Kick-off of NVCA VentureForward Blog Series: Focus on Progress, Not Perfection

Note from NVCA: As part of NVCA’s VentureForward initiative, we launched this blog series in November 2017 for industry leaders to share their perspectives on why diversity and inclusion (D&I) are important for the future of VC, their firm’s activities and approach to D&I, and guidance for how we—as an industry—can drive meaningful change.

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Greg Sands, Founder & Managing Partner of Costanoa Ventures, kicks off the series with the inaugural post below:

Focus on Progress, Not Perfection

The objective is clear: an industry, company or firm where everyone feels comfortable being themselves and giving their best. We’ve all seen the research confirming diversity yields superior company performance and thus investment returns.  But what everyone struggles with is how to do this in the venture world.

I can’t really write this piece without acknowledging that our investment team is five white men. Honestly, I’m a bit embarrassed by that fact, and we’ve tried hard to make it otherwise. But despite being imperfect, it remains important to champion diversity because sometimes, the message is easier to hear from a familiar messenger.

And here’s the message: just start. The Costanoa team is more than the investment team, and the diversity of our operating partners by itself has had an impact on how our team at large operates and the network of people our firm is exposed to. This spring, we launched Seat at the Table — in San Francisco and in New York this fall — to sold out crowds, great ideas and an energy toward action that inspired hundreds. In March, we offered our first Access Fellowships, intending to give people without the usual access to venture an opportunity to work in it and had 47% women applying and 22% people of color. Our top candidates happened to be one of each so we hired them both. One of the fellows now works at Eniac Ventures.

Seat at the Table event in San Francisco

2017 Costanoa Access Fellows: Sophie Lalonde & Javaughn Lawrence

Starting also doesn’t just mean what your firm does collectively; it can also be about what each person chooses to do individually. Since there are small numbers of partners in most firms, individual actions can have an outsized impact–hopefully positive. My first start-up was a micro-enterprise program in East Palo Alto which rolled up into the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center of SF — the single biggest small business creator in the Bay Area with a particular focus on minority-owned businesses. I helped Path Forward–a thriving returnship program launched out of ReturnPath–find advocates in Silicon Valley to create new opportunities for women at Intacct, Demandbase, Medallia, Cloudflare, and GoDaddy. Don’t wait for your firm to be better; lead by example by enabling thriving enterprises for underserved populations.

Sharon Miller, CEO of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, speaking at the Annual Event

There is more that our firm is doing that we think makes a difference in our ecosystem and for the tech community at large:

  • Bi-monthly “Women in Leadership” dinners, ranging from sales to product to marketing and more.
  • An Equity by Design workshop for our entire firm and portfolio CEOs.
  • Ensuring candidate pools include a diverse slate of candidates–not just in color or gender but also in background (Silicon Valley has a type!)
  • Multiple tracks at our CEO summit discussing diversity, inclusion, interviewing, executive scorecards, and how to get the best out of your executive team and diversify it.

At our recent offsite, our team acknowledged that we are not perfect but are committed to progress in ways that serve the tech industry at large because we believe that ultimately serves our firm well.  As Charles Hudson said recently, “The burden for inclusion cannot entirely rest on the shoulders of women and people of color.” We are only five years old and know our voice only matters if our returns do. We’ve taken some shots from peers who tease us about our voice on diversity and inclusion because we’re far from perfect ourselves. But we take it all as fuel–to do better, to keep the conversation going and to ensure being grounded in core values does deliver returns for our investors. We all can do better and should.

So just start.