“I love understanding why things are built a certain way and if they can be built differently.”
This passion has driven California native, Phoebe Peronto, to a career in investing. After honing her skills as a marketer at Pixar and Google, Phoebe transitioned to GV (formerly, Google Ventures) where she joined the investing team. Today, while balancing her time at Harvard Business School, Phoebe is a partner at Dorm Room Fund. In her next adventure, Phoebe will be joining the investment team at Salesforce Ventures. We chatted with her on the power of asking for what you want and making sure you’re in the best position to get it.
Thanks so much for chatting with us today! To start off tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am California born and raised - I grew up in Southern California and went to Berkeley in Northern California. All throughout college, I had worked at various companies: Pixar, Google, and before that I worked for Senator Dianne Feinstein. Right after college, I decided to work at a startup, I moved to Dubai to join a Rocket Internet startup. A week after I started, it failed.
This led me to Google’s Developer Marketing team in a Product Marketing role. My job was to reach developers who worked to innovate on Google platforms. Developers are effectively small businesses; they are people who make their money building on Google platforms. I got a lot of exposure to how they thought about their businesses. Understanding that psychology from so many different people, from so many different countries, was really fascinating.
I realized I loved understanding the founder mentality and what it was like to be in the thick of building a business. You see that theme throughout my trajectory thereafter - I'm very focused on founders and the entrepreneurial psychology around founding and building a company.
How did you make the switch from marketing to venture capital?
I first moved to Google Ventures on the Marketing team; I wanted to learn more about the founder perspective and get into the weeds with founders in a marketing capacity. Google Ventures is structured operationally whereby GV supports founders with experts from different business teams. As a Google-trained marketer, I could leverage the existing skills I had and apply them in a more hands-on way with founders. I realized from that experience that I craved learning more about the process of picking and finding companies.
I was hungry to stretch myself beyond my marketing knowledge.
I was interested in investing, and wanted to explore the venture business outside of marketing. So, I started volunteering to take up low hanging fruit on the investing team — work that needed to be done but we didn’t have a designee for. As I became more interested in this work, I realized it was becoming one hundred twenty percent of my time. It struck me that venture investing was where I felt like I could grow, so I approached the senior directors at the fund. I asked to be moved to the investing team. The managing director of our fund and the lead general partner really took a chance on me and they said yes. By virtue of being exposed to the investing team, I had a grasp on how GV invested and why we invested in certain founders.
Taking the leap is a huge part of the process, I’m not going to lie and say that it was easy- having a conversation with a managing director is very hard if you want to change your role in a fund.
In an industry where it feels like there are high barriers to entry, the big thing for me is having people advocate for you and want to advocate for you. I had really good people in my court and that was really important.
What are the benefits of working in a corporate venture environment. How did that help from a VC perspective?
The two primary reasons I enjoyed working in a corporate venture environment are mentorship and exposure.
On mentorship, when you work in a highly selective corporate environment, you get to work with the best people in that industry. At Google, I truly felt like I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, I could learn from everyone around me and that was a gift. I had a lot of people who cared about me; it's less of an individual sport and more of a family.
The second piece is exposure; in a corporate VC environment, you see different deal flow than you would in a private environment. Very generally, deal flow comes from external contacts, the partners themselves, and internally within the company. As an example, Googlers are experts in their fields — they know up-and-coming companies and they go found companies. If you can be the first person they come to, that’s a great source of deal flow.
What do you think was most important to learn early on in VC?
What are the right questions to ask of a founder at each point of the deal stage. Coming in, I was super green and a big rookie. To help learn, I asked to be invited to every meeting possible with senior partners to understand their meetings and interactions with founders. I wanted to learn how they got smart about companies and industries. As a result, I learned what to ask the first time I met a founder or what to ask when we get down further into the deal pipeline. Learning this early was critical.
The proportion of women in VC has been flat for many years; what do you see as the barriers to entry for women in venture capital?
Barriers to entry I think are twofold: firstly, many women perceive VC to be difficult to get into and once they're told no, there is a tendency to surrender and move onto something else. Secondly, the recruiting process is networked. Essentially, if you aren’t in someone’s existing network, your foot-in-the-door options are limited.
And, this is so important. Being a woman in this environment allows you to exercise this intangible power: you look at things differently and you ask different questions. I found myself wanting to know more about the founder’s personal background, how they got to this point, and their drivers for success. That's a great perspective to have in the room.
What kind of lessons do you have for our audience about being an investor?
Be as curious as possible in an environment where you know that you are not the smartest person in the room. I tried to employ that mentality when I joined the investing team. Just jump, even if it’s really scary at first.
Female entrepreneur / investor you’d most like to chat with
Best piece of advice that you've ever received
My first professional performance review out of college was a great wake up call. I was Type A and had a lot of energy. I was ready to work hard and be a superstar. During my review, I received feedback from my manager that I seemed to be waiting for the next thing and not present. At the time, I was so taken aback because I had never realized it. I usually understood my shortcomings but this was like, oh wow someone observes something about me that I literally had no idea I was doing. It really helped me focus. I've made a much bigger effort to be more present in personal relationships, in my profession, and now at school.
Want to hear more from Phoebe? Check her out on Twitter.