Alexandra Piedrahita, Principal at QED Investors looks at her career from day one and suggests ways to open up venture capital careers to attract in more women.

I was freshly graduated and it was day one of my first job. After months of gruelling recruitment and interview processes, I had joined the analyst class of a large Fund-of-Funds based in Philadelphia.

I always knew I wanted to get into financial services and this cross-strategy analytical roll felt like the perfect fit. I was so excited that I did not even notice as we assembled for our welcome breakfast that I was the only woman out of our analyst class of 18. When it was pointed out to me, the only (ever so minor) effect that it did have on me was to make me feel more proud and driven to be in my position.

Having pursued a career in finance since graduating from university, being the only girl in the room has rarely phased me. In the first half of my career, it was almost the norm. But as I’ve transitioned from the halls of “traditional” asset management and private equity firms, to the zoom corridors of early-stage tech investing, it has certainly become more of the exception.

Today, most of my strongest relationships in VC are with other female fintech investors. My female peers at other funds are some of the investors I admire and respect the most, and they are quietly but powerfully rising up the ranks of their respective firms. I have no doubt that the strength of this up-and-coming female cohort of VCs will result in more evenly weighted partner distribution at the highest levels, but it won’t happen by accident.

What is venture capital investing?

Venture capital (VC) is a form of financing provided to start-up companies and small businesses. It actually stems from the term “adventure capital” dating back to the 1970s – the name was coined because it was the earliest stage and riskiest form of investing. Venture capitalists invest in start-ups that can be as early stage as a founder with an idea, but can also be up to “Pre-IPO” stage businesses with multi-billion valuations and thousands of employees (usually referred to as the “growth stage”). Because these businesses are pre-revenue, they need the funds to hire teams, build product and market their product. VCs provide these funds in exchange for minority ownership in companies. They do so because they believe in the long-term growth potential of the business and hope it will one day “exit” (i.e. be sold or IPO) at a high valuation, therefore earning the VCs a strong return on their investment.

What does a typical day look like for a venture capitalist?

As an investment professional at a VC fund you have three primary responsibilities.

1) Source. Create and manage a pipeline of investment opportunities by meeting with and analysing hundreds of companies a year.

2) Invest. Identify the best opportunities, negotiate and win the deal, work with lawyers to manage the closing process.

3) Support. Provide support to that company for 5-10 years to maximise chances of success – possibly by securing exits or liquidity – often through a board seat.

As a result, a typical day for a VC will be a combination of these activities. The more companies you’ve invested in (often the longer you’ve been at a fund) will lead to a higher weighting of time spent towards company management, but no matter how tenured a venture capitalist may be, the role will always involve a mix of them all.

What is the typical day of a venture capitalist?

A typical day for me at QED Investors will involve speaking to three companies or investment opportunities – two of those may be new, and one may be a follow-on conversation as I dive deeper into diligence.  Speaking to other VCs and angels is an integral part of our jobs, too – not only to exchange ideas on exciting sectors, but also to learn about new up and coming companies we should have on our radars.

It’s a core part of rounding out the pipeline, and I try to concentrate VC meetings around breakfast or lunch. Every day I’ll touch base with one of our portfolio companies to hear updates and find ways we can help. Company calls, VC calls and portfolio calls are the core pillars of my day, and the rest is rounded out by (lots) of emailing, diligence work (digging into data rooms, customer reference calls), and miscellaneous research and reading-up on sectors I’m diving into opportunistically.

What skills do you need to be a venture capitalist?

A range of skills are needed to be a successful venture capitalist, starting with a highly curious and analytical mindset. We are often working with incomplete, inconsistent an unstructured information, and we need to be able to make high-stakes complex decisions from unclear data.

Because 95% of the information we need to do our jobs is not publicly available, you need to be an incessant networker. Relationships are truly everything in VC as they will get you the information you need on companies for diligence, but also to help support your portfolio companies by providing them with the right connections to customers, partners etc.

Finding deals is one thing, but winning them requires you to be an expert, strategic, and fast negotiator. Finally, behind the scenes of all these, most VCs are expert salesmen, for two reasons; one, raising LP capital is an integral part of most senior folks, and two, to get into the best deals you have to sell your fund to the founder.

What can we do to inspire more women to explore careers in venture capital?  

Women have all the tools they need to be successful venture capitalists. Unlike the common misconception that you need to have an investment banking background, successful VCs come from many different industries and backgrounds – operating at start-ups, consulting, other investing roles, and banking of course. It truly is varied and there is no single “path” to becoming a VC. Demystifying this is step one.

Step two, is really about spreading awareness about the job itself. There are tons of resources to read online and keep up with the market, but it’s hard to really get a sense until you have spoken to someone. Just one conversation can not only inspire other women, but also give them the information they need to be successful in the pursuit. My commitment to fellow women in the industry is not only to say yes to every inbound email, LinkedIn message, or connection that wants to chat, but to proactively create opportunities for these conversations at scale.  This can happen through mentorship communities, women in tech communities such as Femstreet (founded by a fellow VC at Northzone, Sarah!) and university engagements with student clubs etc.

QED is a strong believer in the power of networks and mentorship. Finding mentors can be hard though, and can feel like a heavy lift when you are just eyeing an industry and looking to learn more about it. Reaching out for light-touch conversations and chats is an easier first step.

Will gender diversity improve in venture capital roles over the next decade?

I am full of hope for what the leadership rooms at VC funds will look like in 10 years, including at QED where nine of 23 from our investment team are females. Women are rising through the ranks at VC firms; whilst only 18% of GPs – the main owner and manager of a venture fund – are women, 43% of principals are. With the stronger mandates for D&I, and as long as we focus on equitable and fair family leave policy, we should see a significant portion of these female principals graduate to the partner level.