Women continue to be severely under-represented in the venture capital space. Kim Parlee speaks with Caroline Kassie, who has teamed up with Chelsea Clinton, in a new venture capital firm, Metrodora Ventures, with a focus on health and learning businesses in the U.S. and Canada.
My first guest ventured into a field which is severely underrepresented by women. Caroline Kassie is a venture capitalist and lawyer and has recently joined Chelsea Clinton as general partner at Metrodora Ventures. She joins us now. Caroline, thanks so much for joining us. I'm going to jump right in. You're based in New York City. My understanding is that you hail from Toronto and you started your career as a lawyer. So tell us maybe a bit about how you got into venture capital.
- Sure. And thank you so much for having me today. So I started my career at Skadden Arps in the M&A and private equity practice groups. But while I was in law school I had this incredible internship working for the head of corporate development at Spotify. And Spotify is and always has been a really mission-driven company. And I loved being a part of that and knew I wanted to end up with a career where I was playing some part in helping to fix and improve the world, and a law firm didn't feel like the best place to do that.
So while I was working at Spotify, the company raised its Series F from TCV, which is growth stage investing, which is not where I've ultimately ended up, but it did expose me to and got me really excited about the venture capital ecosystem.
So when a job at an early stage investing firm sort of fell into my lap, I jumped at the opportunity. And the first venture capital role I had was at a firm called Beanstox. And that job was to invest in and incubate early stage businesses in the retail tech and direct-to-consumer brand space. I then ended up being part of a new investment firm called Blockchange that is investing in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. And my current role is with Metrodora, a firm which launched last year and is focused on early stage health and learning businesses.
- Can you tell me a bit about, I mean, what it's like? You know, you mentioned-- it's nice to hear that Spotify helped launch your career. Nice to see we see the-- I'll call career spinoffs from some great technology companies growing in Canada. But I was taking a look at some stats, and I think right now about 4.9% of the people working in venture capital are women. That is an astonishingly low number. So, maybe get your sense of why do you think venture capital is so dominated by men.
- Yeah. I think there are a couple technical issues as to why it's the case that so few women are founding partners or emerging managers at venture capital firms. There's a huge financial burden associated with founding a venture capital firm. Managers have to forgo a salary for at least a year while they're fundraising, and then are also expected to make a personal investment commitment of a percentage of the total fund size, or what's known as the GP commit. And unfortunately, historically, not as many women and minorities have had that kind of capital cushion.
- I do think that firms at least anecdotally have done a much better job at thinking about diversity and hiring female investors at entry level and mid-level positions over the last decade. Unfortunately, women still make up a very small proportion of investment decision-makers in venture capital. And a direct consequence of that is the dearth of capital allocated to female entrepreneurs. In fact, only 2.2% of the $130 billion that venture capital invested in 2018 went to female founders.
And that's problematic because if you think about how venture capitalists meet companies and make decisions, there's a selection bias. And this creates a reinforcing cycle that leaves diverse talent out of the market. And what we've learned is that women and minorities, they think differently, they run companies differently, they communicate differently. And women are more likely to identify market segments by virtue of where their empathy lies. And it's hard to recognize and identify that if you don't have female and diverse decision-makers on your investment committees or in the boardrooms.
- I mean, you probably can't see I'm nodding vigorously to everything you say about the selection bias and the huge untapped opportunity of serving women better with products, which often can be seen by those founders that are women and everything you talked about.
Can you tell me a bit about Metrodora Ventures? I mentioned, of course, that you've joined forces with Chelsea Clinton to do this. But what is it? What is it focused on? Maybe tell us a bit more about some of the things you just talked about in terms of maybe what Metrodora is going to be addressing.
- Yeah, so Chelsea and I launched Metrodora Ventures to invest in early stage health and learning businesses. I became interested in the consumer health space after I had a personal health issue during which I found myself the user and patient of a lot of the venture-backed startups in the women's health space. And my own patient experience informed how I was thinking about the space and where I saw the opportunities.
Chelsea has been, the vast majority of her career, thinking about health and education-- these very complex environments that are highly regulated-- and really comes to Metrodora with deep subject matter expertise. So what we are doing with Metrodora is we are really focused on and committed to finding companies and founders that are building to disintermediation the delivery of care, skills, or information.
I've only got about 30 seconds, Caroline, and I do apologize for that. But I know one of the investments-- or your latest investment-- is something called Alula. Could you tell us what that is?
- Yeah, so Alula was actually the first investment that we made. It is a cancer recovery platform. The founder had what she refers to as two years of unwanted R&D, as first a cancer caretaker for her mother-- she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer-- and then a cancer patient herself after she was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. And Alula's core business is a centralized marketplace for the goods and services one may need as a cancer caretaker or patient. But what we're really excited about, what the big vision is, is to make cancer less lonely by creating a platform and really a social network that productizes so many of the challenges one experiences when dealing with a chronic illness.
- Caroline, inspiring conversation. We'd love to have you back and hear more.
- Thank you so much for having me.