PreMoney 2016: The Global Investment Community Crosses Paths in San Francisco

PreMoney Brings Together US + International Angels, VCs, LPs

Eric Osiakwan, Managing Partner with Chanzo Capital in Accra, Ghana, traveled more than 7,600 miles to attend PreMoney San Francisco.

“The world is flat,” he said, sipping a Coke immediately after his panel discussion, “Crossborder Investing: Let’s Go Global, Baby.”

“When I started in tech in 1998, one of the terms that really rang in my ears was ‘the global village,'” said Osiakwan. “Today, it’s very real.”

Eric Osiakwan and Jill Ford
Eric Osiakwan and Jill Ford

How real?

Earlier in the day, Osiakwan bumped into Jill Ford, Head of Innovation & Entrepreneurship for City of Detroit. “We first met in Ghana in 2002,” he said. “I didn’t know she would be here! After I finished my lunch, I was walking out and said, ‘I know you!'”

“This was actually a wonderful surprise,” said Ford, a former Bay Area angel who now manages a team attracting and nurturing startups and SMBs in the Motor City.

“PreMoney should be mandatory for new investors.'”

– Jill Ford, Head of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, City of Detroit

“I’ve been a great supporter and a big fan of 500 Startups for a while,” she said, noting that she and Osiakwan would meet again the following day at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit. “I was very excited to add PreMoney to my trip, and I’m always so excited when I get to see the kind of content that we had today and a fascinating set of speakers.”

Although Ford has lived in Detroit for years, she said 500 Startups’ social media and events keep her connected to the latest startup news and trends.

“I’m very excited about what they’ve been doing to promote diversity in tech and also have a global reach with regard to connecting entrepreneurs and investors,” she said.

PreMoney should be mandatory for both new investors, and more experienced hands looking for insight, said Ford.

“This is the forum for bringing together entrepreneurs and investors from a large geographic scope to really be the launchpad for great innovation, great ideas and being able to grow startups,” she said.

Content From Global Investors

“This is my second PreMoney,” said Monique Woodard, Venture Partner with 500 Startups, “so I’ve come to expect a high caliber of content from some of the best investors in the business. That’s consistently what 500 and PreMoney delivers.”

Like every other person I spoke to, Woodard’s favorite session of the day was “the three generations of Drapers. Getting to see them interact as a family — and not as investors — was heartwarming and gave us a little insight into the family,” said Woodard.

“I also got a lot out of Jason Calcanis’ time,” she added. “Every time Jason talks, I learn something new.”

Who should attend PreMoney? “As a newbie investor, I would say any newbie investor,” answered Woodard. “You will learn a ton of stuff from a ton of people who have been doing this for a really long time.”

“Every time Jason (Calacanis) talks, I learn something new.”

– Monique Woodard, Venture Partner, 500 Startups

The June 2016 PreMoney gathering “really set the bar higher than the event I attended last year,” she added. “I enjoyed seeing some investors I know, hearing their thoughts on where the industry is going, and I expect to have a really good time at the party this evening.”

“I learned a lot, even being internal to 500,” said Sheel Mohnot, FinTech Partner at 500 Startups. “There was a panel on vertical funds that went very well, and it’s always entertaining to hear Jason Calcanis and Dave McClure. I just wish I could have gone to everything.”

Fireside Chat with Dave McClure + Dave Morin
Fireside Chat with Dave McClure + Dave Morin

“Recently, there’s been more of a focus on cross-border, which is I know, inherent to 500’s focus, but they’re bringing some interesting characters and players who are doing some interesting things that you don’t really see anywhere else, even in San Francisco,” said Mike Prasad, Managing Director for LA-based incubator VentureLab.  “I come here mainly for that, because it doesn’t really exist at the other events I’ve been to.”

“Increasingly, it’s becoming a globalized event, and it’s going to be the best thing that ever happened to Silicon Valley,”

“Increasingly, it’s becoming a globalized event, and it’s going to be the best thing that ever happened to Silicon Valley.” concurred Osiakwan.

“Casual Vibe” at PreMoney Encourages Learning & Relationships

“PreMoney San Francisco has one of the best mixes of people in the VC scene,” said Prasad, “Getting them all in one room, I can’t think of another event that has that kind of mix.”

“Investors of any type should attend,” Mohnot advised. “There’s so much to learn from what other people are doing. They’re clearly so much more fun and not boring,” he said. “You can actually stay awake during the whole thing.”

PreMoney is a great way to get the view from 30,000 feet, and also for doing deep dives, said Prasad. “It’s interesting to see what people are looking at and get the general feel of the room where their heads are at,” he said. “I don’t really know of another way to do that, short of talking to tons of people over the course of a year.”

“PreMoney is very useful for getting information and a good time out of the event, but it’s also something you can jump right into.”

– Mike Prasad, Managing Director, VentureLab

Additionally, Prasad said PreMoney is a unique networking opportunity. “All these people globally who are in VC are in town at one time, which is great.” The ability to participate in open discussions with other investors is also a strong draw, he said.

“You get someone on stage who’s looking at a trend, and then you get the immediate response from someone else, and seeing that dynamic is telling,” said Prasad.

Mike Prasad, VentureLabs
Mike Prasad, VentureLabs

“The last thing is relationship building,” he noted. “We don’t do any deals here per se, but historically, a lot of the relationships that we build here have led to that.”

Typical for a 500 Startups event, “it’s a casual vibe, but it’s not something like you feel it’s a joke,” said Prasad. “People are very serious and doing cool things, but it’s not like you can’t talk to people and have an open conversation. It feels very casual, because there’s no reservations per se.”

That openness creates a fertile environment for exchanging data and ideas, said Prasad. “If you’re someone who’s new to VC, it’s definitely a good event to get perspective for thinking about things you haven’t considered before,” he said. For more experienced investors, “the knowledge transfer there is also interesting.”

“PreMoney is very useful for getting information and a good time out of the event, but it’s also something you can jump right into,” said Prasad.

“I think it’s one of Dave’s best events.”

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Monique Woodard: Diversity Isn’t A Goal — It’s Good Business.

“I always knew that I would be an entrepreneur,” said Monique Woodard. “I announced at Thanksgiving dinner when I was about 17 or 18 that I wanted to start a business.”

In her personal bio, Woodard describes herself as a “total geek for consumers, e-commerce, and cities,” a tidy way to summarize a career in marketing, brand strategy, consumer tech and civic innovation.

She’s co-founder and Executive Director of Black Founders, a group that’s working to “increase the number of successful black entrepreneurs in tech,” and in February, she joined 500 Startups as a Venture Partner.

500 Startups Venture Partner Monique Woodard
Monique Woodard

For Woodard, becoming an investor was a natural progression. “The opportunity to mentor and work with founders lets me fulfill what I think of as the last piece in the puzzle, which is really being able to support and fund entrepreneurs,” she said.

“I’m definitely treating Black Founders as a conduit into 500,” said Woodard. “I would like to see as may black founders as possible go through the accelerator, get funding and then scale their businesses.” She’s also tapping talent pools like Latino Startup Alliance and “some of the other diversity-focused initiatives” that are supporting founders of color.

The lack of diversity in the tech community doesn’t just affect black and Latino entrepreneurs, said Woodard; it also determines which products make it to market.

“People have been solving very Silicon Valley problems, and there’s an entire swath of the country that has very different issues and problems,” she said. “I’d like to see a lot more focus and attention on those issues,” she added, noting that healthcare and fintech presented “huge opportunities” because consumers from minority groups have different experiences and concerns.

“You see very different products coming from a young white male who’s maybe in his twenties and went to Stanford, versus a 30-year-old woman of color who went to Howard University,” said Woodard. “You’re going to naturally see differences in things that they’re interested in, the problems that they’ve identified and are trying to solve using technology.”

“BroTech?” (laughs) That’s a funny term, I like it.

Not that Woodard has anything against brotech apps for effortless laundry service and food delivery. “I love those products too, because I definitely use them, but there are other more pragmatic difficulties and challenges that we could be solving,” she said.

Cultivating entrepreneurs with different experiences and backgrounds is a priority, said Woodard, but until more black and Latino investors are taking meetings, change will come slowly to tech.

“It’s important to network your way into the investor community, so you are in front of the right people: angel investors who can write a check, or VCs who can write bigger checks as you grow your company,” she said. Right now, that group includes few investors of color.

“Those people are a little harder to identify, since there are certainly high net-worth black and Latino individuals who could be investing in venture funds,” said Woodard. “I think they don’t see venture as an option for them, because there are so few examples of black and Latino entrepreneurs on one hand, and and few examples of black and Latino limited partners investing in funds.”

“It perpetuates itself,” said Woodard. “If you’re a white male VC, you probably know a lot of other white male VCs and entrepreneurs, and so, when you’re looking for people to invest, you get referrals from other entrepreneurs who happen to be white and male and they refer other entrepreneurs who happen to be white and male.”

We’re going to look beyond Silicon Valley problems like, ‘I need someone to pick up my laundry.’

Even when black and Latino entrepreneurs get to pitch investors, Woodard said they still need to woe hard to overcome expectations. “Expecting a black or Latino founder to look and feel exactly like a white male founder is the wrong lens to be seeing them through,” she said. Many of the entrepreneurs she works with “have gone to different schools, have different networks and different backgrounds,” she said.

“Trying to to pattern-match that against what you’ve known before is a recipe for failure,” said Woodard.

Bringing black and Latino founders into 500 Startups is personally satisfying, but Woodard stressed that it’s simply good business.

“When you look at the numbers, there’s $2.5T in black and Latino spending power,” she said. “I have a fairly clear investment thesis for why we should be investing in black and Latino founders and markets. It’s going to be the next emerging market in the US.”

“Being able to take things that I was already thinking about and translate them into my profile as an investor has been really amazing,” said Woodard. “I don’t think there are a lot of places where I could have done that.”