Tell us more about your current ventures. What is it that you do? What do you invest in?
We invest in people! Specifically, we look at ventures which are in their seed stage, and we support them financially but most importantly we work together to build a successful company. We live in the most innovative country in the world, so it is not a surprise that most of our companies are based in Switzerland.
We look at technologies that can disrupt or improve certain industries, processes or have an impact in the future of our world. We don’t look at specific sectors, in this respect we are more generalist, but we don’t invest in biotech.
How did it start?
After studying economics, I spent over 15 years in banking where I managed both private and institutional clients. I always thought I would start my own company and the time came in 2011 when I founded my first company Privilège Management. The main driver behind this decision was to focus on clients and their needs rather than procedures and bureaucracy.
Very soon I started to ask myself: what is the key differentiating element which would drive a client decision to choose us among the many professionals available. With this in mind, I started to think a bit more in detail about what type of investments were offered to clients in our sector. What was missing for wealthy clients, but not necessarily very big ones, was the access to private capital markets. I then started to dig into it and tried to figure out where we could develop an expertise, which opportunities were available and how all this would have fit in our clients’ portfolios.
So, I started to have conversations with clients to assess their interest in investing their assets in a way that would have a real, direct impact on the economy and, as such, directly foster the creation of wealth and jobs. To my surprise, the reaction of clients was more positive than expected. This led to the start of our venture capital activity where I then co-founded Privilège Ventures, which is a Swiss Venture Capital firm committed to provide access to this opportunity not only to private clients but to institutional as well. This has become my main activity now.
What triggered you to leave banking and start Privilège Management?
Despite the experience and skills I acquired during my years in banking I reached a moment where I had lost my sense of purpose for what I was doing. I felt my work was not having an impact anymore and I didn’t feel satisfied at the end of my day. By creating Privilège Management I wanted to bring back the human element by placing the client at the centre while creating an engaged team of people that shared my vision. The same continues to be true for Privilège Ventures where we now have 30 companies in our portfolio with amazing entrepreneurs.
What was it like at the start? Was it a little scary? Did it require some courage?
Becoming an entrepreneur is not a walk in the park, and I believe entrepreneurs often underestimate the challenges they will be facing. Even though I come from a family of entrepreneurs, it took courage to give up the “security” you get by working for a company. Initially I had some sleepless nights, (ask any entrepreneurs and they will tell you), and from time to time I questioned my decision. But I was very determined to succeed, and I worked very hard to make it happen.
I did learn a lot from my own mistakes, and I grew as a person and as an entrepreneur. All this would have not been possible though without the continued support received by my family and the trust of my colleagues and mentors. They all contributed to what we have now.
What drives you?
I am a curious person and I have always subscribed to the notion that learning is a never-ending process.
Over the years I met amazing and successful people with whom I have engaged and from whom I learned tremendously. Since I’ve started my activity in venture capital, I met visionary people who were working on things that will impact our future. I’m learning, each and every single day, and despite my long working days I would never change what I’m currently doing. The spirit of building together is what really drives me each morning when I wake up.
Who has shaped who you are?
Many people in my life contributed to the person I am today. But one person who had and has a real impact on me is my mom. She is a real role model for me. Her life has been challenging in many ways since she was very little. Nothing came to her easily and she had to face many difficulties. Despite this she has been able to develop a very positive attitude toward life. Always very humble, helpful, and available to everyone. She is really able to leave a mark in the lives of the people she meets, while never expecting something from others. I couldn’t be more grateful and lucky for such a mom.
What is your view on failure?
When I was younger, I was afraid to fail. I have always been very ambitious and tried to push my goals at the extreme. By doing so you set yourself in a position where failing is just part of the game. With time I learned that only by trying, and sometimes failing, you can really reach the extra mile. Now it’s part of my process to look at improving and I see failures just as a learning path to success.
Don’t be afraid because if you don’t try, you will never know that you can do it.
Can you share some highlights in your career so far?
My career developed in a very male-oriented sector, even more so when I started. But I was able to find my space and earn respect by delivering.
Certainly, founding my own company has been my biggest professional success so far: just having the courage to make the move, I think, is already an achievement. I strongly encourage everyone who wants to do it to give it a try, knowing it will often be a very lonely journey but an incomparable experience (even in the case of failure).
What makes you invest in a particular startup?
The people. This is what ultimately drives me to the final decision. Of course, this will need to be paired with a relevant idea and the existence of a market allowing the potential for scalability. But if the people do not convince me, the deal will just not happen. For me it is key to share the same vision, principles and values to even get started on the conversation. Finally, on top of everything there must be mutual respect and trust.
Is there a certain personality/type you are attracted to when meeting Founders?
I need to see the fire in their eyes: conviction and determination. There isn’t a magical formula on a winning team but certainly some criteria I like to see. Ideally, I look for complementary team members who have different backgrounds, experiences, personalities, culture and in general the more diverse the better. This will increase the probability for them to succeed.
Venture capital, especially seed stage, is not a science but rather an art. That’s why it requires a lot of time, experience and commitment. I’m also looking for humble founders who are ready to listen and grow. Arrogant people will not have traction with me.
Do you know what is the percentage of men versus women founders in the start-ups you’ve met?
We are currently working on collecting some data on the 30 companies we have in our portfolio and in general on all the companies we meet. But I can certainly say that we still have a predominance of men, though I’m glad to see that we are picking up and there are increasingly more founding teams that include women.
Why do you think that is the case? Are men just more willing to take risks?
Statistically men are more self-confident than women and therefore tend to take more risks. Women want to be prepared and understand better the risk they are taking and often they underestimate themselves. To this you must add the fact that scientific studies are still dominated by men, even though here as well we are seeing more female students.
In addition, by the age of 26 or 27, women start planning to have children. Since being an entrepreneur involves many risks, women of child-bearing age tend to be more hesitant to take the leap.
To this you must add that female entrepreneurs get financed less than their male counterparts. Unfortunately, most venture capital firms are run by white men. I believe I’m the only female who started a VC firm in Switzerland while others joined existing teams who often are now pushed to add females on their teams as a request from their own investors. Studies showed a clear preference by venture capitalists to invest in men as they relate, even unconsciously, to them. That’s just how it is.
Now there are a lot of discussions around gender diversity. I strongly support this but I’m not driving my investment decision because of a female entrepreneur. I need to see the quality above all.
Do you ever see yourself being treated differently because you’re a woman in a leadership position?
Overall, not really; but when I look back to my early years in my career, I realize that females were occupying only assistant or secretarial roles. I was meant to become a relationship manager in the team, and they were all men, so it was not always easy to fit in and I was often excluded from the inner circle. Personally, I have always been a competitive person. This caused the additional problem of not being fully accepted by the other females either.
There is also an attached stigma that after a certain age, women should stay home and be a stay-at-home-mom. I thought to myself that of course I would be on maternity leave for a few months when the day came, but I’ve never doubted that I would go back to work. I was determined to manage both roles as a mother and a working woman,and every woman in the world should be given this choice.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
My only advice would be to live your life with purpose. If you can do so you will be fulfilled and in peace with yourself and the world. To this add kindness and a smile, which always helps, and it’s free. 🙂