Feb 22 Elsa Snellman
First, Jenny, a founder two times over, reminded the audience of the hard thing about hard things: starting a company is hard and lonely. Her first company, WeddingChannel, was for registering one’s wedding gifts and buying them online. She hit the market at the right time in the midst of the emerging ecommerce business of 1990s: Amazon was still selling books and there was room for other players in the field. “That’s how things were, how people were behaving”, Jenny recalled. Her advice on founding a company, based on her experience with WeddingChannel, is simple yet effective: tap into behaviors. The real things people do and the problems they face. What can be done to solve their problems? What technology should be applied? That should be your starting point.
When discussing the macro trends of investing, both women agree that there is one industry they find particularly interesting in terms of investing: healthcare. “Lots of opportunities are in untouched, heavily regulated areas, such as healthcare”, Alice explained. These days, food arrives to your doorstep in minutes and rooms can be booked in an eyeblink. Health care is the industry still inconvenient, broken, and expensive. Why would people not expect similar changes in the way healthcare is handled? Why should people not expect the same from their interactions with healthcare professionals – efficiency and convenience? “You need to solve the core problem which is the provision of care itself, not pieces around it”, Jenny said. “Not a ton of big exits in healthcare have happened – it’s really hard. I hope we see more of them, this is just the beginning”, Jenny states. Another lesson to remember – don’t think about what’s big today, or what was big yesterday. “History, would tell you that investing in healthcare isn’t great, but… if I’d be a founder now, I’d spend my energy on this”, Jenny states.
Women’s health is also a particularly interesting area for both women – Jenny is one of the founding members of All Raise, not-for-profit organization dedicated to diversity in funders and founders – and RRE is currently leading investment into fertility company in egg freezing and IFV business.
When talking about what the two look for in founders, one word popped up: authenticity. The founders who didn’t wake up wanting to become founders, but found something worth fixing from their surroundings. Those, who find an opportunity, search for the solution, and when it becomes clear that the solution doesn’t exist, they come up with it by themselves, as they wouldn’t forgive themselves if they didn’t. “Treat yourself as you’re a venture capitalist. You’re investing with your lives. Think long and hard – does this need to exist? Am I the first one thinking about this? Prove yourself it has merit.” Mission and authenticity is where every founder should start from.
Many founders do think that they could for sure be the next Zuckerberg. But being a founder isn’t glamorous, and a lot of investors’ time goes to helping those who are struggling and encountering a lot of bumps along the way. As Alice put it, you feed the ducks that quack. The company journeys are longer than they used to be. “Look at Amazon, they went public in 6 years. Now it can take up to 12 years. It’s a different ecosystem and landscape than it used to be.” Jenny mentioned the other trend, which is the proliferation of seed funds. If you need capital to start, that’s one thing. But you also need to concentrate on bootstrapping – not spend, not raise, and get the proof points together that you have something worthy before you raise. This is easier for founders with authentic ideas and a clear mission.
Jenny also mentioned the swing of trend in mental health. “We’ve seen the price we pay by not caring for mental health. There’s a trend in human connection. People are lonely, yet more connected than ever. In the end of the day, we’re human beings, we have needs. It’s about figuring out how to serve those needs.” “I think sometimes people start with technology when looking for the problem”, Alice continued. “You shouldn’t start with technology and how to raise with it. Start with a human side.” Jenny mentioned one of her portfolio companies called Quilt, which is a networking platform through which people can open up their homes into co-working and learning spaces for other like-minded people. Quilt enables community-building based on shared interests. Women’s clubs and other more traditional communities have been around for decades, but what you want from human connection changes with time. What remains, though, is our need to connect.
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