Judith is partner at La Famiglia, a Berlin-based venture capital firm with a preference for contrarian investments that has just closed a second €50M fund. Judith previously worked at Facebook where she led their venture capital initiative.
On her most important learning from a family member.
It’s two learnings. One from my mother, one from my father. My father came to Germany as a Nigerian immigrant 30 years ago. Growing up, I was in athletics: high jump and long jump. He taught me to make my practice a metaphor: for every meter that a white German jumped in life, I’d need to jump two. I was just a little kid, but it sparked this heavy ambition in me. Unconditional love was my mother’s lesson. She’d always cheer for me, she’d love me just the same no matter what I was doing. This combination gave me determination but also primed me to explore without fear.
On her path to VC.
At Facebook, I was managing the EU account of Amazon. Seeing how great they were at leveraging data for optimization, I realized there was more my employer could do to support a startup’s growth curve. It sparked the company’s venture capital initiative. All of a sudden I was pitching it to rooms full of VCs. I got introduced to Jeannette this way and learned about her vision of connecting the old economies of the Continent with new companies that enable or disrupt them. I was working for a giant US company for another giant US company. She sparked my ambition to help create the same kinds of outliers in Europe. It was this goal that drove me - being a VC had never been part of the plan.
On diversity in venture capital.
Despite European VCs being hyperconnected among each other, distinct cultural fears to openly discuss the role of social backgrounds remains. In the US, leading firms have started to vocally address the faults of the system. There still is a ton to do, but that realization is important. This hasn’t yet happened in the European and German ecosystems. Very few German VCs have been outspoken about the racial unrest of the world. Problems are different across the ocean, but this country’s startup industry is even whiter and more male. There is still a lack of acknowledgment that somebody’s physicality and social background influence which opportunities are afforded to some of us at birth, but not to others. I see a willingness to change, but a lack of language and courage to address it. It’s a missed opportunity. We'll consider it as such 10 years from now.
On change and the paradigm of exclusivity.
The most concrete challenge is the exclusivity of networks. By definition, networks are only powerful and valuable when they're exclusive. As in when they exclude certain people from being able to access them. It’s a structural fact: As soon as you open a closed network, it becomes less valuable. VCs know it. We know our industry is all about who can make a warm introduction to whom. It’s about these social, implicit relationships that operate on the paradigm of exclusivity. I see it over and over: VCs invite female founders to network more and better, to leverage LinkedIn properly, and so on. The real challenge is in the ways we create access. It can be as small as inviting somebody new to that one group of people that always gathered to do XYZ. My wish: we all need to think hard on what walls to break down to create more equitable access for those who live outside them.
On fundraising their second fund.
We were successful. People believe in what we're doing and in us as managers. But we certainly faced situations that men would not have faced. No beating around the bushes. We do not return home crying about the unfairness of the world. If anything, it fuels our motivation and drive: we want to let the great founders we back speak for themselves.
On managing her own biases.
I'm learning every single day. It’s less about having mesmerizing Aha! moments that turn the world on its head. That I am female and of color might provide a boost of empathy that other people might not have, but it doesn’t free me of biases. I’d consider myself an extrovert, and find myself flocking more towards people who show a sense of outspokenness: a loud voice. But that’s by no means a quality needed to build a strong business. Overcoming biases is about finding value in the things that are unlike you. Carl Jung implied that what we dislike about others reveals more about ourselves than about them. When looking at other people’s qualities, our gaze should return to our very own.
In our investment committee, we call the strongest vote a hard yes. But we still do deals where not everyone casts one. If consensus cannot be reached, the person pushing for it needs to show great conviction before we disagree, commit, and fully throw our weight behind the decision. Great companies can be created at points of dissonance between those that see a vision and those that don’t.
On protecting her own well being.
Getting enough sleep is the most important part. I try to cycle and walk as much as I can, no matter what the weather. I wear noise-canceling headphones at the office. Writing is my outlet and refuge. If I have a really peaceful night on a peaceful weekend, I get my laptop out. I’m writing a novel, I am writing blog posts, I am writing poems. It’s my practice of mindfulness: Writing helps me think and thinking helps me write. It’s a virtuous cycle.
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