She captured investors’ attention with a well-timed, dramatic gesture.
Jess Lee is a partner with the legendary investment firm Sequoia Capital. But prior to that, she not only helped grow Polyvore, an online community that coupled e-commerce with users’ creativity but also orchestrated a successful acquisition by Yahoo to the tune of $200 million.
However, before she was a familiar name to Silicon Valley dealmakers, she was another entrepreneur with a startup, seeking money to achieve her vision and — more importantly — keep the lights on at her company.
Speaking to Business Insider, Lee recalled that in investment pitch meetings, she was met with disinterested venture capitalists who couldn’t even bother to pay attention. Recognizing that taking a risk to make an impression was the only way to stand out amid the countless companies jockeying for funding, Lee developed a tactic that all but forced her audience to engage and pay attention.
Upon walking into the room, Lee would loudly drop a stack of Vogue magazines on the conference table, jarring her audience. She then said, “There is $100 million worth of advertising in these magazines.”
She would pause for a beat and then continue, “Now, imagine that on the internet.”
Laurel Touby, the managing partner at Supernode Ventures, affirmed the need to make a splash by asserting yourself, regardless of your gender or the gender(s) of your audience. However, she claimed that, in her experience, women tend to be less assertive while making pitches, failing to impart upon investors the urgency and opportunity of their ideas.
“Unfortunately, I’ve only invested in a few female-founded companies,” Touby recalled. “I feel turned off when a founder doesn’t seem forceful. Being too gentle is a strike against anyone, whether you’re a woman or a man, particularly when you’re forcing your way into someone’s pocketbook.”
In addition to her work at Sequoia Capital, Lee, along with entrepreneur Felicia Curcuru, started Female Founder Office Hours, which matches aspiring entrepreneurs with established ones in order to decode the language and myriad tactics needed to pursue funding.
Lee may be happy with the torrent of interest — approaching 1,500 women in the program’s early days — but she’s certainly not shocked by it. “Starting a company is so hard and there’s so much inside baseball knowledge on how to fundraise that I wasn’t surprised people were crying out for that kind of help,” she said.
She continues with her hope for the project and the success of women in the historically male-dominated arena of venture capital. Lee offered, “Women are perfectly capable of building great companies, and we can get there by helping each other.”