I hadn’t seen that number pop up on my phone in years. 12 years to be exact.
I’ve thought a lot about the conversation I had the last time that number popped up on my phone. I can still remember where I was standing, the time of day and the way the air felt on my skin as I sat on the stoop in front of my house as I answered that call.
It was the fall of 2005 and we were in the final stretches of closing our first fund. Earlier that year, we’d talked to Freada Klein and Mitch Kapor about investing in the fund. Seed investing was still a new concept, but they both have a nose for what’s next and they seemed intrigued. We’d connected on a number of levels and it was looking good that they would commit. Prior to making the commitment, they’d asked to talk to me personally, one on one. It seemed this conversation was the only thing standing between our fund and their investment.
Then that number popped up on my phone.
Both Freada and Mitch were on the line. They said they had one question they wanted to ask before making a commitment.
In prior professional lives, Freada had worked around a number of Mormon men (I’m an active Mormon). She noted that Mormons traditionally encouraged women to work within the home as mothers and caretakers to the family. Her past experiences with Mormon men suggested that they explicitly, or implicitly brought this artifact of Mormon culture with them into the workplace. The result, she observed, was that these men were reluctant to hire and promote women.
Thus this call.
They wanted to ask me, explicitly, if my Mormon faith would keep me from funding female founders. The tone of the question was not confrontational, or even judgemental, it was earnest. I didn’t get offended or get defensive, I tried to process it with that same level of earnestness shown me.
To be honest, the thought had never crossed my mind. But as I sat on that stoop, the weight of that question began to settle in.
What if there were scenarios where my cultural norms or ideals were in contrast to those across the table from me? Would I? Could I? still fund them with the same level of conviction and support that I could others who worked, lived, loved, looked, thought or worshiped like me?
I don’t remember what I said on the call. I’m certain it was nothing profound. But it was sufficient enough to receive a commitment from Freada and Mitch to become investors in our first fund.
In hindsight, the impact of any dollar amount they committed to the fund pales in comparison to the impact that question has had on me ever since.
12 years later I still think about that call near weekly.
There are questions being asked in and around tech and venture capital these days. Some of these are tough questions. Some are uncomfortable questions. But they’re questions worth feeling the gravity of. Worth wrestling with. And worth paying more than lip service to.
I am grateful for the people, like Freada and Mitch, willing to ask them.