Capital Markets, IPOs, and Fab Founders with Mary Grove
How can we expand access to capital? Venture capitalist Mary Grove, formerly of Google, talks about supporting startup founders who don’t fit the mold. She also shares why capital will move in 2023 and the best question she got during one of her office hours.
As Mary mentioned in this episode, her office hours at Bread and Butter Ventures are open to anyone. Learn more.
Find all episodes of Off the Books at workiva.com/off-the-books-podcast.
Season 4, Episode 23: Capital Markets, IPOs, and Fab Founders with Mary Grove | Transcript
Mary Grove: So much of fundraising is storytelling, right? And selling that big vision from how are we going to take over the world in this space? And then what's our granular plan? How are we executing on it?
Stever Soter: Hello and welcome to Off the Books where we surf the uncharted waters of accounting, finance, risk, and wherever else the waves take us. This episode is brought to you by Workiva, the platform that unites financial reporting, ESG, audit, and risk teams with software that just works. My name is Steve Soter, accounting enthusiast and Diet Coke Aficionado. Looking forward to debiting a great conversation. And I'm so happy to have you with us. I am also, as always, very happy to be joined by Catherine Tsai. Catherine, can you please introduce yourself?
Catherine Tsai: I'm not an accountant or Diet Coke aficionado, but I like asking questions. So I'm here to do more of that.
Steve: Well, on that note, last season we had an opportunity to talk to a venture capitalist about capital markets, and so we thought we'd look for an update from someone from a different part of the country.
Catherine: So we went to Mary Grove. She started her career working on the Google IPO and went on to lead Google's efforts to support startups around the world. She has served on the board of the Techstars Foundation, and she has a pretty impressive resume.
Steve: Well, very sadly I missed the convo, so I'm just as excited as our listeners. Let's check it out.
Catherine: We are here today with Mary Grove. She is Managing Partner of the early stage venture capital firm Bread and Butter Ventures, which is based in the bread and butter state, Minnesota. And Mary, you know a thing or two about working with successful startups, having worked on Google's IPO. And I think one of the reasons we were so excited to talk with you today is we know that the fundraising environment was a little bit difficult in 2022. So before we dive in, I just want to get your thoughts. How are things looking in 2023?
Mary: Well, thank you so much for having me, Catherine. It's great to be here with you, and I'm excited to spend a few minutes together. So to answer your question, you know, at a high level, 2022 was indeed a challenging year, particularly in the latter half of the year from a funding perspective, starting at those later stage rounds due to the public market pressures now pushing all the way down through seed stage, the early stage that we look at as well. Heading into 2023, I feel a reason to be, I think, cautiously optimistic, possibly because I'm an optimist. But I do think that there's a few big trends to think about. One is that great companies are founded in all economic environments. This is no exception. And we continue to see stronger than ever deal flow from interesting companies who are creating, you know, getting started in this era. So one is really strong deal flow. Two is the fact that many venture funds at all stages raised new funds in the last two to three years. And so as venture capital, you know, fund managers, we are responsible for investing and returning that capital in a certain period of time, usually seven to 10 years. And so we do have to start deploying that capital. And so I think there's a combination of reasons to be optimistic. The capital is moving again. Anecdotally, I can tell you that, you know, we've been investing at our same pace, and we are seeing rounds, new rounds are getting commitments, are filling out, are moving forward, taking a little longer than usual. But there is reason to be optimistic.
Catherine: Well, that's encouraging. Well, given that environment, what would you tell startups and founders in terms of the numbers that you really want them to know before they come to you?
Mary: Sure. Well, I think advice for all founders in this market in general is do scenario planning across the board for all different scenarios, including the scenario where you aren't able to raise capital in this market. What does it look like to get through this difficult period by reducing burn, by reducing operational costs, by piloting new models quickly and just figuring out how to bootstrap, so to speak, again if needed. And then if you are raising venture capital in terms of what early stage investors look for, we look at a few key factors.
The first and foremost is team. What about this team makes them uniquely equipped to solve this problem that they're tackling in this moment in the market? So team. Products and tech is of course part. We're tech investors. So how what's the vision and plan from a product and tech perspective? And these days it is pretty early a pretty easy rather than cost efficient to scrap together a prototype, launch it, get user feedback, get utilization engagement data, and then iterate again. And so really leaning into that product unique differentiation. We look at traction. So those are the KPIs, or the key performance indicators, around the business. And so that could be, depending on the type of business, again, metrics around—we look at the stage utilization and engagement of the product. Do they love it? Is this a nice-to-have or a must-have? We look at revenue—everyone looks at, but we invest in companies even pre-revenue. If there is revenue wanting to understand or even if there isn't, what is your plan? What's the business model? How are you going to test that? How are you going to validate that? Who are you selling into? What is your go-to-market strategy, so to speak? If you have revenue, then we want to look at the underlying metrics around what is the sales cycle look like. If it's an enterprise software B2B company, what does that, you know, the average annual contract value? Are we starting to see that you're heading towards a repeatable sales motion? So those are a few of the core metrics, but I would say really focus on standing out in terms of your team and the credibility that you bring to this problem, your metrics and traction around the business.
And then the last thing I would say is, you know, why? Why now? Why the market timing? Is there something about the environment that's bringing tailwinds that it will accelerate your business? Such as, for example, we invest in a lot of health care and healthtech. Are there are regulatory considerations coming down the pike? Are there changes in Medicaid or Medicare or other insurance reimbursements that make this the moment in the market? So just kind of articulating that narrative, if you will.
Catherine: It sounds like a mix of knowing your numbers, but also having some qualitative information to share as well.
Mary: Exactly. I mean, so much of fundraising is storytelling, right? And selling that big vision from how are we going to take over the world in this space? And then what's our granular plan? How are we executing on it?
Catherine: Would you ever invest in a nice-to-have versus a must-have?
Mary: Not intentionally, which isn't to say I haven't or that all—you know, part of building a portfolio we know that investing at seed stage, there's a percentage of companies who will not make it through to the next round. But absolutely, in our style of venture investing, every single investment that we make, we believe has the potential to be a multibillion dollar opportunity in a multibillion dollar market. And that's sort of what we're trying hard to underwrite. And so, yes, I have definitely invested in that, but the goal is always that it be an absolute must-have.
Catherine: That makes sense. I've heard you speak in a couple of different other venues, and one thing that you've mentioned that you do is you like to support founders who don't fit the mold. So what do you mean by that? And then how have you successfully been able to find and support those founders?
Mary: Sure. So at Bread and Butter, we specifically 100% are focused on investing for financial return. As a venture investors, that's our goal is to return our LP capital hopefully multiple times over. And a very important lens through which we look at that is the way to accomplish that, we believe, is by investing in diverse teams with diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives who represent the users of the products they're building, right? And to me that sounds so logical, and we say it that way, but we know that if we look historically at the numbers around venture capital dollars going to female founders, going to founders of color, it is truly, you know, low single-digit numbers in the industry today. And so, to us that's reason, the business driver behind why we do it.
But in terms of how we do it, it just so we don't have any quotas around investing in, you know, X percentage or Y percentage of these types of founders. But it's all in how we think about building our own stack, if you will, almost our tech stack of our firm. So at the bottom, you know, who are the limited partners, the LPs in our fund who invest the capital? Who do we take money from? And how aligned are we from a values perspective? How diverse is that pool of capital? And then within our team, what's the composition of our team across the board? And then what's the composition of our investment team? Who are the people writing the checks? And then the most important part of that, of course, is the founders. Who are we meeting? How are we meeting them?
And we know, Catherine, that, you know, one of the frustrating things about our industry, about venture capital, is it is such a network-driven business, which requires usually the warm intro and the friends and family round. And I don't know about you, but I didn't grow up—you know, I'm from a scrappy immigrant entrepreneur family. This is not something that—we don't have democratized access to capital and to warm intros. And so some of the mechanisms that we've employed at Bread and Butter are very simple things, like each of our each member of our team does open office hours each week. So for one hour a week we do three 20-minute meetings. Everyone on our team does it. You can sign up. It's virtual. It's free. Anything from pitching us a company to just asking for advice. We've had high school students come and meet with us for help with setting where they should go to college like truly anything. But typically it is getting pitch to company. And we have invested absolutely in companies that we met through open office hours. And similarly we have through our website, firstname.lastname@example.org, anybody is welcome to reach out to us. We do review every single submission that we receive, and we have invested in companies we met through that. We also get referrals from other VCs. We get them from other founders. We get them from being out in the community at events, at industry events. But it's about casting that net wide and making sure that we are very intentional about not having bias, minimizing bias as much as possible in the selection process. So that's an important layer of the stack.
And then a step beyond that is once you invest in companies, how do we help them with talent recruitment, retention, thinking about who's on their board? And if the board is, for example, all white men and they're referring, yeah, we have another board seat opening up. For us, it's a matter of not just saying no, you need to diversify, but coming to the team with here is a slate of six qualified candidates who have deep expertise in X sector. Here's their qualifications. They happen to be, you know, women and people of color leaders. Do you want to set up a meeting with some of them? And so trying to be more actionable rather than just, hey, we have we have this these criteria or these quotas. And so that's a little bit about how we're approaching it and then how that what that's resulted in is across our portfolio, right now we have 61 companies—soon to be 61, 60 at the moment, and 54% of them are led by a female founder and 64% have at least one founder who's a person of color. And so you can see the direct correlation between opening up that aperture, that lens, and having a more diverse portfolio and which hopefully will deliver you know on the financial ROI piece.
Catherine: I love all of those ideas that you just talked about, about the office hours and widening people's networks. It's all great. And I know we're coming up to the end of our time here, so we usually end every episode with a fun closing question of the day. So I think the question I wanted to ask you is what's the best question that you've gotten during your office hours?
Mary: The best question?
Catherine: Or most memorable.
Mary: Sure, I mean, I love when founders ask us tough questions too that are more of in both directions—those sort of really pressing in on what the value that we can provide is, you know, sort of what are some examples of meaningful ways that you support your portfolio companies? It's definitely a bidirectional relationship, right, between investor and portfolio company. But one of my favorite questions we got was if somebody asked Brett, is my business partner at Bread and Butter. He and I are the two general partners and they asked us together what do you find most challenging about working with the other person? What are each other's weaknesses, which I thought was an, you know, it was a it was a valid and thought-provoking question. And I think that—I always love when founders, as we're getting closer to making a commitment to invest in the round, they ask to do diligence on us, right? I want to talk to some references and folks that we work with. It always makes me feel extra good about the relationship that we're going to have because we're signing up to work together for likely a decade. And so, yeah, a lot of good questions in office hours. I would love to meet anybody who's listening. You can find out our office hours on our website at BreadandButterVentures.com. If you just go to the community page, you'll be able to click to book specifically with any specific person on our team.
Catherine: Great. Well, thanks so much, Mary Grove from Bread and Butter Ventures. Thanks for being here.
Mary: Thanks for having me, Catherine. Take care.
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Steve: So. Hey, Catherine, that was pretty good. What did you learn?
Catherine: I think I learned what I have to get ready before I go pitch Mary Grove on my next startup idea.
Steve: It's like a Shark Tank episode, I'm sure.
Catherine: Yeah, exactly.
Steve: Well, big thanks to Mary Grove for her conversation with Catherine. And big thanks to you, dear listener, for surfing along with us. I'm Steve Soter. That was Catherine Tsai, and this has been Off the Books presented by Workiva. Please subscribe, leave a review, and tell your buddies if you like the show. Now, if you're watching this on YouTube, please leave us a note in the comments. Tell us what you'd like to hear about or please feel free to drop us a line at OfftheBooks@workiva.com. Surf's up and we'll see you on the next wave.