VC Discussion on Diversity & Walking the Talk (SXSW 2017)

VC Discussion on Diversity & Walking the Talk (SXSW 2017)

Diversity/Equality Founders/Startups

Last month, I had the honor of curating and moderating a VC panel at the TFQ Girls’ Lounge at SXSW.  If you take a look at the video thumbnail below, you will see that this was not your typical investor panel. It was a truly diverse group, made up of:

Christine Herron, Co-lead – Intel Capital Diversity Fund
Sean Jacobsohn, Partner – Norwest Venture Capital
Suzy Ryoo, Venture Partner – Atom Factory and Cross Culture Ventures
Aditi Maliwal, Corporate Development – Google (formerly w /Crosslink Captial)

Much of our conversation was focused on fundraising but, as we were in the TFQ Girls Lounge, we also spent time discussing diversity, or the lack thereof, in the tech industry. I purposefully opted not to recite the dismal statistics of how many women VCs there are or how little money goes to female founders. Constantly regurgitating the numbers is not a way to encourage up and coming entrepreneurs or investors.

It is clear we need more diverse folks at every level of our ecosystem – LPs, VCs, Angels, Founders, Board Members, etc. It will take some time to see significant change but I, for one, am very optimistic. There are a handful of amazing organizations and groups focused on tackling these issues, like Project Include, Pipeline Fellowship, and The Boardlist. Over the past 18 months, just about every major tech company has published diversity numbers, and has committed to finding best practices for attracting and retaining women and people of color. In addition, many notable VCs have been focused on bringing more diversity into their partnerships. There are also more women than ever out raising funds of their own. Again, none of this is easy or happening overnight. As Christine Herron points out, funds have a 10 year life cycle so our industry doesn’t lend itself to quick change. At the end of the day, this is an industry that is driven by returns, and research has proven that women-led companies and companies with women (and other minorities) on their senior teams perform better. The numbers are driving the change and the numbers cannot be ignored.

In our panel discussion, we also talked about diversity and inclusion on a micro level. In other words, what are the steps that each of us can take on an individual basis to impact change in our ecosystem. Suzy Ryoo offered up some specifics, which she had recently shared via a thoughtful blogpost entitled, “The Only Woman in the Room”.

Special thanks to Sean Jacobsohn for joining us on the panel.  As we say at TFQ, if we could have done it alone, we would have by now. It takes men and women working together to impact change.

You can listen to the entirety of the conversation in the video below.




Biz2Beach 2011


I recently had the honor of participating in the inaugural Biz2Beach event held by Callfire, a kickass Silicon Beach cloud telephony company.  The event was dubbed as an “unconference”, and it made for a terrific experience.  In lieu of having a speaker or panel of speakers talk at an audience, discussion leaders sat at round tables with no more than 10 attendees.  There were 8 tables/topics and attendees were able to rotate to 4 tables.  It was more like a co-working, ideas-sharing day for all kinds of entrepreneurial folks.  The event ended with an amazing meal atop the Huntley Hotel at sunset.  Kudos to Kim Kohatsu and all the Callfire folks for pulling of such an unique and worthwhile day!

Below is an interview with yours truly, published by TalkTech Communications (thanks Rebekah Iliff), about my startup life and the importance of people to the success of any business.  Not gonna lie – I don’t mind being called a Startup Rockstar.

Robyn Ward has been consulting, advising, and working at early-stage Tech/Internet businesses in LA and NYC for over a decade. Most recently, she was VP Business Development at fast-growing LA startup, Docstoc. Currently she works for BetterWorks, where she is known as the “Startup Rockstar,” responsible for business development and sales.

At the upcoming Biz2Beach event hosted by CallFire, Robyn will speak about fostering a positive and productive work environment for employees, including the BetterWorks next-generation platform that makes it easy and affordable for SMBs to recognize, reward and motivate talent.

I sat down with Robyn to find out a little bit more about BetterWorks, but also learn what she believes is important for finding success in the startup and small business environment. Needless to say, I now understand where her nickname comes from….total, and utter…Rockstar.

RI: What is the background of BetterWorks, how did the idea get started, who are the key players, etc?

RW: BetterWorks was founded by Paige Craig, Zao Yang, and George Ishii, who combined their experience in consulting (investing in and advising) over 50 startups, and SMBs. Paige was a prolific Angel investor, Zao was one of the founders of Farmville, and George had extensive experience, from his early days of PayPal, of making simple UIs focused on user-friendliness. Pulling from these various experiences they identified the need for an easy, affordable solution for the “smaller guy” to recognize and reward employees. Now at over 30 employees, I can say that the “secret sauce” of BetterWorks is how we hire and engage talent. So we literally walk the talk. This is my 5th startup and I can honestly say we have the most cohesive team and culture, it’s truly remarkable.

RI: What is your role there? Give me your day to day?

RW: My main focus during the first 5 months was on the company’s launch stage – how do we best position and differentiate ourselves, marketing and sales, understanding what is resonating and fine tuning the pitch. I was also responsible for signing on alpha clients, relaying to product team what can be fixed, and what to add. I now spend the lion’s share of my time figuring out partnerships and alliances.

RI: What are some of the challenges you face as a startup and small biz?

RW: One of biggest challenges is hiring the right team and keeping the right team. Regardless of the recession, it’s still a hot market for startups and tech.  This is one of the things the BetterWorks Perks platform is built to address. It’s not about an idea, it’s about execution (human capital); managing growth plus hiring really good people that fit the culture. For many new startups, another challenge is knowing how to “get out there” and tell the right message so that the brand looks unified and “buttoned up.”

RI: What do you find inspiring?

RW: I come from a small biz background, so I know what we are doing is helping people, so I am inspired daily by BetterWorks and the stellar team. In general, the entrepreneurial environment is inspiring to me; I’m not an artist, a cook, or a fashion designer…but I know how to put together a company. Another thing is this whole shift towards “social innovation” and all of these inspiring platforms that are popping up built to create social change. I’m so excited to be a part of this shift and to be involved in the startup world here in LA…there is so much going on!

RI: On that note, what excites you about the LA tech scene?

RW: The thing I love about the LA tech scene is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are so many industries in LA. Obviously, Hollywood is a leading industry and the one that LA is most well known for, but there are so many others that are innovating left and right; automotive, green tech, energy, B2B platforms.

What I think is fun about the LA tech scene is the surfer-come-CEO…waltzing into his Venice office fresh from a jaunt in the ocean. Second to that is the CEO in dreadlocks. I mean, it’s just so cool and fun…people obviously embrace the “Silicon Beach” culture.

RI: Thoughts on females in tech?

RW: Well, I’m on the business side of tech and not a female technologist per se, but I think that encouraging more girls to explore science and math early on would be beneficial…and this is an issue that women and men together need to address.

In general, as far as women in business goes, I would like to see more constructive relationships built between women. We need to come together and work diligently to redefine our roles in business, but also support each other in what we are doing. It’s also important that we take the mentorship of young women seriously. This is an extremely important step, but we need to stop talking about it and do it.

RI: What are a few of the topics you’ll be covering at Biz2Beach?

RW: I’m going to focus on the importance of people – instead of talking about technology, my role is to talk about how to build and maintain teams and culture …recognizing and appreciating your folks. So, I will encourage attendees to answer questions like: What is our culture? How are we rewarding? How are we communicating to people that we value them? What are the little things we do in between and how do we let them know they are the most important thing and are the biggest assets?

RI: Ok I have to know; iPhone, Android or Blackberry? Hmm?

RW: I will NOT lose my personal Blackberry. BetterWorks paid for my iPhone, so I carry it, but hate it. I do love my iPad, though. I carry it with me for demos.

Follow Robyn on Twitter: @rmward
Follow BetterWorks on Twitter: @betterworks

BetterWorks, My New Adventure

Founders/Startups Personal Development

Last Tuesday I started a new gig at yet another early-stage company.   The company is called BetterWorks, and we are located on 3rd Street Promenade (very close to where I live – this is always ideal when living the “startup” life).  I did not, of course, take on this new adventure solely due to location.   I was an immediate fan of the idea and business model, but was truly sold upon meeting with the founders.   After all, building a successful company is not about the idea, it is about the execution.   And the three founder of Betterworks have a long history of “crushing it.”  BW was founded by three serial entrepreneurs: Paige Craig – founder of The Lincoln Group and LA’s most prolific Angel Investor, Zao Yang – inventor of Farmville (sold to Zynga), and George Ishii -co- founder at Yammer and

The below is a ThisWeekInStartups clip of my former Docstoc CEO, Jason Nazar, talking with my current bossman, Paige Craig, about investment themes, startups, and Paige’s military background. Watch, listen and learn as this is a good one!

You are probably wondering what we do at this point.  I can’t share that yet, but look forward to posting more about our offering and our progress soon. For now, you can learn some info by checking out and following our blog.

BW is moving faster than any startup I have either worked at or with. Pretty exhilarating!  I have been moving at lightspeed since the second I walked in the door and I am loving every minute of it.  Speed is key in building a successful company, particularly in the tech space. In fact, it is a part of the 8 key drivers of the BW culture (TIP: if you do not have the defining points of your culture written down and shared with your employees, do so now! And while you’re at it read Delivering Happiness by Zappos’ CEO).

One last share- for those that think the early startup life is glamorous, check out the below photo.  That is our office – 4 people in 100 sq ft. room with cardboard tables and empty computer boxes for desks.  Nothing like a little sacrifice to make the reward of building a kickass company that much sweeter.