Rewiring for Equality

Modern technology has advanced at a dizzying rate. But the workforce behind it has essentially looked the same for decades. What’s more, the sector is rife with stories of unfair and inappropriate behavior towards the relatively few women who work in it. While there has been a collective acknowledgement of the unequal representation of women in the VC and tech ecosystem, top-down initiatives to change the status quo have largely fallen short.

That’s why a group of female venture capitalists launched a unified and concerted effort to overhaul the ecosystem from within the power structure. Together, they formed All Raise, a nonprofit to connect women with resources, mentorship, and a community to help them excel in the VC and tech world. Launched in 2018, All Raise is now a community of more than 20,000 founders, funders and operators across four major U.S. metropolitan tech hubs, and has partnered with dozens of VC firms. The organization recently raised $11 million in new funding from supporters like Reid Hoffman and Melinda Gates, and have launched a new program called Board Xcelerate to help more women join the boards of private, high-velocity technology companies.

“We’re built on three core principles: One is to rewire the industry from the inside, the second is to reshape culture, and the third is to become a force for change for years to come,” said All Raise CEO Pam Kostka. “We want to make sure that there’s a dynamic where women are powerful VCs, amazing entrepreneurs, prominently figured on boards, and prominently figured as senior operators. That’s really rebuilding a new flywheel for the Valley and the tech ecosystem.”

Pam sat down with Greylock marketing partner and All Raise advisory board member Elisa Schreiber on the latest episode of Greymatter to discuss. You can listen to the podcast here:

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Elisa Schreiber:  In 2017. A group of prominent female venture capitalists were fed up with stories of discrimination and harassment of women in Silicon Valley. So together they formed a nonprofit called all raised to focus on women’s equality in the VC and tech startup ecosystem. Since then, All Raise has built an engaged community of more than 20,000 people across four U.S. tech hubs, including the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, New York and Boston. Today we’re joined by Pam Kostka, the CEO of All Raise. Thank you so much for being with us on the pod, Pam.

Pam Kostka: Hi, and thanks so much for having me.

ES: Excited to chat with you. In recent weeks, All Raise has made some news: you’ve launched a new program to help more women get on boards of private, high-velocity tech companies, and you’ve announced that you’ve raised more than $11 million in funding. So we’re going to talk about all this.

We’ll talk about the impact All Raise has already made and so much more, but before we get started on all that, I would love to just give our listeners a short introduction, so do you mind sharing a little bit about your background – which as I understand it is somewhat non-traditional for the CEO of a nonprofit organization.

PK: Yeah, it is a little bit different. It’s no different from most stories in tech, but different for a nonprofit CEO. So I came to Silicon Valley in 1995 in a product manager capacity for an enterprise software company. I was a startup junkie from day one and continued to be throughout my entire career; starting in product management, kind of growing up into the CMO, C- suite, expanding into some sales experience, and ultimately into the CEO chair for enterprise software startups. And I don’t think I ever had a vision of what my next chapter would be that would involve non-profit, but I met All Raise and that all changed for me.

It really was not necessarily what I was looking for, but I was kind of looking for what the next chapter in my career was going to be, and so I was super passionate about doing something that was mission aligned and deeply important to me. And it always kept on popping up on my screen. I’d been watching it for some time in the news ever since it had launched, and I really thought this is something that’s deeply meaningful to me as a woman in tech, I’ve had my own share of experiences of how difficult my journey was. And when I met people at All Raise, I would have an interaction with someone, I kept on thinking every time how my life would have been so much easier if I could have just plugged into this community. And it was deeply important to me as well, because I have a young daughter. She’s 11 years old. She has her own kind of entrepreneurial business herself: she has a business called Bravelets. It was really a chance for her to practice being brave every day by producing bracelets, basically. But I loved her entrepreneurial spirit and I loved the lessons that she was learning from it. And I wanted her to have the option of a different experience as an entrepreneur going forward. And so it spoke to me personally – based on my own experience, it spoke to me about her experience – and I just met All Raise and felt also like it was a startup. It was less about being a nonprofit and really running itself like a startup (which spoke to that startup junkie in me), and I was thrilled to really join something that was going to challenge me, in all honesty. It’s no small feat and there are no small ambitions at All Raise to kind of change an industry and rewire it from the inside. So all of that spoke to me and brought me to the CEO chair.

ES: So you’re here. We’re so grateful, by the way, to have you on board as the CEO. You’ve talked a lot about what drew you to All Raise, but it might be helpful to just give folks an understanding about what it is. What is the mission? What are we focused on? What kind of work is the organization doing every day?

PK: Our mission is unchanged from the start: to accelerate the success of women founders and funders to create a more prosperous and equitable future. It was launched in the #MeToo moment within Silicon Valley (kind of the era of Susan Fowler and Justin Caldbeck). It was really a grassroots initiative and a call to arms from Aileen Lee at Cowboy Ventures, who sent out an email in the wake of all of this froth that was happening in Silicon Valley. She said, “Now is the time for change,” and [she started] reaching out to her peers in the industry – some of whom she knew really well, and some of whom she knew less well – and kind of just corralling this forest together. And from that All Raise was born and continues to this day to really be an organization with a bias towards action and a bias towards change. And so our ambitions are great. We really want to move the dial for the representation of women in venture, the representation of women as entrepreneurs, and the representation of women as senior operators within tech and taking a really inclusive approach to building.

ES: What do you mean by inclusive? Can you expand on that?

PK: Yeah, so we want to be both women for women, and we want to make sure that that’s inclusive, as the name suggests, the “All” in All Raise means all women. So historically underrepresented women, Black entrepreneurs and VCs, Latinx entrepreneurs and VCs, non-binary individuals. We want to make sure that all have the same access to opportunity to succeed in the tech ecosystem as their male counterparts. And so we want to make sure that we are being radically inclusive and building this, not just for women, but for all women in the industry.

ES: Is there a place for men in All Raise?

PK: Absolutely. So from day one, we recognize the importance of male allies. This is about power and where the power infrastructure sits today. Women have power but men have more power, just statistically speaking, in terms of the numbers. If we look at the representation of the number of women in venture, only 12% of women are at what we call the check writer level. And 68% of firms still don’t have a single female partner at that level within their organization. And the amount of funding going to female entrepreneurs is really low – 11% overall for women. And if you get to look at Black or Latinx women, those numbers are in the single digits or fractions of a percentage point, not even a single digit. So we really have a lot of work to do. We are going to make this change by women helping women, but also men getting involved – our male allies getting involved, sharing their power and using their power to enact change within the industry.

ES: Let’s talk a little bit about enacting that change. As I understand it, you have a set of core priorities that you’re really focused on at All Raise. Do you mind sharing those with us?

PK: Yeah. We have three core priorities to drive our mission forward. One is to rewire the industry from the inside. The second is to reshape culture, and the third is to become a force for change for years to come. And I’d love to break those down.

So when we really talk about rewiring the industry from the inside, we want to make sure that there’s a dynamic where women can be featured prominently in the power structure of Silicon Valley and the tech ecosystem. So we want to make sure that they are powerful VCs, amazing entrepreneurs, prominently figured on boards, prominently figured as senior operators, and that’s really rebuilding a new flywheel for the Valley. Because right now it looks a lot like white men funding, empowering more white men, and that leads to a certain wealth generation and wealth creation vehicle. And we’re looking to seed a new flywheel that brings that changes that dynamic and ultimately gets to diversifying the cap table in the industry. We want more wealth creation to be shared across women and underrepresented minorities.

The second thing we want to do is to reshape culture. We want to move diversity, equity, and inclusion beyond just being a checkmark functionality and really get that into being synonymous with success, so that it’s talked about in the boardroom with the same intensity and the same level of strategy and execution as say, talking about the sales pipeline and talking about all the financial metrics for the organization. And we want to celebrate women non-binary founders – not as great, “female” CEOs and great entrepreneurs and great female venture capitalists, but just as great CEOs, great investors, great operators. And so in order to do that, we really needed to normalize who people are and that’s through activity where women are figured prominently. That’s through the activation of our community.

And then the third one is the force for change for years to come. This is a problem that’s hundreds of years in the making. And while we ultimately hope to put ourselves out of business by creating a more equitable and diverse ecosystem, it’s going to take us a couple of years to get there. And so we really want to make sure that we are forced for years to come; that we have the power and the infrastructure in our community and our finances and in our processes and systems to make sure that we can be drivers of this change, and take hundreds of years that took us here and make that into tens of years in order to get us to a new direction.

ES: As you’re describing the priorities, I couldn’t help but think how many other organizations and other people have tried to crack this nut and have tried to improve diversity and tech along gender lines and along racial lines. From your perspective, what differentiates the approach at All Raise? How do you think about what’s unique in the approach you’re taking on (as you described), a problem that’s hundreds of years in the making? It sometimes can seem impossible. You hear the stats that you talked about in the beginning of this podcast where it’s still very, very low for women check writers and women entrepreneurs who are getting funded. And then you layer on the intersectional aspect of it and it’s even worse. So how do you think about All Raise’s approach, and why is it different?

PK: First of all, we are a product of the industry in that we call ourselves a “startup nonprofit.” We take all the actions of being a startup (and what it takes to be a startup) and how to approach problems, and use that and apply that to this issue. So, startups like to do impossible things. So we are here to do an impossible – or what seems to be an impossible – thing.

The way that we do that is, one, taking an inclusive and intersectional approach. We talked about this earlier, not only in the market that we serve, but really looking across the ecosystem and all the players in the ecosystem, and marshaling those individuals and all those stakeholders.

The second thing that we do is we really have a bias towards action. We are not comfortable with the status quo. We want to move fast. We want to move aggressively. We are impatient for change. And our bias towards action really leads us to move aggressively and to leverage resources in order to make change. We aren’t going to be satisfied with incrementalism. We want massive leaps forward as an organization. And part of the way that we do that is through the community that we have amassed around us. We have this very large community of powerful stakeholders acting at our table. This is people from our investor [group]: people like Reid Hoffman at Greylock, people like Melinda Gates at Pivotal Ventures, and many other firms throughout the Valley. All are contributing not only time, but also expertise, and in some cases dollars as well to our cause to make a change. And we want to make sure that these power brokers are enacting change and kind of creating a network effect if you will, within the industry.

I love this concept that somebody said to me once: this is like a horror movie, when the call is coming from inside the house. These are the power brokers inside the house who are enacting the change; who are rebuilding this industry big brick by brick and kind of blowing it up to be something different. And I think it is the wave of the future. It’s where we’re going. Those are the things that I think drive us as an organization and empower us as an organization to take on the impossible and make rapid change and progress forward.

ES: What do you think some of the misconceptions are? I’ll throw one out there: I hear it often times – and I want to tear my hair out every time I hear it – about the pipeline problem, as an example. What are some of the misconceptions about why there is this lack of diversity across tech, and specifically in venture capital?

PK: Yeah. The persistent pipeline myth. That’s out there, and we’re here to blow that one up in particular. It’s really a network access issue at the end of the day. And it’s perpetuated by looking around the industry and who’s the room. And when we do that, actually, we realize the statistical improbability of what has been created in tech right now – it is statistically improbable that we would have so few women. I mean, women account for 50% of the population. So it is improbable that we would have so few seats in venture. It’s improbable that we would not get this funding. So, something is at work here and it is really a network access problem. We talk about this and work assiduously in all of our programs to blow up this concept. This isn’t a pipeline problem. There are lots of qualified women who are working in tech. There are lots of qualified Black women working in tech. There are lots of qualified Latinx women in tech, and people just don’t know them and our networks have a tendency to be closed. And so one of the things we do is try to blow that up and say, this is about network access, access to opportunity, access to people, access to capital. It’s one of the core foundations of what we’re trying to blow up for the industry and to erase this pipeline myth that simply doesn’t exist. The analogy that I’ve always found most helpful when you are thinking about going to find people: if you’re looking for fish, why are you fishing in the middle of a forest? This woman gave me this analogy. Once she’s like, “If you’re fishing in the forest, you’re not going to catch any fish. You need to walk yourself over to the lake. And the lake is full of fish. You will feed yourself and you will be able to fish in quantity. But if you’re standing in a forest, you’re not going to find the fish.” And so this is about moving yourself from the forest to the lake and getting access to the fish.

ES: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the programming that you’ve built, and some of the things that are in place at All Raise to help hack this network gap, as you described it? What are the things that we’re doing to open up network access and create that connective tissue between the folks that are in the seats of power and the folks that deserve to be there – but maybe aren’t yet?

PK: Yeah, so there’s three areas that we’re focusing on. We call it the funder, founder, operator, three legs of the stool. And so and all of our programs really take an approach that is primarily led by access. As we were just talking about, we want access to opportunity, access to people and networking resources, access to capital. We also look at guidance and support as the three ways that we facilitate. And we’ve historically started with starting catalyzing a lot of fires (experimenting like any startup would) with where the programs have the most impact. And we’ve now isolated down into a series of programs that are in high demand.

So when we look at the founder side, we’re really trying to engage entrepreneurs to be able to build the most amazing companies that they can. And what are the resources that we can give them – n terms of access to capital and introductions in terms of the tips and tricks that they need – the inside track of knowledge to build an amazing company at any stage, and the community support to go after that. And so we have a series of boot camps that we run and there are so many amazing stories from this, but one of the ones that I love is Tiffany Dufu at The Cru. We actually met at an unrelated All Raise event in New York City. She came up to me and said, “’ve been told, I should talk to you because I am starting my own company, and I need some access to funding.” So we got talking, she joined our bootcamp, and Tiffany today has raised well over a million dollars for The Cru and is on her way to building an amazing business. And we continue to support Tiffany, not just in her seed funding, but as she now goes to raise her [Series] A and beyond, we’re continuing to support her in her efforts. Our goal is to pick her up from the start of her entrepreneurial career and see her through a successful exit, adding what we call rocket fuel. She is an amazing entrepreneur in and of herself. We’re just giving her extra power to get around the obstacles that the industry has set up in front of her.

When we look at our funder programs for investors, we’re doing something similar and we’re really trying to supercharge their networks, advance their careers, and amplify deal flow. We have a series of different programs that do that from exposing them to, “Hey, here are new job opportunities that are coming up in venture. If you want to start in venture, or whether you already have a job in venture.” We are also pulling together different types of cohort mentoring models. We also have this large event at the end of the year called the VC Summit, which is our largest convening of women in venture.

An example of what we can achieve on the funder sides: Jess Lee at Sequoia, who can say that three deals that she has led the investment on at Sequoia Capital have come as a result of introductions deal flow, networking that she’s done through the All Raise network. So she has an advanced notice and kind of ability to get plugged into new opportunities through All Raise. And that’s exactly what we want to do — facilitate those network connections. Our programs for operators are new and one of them is called Board Xcelerate. We’re really trying to focus at least initially on board diversity and making sure that women can take independent board director positions within organizations.

ES: So can you describe Board Xcelerate? I know you’ve just announced this program, so I’d love to know a little bit about how it’s structured, who’s involved, and then how a lot of the folks that listen to this podcast are venture capitalists or founders themselves. So is there a way for them to plug in to this program?

PK: There are a lot of different board programs out there that have been focused on diversity. We really honed in on the VC and PE-backed, privately-held ecosystem of companies. And the genesis from Xcelerate actually came from a dinner party that Aileen Lee hosted back in the summer of 2019. And we were really interested in just exploring what opportunities existed. I happened to be sitting next to Jeff Richards at GGV Capital. He said that board diversity was a passion of his and said, “I’ve got so many open portfolio companies with open independent board positions within portfolio companies at GGV Capital.” Then we opened it up to the table and found that there were 300 open independent board positions in that room alone. Obviously that sparked my interest, because that sounds like a hole that needs to get filled.

There weren’t that many people in venture there – I think there were10 people – but that’s the magnitude of the problem. There are three hundred open positions just in that room. And so if we look across the venture ecosystem, there’s a lot of opportunity for us to take action and fill the diversity in that room. And when you look at the statistics for private company boards, they don’t look much better than the statistics that we talked about earlier. So 60% of private companies don’t have a single female board member, and only 7% of the private board seats are held by women. Most of whom are an only independent board seat — the only one on the board – so, pretty stark numbers when you come to that. So it seemed like an opportunity for us to come in and define a program.

So we took a very programmatic approach and Board Xcelerate was born from that. It is a 90-day program that taps into the venture capital portfolio companies and the CEOs at them to identify who has a need, then we put a very tight program around it. One of the things we do is leverage the All Raise network and community of amazing female operators and people in venture to surface the best names of individuals who could fit a particular board need. So within the first 30 days of an Xcelerate engagement, we have identified the five finalist candidates for CEO, and then we spend about 60 days and a white-glove search process marshaling through that process, with the intent of within 90 days closing the board search, diversifying the board, and putting a female, non-binary or underrepresented individual into that particular board seat.

It’s a great experience for the CEOs. It’s a very efficient process. Typically, these processes can take nine-plus months. We take 90 days for them, and they showcase the company as well. It’s a very tight process and they get access to the best talent, because it’s becoming very competitive for landing women and underrepresented individuals for board seats. By running a 90 day process, we are so competitive. We get and secure the talent faster than anybody else can.

Our goal at All Raise is obviously to just create that diversity in the boardroom. And we know that if we diversify the boardroom, we will get diversity in the investment pool. We will get diversity in the companies as well. So, it’s an opportunity for us – getting back to that flywheel – and reconfiguring that flywheel that’s going in Silicon Valley and in the tech ecosystem.

ES: Can you share any stories from Xcelerate at this point, or are some of the searches still confidential?

PK: We can share several successes. We’ve completed five board searches and five board placements. Three of those are experienced board members, but two of them are brand new board members, people who got their first shot at taking a board seat. We’ve closed board searches for Handshake, Workboard, Contentful, Electric AI, and Influx Data. We spent a lot of time in pilot mode perfecting this program that I described through partnership with GGV Capital, Sequoia, Sapphire Ventures, and 343 were the primary partners that we worked with in that process. And what I’m happy to say is that as we are approaching this launch, we’ve been starting to open out a little bit more and pull back the covers. We’ve already signed five new searches in January, and we have a very broad pipeline of additional searches that are ready to sign. So we’re starting to see already this network effect happen as a result of the five placements that we’ve gotten in the industry so far.

ES: Is there a place where we can direct board-ready or board-experienced women if they want to be a part of the database?

PK: Yes. We call it a talent network because we want to make sure that we’re not just having a database of women.

ES: You don’t want binders full of women?

PK: Ha, if you want to be part of our talent network, absolutely come to our website, click on the operator menu, and you’ll have a chance to upload your board profile with us. And we’ll continue and follow up with you from there. If you’re a CEO that wants to see the benefits of diversity – because we know diverse boards result in out-performance for a company – if your CEO wants to take advantage of that and plug into this program, you can also go to that same location and contact us there. Likewise, if you’re a venture capitalist and want your portfolio companies to be able to take advantage of this program, you can also contact us through our website.

ES: It sounds like you have dozens of programs helping, as you called it, the three legs of the stool – the funders, the founders, and the operators. And I know you’ve been surveying thousands of these people. Is it working? How are you measuring success? How will you know when you’ve arrived?

PK: We’ll know we’ve arrived when visually it’s very apparent to us. When we’ll be able to all walk into a room and there’ll be no ambiguity about whether we’ve solved this problem, because we’ll look around the room, and as a woman or a Black woman or LatinX woman or a non-binary individual, you’ll be able to walk in a room and you can see the diversity in the room. And so we’ll know from that, but we also obviously are data-driven. We’re going back to our startup ethos; we are very data-driven and data-centric.

At the highest level, we have two metrics that we track to keep ourselves and the industry focused on making change. So one is the number of check writers that are in the industry. And we really look at that as the number of women who have the ability to make an independent investment and sit on a board. When we started All Raise, that number was at 9%, it’s grown to 12%, our goal is by 2028, we should be at 18%. And then we also look at the percentage of funding going to female founders. Here, we are trying to move the number from 11% now to 23% by 2030. And thanks to the time of Covid, unfortunately, these numbers slipped last year. There was a decided backslide on the percentage of founders and the percentage of venture dollars invested going to female founders. And so we have more work to do in this area. But we do look at the number of women served. The good and the bad news is that demand continues to outstrip our ability to serve everybody in the industry. So that’s something we’re working on today, and why we’ve recently done some fundraising is to unlock our ability to serve the market. Last year alone, we served over 2,000 investors, 1,700 founders went through and are raising seed and Series A bootcamps. And over 2,500 women also participated in digital programs we have. So we’re just getting started, is what I like to say. And we’re going to keep on driving forward, aggressively in the industry.

ES: You mentioned your fundraise, and I was actually just about to ask about that. Obviously you do need capital to run these programs and to continue to grow. I know you’ve mentioned you’ve already announced the initial tranche of your fundraise – the $11 million – and you have this capital campaign going. I’m super proud that Greylock is a contributor. I know Reid Hoffman personally partnered, and here’s a bunch of others (you mentioned Melinda Gates and Pivotal). Who else has invested in All Raise, and how can people help if they want to support?

PK: Yeah. so it all gets back again to the same thing, where we like to rewire the industry from the inside. We talked about this community of stakeholders that we have as a key differentiator for All Raise. It is that community of power brokers, people who are in the industry funding and investing not only their money, but their time and their energy and enacting change for us. So we have a host of venture firms and individuals. I won’t be able to manage a hundred percent of them here. But certainly, as you said Reid and Greylock have made generous donations, Sequoia, IVP, GGV Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Bain Capital, and of course, a significant portion of the always community leaders, such as Aileen Lee, Kirsten Green, and Jenny Lefcourt all have made contributions. And I think it’s important for me to underscore that these are contributions not only of their dollars, but of their time, their energy, their power to enact change and to bring others to the table and to share their power in order to create space and opportunity for those who are coming up in the industry as either funders or founders.

PK: We also have founding national partners like Silicon Valley Bank and Pivotal Ventures, as well as a host of other key banks and service providers in the tech ecosystem who are also really passionate about helping us drive this change forward. We feel honored that we are activating all of these lights within and across the industry and pulling them together in a common purpose and in a focused purpose to lend their energy and effort to making a change. We’re just thrilled to have everybody here helping us drive forward. It really does speak to our ability to build lasting change, not only today, but over time.

ES: This was so fantastic. Pam. I’m so glad that we got a chance to have this conversation. I’m wondering, is there anything that we missed that you want to make sure that we talk about?

PK: I guess the one thing I would say is this: we talked a lot about the power brokers, but it’s every person in tech who gets to make a change. It’s every one of us who can step forward and lend their power and influence and create opportunity for somebody else being diverse and inclusive. Championing diversity, equity, and inclusion is something that just takes focus and energy. And if you focus your time and energy, change will happen and it’s from the micro to the macro. So I just would say you don’t have to be a power broker necessarily to be at the All Raise table. We welcome everybody to our tent to get engaged and help us enact the change. And it is as much the the micro changes that we make as some of the macro changes that we’re driving, that’s going to make a difference.

ES: That’s fantastic. And you’ll be sure to let us know when Bravelet is doing its Series A?

PK: Absolutely. Greylock’s going to be the first door she knocks on.

ES: Thanks again, Pam. It is just a delight having you on the pod. And I’m just really grateful for your time and for sharing the story of All Raise.

PK: Thanks for having me.

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