Fashion startups and venture capital don’t always see eye-to-eye, or wallet-to-wallet. Our new series, Ask a VC, seeks to get inside the minds of the partners who are doling out investment dollars in an attempt to find out what fashion and retail companies catch their attention.
Nisha Dua, a partner in BBG Ventures, knows that investing in women is not only important for driving gender parity, it’s lucrative.
BBG Ventures began as an initiative at AOL, where Dua formerly ran strategy and operations for the AOL Brand Group and oversaw its millennial site, Cambio. In its early days, then called #BUILTBYGIRLS, it was was an arm of the internet company that was established to fund female-led initiatives. Now it’s a full-fledged investment firm, and Dua focuses on companies that are disrupting the way we live and work across a wide expanse of categories and demographics.
The catch? At least one founder in the organization must be female. With the help of BBG, companies like Ringly, Rocksbox, Zola and The Wing got their starts and received the backing they needed to get to the next level.
“Women are the dominant consumers, and female founders are addressing the pain points of consumers that look a lot like them,” she said. “Add that to the fact that women drive better returns. There was a study that found companies with at least one female founder bring back 63 percent greater returns than male-only companies. Once you see that women are exceptional capital mangers as well, you start to paint the picture of women being a really good investment.”
For the third installment of our Ask a VC series, in which we ask investors where their dollars are going in the fashion industry, we asked Dua why women are so vital to the startup world.
What inspired you to start BBG Ventures?
The genesis for the fund was that we had been seeing this new wave of female founders coming out of a variety of areas. Women are also the dominant consumer. They make or influence 85 percent of purchasing decisions. If you invest in those women, you have a unique competitive advantage. Traditional VCs weren’t doing that because they didn’t have the networks.
How do you determine what products and services are most important to you?
We’re really excited about companies that are creating new brands that tap into the zeitgeist. The Wing is a really great example of that. It’s a co-working and community space for women only, like a Soho House for women. It’s the right product at the right time: Women believe they are stronger together, and it’s founded on the concept that when women come together, they make magic. We’re looking at companies that are taking an existing market and adding a new business model to that.
Are there any areas of the market that you feel are oversaturated or that you’re avoiding?
Conversational commerce, the idea of using bots to improve a commerce experience. I wouldn’t say that anyone has really made good on that yet. People are trying to find new ways to engage consumers, but it takes a lot of learning to really refine that process, and we’ve yet to see that blow up in a big way. We also see a lot of companies that come to us with the promise of AI and machine learning, but they still have a lot of data to collect before they build the automations they’re promising.
What are some common mistakes you see from startup founders during the pitch process?
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is not telling a story. You really need to come in with an arc. Think: What was the problem I set out to solve, why does this product solve this particular problem, and for whom? I think people often come in with a slide deck and don’t use the meeting to tell the story, and really sell the idea.
Another is not being bold enough about your big vision. Many founders tend to be a little more conservative in their objectives and what they can achieve. What you’re really selling to a venture capital investor is a big idea, so that really ties into that idea of storytelling. The arc of that story is really important, and believing you’re the person to execute that vision is critical.
What advice would you give other investors?
The biggest lesson every investor learns is it’s all about the founder at the end of the day. There’s no sense in investing in something that’s just a good idea. You have to have a belief in the founder to execute on the vision or to be able to change and iterate, and take feedback on the vision they present at the beginning. At the end of the day, the idea is only half the battle, and it’s the founder that really pushes it forward that makes it a success.