Announcing XFactor Ventures: Female Founders Investing in Female Founders

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Today, we are pleased to announce and launch XFactor Ventures, a pre-seed and seed stage venture fund that will invest in 30 new companies with female founders targeting billion dollar opportunities in the coming year or two.  

Are you a female founder with the XFactor looking for funding?  If so – we want to talk to you!  Please find us online at, follow us on Twitter or reach out via email to

XFactor is led by a fantastic investment team of female founders –

  • Bay Area: Danielle Morrill of Mattermark, Erica Brescia of Bitnami, Jessica Mah of inDinero, and Ooshma Garg of Gobble
  • New York: Aubrie Pagano of Bow & Drape, Kathryn Minshew of The Muse, and Liz Whitman of Manicube
  • Boston: Anna Palmer of WonderMile, who while also working on launching her second start-up, was instrumental in co-founding XFactor with me and my amazing partner at Flybridge, Kate Castle.

This team has delivered hundreds of investor pitches, raised well over $100M in venture capital across multiple rounds, hired thousands of employees and generated significant value as they have built and grown the almost dozen companies they have founded.  

XFactor’s goal is threefold:

  1. Supporting and enabling the next generation of female-led businesses.  We invest in companies with at least one female founder – the “X Factor” – who have the insight and drive to build the next billion dollar company. Our investment team are all talented and successful female founder operators that have ridden the company-building roller coaster themselves and will provide connections and “in the trenches” advice and mentorship to our portfolio companies.  Regardless of gender, a team of successful founder and leaders investing in the next-generation of founders is unique and their collective insights will be valuable to the companies in which we invest.
  2. Providing our investment team a platform and mentorship to become successful investors. We hope that, over time, this effort will increase the ranks of female investors in the venture and angel investing community.
  3. Finally, and most importantly, XFactor is focused on generating attractive investment returns by identifying massive market opportunities and backing the most talented ambitious founders (who happen to be female) based on our conviction that diverse teams will outperform in the market.  Said another way, XFactoris not an affirmative action fund with all the negative connotations that implies.  There are few things worse for a female founder than being referred to a female-focused fund with the insinuation that you are not ready for the big leagues of male dominated funds. That’s not us. We are big league entrepreneurs and investors that will hold founders to high standards and support them in building game-changing companies.

I have been a venture capitalist for almost my entire professional career, first as a General Partner at Greylock and more recently as a co-founder of Flybridge.  On a personal level, I have always been surrounded by strong women and recognize the unique value women can bring to the table.  Over the years, when I realized that my male-dominated deal flow and investment activity did not reflect those values, I told myself that it simply reflected the demographics of the B2B tech space in which I invest.  Further, when I heard stories about VCs who would ask female founders what they would do if they got pregnant, or comment inappropriately on their appearance, or get their wife on the phone to help assess an idea that was being pitched to them or, as has become so apparent in the last weeks, inappropriately turn pitch meetings into a dating opportunity, or even more deplorable, an opportunity to leverage their power to sexually harass female founders, I comforted myself by saying that was not me or my partners. Those jerks are the minority of venture investors and not the ones I work with.

But last Fall, it became apparent that being a bystander was no longer acceptable.  I was appalled that the public discourse in the country suddenly turned openly misogynistic.  And when I received a specific comment from my oldest daughter, a tech-focused junior in college, I realized I had to do something to change the venture industry. “Dad,” she groaned, “I am so tired of looking at websites of startups and seeing only men on the management team” Thus, teaming with Kate, the inspirational XFactor investment team, and all of my partners at Flybridge, we set about forming XFactor Ventures.

The venture industry needs to dramatically change.  80% of the companies that receive venture funding have male only founding teams, and only 7% of partners in leading venture firms are women.  The two are related.  Female partners are more likely to back female founders and yet venture firms pull new venture partners from the ranks of successful founders, so the cycle perpetuates.  While the funding statistics are objectively not right, they are, equally importantly, not smart.  Diverse founding teams will have a better perspective on market opportunities, how to define and market products for the widest possible audience. They will make better decisions and be more successful in attracting and retaining talent.  All of which will lead to superior investment returns.

Finally, as no post from me would be complete without a chart, I have been astounded by the change in the gender composition of my “sourcing meetings” since I started working on XFactor, and this is in the last six months while we were quietly working on this initiative.  As shown below, it turns out to find female founders; you just need to look for them.


The entire team at Flybridge is thrilled to support XFactor and, on a personal level, I am looking forward to working with our phenomenal and unique investment team as we back and support 30 companies started by fantastic female founders with the XFactor!  

Are you a female founder with the XFactor?  Find us online at, follow us on Twitter or reach out via email to  

Budgeting Best Practices

Ahh December.  Between closing out the year, performance reviews, holiday parties and family activities, it is always a crazy time of the year.  And to top it all off, for most of our portfolio companies it also happens to be the time when annual budgets are prepared and presented to the Board for approval.  Having been through several such sessions in the last couple of days, I thought it would be worth sharing some of the best practices I have seen across our portfolio.

  1. Start early, but not too early.  In large companies, the budgeting process often starts in early October.  For earlier stage companies where much is in flux, this obviously does not work.  Conversely, starting the internal process in early December does not work either.  The best approach I have seen is to develop a high level forecast for the upcoming year in November and present that to the board for general reactions before refining and honing for final approval in late December.
  2. Use the budgeting process to drive alignment across your organization.  While it is easy to look at budgeting purely as a financial exercise, the most important part of the process is using the financial plan as a way to represent the organization's goals and priorities and to use the planning process to drive alignment across the company on these issues.
  3. Shoot for a confidence level of 80%.  There is always a debate in budgeting as to whether the plan should represent a stretch goal or something that is easily achievable.  While the stretch goal approach is often initially appealing under the theory that if you don't plan for greatness it may not happen, my experience has been that companies that have a history of hitting budget, tend over the long run to have more success.  While this is not necessarily a causal relationship, consistently hitting plans has a way of improving morale and developing a more accountable organization.  Conversely, letting the pendulum swing to far to "sandbagging" does indeed have the effect of not letting the dreams be realized, so in the end a plan that is a mixture of both and has a 70-80% confidence factor feels like the best middle ground.
  4. Explicitly identify upside opportunities.  Related to a plan that is 80% likely of being achieved, i think it is critical in the budgeting process to explicitly identify upside opportunities that could change the company's trajectory and what actions are being take to see some of these to fruition.
  5. Use a trigger based plan if you are operating in a highly dynamic environment.  For really early stage companies, or companies that are operating is a state of great flux, clearly identifying triggers that will move the company from the current plan to a new plan is a good way to ensure alignment.  For example, if you are running a company with an inside sales model, saying when leads reach a level of X or qualified opportunities of Y that will trigger hiring several more sales reps.  this allows you to this aggressively, but also realistically relative to resource constraints.

Finally, after all of this, remember your goal its blow through your objectives such that by mid-year it is back to the drawing board!


VCs and Recruiting

There is an old expression in the Venture Capital business, coined initially I believe by John Doerr, that VCs are really just glorified recruiters.  Given a number of portfolio company searches I have been involved with over the past few months, this is definitely feeling like the case.  

So while I think the entrepreneurs in our portfolio companies do the real leg work in recruiting, and being an excellent recruiter and team builder is a key skill of the executives we back, there are a few important contributions a strong venture capitalist can bring to an executive search at a portfolio company:

  1. A broader context.  If a founder of a company is looking, for example, to recruit a VP of Sales, depending on what they have done before this could be their first time doing so.  An experienced venture board member, on the other hand, might have helped recruit dozens of such executives which provides a broader context in which to assess the executive's skills and fit with the given company.
  2. An extended network from which to surface candidates.  This can result in the VC surfacing up a specific candidate, or knowing enough people who themselves can surface up candidates.
  3. An ability to more deeply reference check a given candidate.  As anyone who has recruited executives knows, reference checking the candidate's background is critical to understanding their skills and fit.  But being able to do so "off-list" is even more important as the key to references is not speaking to the people the candidate provides, but rather understanding who, and speaking with, the references they don't provide.  By the nature of having been involved with many companies over the years, a good VC will often be able to get to these off-list references more readily than the executive team.
  4. An ability to help provide a candidate a third party perspective on the business and why it may represent a good fit for the candidate.  Talented folks will always have other choices and the best candidates will want to do significant diligence on the opportunity.  While not completely unbiased, a venture investor can often provide this perspective and share diligence on what led to their investment decision.
  5. An ability to keep executive search firms honest.  Search firms, while often an important part of a successful recruiting process, need to be managed to avoid them slacking off at the end of a long search or promoting candidates to finish the search regardless of whether the particular candidate is a good fit.  A recruiter is less likely to do this with the involvement of a venture firm given that the venture firm often represents a long-standing relationship and a steady stream of referrals.

So if you are an entrepreneur looking to build out your team, put your venture board members to work!