Lisa Marrone - Principal @ August Capital

“One learning is that venture is a long-term game. I find the long-term perspective to be incredibly freeing. It means that it’s all about building relationships slowly, from genuine, authentic places.”

Meet Lisa Marrone, Principal at August Capital, a twenty year old firm with $2BN under management. Before deciding to focus on supporting entrepreneurs as a venture capitalist, Lisa worked at the White House for President Obama’s National Economic Council, and as a management consultant for Bain & Company in New York. We sat down to talk about how she pivoted her career and how she is hoping to establish a new model for what it means to be a VC.

 

Tell us about yourself.

Growing up, it was just my mother and me. She's a school teacher and so my childhood was spent in the teachers’ workroom playing with the laminator and making all sorts of math worksheets for my dolls. Math and science were very much my thing. (I definitely did not dress up as a Windows 2000 PC for sixth grade Halloween...). I went to a math and science magnet high school called Thomas Jefferson. By age 17, I was doing research in the labs of MIT.

Fast forward to 2013, and I had worked for three years at Bain & Company and had just started a JD/MBA program at Harvard. I knew that I wanted to end up at someplace small and entrepreneurial. I spent my first summer working at the White House at the National Economic Council, focusing on manufacturing and innovation. I loved following technology trends, synthesizing information, and turning it into something actionable. I was intrigued by the power of policy to shift us one degree at a time towards a better future. That’s when I started to think about VC pretty seriously because it seemed to resemble a lot of what I did at the White House.

 

How did you pitch and position yourself to August Capital?

I was connected to August through an HBS classmate. At the time, I had an offer from Cravath for the summer but had little interest in being a lawyer. I knew David Hornik [partner at August] was a lawyer and had started his career at Cravath. When I got him on the phone, I said “David, I know that you started your career at Cravath. I have an offer from them and would really like to not have to take it.” He chuckled and we proceeded to chat about why I thought tech and venture were a lot more exciting. From there, it was a series of conversations with the other partners at the firm.

 

What have been some of your biggest learnings?

One learning is that venture is a long-term game. I find the long-term perspective to be incredibly freeing. It means that it’s all about building relationships slowly, from genuine, authentic places.

In “Give and Take,” Adam Grant writes about how there are two types of people: takers (you know who they are) and givers (that person in your life who sends you an unsolicited article, or who thinks of you for that job opening they just read about). According to Adam, the givers are the ones that end up succeeding over the long run. That’s the type of venture investor that I'm aspiring to be.

 

Any tips and tricks for entering VC?

The frustrating thing about venture is that it will always require equal parts serendipity and hustle.

I leveraged my time as a student. I picked a project I was interested in--supporting female founders--and spent an entire January interviewing incredible entrepreneurs in San Francisco. Through that project, I happened to meet someone who knew that August was hiring and who connected me to David Hornik.

 

What do you look for in a company?

  • Grit: How have you persevered in the face of adversity, making the seemingly impossible possible?
  • Analytical rigor: What are the metrics you are tracking in your business? How do you think through strategic decisions and their impact on those metrics?
  • Leadership: How do you inspire those around you? Do you attract a team of people even smarter than yourself? Can you motivate them in good times and in bad?

 

There has been increased talk recently about cultural trends in the VC industry that need to change. As you think about your career, what do you hope changes in the VC industry?

I'm the first female investor at August. With that comes a lot of responsibility but it also is a huge source of ambition. I want to be a role model for other people coming up behind me.

I’m trying to educate people in the industry about the dangers of tokenization. I know so many amazing pre-GP women investors. My hope is that we’re promoted because we’re the smartest person for the job, period--not because we’re the smartest woman.

 

Your mom played a huge role in your childhood. How did her influence impact your perspective on careers and lead you to where you are today?

My mom was raised at a time in which women were not given the same opportunities. She instilled this wonderfully empowered worldview in me: “You're super smart, and you will go off and do awesome things. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.” She never explicitly made gender a part of that, and she also modeled what it looked like to be a working mother who was an amazing parent.

I think about the journey from my very matriarchal upbringing to being the only woman here in a male-dominated space and I think: "Wow, that is quite a transition!" Despite the dramatic difference, I don’t feel like a fish out of water at all, and I think that is a credit to the August team.

 

Fire Round

 

What is an industry Trend that you are most excited about?

All of these things.

 

What is your favorite article that you have read in the past few months?

The latest Ian Frazier piece (featuring a mystery that involves red bees and maraschino cherries).

 

Who is a female entrepreneur or investor that you would most like to chat with?

Melinda Gates.

 

What is your spirit animal?

My husband’s a sea tortoise, so let’s make me a zippy water animal, like a Wahoo.

 

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Sleep on it.

 

Want to hear more from Lisa? Check her out on Twitter.

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Samantha Kaminsky