Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself

Forbes Article from DEC 15, 2016 @ 10:47 AM  

How To Find The Fastest Growing Segment Of Startups That Everyone Is Missing

by Jessica Pliska ,  FORBES CONTRIBUTOR

I bring you career insights from top leaders and rising stars.

Gayle Jennings O’Byrne left a high-powered job at JP Morgan Chase to start investing in startups led by women of color. Her company, Maya Ventures, and her investment platform – the Harriet Fund and Harriet Angels – have already attracted attention from investors, including corporations and people who haven’t been big investors before. Most importantly she has connected with entrepreneurs looking for a champion. I asked her what advice she gives rising entrepreneurs and who she would invite to her dream dinner party.

Jessica Pliska: What inspired you to give up a great job and take a risk on Maya Ventures?

Gayle Jennings O’Byrne: My business partner, Kathryn Finney, commissioned the Project Diane report, which documented the market realities for female entrepreneurs of color.  It is devastating. Of all new women-led businesses, 80% are started by women of color. They are the fastest growing segment of startups, yet they get almost no venture capital investment. There is so much potential and profit that is being overlooked by the rest of the market.  It made me heartbroken, then angry. Then I decided to be part of the solution.

Pliska: What is your strategy?

O’Byrne: Diversity is the engine that can grow economies, but people still can’t picture Black and Latina women founders of tech companies. My goal is simple – help build and showcase success.  We invest, support, mentor and provide a robust ecosystem of resources, contacts and clients to help entrepreneurs be successful. It is not enough to write a check and expect above-market returns. So we partner with DigitalUndivided and the BIG Innovation Center, a small business accelerator that has a solid track-record of supporting startups through mentoring and coaching, which are crucial parts of the process.

American Express reported that 4 million Black and Latina women-led companies generated 150 billion dollars last year.  Just imagine if we – society and the markets – got our collective act together and meaningfully invested and supported these women, mothers, daughter and sisters?

Pliska: What advice do you give women founders?

O’Byrne: Ask bigger and dream bolder. The bigger the idea, the more excited people get about it. Women, either by nature or nurture, tend to be practical and risk-averse. Men tend to believe they can do anything so they go for it.  Women are going for it also and I want to go with them.  If we are smart, we all will.

Pliska: So how do you make connections for potential investors?

O’Byrne: We have to tell really good stories. There is a lot of great work happening, but with the information overload in our lives, we are missing the narrative. Is there some exclusion, racism or unconscious bias behind the funding gap and the lack of diversity in tech? Sure. But there are degrees and varieties of it. So telling great stories about women entrepreneurs and their journeys is crucial. Storytelling has transformative power.

Pliska: What is the most useful career advice you received?

O’Byrne: My mother always told me, “no one ever dies from the word ‘no.’” You should never be afraid to say no or to hear it from someone.

Pliska: What advice do you give to people who want to leave their jobs to start businesses?

O’Byrne: I tell them that they already have all of the tools they need to succeed. They just have to figure out how to apply them.  When I coach people, I always tell them to start with a self-inventory by asking “What am I really good at? What do I enjoy? Where do I add value?”

Pliska: How can people carve out time to focus on their self-inventory?

O’Byrne: It’s like exercise; you have to commit and repeat. I start each morning with a half hour of silence. I use it for meditation, writing a thank you note (it keeps me humble and grateful) or just making sure I am ready for the day.

Pliska: You talk about the importance of hearing multiple points of view. How do you do it?

O’Byrne: You need to intentionally widen your network to include people with different points of view or backgrounds than your own.  I recently went to a dinner party hosted by Peggy Johnson of Microsoft. She intentionally invited people from different backgrounds and careers. It was a beautiful evening because of the diversity of thought and background.

Pliska: So who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

O’Byrne: If you are on this list and reading this, please come!

1. Shonda Rhimes. I feel like we'd be friends and she's that girl who would come in the kitchen and ask if I need any help, but really we'd just be standing in the kitchen cracking each other up.

2. Anthony Scaramucci, SkyBridge Capital.  Smart as hell. Funny as hell. What’s better than learning while laughing?

3. Kenza Lahlou of StartupYourLife. She is building a startup community in Morocco that excites the hell out of me. And I want to repay the great meal I had at her home in Casablanca.

4. The Koch Brothers. I know there's some common ground, which we'd tease out over the first course.

5. Robert Smith of Vista Equity Partners.  He'd bring good wine and even better stories!

6. Nadia Bolz-Weber. Tattooed, truth-telling, spiritual leader. She's chicken soup and a tequila chaser for the soul. She'd either bless the food or spit in it, but all coming from a place of love.

7. Mellody Hobson at Ariel Investment.  No explanation needed... she's my "rockstar" compass.

8. Thomas Persson, the CEO and co-owner of Aspen Rights and Aspen Film in Sweden. He's a storyteller at heart.

9. Jim Obergefell, activist, plaintiff in Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage. I have seen this man's heart and it is pure.

10. Last but not least, my mom is that cool gal who'd pull up a chair and have everyone in stitches over her stories.