April 4, 2020 – Starting in September 2019, Mayfield partnered with M12 (Microsoft’s Venture Fund) and Pivotal Ventures (Melinda Gates’ Venture Fund) to co-sponsor a B2B Female Founders competition, which would award $6 million in capital to four teams. This was the second year of the competition, with the key differences being the ability to invest in four versus two founding teams across a new category of DeepTech in addition to enterprise software, and to go global in our reach. We received close to 1,000 applications by our December deadline, and worked hard in January and February to narrow it down to twenty strong finalists. We had planned two days of pitching followed by a community celebration in mid-March. However, with the COVID-19 guidelines going into place, we pivoted into a virtual pitching format and decided to forgo the community gathering. Our team of three judges – Tamara Steffens from M12, Julie Wroblewski from Pivotal, and myself – were so impressed by the flexibility of the founders who adapted to the virtual format and brought their full selves to the presentations. Here are some insights from the process:
Great talent and entrepreneurism is not limited by geography or category
We had submissions from India, Israel, Europe and beyond. It was inspiring to see the collective brainpower, passion, and drive across every single founder’s pitch. The level of breadth among the types of finalist companies was truly incredible – we had founders at the forefront of medical innovation, AI-enabled software, food supply chain transformation, edge computing, and so much more. Their technical sophistication, and strong understanding of the customer pain point and complex market dynamics was remarkable. This completely refutes the standard assumption that women predominantly start consumer companies. Our finalists spanned the entire enterprise stack from the application layer all the way down to the nitty-gritty infrastructure pipes.
Virtual engagement can be effective
I have to admit that I went in with trepidation and skepticism on the completely virtual format. At Mayfield, we invest in People-First and there is so much about an entrepreneur’s passion, mission and drive that is unearthed in that coveted in-person interaction. However, my concerns were misplaced. The entire pitching process was done via Microsoft Teams’ video conference, and I was amazed at the level of clarity and depth we ascertained from every single entrepreneur’s pitch.
The process was highly efficient without any time lost for moving people in and out of the room, setting up their decks, and the other inefficiencies that come with in-person pitching. Instead, we had much more time for Q&A and diving deeper into the core business and founder motivations. I’m pleased to say there were no technical glitches and we were mostly on time for every pitch.
We are all in this together
Investors and startups alike are treading in new territory of a completely virtual world. While some startups were used to being fully distributed and remote prior to this new reality, they still interacted with end-customers and partners who operated in a traditional in-person environment. Investors are also trying to figure out how to build trust and relationships with entrepreneurs in this new digital-first world.
For founders, once you get introduced to an investor, make sure you research their background, prior investments, thesis areas and identify what makes your company a fit for that particular person and firm. Once you’ve identified the fit, take several 1:1 video conference meetings to build the initial connection and relationship. It might take a few more interactions than the in-person meeting world but it’s well worth the investment of time. Once you’ve formed a meaningful connection with the individual investor, you’re in a much better position to video-meet the rest of the partnership.
As investors, we are actively embracing the new norm, with the reminder that great companies can be built during the toughest times. We are confident that we will get through this together.