okay to say that group of people you

(27:40):
know can be treated this way because it's not me.
That isn't okay. But even more than that is, it's
not just impacting that group of people were all under curfews. Right.
There are people at these companies who are speaking out
who candidly you know, they don't they don't need to
for their own survival. But but that isn't you know
where they're coming from. They're coming from a place of
humanity of this isn't okay. And I think for these

(28:02):
big tech companies, I think for these big funds, as
that happens, they're going to realize that they have to
reckon with it, and not even because it's the right
thing to do, but because it's very hard to run
a tech company if all your senior and best people
are quitting. Yeah, listen, I I have very much hope
that like all of this comes true. You know, I
just think it's time the world as a whole and

(28:24):
then where I look at the and through the lens
like in tech because I think tech products influence the world.
Like we're at a moment where all of us are
having to move online in these different ways, there will
be even more issues with the haves and the have
nots and people having access to online education. Um. And
if we don't have a diverse group of perspectives in

(28:45):
these these tech companies that are going to be leading
the charge into what a post pandemic world looks like,
we're going to have even more issues that are gonna
disproportionately impact minorities. And I think when I look at that,
I think, well, that's terrifying, and and so we've got
to start thinking about that kind of thing as well. Yeah, exactly.
I mean the thing is the world doesn't work right,

(29:07):
Like if you look at COVID and and there were
a lot of countries where there were crazy outbreaks of COVID,
and it was traced back to the fact that you
know in certain places and certainly this happens in the
US as well, right, And this is partially why you
saw crazy outbreaks of COVID around like ski resorts and stuff.
Is if you work in an industry, a service industry
job where you are in very close proximity to everybody

(29:28):
else in your service industry job. Right. So the examples were,
you know, places where all of all of the wait
staff are all of the service staff, you know, is
maybe bunked together, right in like kind of dorm style. Well, okay,
so you are, you know, probably somebody who doesn't have
as much money, and you are maybe disproportionately somebody who
is a person of color. On top of that guests

(29:51):
who wait staff serves, right, And so you'd see these
things where people are coming back from the Swiss Celts
dying of COVID because they're an incredibly privileged you know
one star. I don't have all the details top of mind,
but like I remember reading one story about a group
of like three or four guy friends, right, white men
in their fifties, who had gone to the Alps to
go skiing and great fun. I love to go, right,

(30:11):
And then they got back and they all got sick
and one of them died. So the fact that, you know,
if you're not taking care of the most vulnerable populations,
it's not just them, right, and and and one it's
more than enough if it is just them, like people
or people, and people deserve to live, but it's also
going to impact you. And so you know, that I
think is a real wake up call for people to realize. Like,

(30:33):
you know, there's a famous quote that I think is
an African proverb that like Hillary Clinton of all people,
I think repopularized in the nineties. Right, there's no such
thing as other people's children, There's no such thing as
other people's anything. Right. You know, a virus that started
halfway across the world has killed over a hundred thousand Americans, right,
And everything is global. And until you understand that, like
what's hurts somebody somewhere hurts everybody everywhere, you know, we're

(30:56):
going to keep having these these deeply and equal outcomes,
but they're going to hurt you too. And so that
I think is hopefully something that you know, people are
seeing with COVID, that people are seeing with these protests,
that that people remember and don't forget. Right, if you
don't care about black lives, like, that's on you. But
if you care about your own life and you you

(31:18):
want to be able to leave your house at nine
BM at night in the next few months, then like
you might want to get on board. M hm. That's
such a powerful statement, and I do think, like, man,
if this doesn't make you care about all of this,
I don't know what well, you know, I don't know
what that is. Just I don't really like this is
boss level, Like I just don't know what well at
this point, Okay, we've got to take a quick break

(31:44):
to hear from our sponsors more with my guest. After
the break, you created Cleo Capital. Like at the time,

(32:04):
it's been so cool to watch you throughout the years
be very vocal about women, minorities and kind of breaking
into the boys club in Silicon Valley and fighting for
certain causes and saying, hey, we've got a problem, and
even by the way, in your own personal life having
at one point and investor doing something inappropriate to you
and you saying you know what, like I'm just not

(32:24):
gonna sit here and take this, and you spoke out
publicly and and and so you know, it's been interesting
to watch throughout the years and you really not develop.
You've always had that voice. When was it that you
launched Cleo it was so soen and and we've been

(32:45):
going strong for about a year and a half now.
So take me to the idea behind CLEO, because I
remember when you I feel like I gave you that
whole backstory to kind of give little pieces about like
this didn't just come out of like, oh I think
I want to help women or you know, I just
feel like it was always in your d n A
that you were going to do something like a launch

(33:05):
an investment fund to help different types of people, you know,
not the typical Silicon Valley dynamic get get funding. So
to take me to the thought process behind it and
why you launched and what it is. So so you know,
Cleo Capital is a is a precede venture fund, and
we don't have a mandate around race or gender in
terms of diversity investing. We just invested incredibly smart people.

(33:28):
And it turns out that the women and minorities and
members of the LGBTQ community and people from all over
the country right not just Silicon Valley or New York,
are incredibly smart and they're building incredible companies. And so
you know, for us, that is easy because to your point,
that's in our d n A. That's what we believe,
and that's in those people flock to us, and that's
what we do. Um In terms of the fund, you know,

(33:48):
I had been at a large venture capital fund years
ago and then left and went and started a company
and raised venture capital for that and saw all the
challenges that that there is in doing that period much
less you know, as a woman, as a black woman,
and it was really interesting, eye opening experience. And you know,
I I then was tapped by two sort of very
different but very interesting UM opportunities. One was I was

(34:11):
on a board at Michigan State University where I went
to college, and I was on a board to help
them do their LP investing, so to help them allocate
into you know, venture funge, hedge funds, all of that.
And so I learned a lot about that side of
the equation, which is often kind of a mystery UM
even too very experienced fund managers. UM. So I got
to sit in that seat. And then I also on

(34:31):
the other side, you know, as a scout for Sequoia UM,
and and was seeing you know, how scouting works, which
scout investing basically is when a bigger fund says, hey,
you know, we know all these smart, brilliant people in
our networks who aren't personally UM liquid, yet they can't
actually angel invest or they can't angel invest why don't

(34:51):
we fund their angel investing. You know, they'll find us
amazing deals and that we might end up wanting to
put money into as well, and then we'll split the proceeds.
And so that scout investing. I was a scout at Sequoia.
You know, my company had run out of money. I
was winding it down, kind of thinking about what I
wanted to do next, and I was really bothered that,
you know, I was scout investing. So I'd call my
female founder of friends and because they're you know, my

(35:13):
closest friends, and I would say, hey, you know, I'm
I'm angel investing. Now I'm scout investing. Um, you know,
can you send me deal flow? Right? What do you?
What are you investing? And these are brilliant women, many
of whom you're friends with as well, who've been in
this industry for a long time. They're they're you know,
super smart, they've had success some success. But they all said, oh,
we don't angel invest I'm like why, Like, they're not
personally liquid right, because they're raising so much less money

(35:35):
at lower valuations, it's harder to take money off the table.
They're less likely you know, to be getting hired into
these big tech companies to begin with, and getting those
big pay days, are less likely to be made advisors
at companies, so that then when there are excess that
they're getting some of that free cash flow that funds
most of the angel investing in Silicon Valley. So they
weren't really angel investing. And I was like, okay, that
makes sense, but then why aren't you scout investing? And

(35:56):
all of them looked at me and said, what's a scout?
And so I started doing some digging, and I found
out that you know that they're about five ish firms
at any given time to have Scout programs in Silicon Valley,
and all of them have by far predominantly men, and
they're also relatively you know, pretty and diverse, right, so
I was shocked to hear this. I shouldn't be shocked that, sometimes,

(36:19):
you know, we we still get shocked by the things
that are probably obvious at this point. And so I
was really bothered that that I knew all these amazing,
brilliant women who are insanely well connected, and you know,
they weren't able to angel invest and so my thought,
what I said, was, you know, why not give them
the opportunity to angel invest why not give the money?

(36:40):
And I was thinking about joining larger funds and even
post me too, I wasn't wildly impressed by what I
was seeing at the bigger funds in terms of their
their commitments university, how they were treating diverse audiences, all
of that. So you know, I decided to launch my
own fund. And you know, we invest in anyone. I
invest in anyone. My Scouts invest in anyone. But Scouts
are an amazing group of women who are female founders.

(37:04):
They've raised between five and fifty million themselves. They're backed
by top funds, they co invest with top funds, and
it's working. The two best performing UM investments in our
fund right now, one is two female founders UM, one
of whom is a woman of color, and the other
is you know, two male founders, but they are you know,
they're both immigrants and one is a man of color,

(37:26):
and so it works right. And we didn't do those
deals because of that. We did those deals because they're
great deals. And we have top tier investors who followed
us into both of those deals and they're you know,
they're doing incredibly well because these people like the talent
is out there and it doesn't need training. It is ready.
It just needs capital, and it's awesome to be a
part of doing that. Yeah. And you I think, as

(37:48):
when all of this happened with coronavirus, you put out
a program for folks who were laid off. You know,
can you tell us a little bit about that. I
feel like that could be a good resource for folks. Yeah.
So so that was something that we put together very quickly.
And you know, investors generally say, actually, the last business
trip I took before COVID really shut things down was

(38:10):
to New York. So I was in New York in
early March, the first week of March, and I was
on a panel and investor panel talking about how you know,
someone said, uh, you know what about downturns, And I said,
I'm a preced investor. Right, Historically, downturns are a great
time to start a company because talent is cheaper, the
opportunity cost of starting a company is cheaper. Even ad

(38:31):
rates right on Facebook and Instagram, as we've seen during
coronavirus are cheaper because there's less capital, there's less competition,
and so you know, Uber, Airbnb, all of these companies
right if Airbnb, if those guys had had well paid
jobs in that moment, Airbnb would never exist because it
never would have occurred to them to run out their beds. Right, So,
so we know this to be true. But now this

(38:52):
downturn hit, and it hit incredibly suddenly and incredibly hard,
and within two weeks, thirty plus tech workers had been
laid off. Is proportionately female, disproportionately people of color. And
what we were seeing is that all these investors were saying,
you know, time to build, go build stuff, This is
a great time to start a company, but they weren't
giving them any instruction on how to do it, or

(39:13):
any resources or any help. And so my thought was,
you know, I know I've started companies. I know how
to do that. I'm a presed investor. I work with
founders at the earliest stages. I write checks before there's
anything beyond a person I believe in who has an idea.
So I said, well, why not just do that? And
so we launched a program called Chrysalis, because you know,
it's when when the caterpillar thinks it's life is over,

(39:34):
it turns into a butterfly. Um. And and so we
launched this program with a really simple mandate, which was,
you know, we put up an application page and tech crunched,
you know, wrote about it, and we we reached out
to some people, amazing people we knew had been laid off,
and we started to get hundreds and hundreds of applications, right,
and so we launched the program. It's a six week program,
and they're people who have been laid off, and they

(39:56):
are people who are brilliant. They come out of top
tech companies. You know, we have as x PhD s,
we have c xos and publicly traded companies and everything
in between. An incredibly diverse group of people and they're building, right.
They all came together and they started getting to know
each other, trading company ideas, and you know, from there
they were able to say, okay, great, you know, let's

(40:17):
go out and and start working on stuff. And so
we're in week four and we have about fifteen companies
that people are working on now. And they're pretty viable, right,
they're good ideas, they're incredibly talented founders with great experience,
and they're building and they're working, and you know, we're
really bullish that that this is going to result in
some real companies from people who two months ago, if

(40:40):
you told them, hey, you're going to be launching a
company before fourth of July, they would have said, what
are you talking about? Wow? And also so appropriate that
it's like seven o'clock here in New York and that
like people are cheering outside for the health care workers,
like as you're talking about that, like people are cheering. Good.
I think it's been a range of we've had this, sirens,

(41:00):
We've had people cheering. Um. Well, you know, to wrap,
I would love what about this is personal to you?
I mean all of it is personal. Yes, I'd rather
not I'd rather not die because people are racist. So
it's very personal, yes, um and and and like I laugh,
But it's also true. And it's in saying that that
you have to say that, right, So so of course

(41:21):
it's personal. But to me, you know, the thing that
I think about all the time is like, you know,
I'm in my thirties, Like I want to have kids someday,
and like I can't, Like I hope that the world
has changed by the time my kids are old enough
to have questions about this, But I certainly can't, you know,
with any moral authority, right bring kids into the world
and then have to tell them when they ask why

(41:41):
is the world like this? I can't say I don't
know and I didn't do anything to change it, right,
And I see, you know, so many of my friends
because of my age, right are are are having babies
and they're they're really thinking about that. They're saying, like,
I'm going to raise this human in this world, and
it can't keep looking like this, right, It can't keep
looking like this for women, for people of color, for
LGBTQ people like we can't you know, for immigrants, it

(42:04):
can't keep looking like this. And I think that's really
an amazing kind of north star that if we focus
on that, and if we say, am I comfortable right
with the fact that in thirty years I might be
having a daughter, right who's a black woman who's graduated
college and has headed off to work in Silicon Valley,
And if she calls me and says, hey, mom, you

(42:26):
know I'm I'm getting sexually harassed. Hey, people are being
you know, racist, I can't say, oh, yeah, sorry, that's
just how it is, because it doesn't need to be
how it is. First Contact is a production of Dot

(42:46):
Dot Dot Media executive produced by Laurie Siegel and Derek Dodge.
This episode was produced and edited by Sabine Jansen and
Jack Reagan. The original theme music is by Xander sing.
First Contact with Lori Siegel is a production of Dot
dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio
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