02 Sep Bridging The Funding Gap: An Interview With The Women Behind Aspect Ventures
Amongst the sea of male faces that make up the majority of Silicon Valley venture capital, two women have appeared on the landscape and hoisted their sails. One of the few VC firms founded and run by women, Theresia Gouw and Jennifer Fonstad of Aspect Ventures take a different approach to investing. After long and successful solo careers, Gouw and Fonstad have built a venture capital firm focused on seed and series A investments that feels and acts as innovative and fresh as a startup. With companies like Chime, mobile-first banking that automates savings, Cato Networks, a startup that puts network security in the cloud and Vida Health, a next-gen continuous care platform and health marketplace for both consumers and businesses, on their roster, Aspect has created a forward-thinking, mobile-oriented venture capital firm.
Aspect’s companies are held through the entire process, from seed or series A to IPO, receiving a virtual sounding board of long-term partners at their beck and call who have the best interests of the company in mind, not themselves. They also have a chance to work within Aspect Labs, an intentional SF-based community workspace for select early-stage companies to collaborate and learn from each other. Invites aren’t just for investment companies either; Aspect also utilizes Aspect Labs as a way to keep close tabs on exciting companies that may end up in partnership.
I sat down with Gouw and Fonstad to find out more about how they started Aspect, and what they look for in startups who are raising funds.
TG: Jennifer and I co-founded Aspect Ventures in February of 2014. We’ve known each other for about twenty-five years, meeting in our first jobs out of undergrad as management consultants on the same four person team, back in Boston. We worked together for about a year, and then Jennifer went east to Eastern Europe and then on to HBS. I came out here to California to Stanford for my MBA, and after business school I went back to management consulting briefly to pay for my student loans.
I quit consulting when a couple guys that I went to Stanford with raised their first seed round funding in 1996 from Tim Draper at DFJ. They asked me to join them as their first business product manager, sales, and customer support person at Release Software, a company that was doing electronic software downloads, payments and digital rights management. We were a bit on the early side, because it was still 28K modems back then; download speed wasn’t too great.
About three months after joining, in walks Jennifer with Tim, because she had just joined DFJ as a Kauffman Fellow, and that’s where we reconnected. We worked together for about three years at Release, Jennifer as a board observer and me as an early founding member. In late 1998, after three CEOs in twelve months I thought that perhaps it was time to find something different to do. When I went to the board members, one of the guys who knew my background said he would introduce me to three portfolio companies and also three venture funds.
I immediately called Jennifer who by then had become a managing partner, took her to lunch down the street at Evvia, and asked for her advice. I said, “You know what I’ve been doing. I like what I’m doing, but should I go and do that again, be a founder, maybe even help write the business plan? Or should I do this venture capital thing?” With Jennifer’s advice that day, I ended up going to Accel Partners.