Joanne Wilson Is Changing the Angel Investing World
Joanne Wilson wears many hats: mentor, mother, world traveler, blogger (Gotham Gal) and wife (to fellow venture capitalist Fred Wilson). But it’s her role as a leading early stage/seed stage investor in women lead companies that’s changing the Internet (a sample listing of the companies Joanne has invested in: Food52, Catchafire, Dailyworth, Talk Market, Little Borrowed Dress, Kitchsurfing, Nest.io, Red Stamp, Curbed [Eater/Racked]).
I sat down with Joanne to chat about the role of a good mentor, how (and why) she invests in women led tech companies and how to balance being a successful business woman AND a mother.
"I get excited about companies that are filling voids in marketplaces."
What was the catalyst that got you involved as an investor in internet companies?
I started working in the tech space in the mid-90s and found the industry stimulating, exciting and challenging ... all in a good way. So when the Web began to percolate again after the bubble burst in the 90s, I began to see companies taking new and different angles and I got excited. I believed in where these companies were going, and so I jumped in and started to invest in them.
I get excited about companies that are filling voids in marketplaces. Of course, at the early stage, it is a huge risk that they are actually filling voids -- but that is where a good entrepreneur comes into play.
You’re a mother and a successful business woman. What steps did you take to create a space where both “jobs” could successfully co-exist?
Being a mother and balancing the desire to be there for your family and kids while also wanting to stimulate your mind and ego is not easy. At every point of my life, post-children, I made it work and always put my kids first.
What are some of the challenges faced by women led start-ups?
Many of the start-up challenges for women-led companies are that their ideas generally fill voids in the marketplace that might not necessarily be $100 million businesses. Keep in mind that if you have a good idea with traction and proof of concept, you will always find an investor.
Do you have to be a programmer/hacker to start an internet-based company? If you’re not a programmer/hacker, where can you find one?
You most definitely do not need to be a programmer/hacker to start a business, but I do believe that if you plan on building a business on the web, then one of your partners must have that expertise. Finding that person is not easy. There are definitely not enough tech people out there. I’d recommend taking some classes on Codeacademy or with Girls Who Code, so even if you aren’t going to be that tech person in the business, you can understand it and manage people who you might end up hiring to build that piece out.
There is such access to classes about coding that everyone should try it out. Many of the people coming out of college know how to write code. I’d advise any young woman going into college to take a few of those classes and see if sparks fly.
Along with being an investor, you’re also a mentor to several women entrepreneurs. How do you decide whom to mentor? Are there specific characteristics that make a good mentee?
I am a mentor to every woman I invest in. I find myself being a mentor to companies that I am interested in investing in by spending some time with that person over a period. That gives me more clarity on whether the investment makes sense. I do try and meet with as many women who reach out to me as possible, but there are only so many hours in the day. We live in a world that is incredibly fast-paced and time-consuming. If you can find someone who is willing to mentor you regardless of being a part of your business, that is rare.
I am going to continue investing in women as well as putting on the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival with NYU every year. I will still blog every day. I really believe we are at a point where the Internet has changed the way we live our lives and the opportunities to build businesses on that platform are exploding. Women are jumping in to the world of being an entrepreneur at an incredible rate and I believe the timing for many of these women to have success is ripe.
What advice would you give your 13-year-old self?
The advice I would give my 13-year-old self would be to enjoy childhood. It doesn’t last long. Try everything, don’t wear make-up, climb trees, strive to be the best and take in as much information as possible; spend time with adults, learn how to roast a chicken, learn how to have a good solid handshake and do well in school.
For more thoughts on women, technology and business, please follow Kathryn on Twitter at @KathrynFinney