Why a ‘Brown Girl’ From Calcutta Decided to Join Some ‘White Blokes’ From Austria on Their Venture Journey!
For those of you who know me, you know what I stand for! ‘Female founders’ have been my lifeblood for many years. Back in the day, when I started harping about female founders, there was only one other person in the UK tech ecosystem carrying the same baton. It was Check. Check Warner (I am sure I don’t need to tell you that).
I remember talking to my husband about my investment case around women and even he was skeptical. This coming from a man who was (and still is) an equal life partner and without whom I couldn’t manage to do half the things I do at work. Well, I have realized there will be many skeptics along the way but, at the same time, there will also be many believers… and something inside of me felt that those ‘white blokes’ from Speedinvest might just be them!
I first met the Speedinvest team through another brown girl, Akriti Dokania. She introduced me to someone who introduced me to someone who introduced me to Felix Faltin. Felix leads our Digital Health team. Felix and I had a connection – we would talk about one topic and one topic alone. We both loved Women’s Health. I remember telling Felix that he was one of the few men who I had met in venture who didn’t, as is typical, just pass women’s health deals down to the woman on the team. He actually did the DD himself and was as comfortable with the vagina as I was! Those chats between Felix and I every now and then were my very first insights into the company.
During one of those interactions, I happened to mention to Felix that I was maybe looking to join a fund as a Venture Partner*. Venture Partner roles don’t tend to be advertised (even more of a ‘closed network’ than traditional VC) and I asked Felix if he knew of any European funds that might be interested in bringing someone on with my focus: women. Felix sent my email** to Oliver Holle, Founder & Managing Partner of the fund. As I write this piece, I went back to jog my memory as to when that was and what exactly the emails said.
On June 25, 2020, Felix wrote to Oliver:
Please meet Deepali, a prolific London-based angel with strong expertise and relationships around female founding teams across the board. She's currently with Atomico's angel program and is looking for new engagements.
On June 26, 2020, Oliver wrote to me:
Looking very much forward to meeting. I heard so many great things about you!
I first met Oliver on Zoom in July 2020. He was humble and polite, super encouraging about what I stood for, and very forthcoming about Speedinvest and the team’s efforts to build a more inclusive culture at the fund. Before I joined as a Venture Partner, Speedinvest had already mobilized a working group on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). They had begun measuring diversity in their pipeline and internal recruitment, were reworking policies such as maternity/paternity leave, and had begun extending DEI support to their portfolio.
For those who want to do this right, there are no shortcuts and I felt that Oliver truly wanted to make a lasting change. Over the next few weeks, I spoke to many others at the fund and got to know them better. What I liked about Oliver was that he didn’t try to make me fit into a mold and he didn’t try to slot me into a particular sector team. He understood my passion for supporting and investing in female founders and we crafted a job description for me that matched my personal interest and values.***
We all want to invest in good deals - essentially good people - and he was of the view that I could bring strong female founders to Speedinvest who the fund could invest in. And so I began as a Venture Partner at Speedinvest in Jan 2021 - a Venture Partner with a focus on female founders. I had never heard of any other European fund that had done this previously!
In 2021, I met many people who asked me what I do at Speedinvest. As Venture Partner, I sourced female-founded deal flow, participated in due diligence sessions, led the Emerge program for the Speedinvest-Softbank partnership, helped launch a mentoring program for female employees, helped raise funds for our portfolio companies, and got to know the team very closely.
Most importantly, I learned that Michael sings at the end of each Speedinvest party; Stefan has been married for 25 years and Daria’s family eats pig for Christmas! I know that Cara is from South Africa; Dominik wakes up at 5am most mornings with his 4 and a half-year-old; Marie-Helene’s daughters do ballet; Jeremy’s folks are in Virginia and Audrey loves New York; and I know that I can reach out to Claudia and Felix anytime and they will be there for me. Super smart investors - check, amazing founder support platform and operations team - check, amazing human beings - double check! For me, number three is key. It’s not the journey but the people who come with you on the journey who make it worthwhile.
Of course, there are skeptics at Speedinvest too. However, it is also my firm belief that it is our job as ‘believers’ to convert those ‘skeptics.’ And in an industry that is predominantly returns-driven and where pattern recognition decides the direction of investments, this shift will primarily come through being able to show value. Returns are a long game and so is DEI; one cannot go from being a ‘skeptic’ to a ‘believer’ overnight. Culture and thought processes take many years to change and it has been wonderful to join a team where that change has already begun and continues to gain momentum.
Exits in female-founded companies have started to see an uptick – be it fintech or dating apps. Needless to say, the tide is turning and turning fast. And those who don’t understand the real benefits of diversity of thought and leadership - the resilience, the capital discipline, the authenticity - that come with the inclusion of women and other underrepresented founders will be very much left behind.
So either you can take that first step and invest in an asset class that is waiting to be monetized; an investment arb (underrepresented = underestimated = undercapitalized = depressed asset price = investment arb), or you can play that valuation game and get eaten by the Tiger. They aren’t mutually exclusive, you can, of course, choose to do both.
To each their own until judgment day – love your choices and live with them. I have made mine.
Signing off now as Speedinvest’s newest Partner.
Underrepresented founders can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
* I didn’t even know what a Venture Partner was until my friend Amy’s husband, Steve Crossan, EIR Atomico and Venture Partner at First Minute, told me that maybe it is something I should explore. A big thank you to Steve!
** Moral of the story – Always ask. If you don’t ask, you never get! You only need that one person to believe in you. Thanks to Sophia Bendz for being the first one to believe in me!
*** Research has shown that ‘job crafting’ makes for significantly happier and more productive employees – ‘Give & Take’ – Adam Grant
Speedinvest is a leading pan-European, early-stage venture capital firm. Our portfolio includes Wefox, Bitpanda, TIER Mobility, GoStudent, Curve, CoachHub, Schüttflix, TourRadar, Adverity, and Twaice. Sign up for our newsletters to get our exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.