Today we’re announcing that my partner Kara Nortman is becoming Co-Managing Partner at Upfront Ventures and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to welcome her to her new role.
As with all promotions, the reality is that Kara was already acting as a senior leader at our firm and also in the industry at large. She had all of the skills and traits we sought — leadership, mentorship, competitiveness, communications, relationship-building — and of course a relentless pursuit of helping founders succeed.
I’ve become fond of saying “if I had a dollar for every person who told me just how much they loooooved Kara Nortman, I’d have a 10x fund.” So mostly we just had to listen to customer feedback from founders, VCs and LPs.
Kara is a natural leader and loves taking ownership of tasks and over-performing. She has an amazing ethical compass with heart, compassion and drive. She’s empathetic and brings great humor to her work as well.
I remember years ago trying to recruit Kara. It took me three years to persuade her to join. I called an (ex) LP to tell him about her and my goals for her. He said to me (only 9 years ago), “I hope you’re not just hiring her because she’s a woman.” (I promise you, he really said this out loud.)
My literal response was, “She went to Princeton undergrad and has a Stanford MBA. She worked for 5 years as a VC at Battery Ventures and co-headed M&A at IAC working with Barry Diller. She took an operating role helping run Citysearch and Urbanspoon. On paper she’s more qualified than Yves or myself so with that out of the way can we now just focus on her skills and how you help me recruit her?”
Kara said “no” because she wanted to start her own company, which she did and I backed. At the end of that journey she joined Upfront as a partner where she’s been for > 6 years so she now has walked in the footsteps of the people she will back. She made the right decisions not joining back then because that founder empathy is the “++” that makes a difference in this business.
But if you know Kara, you likely already know all of this. So why now? And what does that really mean for the firm?
In any job you either find leadership opportunities for your best people BEFORE they ask or other people start asking them to become leaders somewhere else. Leadership is about recognizing your next generation of talent and helping lift them up. Or, maybe it’s just about getting out of the way and watching what they can achieve.
Our industry needs more female leaders and they shouldn’t have to all quit their respective firms and raise their own funds to get a shot at running things. The fact that Kara doesn’t have what my wife likes to refer jokingly as my “Y chromosome problem” is beside the fact. She’s more qualified than I and I know she’ll eventually eclipse the things that Yves and I have built over the past couple of decades.
Venture capital is about backing the leaders of tomorrow who imagine the world as it should be and aren’t constrained by what it is today. As an industry we’re not always as good as we could be about our own “creative destruction” to create the tomorrow of venture capital. It’s time to prepare Kara to help smash some more glass ceilings.
The core of the investing job of course is investing dollars into startup companies and helping as a mentor, advisor and board member on the companies in which you’ve invested. But there is so much more that goes into running a successful fund, including:
- Planning reserves for follow-on investments
- Building portfolios of risk by sector, geography and stage
- Raising capital from LPs and then communicating and reporting back to them
- Recruiting and training staff at our firm
- Handling legal issues, accounting and annual audits
- Regularly reviewing the competitive strategy of your firm to make sure you don’t become complacent
- Oh. And all the platform stuff. Marketing, recruiting, building data products & tools, event management, analyzing the portfolio, etc.
In reality we have an amazing team for which we have dedicated staff who manage many of these functions but as a leader, as a Managing Partner, you have ultimate responsibility. Kara will now be really involved with what goes on to successfully create and run a firm but while still handling her core duties of funding great entrepreneurs.
Fuck no. I’m only 52! I’ll still work with Kara managing the next few funds, but I’ve already been pushing for our firm to do more to diversify our activities and this will allow me to focus on some of that. For example, we’re now already well into our third growth fund that we started in 2015 (the first returned 2x cash in 3.5 years). So beyond running our flagship “Series Seed / A” fund there is much more to be done and I’m confident Kara will step up to that task.
Just as Yves mentored me when I became his co-managing partner in 2011, he didn’t seek to ride off into the sunset either. Instead he championed our investment themes into sustainability and food technologies having invested in companies like Apeel Sciences and Ynsect. He’s helped me run the Upfront holding company activities for all of these years and will continue to do so. Yves enjoys the same things I do — investing in the brightest and most driven entrepreneurs we have access to and helping guide them as they build amazing companies and industries. So Yves thankfully isn’t going anywhere either! We’ve worked together for more than 20 years now. And it would be my great pleasure to work with Yves for another 20 years. Just you watch.
And that Greg Bettinelli chap? What’s he doing? Listen, I think most of us if you gave us a choice would prefer “just” to be great investors and to spend all of our time on portfolio work. Greg has always been clear that he loves investing the most and he’s been incredibly successful having led our investments in GOAT, Ring, ThredUp and now more recently in companies like Rally. Greg is part of our executive leadership team and already helps run the firm. He launched our scout program as an example. But when we sat down one-on-one 18 months ago and talked about what the firm should look like in the future he proactively said “Kara is the best person to help run the firm. I’ll help own functions but I mostly just want to back great founders and not have to own all the other BS.”
We have an amazing team including our newest Partner, Aditi Maliwal, who runs our FinTech investment practice and is based in San Francisco. In fact, Kara led the effort to recruit our newest partner and it was then that it was first clear to me how amazing she would be at the role.
Please help me welcome Kara into her role as Co-Managing Partner. I am truly thrilled to see what she makes of it.