Statistics have always fascinated me. The ability to take a quantifiable number from research and create a narrative that supports or discounts an argument is an essential skill necessary to advance knowledge and create thought leadership in all fields.
Yet, as all of us have likely encountered — statistics can be vastly deceptive, poorly used, and can even contradict the original research that produced the sound bite or twitter blurb.
As I started my journey to become a venture capitalist, I was often regurgitated the same statistics about women in venture capital and the amount of venture capital that goes towards teams with women founders. These statistics often emphasize the dire state the industry is in and the need for additional opportunities for women.
For example: The number of women partners in venture capital dropped from 10% to 6% since 1999.
With any statistic, context is important. In the case of the statistic above, a portion of the drop of women in venture capital could be because the 1999 report included women in support staff roles at venture capital firms, while the study in 2014 did not. Whether or not this is true, I would still argue that a 6% or 10% representation of women is not balanced, but this is a discussion for another day…
In his books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb popularized the concept — we often place too much weight on the odds that past events will repeat.
This past May, I was accepted to participate in a new program for investors led by Stanford University and 500 Startups. During our two weeks together, our group refined our understanding of what makes a good investment thesis, debated the best way to evaluate investments, and hypothesized what the future of venture capital could look like.
Dave McClure, Founder of 500 Startups, emphasized that you must train yourself to identify and evaluate the potential of what could be, rather than simply taking the easier path of identifying the reasons why a company may fail. With this in mind, I realized that successful investors train themselves to understand and value deviations from the norm.
To illustrate how focusing on the norm vs. focusing on the potential of an outlier can alter your own perception of an opportunity, I offer you my own background as an anecdote.
Focused on the Norm:
Hello, World! My name is Elizabeth Galbut. I am 26 years old. I didn’t go to HBS or Wharton. I don’t have 10+ years of startup or tech operational experience. I haven’t exited a start-up I’ve created for $M+, nor was I the 7th employee at Google. I have not been an associate at a top VC firm. Although I worked in Management Consulting, I did not work at McKinsey, Bain or BCG. I am a woman.
With this information, most people would conclude — I do not have the normal identifying attributes or skills necessary to be a venture capitalist.
Focused on the Potential of an Outlier:
Hello, World! My name is Elizabeth Galbut. I am 26 years young. I take intelligent calculated risks and make informed decisions. Managing my life in this manner has proven successful time over time.
For example, I just finished an exciting new dual degree MBA/MA Design Leadership program at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and Maryland Institute College of Art. Due to a significant scholarship and the vast range of opportunities the program provided me with, unlike many of my MBA peers, I am not held prisoner by my student debt and can pursue the career of my dreams.
Because the business school at JHU is also in its startup phase, there were ample opportunities to immerse myself as a student leader from Day 1. As Managing Director of Innovation Factory, I built and led an incredible team of 51 student leaders from across JHU’s nine schools. In less than 18 months, our team led dozens of initiatives to foster the entrepreneurial spirit at JHU. Through major sweat equity, I greatly expanded my network, fueled my own professional growth, and discovered my passion.
In my efforts to help dozens of student and alumni-led startups at JHU, I identified a major need at JHU for early-stage capital for student and young alumni entrepreneurs. To meet this need, I have formed a phenomenal team of students, advisors, and mentors over the past 3 months. Together, we are creating the first student-led venture capital fund powered by JHU students. Our fund, A-Level Capital, has already raised significant commitments towards our goal of investing in 60–80 early-stage companies in the next five years.
Prior to graduate school, I worked as a Strategy Consultant at Deloitte Consulting for large healthcare clients. Deloitte is recognized as the #1 global leader in healthcare consulting. My favorite project was creating the overarching strategy and technology plan for the world’s largest health IT overhaul, an endeavor projected to cost billions of dollars. This project impacts 1000s of hospitals & clinics and the care delivery for millions of patients. The project’s level of complexity was magnitudes greater than Wal-Mart’s initial SAP implementation. In addition to my client work, I was a key contributor to three teams that collectively won over $200M of new contracts through business development efforts for the firm.
I am a woman.
Although I may not fit the norm, I am of value. I am a Venture Capitalist.
SoGal Ventures will represent how far our generation has come, and how deep our impact on the world can be.
We, the founders of SoGal Ventures, have already made our first important investment — valuing our own personal deviations from the norm as our most valuable asset.
P.S. We love chatting with like-minded individuals. Say hello to us at firstname.lastname@example.org