Susan Coelius Keplinger is the co-founder and COO of Triggit Inc. Triggit is a venture-funded advertising technology start-up and a leader on the real-time advertising exchanges. Triggit was founded in 2006 and has an office in SOMA, San Francisco, CA. Prior to Triggit, Susan co-founded Votes For Students, a Pew Charitable Trusts funded non-profit dedicated to measuring the efficacy of Internet and Email marketing as a Get-out-the-Vote technique. Beyond herentrepreneurial forays Susan is an avid athlete and can be found chasing the wind and waves while kitesurfing, seeking powder sking in Tahoe, or playing soccer with the Olympic Club. Susan earned her BA from Northwestern University, where the USA Today named her one of the nations top college students in 2004. You can find Susan @ her blog SusanCK and @ Twitter @sueck
Transcript follows & video below:
- Could you tell me briefly about your past history in sourcing venture capital?
We started Triggit about 5 years ago. We worked with about 15 angels & vcs over the first 3 to 4 years of our existence. The first capital we sourced was in convertible debt so it wasn’t a round, it was in debt. Then we just recently closed a round with Foundry Group & Spark Capital for about $4.5m. It’s been a journey to say the least. We’ve talked to many, many vcs & closed very few.
- What personal lessons being a woman have you taken out of your successes &/or failures in that regard?
Just in raising money in general, I think the core lesson is that you just have to be profoundly resilient & you have to be ok with failure. Because 90% of the people you talk with will say no. They’ll say that your idea is bad or that you have no experience & therefore that you can’t execute on this vision of yours. And if you don’t have revenue now, why will you have revenue in the future? We’ve probably talked to literally ten times as many angels & vcs as we have actually raised money from. They’ll give you all the excuses that you hear in the book ‘Maybe in a month?’ or ‘Maybe in 3 months?’ But in the end if you continue to be resilient, you can find a good match & when you find a good match, when you find someone who is really passionate about your idea, then when they’re excited, it makes it very easy to work alongside them or to work with them & makes it very easy to close & actually raise the money.
- During those rounds did you notice any reactions or biases towards you being a female cofounder from venture capitalists?
I think that the reaction was more often, because I started the company with my brother & because it was a family affair, not that I was a woman or that was a piece of the puzzle. It was “Are you two sure that you enjoy working together, you’re brother & sister?” Then they see us interact & Zac & I have a fantastic relationship. I never really felt that being a woman was the piece, it was always working with my brother, or that we were siblings, or that we were family.
You obviously then felt that what you brought to the table was really valued?
Absolutely, Zac & I do very different things in the company. Zac is our CEO & very much the one who will start the presentation, will start talking. But very quickly vcs start to turn to me when they need the answer when they can tell very clearly that Zac simply does not have the answer. So in our company its more the roles that we each play versus me being a woman or him being a man. I think him being my older brother, the woman question he just throws it out the window, because he considers our relationship one of equals & he trusts me to do things that are fundamental to our company.
- What attitudes towards you being female have you noted from venture capitalists when you have been sourcing venture?
I think with venture capitalists, when we are actually at meetings, I don’t really see anything negative or derogatory. However when I’m at networking events & I meet a venture capitalist often times women are not necessarily seen as founders or co-founders of companies. So when I say ‘Yeah I’m co-founder of Triggit, especially when they already know of Triggit, sometimes they will say: ‘WOop, you’re not just a girlfriend or a wife or here for the ride?’
Or a hanger-oner?
Exactly, yes so I think that the reaction I say I see at networking events when I say yes I’m the co-founder of this company is far more hard, than when I’m in a meeting or with a vc. That is very noticeable!
- What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need specifically for sourcing venture? I know from what you’ve said that your brother does most of that sourcing of the venture, but you must have worked out what a woman needs to source venture?
Oh, absolutely, perserverance & a willingness to ask for money & that holds for the majority of entrepreneurs, both men & women. I think that the reason that Zac is so good & what I’ve learnt from watching Zac raise money, is that you have to be willing to ask for money! And you have to be willing to have someone say no & you have to be willing to go back & ask for money again later & not be afraid. Nancy Pelosi, the most prolific fund raiser currently in politics, is a woman & she justs asks for money. She then of course leverages it correctly so its useful. I think asking!
I think that’s a really interesting point, because I have heard from another woman entrepreneur who I interviewed, who said that women don’t like to ask for money!
I don’t like to ask for money! Nobody does!
So what do you think that’s about?
I don’t know that that is a woman thing. I think that it’s just a hard thing in general. A lot of people, especially doers & they’re stubborn, ‘I can do this myself! I can get this done!’ To ask for money is to ask someone to give you something & suddenly you give up some of your control & ownership. And that ability to say ‘not only are you asking for money, but when you give it to me I might lose it?’ I think that is a hard nut to swallow.
And again I have had feedback that women would find that part very difficult. Because as one woman venture capitalist said to me: ‘Women like to know that they’re going to actually deliver everything they say rather than promise everything & not deliver!’
More often I think that is absolutely true!
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- Susan on Sourcing Venture Capital and Being a Woman in Tech (triggit blog)