Create more opportunities for women at the investment partner level. There are still not nearly enough women VCs driving the funding decisions and serving on their portfolio companies’ boards of directors. Without women in these positions at scale, women entrepreneurs face a disadvantage with networking and securing interest in pitches.
I had the pleasure to interview Michelle McCarthy. Michelle evaluates, recommends, and closes strategic investments for Verizon’s venture capital group, in addition to overseeing the venture team’s operations, processes, and internal events. She was recognized as a Global Corporate Venturing Rising Star in 2016 and is a board observer for select portfolio companies in the areas of advertising technology and connected devices. Before joining Verizon Ventures, Michelle headed acquisitions and asset management of a large portfolio of affordable housing tax credit investments at Verizon Capital and, prior to that, was involved in Verizon’s corporate strategy formulation and domestic and international M&A. Michelle earned an MBA in finance from Georgetown University and a B.A. in International Studies from American University.
Thank you so much for joining us Michelle! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
My background is in corporate strategy, M&A, and tax credit investments. And before that, I was a liberal arts undergrad known for being a technology “gadget gal” with a sense of adventure and a healthy dose of curiosity. Moving to Verizon Ventures seven years ago was a natural fit as it allows me to combine my interests and investment transaction expertise to identify innovative startups with the potential to improve Verizon’s future and more broadly impact everyday living.
Can you share a story of your most successful VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?
I was a seed investor in Run, a real-time programmatic adtech company that was not only a financial success but also became one of Verizon’s first launch partners for its Precision Market Insights group — an entree into the world of advertising that preceded Verizon’s acquisition of AOL. The primary contributing factor to the investment’s success was the ability to keep tabs on what was happening internally at Verizon to find the optimal time to make appropriate intros.
Can you share a story of a VC funding “failure” of yours? Is there a lesson or take away that you took out of that that our readers can learn from?
Failures are absolutely tough, especially as employees lose their jobs and the world loses out on whatever unique thing it was that the startup brought to life, which you passionately believed in. But betting on the future is inherently risky and no active VC investor escapes failures, nor should they want to as it’s one of the largest learning opportunities. Each “failure” I’ve been through has left me with a new and unique dimension for how I assess the risks of new deals and how I approach planning and problem-solving with founders who seek my advice.
Was there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that?
To be candid, no. I don’t have any investment regrets whether they were missed opportunities or investments I advocated for and made, but later failed. Either way, they’ve helped to shape how I now look at new opportunities, better equipping me to assess risks and the potential for both strategic and financial rewards.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?
Verizon Ventures values the diversity of perspectives among our leadership team and the portfolio companies we invest in. I’m not alone as a female leading investment strategy. In fact, nearly half of the Verizon Ventures investment team are women. We are mindful of the current industry dynamics and are trying to be a part of the solution, engaging in industry discussions, amplifying awareness, serving as mentors, and being sensitive to diverse communication styles.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap.
- Acknowledge and work to mitigate unconscious bias. The first step toward mitigating biases is to foster more open dialogue about the existence of them.
- Create more opportunities for women at the investment partner level. There are still not nearly enough women VCs driving the funding decisions and serving on their portfolio companies’ boards of directors. Without women in these positions at scale, women entrepreneurs face a disadvantage with networking and securing interest in pitches.
- Encourage more girls and young women to pursue STEM fields. Women entrepreneurs are especially underrepresented in deep tech. Organizations like Girls Who Code, the Society of Women Engineers, Girls in STEM, and many others are trying to change the face of computer science and engineering. We need to support these efforts and find new creative ways to impact stereotypes, fuel aspirations, and achieve better balance.
- Offer more support services to aspiring female entrepreneurs. Educational sessions, mentoring, and networking opportunities with seasoned, successful entrepreneurs and investors can go a long way. They help to strengthen business plans and pitch decks and lead to warm intros to potential partners, investors, and other resources.
- Spur the industry to tackle a culture change head-on. There are cultural norms and expectations around women being stereotypically more risk-averse and/or less assertive, and there’s also a lingering “bro culture” associated with Silicon Valley. The entire industry needs to prioritize the gender imbalance as a problem that it desperately needs to address. If half of the population is severely under-represented in the process of driving innovation, then we can’t expect to find the best ways to solve problems or to even solve all of the right problems.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
On the topic of gender disparity in the VC ecosystem, I want to be a voice to help lead others to the table to dedicate real time and creative energy into collectively working to balance the playing field. It can’t be an occasional talking point, a side hobby, or an opportunity to trot out a few examples of limited success. We need a movement that takes the challenge on in the serious and high-priority way it deserves and is inclusive of all of the key players. We must change the status quo together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my current favorite quotes is from Whoopi Goldberg, “We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.” My mother has been an incredible role model to me for as long as I can remember, using her gifts tirelessly to help others. I aspire to do the same: help those in need and leave the world a better place.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’m a fan of TheSkimm, and have been for nearly 5 years. I’d love to sit down with Skimm founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg.