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MFV PARTNERS Interviews - WOCstar Fund

Rob Runett interviews Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne and Pialy Aditya, General Partners of WOCstar Fund.

We invite you to watch the video or read the lightly edited transcript below.

Rob Runett:

Everyone, welcome to Motley Fool Ventures Partner Fund Interview Series. I’m Rob Runett, VP with Motley Fool Ventures. Motley Fool Ventures has been making limited partner investments in other venture funds, and we’re really excited to highlight these rising stars in VC.

And today I am thrilled to be with the founders of WOCstar Fund. So I would love to start by having introductions, get to know both of you. If you want to share your name, your role with the fund. And then we’ll just have a great conversation from there.

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

Happy to. Welcome everyone. I’m Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne. I’m one of the co-founders of the WOCstar Fund. And I am Zooming in from New York, New York.

Pialy Aditya:

Hi everyone. I’m Pialy Aditya. I’m also a co-founder at the WOCstar Fund. I’m based usually in New York, but currently in Dallas.

Rob Runett:

It’s great to be with both of you, thank you so much. And we’re really excited to be collaborating and investing together now. So I would love to start just a little bit of background. If you could talk about the thesis of WOCstar Fund, maybe a little bit of the origin, but help everybody who’s watching get to know more about the fund.

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

Yeah, happy to. We have been investors, we’ve been entrepreneurs, we’ve been operators. We’ve been finance people for 20 plus years. And so during that, we’ve seen amazing diverse teams. We’ve seen amazing women. We’ve seen amazing inclusive folks that are really innovative and that are building really cool products and technologies.

And so about three years ago, maybe four years ago, started this journey of, if they were capitalized in a really meaningful way, imagine the type of technology and innovation and services that we could all benefit from. If you think about some of the technology that is in our everyday lives right now, those had been created by women of color and diverse teams. So the caller ID on your iPhone, call waiting, the little button you press to call the flight attendant, all of those were inventions by black women. Fiber optic cable that’s making the data happen for this Zoom call.

So we see innovation in technology by women and inclusive, cool teams all around us. And so it only made sense to start investing in them.

Rob Runett:

That’s great, that’s great. Could you go a little bit more into your backgrounds, both of you, in terms of the journey to getting into VC? So in addition to just seeing those, what were some other steps maybe along the way and a little bit more about your backgrounds, before you started WOCstar Fund?

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

Yeah. Pialy, you want to go?

Pialy Aditya:

Yeah, happy to. So much of the way I think about investing today has really been framed by the strategic venture capital lens. I started my career with it right out of undergrad. Coupled with the operational lens, I’ve cultivated over the last 15 years, from launching my own tech company to taking on senior executive roles at two large publicly traded companies. And most recently as Chief Strategy Officer at Republic, which is an investment platform that was spun out of AngelList, focused on pre-seed to pre-IPO companies. But one common thread through all of this has been investing and advising early stage companies since undergrad.

Rob Runett:

That’s great, thanks. And Gayle?

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

Yeah. I mean, I grew up in Silicon Valley in the seventies and had a mom who was like the women you saw in Hidden Figures. And so I started out in Silicon Valley. I then, after college, came back and worked in Silicon Valley during the early days of Java and the internet and multiprocessing computers, and Unix and open source systems. And then went where my love was, which was investment banking and investing and mergers and acquisitions. So I love buying and selling companies. And when we think about the exit that’s needed to return capital to our LPs, I’ll be flexing those muscles again.

But yeah, a 20 plus year career on Wall Street. So M&A, at one point I was a international lobbyist. And yeah, all of it … We talk about capital stacking, I was experienced stacking to get me to this point where I can be not only a great investor on behalf of our LPs, but also a great champion for the startups that we invest in.

Rob Runett:

Yeah. It’s so many complimentary skills, it sounds like, so it seems like an amazing team. How did you both meet? How did you get together and begin this journey collaborating together?

Pialy Aditya:

Yeah. So almost four years ago, Carter McClelland, who’s chairman and CEO of Union Square Advisors, he’s a mentor of mine. And I went to him for some career advice. I had two well-known VCs recruit me to be a partner in their firm. And he asked me some key questions such as, “Do you have check writing ability? Are you on the investment committee? Can you take a board seat?”

As we talked through this, he told me about Gayle and the work that she was doing and her desire to set up a fund out of JP Morgan with their backing. So Gayle and I spent two years getting to know each other and co-investing before we ever raised outside capital.

Rob Runett:

All right, that’s great. And so let’s talk about that a little bit more. So you get together, you create the fund. Can you talk a little bit more about the stage where you’re investing the specific types of companies that are most interesting? And then we’ll talk a little bit more in detail about that as well.

Pialy Aditya:

Yeah, absolutely. So we invest across Seed and Series A businesses. And our investment strategy is focused on how women of color startups and technologies are redefining our future. It’s how we consume, how we work and learn, how we build wealth, and how we create a sustainable world. It’s our expertise, and it’s what we’ve built our careers on for the last 20 years.

Rob Runett:

Yeah, that’s great. And I’d love to know more, just obviously the focus on diversity inclusion is built right into the name, and so that’s front and center. So when people get to know you, that’s going to be really the first thing that resonates.

Can you talk about that in terms of, again, how you’re helping the entrepreneurs you’re working with, how you’re connecting with others in the VC community? How are you really bringing your values and everything that you want to see change through the fund to a wider audience?

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

Yeah. I mean, I would start by saying that the WOCstar and the front and centeredness of women and inclusion and women of color and inclusion, is there. But all of the things that we know around investing and growing and building companies, and how to return capital, and how to get outsized gains, how to find great talent, all of those things that a fund needs to consider are all front and center as well. We just happen to be looking in spaces that others aren’t so we can get in early, we can get in with lower valuations, we can grow and build and invest. And then return capital in a way that looks different, but it’s also very profitable.

So that’s front and center as well. With that, then the places and spaces that we show up sre where other venture funds show up. So we’re working with other co-investors, who actually are coming to us looking to be a part of the pipeline and deal flow that we have, because it’s not in their world currently. It also is, likewise, we’re with universities. And so Wharton School of Business, Wharton Social Impact Department worked with us on our due diligence. We wanted to make sure that all the companies that went through our due diligence process had gone through a really rigorous one that they could practically take across the street to any other VC that they may be talking to. So yeah, we show up in all the same places, the demos, pitch competitions, conferences, cap tables is others.

Rob Runett:

Yeah. That’s fantastic. That’s great. So just a couple of other things that I wanted to ask. Really the interesting question we’re asking all of our partner funds is if there’s some unique attributes and things that really separate you from other funds? The things that you feel like you’ve built into WOCstar Fund that you want to share with everyone. If you could take moment just to share those with us, that would be great as well.

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

Sure. A couple of things I think that are really unique to us is, one. Our LP community. You talked about lessons learned. One of the lessons that we learned is that we really are serving a purpose for investors who just don’t have access to this space and this type of founder or these technologies. And so, one of our attributes and really beautiful things that we’ve actually gotten to see is how our investors actually want to get to know each other, and want to get to know the founders and the ecosystem.

And so we’ve actually been thinking a lot about, “How do we engage them?” We started at the end of the year, we’re going to have a investor in our annual investor meeting. It ended up being … And we named it our shareholder and stakeholder meeting because there were so many other people that were in our ecosystem, investors and LPs and others, that just wanted to meet each other and build community. So that’s been really beautiful to see.

The other attribute and aha that came over the course of this year is the … We’re not always going to be the biggest check, we’re not going to lead every deal, but there are so many founders that want us on their cap table. That want in that deal. And the thing that we realized about ourselves is that we are truly that champion for that team, for those founders. And that’s what’s been really appealing for them to have us in there. Not because it’s WOCstar and it’s cool and we’re fun, but it’s like, we’re really championing for them.

Like myself, I walked away from Wall Street simply to be committed to investing in this population. To help high-net-worth individuals and family offices get connected to these amazing companies. And so getting up every day and championing for them, whether it be advising them, whether it’s giving tough love while it’s telling some other potential guys on the cap table, “Don’t be greedy. Listen, this is a good deal. Don’t be a pig on the terms, we can get this done. To Pialy helping on the operational side, those are attributes that …

I don’t know, maybe to sum up is, we’re that big sister that just doesn’t give a shit and will come on the playground and defend them no matter what. And it’s been a beautiful place to be in.

Rob Runett:

That’s amazing. I love that description.

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

I don’t know how you put that on a website or in a pitch deck, but that’s our world.

Pialy Aditya:

We’re definitely a builder capital. As Gayle said, we might not always lead rounds, but our value to founders have been vast beyond capital. We’ve reached out to our networks, we helped our portfolio companies by making introductions to clients, potential hires and even other investors. And we’ve strategized around growth, around product, how to handle issues or, as we talked about, opportunities arising around COVID.

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

Yeah. I mean, I think about … Listen, I’m 52-years-old. And I think about my Rolodex between people in technology, people in finance, CEOs of different companies. Like I said, I used to be a lobbyist, and so knowing people in government and Congress and Senate and in the European Union, all of that, now it’s go-time to make that available to the founders.

And even our network of investors. One of the things that we have … It’s kind of corny, I know the team doesn’t like it, Pialy is going to cringe when I say it, but we have this leave no woman behind. And what really holds true for us, it’s like, how do we make sure that we’re giving the best experience for people, whether they’re in our portfolio or people that we’ve met. Now we can’t do office hours with everyone, but there’s a way that we can be supportive of just the sector itself too.

So, crazy thing. But on our website, we list all the other funds so that, A, if you’re an investor and you’re curious about this space and how to get involved, even if we’re not the right fund for you, we want to help make sure that you’re informed and you have a great investing experience. And so we want you to know who the other players are, who our friends and peers are. And if you’re that founder, and again, we may not be a fit for you. We have a very intentional point of view of what the future’s going to look like and where the investing innovation’s taking place, so if you’re not a fit for us, again we want to have resources for you as well.

But I think that this notion of leave no woman behind and truly all boats rise, we’re not in this scarcity, territorial … Great deals are going to be there, we’re going to make great investments. We’re going to have great LPs and we want that for everyone else that are our friends and peers and colleagues, like yourselves that are in this space. And so thanks for asking about the attribute question, but those are writing principles for us.

Rob Runett:

Yeah. No, that’s fantastic. And I think that’s a great way to wrap, which is what we’re doing with all of our partner funds, which is what’s the best way for people to reach you? What’s the best way for people to find you, whether it’s your website or through social media. How can others find you? What’s the best places that they can reach you?

Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne:

Yeah. LinkedIn is a great one. Email, so mine is gayle, spelled [email protected] Pialy’s is pialy, [email protected] So email is great, LinkedIn is great. And then we’ve got a lot of great information about us on our website, whether you’re a founder or you’re an investor.

Rob Runett:

All right. Well, thank you so much to both of you. I’m so thrilled that we are able to be an LP with WOCstar Fund, and really just can’t wait to build the community and see where we can all go together. So thank you so much, Gayle and Pialy, for talking with me today. And thanks everyone for watching.

A private offering of interests in the Fund will only be made pursuant to a confidential memorandum or presentation, a Limited Partnership Agreement, and subscription documents related thereto, which will be furnished to qualified investors on a confidential basis and which would supersede any information on this site, including, without limitation, a full description of any proposed investment strategy, the full terms of any investment, and the applicable risk factors and conflicts of interest. The interests in the Fund have not been, nor will they be, registered under the U.S. Securities Act of 1933, or qualified or registered under any applicable state, local, provincial, or other statutes rules or regulations, and no person or entity named herein is a registered investment adviser.