“When we don’t have a seat at the table, we need to proactively work to create a seat, or if need be, build our own table.”
SoGal is a millennial-led VC firm which invests in early-stage startups in the U.S. and Asia with female founders, diverse founding teams, or a primarily female customer base.
Years in tech? 6
What inspired you to start SoGal Ventures?
My business partner, Pocket Sun, and I strongly believe investing in women is one of the last remaining arbitrage opportunities. Besides the huge financial upside, we decided to start SoGal Ventures to: 1) create a fresh VC firm culture that we enjoy working in, 2) make investment decisions that align with our values and speak to our vision of the future, and 3) inspire and develop the next generation of women investors .Our first SoGal Ventures fund is targeting $15M.
Tell us about some of your portfolio companies.
SoGal Ventures, we invest in companies that are revolutionizing how the next generation lives, works, and stays healthy. A major emerging themes we see in the consumer space is the powerful blend of forward-thinking design, true mass customization made possible by AI technologies and advanced manufacturing, and loyal engaged consumer communities. Some of our fund investments include:
In the future, you’ll never need to go to a doctor’s office for bloodwork and lab testing. Whether it’s testing for STDs because a condom broke, or Thyroid levels because you’ve been tired and gaining weight, you can order your own tests – and actually understand what they mean for yourhealth. Plus, no more missing work or paying thousands of dollars when a bill surprises you. EverlyWell is the next generation healthcare testing platform that allows you to conveniently and affordably test yourself from comfort of your own home.
Trustily is the world’s first technology platform to connect clients across the US with a network of highly trained and qualified professionals that offer real-time observation and digital monitoring. It’s an app that allows the user to anonymously hire a private detective and pay by the hour — without the frustration of combing through online listings or paying a retainer for services. In exchange, private investigators document their hours, charge for what is used and provide evidence for court when needed.
Function of Beauty is a direct-to-consumer customized personal care company. The company was founded by MIT engineers and scientists, who have created proprietary algorithms and advanced manufacturing capabilities so that consumers can enjoy completely custom-made shampoo and conditioner that meet their individual hair goals with 12 billion unique combinations. The product is sustainable, cruelty-free, and uses natural good-for-you ingredients. The company recently raised a $9.5M Series A round led by GGV.
Why are there so few female VCs? What needs to happen to increase the numbers?
Bringing in a pipeline of talented women from the earliest stages in their career that can grow into partner-level investors at major VC firms is crucial. We have empowered our portfolio founders and SoGal community leads to also be venture partners for our fund, which is new for the VC industry. Our hope is that they will learn about investing beside us in the next few years, and after building billion dollar businesses, will give back and invest in diverse companies on their own!
Additionally, supporting women currently in venture is equally important. To that end, we have partnered with other women in VC to start SheVC, an Asia-based network of female venture capitalists that meet up monthly to share resources and support each other. On a daily basis, we are constantly sharing deals with other women investors that we respect to build long-term relationships.
Biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
The biggest challenge that Pocket and I faced when we were starting SoGal Ventures was convincing potential investors that we are capable of executing our vision. The current VC world is 94% male, and the average age of a VC is probably at least a decade older than us. Even after we have invested in 35 high-performing companies, we still get questions such as “why do you think you can be an investor?” and “how would someone trust you with their money?”. Sometimes at global business conferences and in-person meetings, people would say things like “but you’re still a baby” or “what you’re doing is so cute”. This doesn’t bother us anymore as we become more confident in our ability to win the best deals and know our strategy is differentiated and compelling. And let’s not forget that we’ve had significant valuation markups and one exit since we started investing a year and a half ago!
Biggest success to date?
To be able to invest in three dozens of innovative startups that are shaping the future, and to get top executives around the world to support our mission. We’ve been able to secure powerful advisors and investors including Jan Swartz, Group President of Princess Cruises, Julia Gouw, retired President of East West Bank, and Yvonne Wang, President of Hearst Media China.
Advice for other women in tech— entrepreneurs, investors, engineers?
As women in tech, we need to fight for our seat at the table and demonstrate strength and resilience to stand our ground. When we don’t have a seat at the table, we need to proactively work to create a seat or if need be, build our own table. Just as importantly, we need to mentor, advocate, and champion other women, so that we can bring more women to the table with us.
Additionally, as women we must continue to advance the conversation around gender and women in technology. At SoGal, we deeply believe in a broad definition of diversity and how multidisciplinary diverse teams will drive positive investment performance and value creation. The next billion dollar companies are startups powered by cultures that center on the values of diversity, flexibility and inclusion. These startups understand that by creating a safe and productive environment to work regardless of differences such as someone’s gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or caretaker status, every team member can perform at their peak.
Who are your role models?
At SoGal, we’re extremely blessed to have a global community of #SoGalBoss role models who are the smartest people I’ve ever met. The diverse founders that we have the opportunity to invest in are the heartbeat of our organization. They are the individuals that are risking it all to tackle old industries head-on with new technologies, products, and services. I think of entrepreneurship as a marathon of roller coasters, where every day presents a new challenge and opportunity. The common thread through all of our founders is they are mission-driven, tenaciously facing these challenges and conquering these opportunities, in order to build the change they want to see in this world.
For example, Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound, was diagnosed with Stage III cancer in her early twenties, and after radiation and chemotherapy faced the new life challenge of early menopause and infertility. With her unique new perspective, she founded Unbound to empower women and bring sexual wellness, education, and accessibility young women from the convenience of their mobile phone.
Another #SoGalBoss is Iman Oubou, CEO of SWAAY and Miss New York 2015. As a biomedical engineer, beauty pageant queen, and entrepreneur – traditional media didn’t understand how to tell the multi-faceted, multi-talented story of Iman or other women like her. To fill the gap in media, Iman founded SWAAY, a ground-breaking digital publication that harnesses the style and glamour of today’s business-minded woman. SWAAY believes that women’s interests are much more diverse than what traditional magazines portray.
If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
I was bullied a lot as a young girl because my mom is disabled and I also weighed more than my peers. The bullying became physically violent on multiple occasions, so I eventually had to switch middle schools. Today’s teenage girls face even harsher bullying with the prevalence of social media, which is a major problem. The bullying really hurt my confidence as a teenage girl because I didn’t understand why the bullies would say and spread terrible things about me. I began to believe that what they were saying must be true. But the reality is, those things really had nothing to do with me at all. I think it’s really important to understand that other’s actions and comments often have more to do what’s going on in their own lives and their own insecurities, rather than being a reflection of you as an individual. I’d encourage young girls to harness the negative energy of bullying as an opportunity to become more empathetic. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand the root cause of bullying, is more productive and better for mental well-being, than sinking into self-deprecation or loss of self-confidence. You can’t control what others will do and say, but you can control how you react.
Flats, heels or kicks?
I’m a collector of unique heels. I love anything architectural or geometric in design, and over the past decade through TheRealReal, Poshmark, & Ebay, I’ve built a sizeable collection. As a venture capitalist though, you’re constantly running around the city and traveling, so my go-to shoes right now are bright red horsehair flats in summer, and timeless grey and black ankle boots in fall/winter.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Recently I’ve been heads down planning my wedding for this September in Lake Como, Italy. Planning a wedding is similar to any other large-scale project or initiative, so I’ve been using many industry-disrupting startups to help me along the way! For example, I wasn’t able to find a wedding dress that fit my body well or was in my budget through traditional retail, so I designed a custom dress with a startup called Anomalie. Instead of bridesmaid robes that I know most my friends will never wear again, I’m gifting them awesome leggings and the Something Borrowed shirt from ADAY. To help my bridesmaids maximize their budgets, being able to rent designer bridesmaid dresses at a fraction of the cost of buying through Vow to Be Chic is game-changing! I live in a small NYC apartment with minimal space for traditional wedding registry gifts, so Zola has been a lifesaver with their diverse gift selection and flawless user experience design. To make sure I was photo ready, I used mobile beauty advisor HelloAva. I had been dealing with adult hormonal acne and really wanted to have clear skin for my big day, and luckily with the products they recommended, my skin has completely cleared up. What I love even more is that all the startups I used have female founders, so I know that the money I’m spending for my wedding is supporting other women build their businesses. With a small amount of effort, we can all become educated consumers and actually spend money with companies that align with our values!
Best work-life hack?
Finding the “hack” that brings you calmness while also rejuvenating your creativity is key in a fast-paced career. I recently moved into a new NYC apartment that has a great bathtub. I love taking aromatherapy salt baths and using the time to be device-disconnected and simply think. Not only does my body feel great after it, but I usually come up with at least one new creative idea or investment perspective.