The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) boasts an enrollment of well over 40,000 students. It’s not a challenge to find co-eds who are bright, energetic, attractive and talented. Kirsten easily fit that profile. She graduated in 1993 with a B.A. in Business Economics. She went to work at Deloitte & Touche where, having earned her C.P.A., she was a Senior Accountant. After three years she served a short stint as an analyst at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, an Investment Banking firm.
Her next move came in 1998 when she became a Vice-President at Bank of America Securities. There she was an equity research analyst – focusing on the specialty retail sector. Studying companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap, Pottery Barn Urban Outfitters and other ‘hot’ retailers, afforded her keen insights and unique perspective on that category. Her experience broadened further when she was recruited to head an in-house team where she was the lead consumer-focused investment professional.
She realized that the specialty sector and the build out of malls represented what might be the last big cycle for retail. The turn of the century saw an overabundance of stores, driven in part by the explosion of online competition. With eBay and Amazon leading the way, consumers began to embrace technology. Her experience, her education and her instincts told her that the retail landscape was going to change – drastically.
There was little doubt that technology would drive the next cycle of retail. The chance to become involved at the early stage of investments and be a part of the next iteration of retail intrigued her. She left her job and began to network, to learn, to seek experience. She formed Forerunner Ventures – based in San Francisco – in 2003.
She faced several barriers, each seemingly more insurmountable than the last. For starters, she was a low-profile – she had not built a company, was not an operations expert and did not have the bluster and bravado typical of many investors and she certainly didn’t have a technology background. Having a financial background was not common in the tech sector. What may have been her most daunting barrier is that she was – well… a she.
Fortunately, she was not one to let convention keep her from reaching her goals. By 2006 she had begun to make single investments in one-off partnerships in the $1 – $1.5 million dollar range. She focused on investing in private companies learning and partnering as she went. Her criteria was different than most other investors. Rather than seeking to invest in the latest gimmick or quick flash idea – she sought seed stage companies whose founders had a connection with their products.
Her experience led her to look for companies with a solid value proposition – a company whose architecture could build a brand over time. Ideas and products which were relevant to consumers would achieve a high emotional ROI – or consumer loyalty. Her keen understanding of retail and consumer sales – which many assumed would be a negative – turned out to be one of her unique strengths and a key to success.
Today, Forerunner Ventures has invested in more than 30 companies with an investment portfolio of well over $100 million. Her first three major deals were Birchbox, Bonobos and Warby Parker – those companies now have a combined value of over $1 billion. Their list of company investments now includes Dollar Shave Club, Shuddle, Guildery and Chloe + Isabel to name but a few. This success is the result of the efforts of a fearless brand – Kirsten Green.
Fearless Brands defy convention – undaunted by traditional barriers
Kirsten Green is anything but normal in the world of venture capitalists (VCs). She drives success by following her instincts, experience and values – in so doing, she has had significantly more wins than flops.
Green believes that consumers are in the driver’s seat in this era of technology driven retail. She seeks companies that have a sound strategy of connecting with customers and knowing what resonates with them. Selling on value – vs price – is key in her assessments. Where does the product fit? Does the consumer want it – need it – will they pay for it?
Another key element of Green’s – and Forerunner’s – success is that she is committed to being a good partner with the entrepreneur’s she invests in. She encourages and fosters connections between her portfolio companies which makes great sense given the complimentary nature of many of their products.
It is estimated that females comprise barely 10% of the venture capital industry – that number declines at the partner level. In spite of that, Kirsten Green – and her all female company – is making a mark in the investment world.
Unlike several of her female predecessors, Green is able to be completely transparent in her dual roles of VC partner and mother. Her business life and family life are aligned – by example, she has had staff meetings at her home while on maternity leave.
Kirsten Green is an amazing business person – who happens to be a female. There is a great deal to learn from her when it comes to building your brand and achieving dream results.
Find your why – As with most of us, Kirsten Green’s key to success wasn’t immediately clear – discovering her purpose required a variety of positions over an extended period. Explore a variety of roles, take chances, explore your options. Remember, discovering your why is rarely instantaneous, rather, it’s a process – so be both patient and diligent.
Build and deliver value – As Green learned, value is not defined by price. Discover and clarify your value proposition. importantly, be certain that it is relevant – that it resonates with your target audience. When your brand fulfills your customers’ wants and needs – you’re delivering value.
Seek to collaborate and empower – It was Aristotle who said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That statement speaks to the power of collaboration – the sharing of skills, perspective and support. It also encourages empowerment – leveraging inclusion and teamwork. Whether it’s a team member, an employee or a trusted advisor, there is strength in numbers.
Kirsten Green has certainly differentiated herself from her 40,000 fellow UCLA students. She honed her skills, tapped into her passion and discovered how to add relevant value to the world. You can do the same – it’s really that simple – it’s just not easy.