Author & BRV Fund Manager: Madeline Hall

Madeline: Jennifer, thank you so much for your time today and willingness to speak with me. To kick things off, I’d love to hear a bit about your background, where your career has taken you, and how you found yourself in VC?

Jennifer: Of course. Upon graduation from undergrad, I worked for two different family offices in Boston that were allocating capital to various managers or direct investments, both public and private funds. What really got me interested in VC was being on the allocator side, investing in private equity and venture capital was most interesting to me. I grew up in a family where my parents were immigrants, and my dad was an entrepreneur – he founded the first drive thru pharmacy and prescription delivery service in Houston, and so I was very passionate about supporting small businesses at a very young age.

Hands down VC was a route I wanted to go. I went to get my MBA at Duke and landed a job post graduation at an innovative department within Shiseido, a large CPG luxury beauty company. I did consumer insights and strategy for companies and it served initially as an incubator to launch brands. I saw this first role out of business school as a great way to get operating experience. After Shiseido, I went on to consult for Odile Roujol, the former CEO of Lancôme, supporting her fashion and beauty tech venture firm called FaB Co-Creation Studio Ventures.

I then went on to work for Halogen Ventures where we are all incredibly passionate about investing in companies with women leaders. When I started my career in finance, I didn’t see many women. It would be very normal for me to be the only Asian woman in the room, and frankly it was empowering. Fast forward 15 years later, I see so much more diversity in gender and race and I absolutely love it but note we still have ways to go. I love to be in the position to invest and empower female and diverse founders, helping them grow fruitful businesses.

Madeline: I love that. Empowering women is something that I, too, am very passionate about and that’s why I was really drawn to Halogen. I know the basis of your investment thesis is investing in female founding teams; can you speak more about that thesis?

Jennifer: Halogen’s founder, Jesse Draper, is a 4th generation VC. She had an Emmy nominated TV show called Valley Girl Ventures where she would give Tech Ted Talks with big founders like Eric Shmidt, Sheryl Sandberg, Jessica Alba, etc. In the beginning she didn’t really see many women in the tech space, and after a while she decided to make it a mandate and she went out to interview at least 50 women in tech. Through that, she found a lot of deals, and went on to start her own fund and put her energy into investing in female founders. 

Halogen is an early stage venture firm focused on consumer tech with a female in the founding team; we invest primarily in pre-seed to Series A rounds. Our thesis is really around helping create more gender diversity in this startup and venture capital space and build diversity inclusion in this ecosystem. We are proud to have become one of the number one names for female founder investing. We are focused more recently on the future of families, as it ties to the consumerization of healthcare and preventative care. We are seeing more and more consumers proactively taking charge earlier on, especially in the femtech space. We also invest in fintech, specifically relating to the democratization of financial management tools, investing in trust and will, as well as digital estate planning.

Madeline: Do companies come to you or are you scouting companies?

Jennifer: Both. We source deals through our investor networks, founders, and student fellowship program. We’re always getting a ton of cold emails as well that we constantly review. Halogen has no shortage of deals – we saw about 10K of deals come through from our networks in the past year. 

Madeline: What are the top two or three things that you look for in an early-stage business?

Jennifer: Team is the number one. I think for me, if you don’t have a strong founder that’s able to take this company to the next level, then I won’t continue; it’s important for a founder to be extremely passionate and hardworking. What makes me most comfortable personally is if they’ve done this before, are capital efficient, and have a technology that really fits the white space to become a market leader.

Madeline: What is Halogen’s involvement with portfolio companies post investment? Does it depend on the type of company or what stage they are at?

Jennifer: We’re a 24-hour hotline for our portfolio companies. We’re all hands on deck all of the time, so the 4 of us do so many things. We help them with recruiting, fundraising, strategy, and research. We help them if they’re thinking about exiting or if they’re looking for acquirers. Jesse (Founding Partner and GP) and Ashley (Partner) come from media backgrounds, so we are very strong in PR and marketing. 

Madeline: What is the hardest part of being a venture capitalist or entrepreneur, and how does being a woman impact that? 

Jennifer: Generally, the challenge really is the ability to do everything as a VC: deal sourcing, finding companies, and the market research to support that. Additionally, supporting our existing companies and fundraising. We’re also vetting investors and making sure that we’re networking constantly, putting ourselves out there, and always getting involved with all the happenings in the community.

From a female and gender perspective, I feel like when I fundraise as a woman, you are often more scrutinized. And sometimes I feel like I’m not being taken as seriously as I should be, and am questioned more than if I weren’t a woman. A group of women and I were once at an industry event and some men came up and said, “What are these cute girls doing?” As women we also often get lowballed on deals, meanwhile men are able to raise more capital much more quickly without that worry. 

Our companies are doing fantastic and that gender-piece is where Halogen comes in. The founders we invest in are so capital efficient and I have loved standing beside them.

Madeline: How is it going through motherhood in this industry and working at Halogen?

Jennifer: We are all moms at Halogen. So we get it. But it’s the challenge of getting it all done and having FOMO when you can’t do everything you want to do. I can’t make every single industry event, I have to be picky with where I spend my time and I’ve learned how to be more time efficient with being a mom and juggling my day-to-day. I remember when I didn’t have children, I never understood how moms did it all. I was already so busy at work, I could barely take care of myself. But being a mom means also being a superwoman.

Madeline: Yes, moms are most definitely super women! As we wrap up, do you have any advice for someone my age or younger, wanting to get into the VC industry? Is there any advice that you wish you had when you were in your MBA program?

Jennifer: Hustle, hustle, hustle. Put yourself out there. This is the time to milk it as a student and cold email everyone. Message everyone you know, especially alums, they’re more willing to help a student. If you have an internship, whether it’s a fellowship or at a venture fund, do it for free or for school credit, just get the experience. VC is incredibly entrepreneurial and it’s the hustle that gets your foot in the door. Subscribe to all the VC-related newsletters that you can. Take note when funds are raising, because that’s probably when they are more likely to hire. Every job I have gotten has been through networking.

Madeline: This has been so insightful, Jennifer! Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn about your career path and about Halogen! 

Jennifer: Likewise, Madeline! Thank you.