“I gotta say it was a good day.”
I’m so fricking pumped today. Really, truly. Yeah, Valence announced > $5 million in funding led by GGV and Upfront. That IS a big deal, but I’ll get to that. But Kamala Harris was picked to be the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. That means she’ll be the first female Vice President of the United States, the first female Black Vice President and the first Indian-American Vice President. I don’t take this for granted, be ready for a fight. But let’s be clear. WE WILL WIN. We might have to fight for it after the votes go our way but let’s get ready for the fight.
So let’s get it.
Valence. It is a company with a mission to create better access and more funding for Black entrepreneurs and executives. Valence is led by a talented CEO, Guy Primus and was the brainchild of my partner, Kobie Fuller. If you want to follow two great Black executives who work at the intersection of technology and venture capital make sure to click on those links and follow them on Twitter.
So what exactly is Valence and why does it matter?
18 months ago, my partner Kobie Fuller was inspired to build a solution for a problem he faced regularly: as one of the few Black partners at a VC firm (an estimated 3% of GPs in venture are Black vs 14% of the US population), he was consistently asked for warm intros to Black professionals, to Black VCs, and to talented Black operators and entrepreneurs.
Venture firms wanted to meet talented Black founders but didn’t know where to start to find them. And Black entrepreneurs wanted access to decision makers but didn’t always have the easy connections. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms I personally get when I suggest that founders should “get introductions to VCs” is that this might reinforce existing racial imbalances by providing easier access to White professionals than people of color.
An imbalance clearly exists in access and networks that has resulted in a tech industry where an estimated only 1% of venture dollars go to Black founders and only 3% of the workforce is Black and a country where Black individuals hold a disproportionately low amount of the wealth — only 3%. As Kobie says, he didn’t have a “magical database” of great Black talent, so he set out to build a solution not just for himself, but also for the community.
Personally I believe that to fund more people of color you need to put check-writing authority in their hands the same way that if you want to see more women funded you need more women GPs. My greatest criticism of our industry is that women and people of color feel the need to leave larger VCs to create their own firms. We have a responsibility to help propel them to the top ranks of our biggest firms to make our check writers more representative of our society overall.
There is a very clear economic rational and strategic advantage for doing so. There are amazing Black entrepreneurs, Indian entrepreneurs, Chinese entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs, gay entrepreneurs and so forth. OBVIOUSLY! If 90% of the check writers are White, straight men then it’s clear if you are different than that you’re going to have an advantage. As I always say, being great as an investor is about having “edge” and edge means knowing somebody or something that very few others know. It’s about swimming in lanes where others aren’t present. Being diverse in the VC industry is a VERY LOW bar and a clear differentiator.
At Upfront we believe in improving access for founders and entrepreneurs to networking, professional development, and economic opportunities, and that’s what Kobie set out to do with Valence, which he incubated in our offices. Huge hats off to Kobie for the idea, energy, direction, evening hours and the foresight and salesmanship required to bring on Guy to take the helm.
By the time Valence launched in late 2019, the team had built the necessary systems and technology to seamlessly engage and onboard the community — not just the users, but also some pilot corporate partners who also believed in the mission and opportunity and who wanted to leverage and support this amazing database of talent. It was also important to Valence to not only connect users, but also to celebrate the successes and spotlight great Black leaders through high-quality content and design.
As soon as Valence launched in November 2019, the business quickly had proven demand from the community, not only from senior business leaders but also from so many young, talented professionals who could benefit from the inter-generational networking that Valence supported so seamlessly. Since launch, the Valence platform has supported more than 5,000 micro-mentoring sessions (AKA Boosts)— allowing the kind of invaluable network support that’s so critical to success and advancement for even the most talented founders and operators.
You can hear more about the importance of mentoring from Kobie Fuller, Valence advisor James Lowry, and John Legend — yes, THE John Legend — in this video from the 2020 Upfront Summit.
So things were going well for Valence in 2020, amazingly even in a pandemic. And then in May the world was galvanized by the tragic murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Rayshard Brooks. And the many Black women and men before them whose lives were taken at the hands of the police.)
In these months, not only did we see widespread civic protests but so many industries, including ours, faced a reckoning that despite even the best intentions, lip service wasn’t enough. We all needed to take action to address the imbalance of access, and to literally put our money where our mouths are. Suddenly a spotlight was put on everything that the Valence team had been building, and there was even more energy around the business.
I always say that you can judge a startup’s future based on how fast they’re able to execute when it counts. Well, I can tell you that within weeks of the civil unrest, Valence had:
- Introduced the Valence Funding Network, where GPs from more than 30 of the top venture funds representing more than $60B in assets under management joined Valence with the goal of linking Black entrepreneurs on the platform directly to venture decision makers.
- Increased membership by more than 20%
- Hired a CEO, Guy Primus, who was previously the CEO of The Virtual Reality Company as well as the COO of Overbrook Entertainment. He’s been a leader at the intersection of media and tech for many years and we’re grateful to partner with him.
- Announced their Series A funding round, which Upfront participated in and which was led by Hans Tung from GGV. Hans has been a great peer and collaborator on other portfolio boards and we’re excited for him to join Valence at this pivotal time. We have worked closely with GGV for years and they were a natural fit for helping to build a network like this given their investment in Chief (for women) and The Mighty (which helps families with people facing health challenges).
Since day one we have anticipated great things for Valence and with this groundswell of support at the civic level as well as the industry level, we hope to see meaningful improvements in access and dollars for Black professionals. Please join me in congratulating Guy, Kobie and the team for what they’ve built so far, and what’s to come.