What We Have Learned from Backing 100 Companies Founded By Women

AllSpice Co-Founder Valentina Ratner in front of Baker Library at HBS

This week, Valentina Ratner (formerly Toll Villagra), co-founder and CEO of AllSpice, announced the company’s $3.2M seed financing. AllSpice is essentially building “Github for hardware” — a collaboration hub inspired by software principles, powered by Git, and designed to accelerate hardware development. Apart from being a talented team with a unique solution targeting a significant market opportunity, AllSpice is consistent with our belief that community-driven companies that harness the power of a passionate ecosystem of members to drive adoption and growth will outperform. And they are executing on a go-to-market strategy that we love — emphasizing developer-driven adoption rather than top-down sales — a playbook successfully implemented at other Flybridge portfolio companies like MongoDB. We are #proundinvestors and look forward to working with Valentina, her co-founder Kyle Dumont (both of whom were in my Launching Tech Ventures class a few years ago), and the entire AllSpice team as they seek to realize their vision.

But this funding announcement isn’t our run of the mill portfolio company funding announcement. That is because AllSpice and Valentina are also the 100th company founded by a woman to join the Flybridge Community in the last five years. These 100 companies have been founded or co-founded by over 150 incredibly talented women.

Several years ago, we started asking ourselves some hard questions as we saw, again and again, the alarming statistics that ~ 85% of venture capital was going to male-only founding teams. Why was it that our firm and our community of founders were not much different than the statistics? Bluntly put, why were our potential investment opportunities so skewed towards companies founded by men?

We concluded that we were missing a massive opportunity to invest behind transformative companies founded by ambitious women. By missing out on these potential opportunities, we were missing out on generating incremental positive returns as we believe deeply that diverse founding teams will be more successful as they will be able to better access and retain talent, design better products and solutions to meet unmet needs in the market, and, ultimately, make better decisions, leading to stronger companies and better returns.

This conclusion led to the launch of XFactor Ventures in 2017, a pre-seed and seed-stage fund focused on women-founded companies pursuing billion-dollar opportunities cofounded by my talented partner Chip Hazard. To diversify our deal flow, we needed to diversify our network — you can’t invest in what you don’t see. XFactor allowed us to do this in spades. Each of the over twenty female founders who are now members of the investment team is a magnet for amazing companies, often with female founders. We also expanded our full-time investment team, adding Anna Palmer, who co-founded XFactor with us, and Julia Maltby. These changes have led to a dramatic difference in the gender balance of our deal flow and, slowly, our portfolio. Our portfolio company, Chief, is one example of a company that we believe is poised to generate outsized returns for our investors thanks to our commitment to this strategy.

XFactor Ventures I Team Photo

Chip has taken his decades of experience in venture capital and poured it into this mission, dedicating an enormous amount of time to creating a platform that would not only invest in more female founders but also train a new generation of female venture capitalists. Above is a photo from one of the first offsites of the original XFactor team. The three women in the back row are now general partners at VC funds — Erica Brescia (Redpoint), Aubrie Pagano (Alpaca), and our very own Anna Palmer.

We still have much work to do, but today is a day to celebrate a small victory along the journey: 100 new companies founded by women, the launch of an amazingly promising company in AllSpice, and a ripple effect that we look forward to seeing in the market for many years to come.

And a special thank you and hat tip to my partners, Chip and Anna, for leading the way.