This week in the Tipping Point series, Ben Black interviews Elizabeth Weil, Founder and Managing Director at Scribble Ventures, about seeing the venture capital business from all sides and takeaways from a successful fundraise during COVID.
Ben: Elizabeth, you have a great story about how your started Scribble and one of the best backgrounds I’ve seen from anyone who is starting a new fund. Why don’t you tell us a bit about what you did before Scribble?
Elizabeth: I grew up near Sacramento. My mom was a teacher, and my dad was a marine biologist. A big part of my life has been running. I was a cross-country and track runner. I actually didn’t know Stanford existed until I ran a cross-country meet on the campus when I was in high school and realized I needed to be there. At Stanford, I majored in economics and then received a master's degree in engineering. I was really fortunate to have my eyes opened to tech and Silicon Valley because of a program within the engineering school called the Mayfield Fellows Program. There, we learned about venture-backed startups, the VC landscape, and even the finance and legal side of the industry. We were paired with great CEOs and mentors to learn from.
Along the way, I started an intern at a few venture-backed startups and learned how early young people could actually contribute to these growing companies. After school, I joined Menlo Ventures, a stage-agnostic firm, and stayed there for three years where I learned what it takes to do due diligence, pick companies, and how to invest. Then I went on to Institutional Venture Partners, a late-stage venture firm. There, we were fortunate to make an early investment in Twitter, which is another pivotal spot in my journey.
I was captivated by what the team was doing there, even though it was very small at about 30 people at the time. My husband, Kevin, who is an engineer, was looking for his next role. So, he ended up starting the analytics team at Twitter. I saw how much fun he was having and what the team was doing to grow, so I came over to start the corp dev team. About six months later, I started working for the CEO, Dick Costolo, and helped scale the company from 50 to 2,500 people. I focused on biz dev, corp dev, biz ops, corporate culture—all things that were fun at the growing phase.
After Twitter, I went to Andreessen Horowitz and built a team called market development, which essentially connected the Fortune 500, Global 2000 with our portfolio companies with the goal being business development relationships, and ultimately, revenue. After that, I took a journey to learn the secondary stage of the world with 137 Ventures, where I was managing director. It was a fantastic opportunity. Since I had been investing for about six to eight years in angel investment opportunities, I took a look back at what I was well-armed to do, what I loved doing, and who I absolutely liked helping. And through that, I realized it was the early-stage founders, teams, and companies, because I really could help them scale. At the start of COVID, I picked my head up and decided it was the time to get out of my own way. So, Scribble Ventures came to be by essentially scaling the playbook that Kevin Weil and I have run to date. We focus on backing early-stage founders, pre-seed, seed-opportunistic A, writing a collaborative size checks, and being a partner for the building, scaling, hiring, and capitalizing parts of the business. So that is us, and that was the foundation on which Scribble Ventures was built and is today.
Ben: One of the reasons I wanted to interview you is because there are just very few people who have seen the venture capital business from all sides. Besides venture debt, you’ve done it all. You’ve literally done it all. What was like as a manager working at all these different stages?
Elizabeth: I really love learning, and I think that has been one of the capstones for all the things I’ve done. Every time I join a company, leave a job, change jobs, or decide to take a new opportunity, I have three large criteria points. Number one, the people I’m working with. Number two, location, because life’s too short, and I have too many interests to not be working with great people in an environment. The third is, “Am I learning?” When that learning curve has flattened too much, it is time to make a change.
I have liked building out an investment career with a holistic approach. Even though it was not intentional, I was thinking about what I could learn. For example, I was fortunate to join Andreessen at a pivotal time when they were scaling the operations side of the world and putting that on the map. We helped scale customer relationships with the Fortune 500, and ultimately revenue, for our portfolio companies there. I feel like I’m a better investor, deal picker, board member, and collaborator with other investors and founders of early stage teams because I’ve had this arsenal of experiences. So for me, always keep learning so nothing’s boring. In addition, I have three small children, so I learn every day in that arena as well.
Ben: If I remember correctly from your deck, you had a hundred angel investments, you had absolutely amazing experiences at bigger and very well-known firms, and experiences and a track record as a GP. When did you decide this is what you wanted to do? When did you come up with a decision that you were going to raise a dedicated fund?
Elizabeth: COVID might’ve been a blessing in disguise for really being a big catalyst in actually starting Scribble and turning it into something. I’ve always loved investing in early stage founders and opportunities, and how much value I can offer, so that was a given. Pre-COVID, I was very conflicted between joining an existing fund as a general partner, or basically crafting the company I wanted to work at from scratch (by taking a piece of all the places I’d been and what I really hoped could exist in the world for early-stage founders and teams).
At the start of COVID, Scribble was not on the map at all. But I just really realized that, at the end of the day, there’s only one way to build a company in a way that makes me ultimately proud, and that is when you do it yourself. I’ve always been a starter of businesses since I started a scrappy woodworking business when I was nine. I am a builder, and I believe deeply in the operator-investor mindset and what it brings to early-stage teams. Scribble was built on that foundation with the hindsight of a great track record and experience of a hundred personal-speed opportunities. Additionally, having a great arsenal of limited partners around our table is helping us grow and provide even more super-powers to our founding teams.
Ben: Can you talk about some of the things you learned at each of these great firms, and what have you brought into your DNA at Scribble?
Elizabeth: Menlo Ventures is the stage-agnostic approach. At the time, there were nine general partners (back in 2006), so I really learned how to be a giant funnel. I was an analyst associate, and I focused on what to look for in a venture-backable company, which was an entirely new landscape for me. Then, going to the late-stage side of the world at IVP, I was now armed with companies with real metrics. I learned what indicators show great growth and traction and how you replicate some of those and build it into your seed philosophy as well when you can.
During my Twitter operating time, by ultimately scaling through hyper-growth, I learned far more about growing than any particular function. Probably my biggest takeaway from Twitter was building a phenomenal team. One of our core values was to build a company in a way that makes you proud, and I’ve very much held that philosophy in everything I’ve done today. For Andreessen Horowitz, again touching on the scaling the operations function, how can you be helpful to portfolio companies? What are the most-needed skill sets, advice, and tactics you really can lend a hand to these early stage scaling teams? I love knowing about all the intricacies of the finance side of scaling and funding businesses and secondary share opportunities. Then Scribble was built on what ultimately makes me thrive and what personally adds a skip to my step! I’ve been fortunate to build a small-but-mighty Scribble team to really take that into fruition and reality.
Ben: So you went out to raise a $35 million fund originally. First, congratulations are in order because you’re done! Can you tell us about the fundraising process? Where did you start? What was harder than you thought when you started this process?
Elizabeth: I have to remind myself that despite raising a successful fund one during COVID all via Zoom, I hated selling Girl Scout cookies. I was terrified of asking for money. I’ve always been one of those people that feels much more comfortable helping others, and only after helping them enough do I feel like I would earn the benefit of asking for anything in return.
It was very much a switch of mindset for me that I am doing Scribble. This is my destiny, and now it is time to ask the people that have been great partners around me for help and participation along the way. I think there were two things that were unique to my fundraising experience. The first was that the entire fund was started during COVID, so every conversation and every investment decision by a limited partner needed to be via a phone or a Zoom call. So we had to figure out how to convey the true spirit of ourselves, what we’re building, and the philosophy with that platform. The second is that so many people were confined to their quarters, and we were put in such a period of fear in my opinion because the world was out of control. The one thing that a fund-raise during COVID did do for me was it forced me beyond my comfort zone to meet new people and people from an entirely new sector. I had touchpoints with many limited partners, but not those deep 20-years-seated, real relationships. So how do you build those partnerships to convey your message via different channels that we weren’t used to?
Ben: So after that experience, do you have any advice for people trying to do it right now?
Elizabeth: Well, I joke that it is far more efficient. We were able to fundraise during a global pandemic with a first-time fund and actually kicking off throughout the summer. And I think having worked in traditional venture capital, those things would not have happened in parallel had we not been in this new regime and the new dynamic.
Ben: So talk to me about the investors you got. Did you know them before? How did you get intros? Can you get a little tactical for us?
Elizabeth: I look at this almost as a scavenger hunt for great people to have around your table. I carved it out actually into who was ultimately going to lend their superpowers to help Scribble be successful. That meant people on the entire spectrum of investing, from private individuals, family offices, larger family offices, great operating executives, and even some smaller institutions up to institutional funds. We had to figure out the right mix. Some of our early-stage founders actually really wanted to be investors within Scribble, and we made that possible because we wanted to make the journey better for everyone. We had a very collaborative approach. As soon as you start sharing your opportunities other people say, “I know someone who this will really resonate with,” or “Have you ever met so-and-so? This would really be part of their strategy.” Those hand-offs, introductions, and the people that ultimately helped get us there, all have an individual piece in this journey.
Ben: Why didn’t you choose to do one first-time fund versus the sort of the series of smaller closes?
Elizabeth: That’s a great question. And who knows, in hindsight, you always say, “Did I do it correctly?” We are a small team of three, made up of Annelies Gamble, a woman who I hired and have known for almost a decade now. She joined in July, and Kevin, who is our operator-in-residence, but very much an operator and continuing with his day job, so I’d say a mighty team of two and a half. We built a company, continued to invest in great opportunities throughout this period, and fund-raise.
I could have kept doing the fund-raise had I not just said, it’s time to close the Scribble one, and we’ll be back for Scribble two. There was some heartache from great people that we wanted to put around our table after that final close, but there will be a next. And hopefully those people want to support us going forward after we show even more proof points of what we’ve been up to and how we can scale.
Ben: How many deals were you able to do from the warehouse during that period of time?
Elizabeth: To date, we’ve invested in more than a dozen companies throughout this period and are really seeing great growth and momentum.
Ben: That’s awesome. Looking back at it now, how would you do things differently if you started it all again?
Elizabeth: As Kevin would painfully say to me, regret is a wasted emotion, so I am trying to be better about having that philosophy. We’re off to the races, and we will adapt as we go.
No regrets. There are things you learn along the way though, and I think that’s what makes the building journey so fun. You’re able to take these pieces and say, should this be part of our model, or was this right? How do you iterate in small ways? When you’re building a company in a way that ultimately makes you proud and is the place you want to work, you get to do that. We’re doing that as a team and talking every week about those little tweaks and decisions on how to be the best investors and partners to our founders and teams out there.
Ben: That’s great. One last question for you. Husband and wife teams working together. I actually just joined the board in my wife’s company, so can you give me some advice on being in a relationship while you’re building a business together?
Elizabeth: Two separate offices is key, which very much helped during a global pandemic. Kevin was relegated to the guest bedroom. But seriously, it’s actually been really fun. We were able to try it when we were first at Twitter together, and most people there didn’t even know we were married because the company was scaling so quickly.
I’ve always loved having the shared overlap in experience, networks, and collaboration. It’s really fun to see your spouse in this work capacity that rarely people get to see. We don’t overlap on everything. We have very much our own specialties, personalities, and tack to the business, and I think we ultimately make it better. Then, we come back, laugh, and share about everything along the way.
Interested in learning more about the fundraising process? Request an invitation to attend the RAISE Global Summit.
The Tipping Point Series (“Tipping Point”) is a collection of interviews with fund managers who (a) have previously raised a venture capital fund and (b) are providing advice and insights into the formation and management of venture capital funds (the “Presentations”). Tipping Point is not an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security issued by any venture capital fund, including without limitation, any venture capital fund managed by Tipping Point’s speakers, presenters, or producers.
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