Abyah Wynn isn’t your typical venture capitalist. A 30-year old woman of color, she’s made a powerful mark in a field in which 92% of executive roles are held by men, 78% of whom are also white. Wynn is the Vice President of Business Development at Trimantium Capital and is the founder of the Twenty65 Fund. Read our conversation below to find out how she’s working to put money directly in the hands of female and minority founders…
Katie Couric: I think it’s so interesting how your career has evolved. Could you share with everyone how an unexpected email on LinkedIn help kickstart your career in venture capital?
Abyah Wynn: I was working at a small investment banking firm in L.A. when the Managing Director of a Melbourne-based VC fund called Trimantium Capital reached out. A mutual contact had recommended me for a position he was looking to create. Had I not received that email, I would not be where I am today, and I don’t think I would be in this industry. Venture capital is an industry with a lot of barriers to entry, and I’m very fortunate that my managing director saw potential in me and gave me the opportunity to thrive.
Katie: For those of us who might not know, could you explain what exactly venture capital is…
Abyah: Venture capital is, in my opinion, the most sophisticated form of gambling. A wealthy individual or investor gives a young company money in return for a stake in that company. The investment is made with an anticipation that the company has a high growth potential and will yield a sizable return.
Katie: And you say it has a lot to do with intuition…how so?
Abyah: Even though you’re investing in companies, at the end of the day you’re investing in the people behind those companies, especially with early stage investments. I do a lot of due diligence, but with the companies I’m investing in, it’s often too early to understand what their potential will be. It’s really about the people. If you can trust your gut and your intuition when you engage with the founder, I think that makes all the difference.
Katie: So what are you looking for as an investor? I thought it was interesting that you say an investment is like a marriage…
Abyah: I look at the founder. I look at the team they’ve built up around them. I consider whether they’ve put their company’s culture first, whether they’ve clearly articulated their vision and their mission, and whether they’ve made diversity a priority. In addition, our due diligence process is extensive. It’s really a mixture of assessing both the nuts and bolts of the company, and the founders themselves.
I use the metaphor that an investment is like a marriage, because it’s a legally binding contract that requires respect and trust on both sides. It’s an agreement that you will be bound by for the next five to seven plus years. You have to make sure it’s a good relationship for both parties involved. If not, dissolving that contract can be as messy as a divorce… or worse.
Katie: Less than 1% of black women receive funding for their startups. What do we need to do to change that extremely discouraging statistic?
Abyah: We need to be more intentional. As I’ve pointed out before, VCs need to work harder to go outside their comfort zones and beyond their personal networks when looking for startups to invest in. We also need more black female VCs who can relate to the founders pitching to them.
Katie: Why did you start the Twenty65 Fund? What is its mission?
Abyah: The Twenty65 Fund’s mission is to democratize access to capital for underrepresented founders. We started the fund because we felt there was a lack of female and minority representation in the tech industry. The numbers have shown that these founders know how to build businesses and execute them, and yet they still have a difficult time raising capital. However, just because they have a hard time raising capital doesn’t mean their companies are any less worthy of that capital. We think it’s a really great business opportunity, and the social impact component is a rewarding bonus.
Katie: You’re incredibly successful, but it hasn’t always been an easy road and you’ve acknowledged that you’ve thought about giving up several times. What’s kept you going?
Abyah: Several things have kept me going. One is my family; they’re extremely supportive. They’ve sacrificed a lot for me to get to where I am. They’re always cheering me on, and I owe it to them to be as successful as possible. I’m also held up by my faith. It helps me persevere. I’ve been given an opportunity that so many people would kill for, and I just feel a responsibility to rise to the occasion and help support and raise up others.
Katie: Tell us more about that feeling of responsibility to carve a path for others…what would make you feel like real progress has been made?
Abyah: I feel a responsibility, but it’s not a responsibility that’s daunting. It’s a unique opportunity. I’m excited for the day when I can look around the room and see that it’s not just me and one other person who looks like me, but a whole room filled with people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and genders.
Katie: You have a long career ahead of you. What’s on your professional must-do list?Abyah: Honestly, I am fully focused on the Twenty65 Fund, which only recently launched. We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great deals in the pipeline and I’m looking forward to growing our portfolio.
Looking ahead, though, I would love to pour some of the knowledge that I’ve gained in this industry back into those who are coming up behind me. I’d also like to teach or lecture at some point.
Katie: Do you ever think about the road not taken? If not venture capital, what would you be doing?
Abyah: I’m very passionate about impact and philanthropic causes. A few years ago, one of my best friends introduced me to a book called Doing Good Better by William MacAskill. If I weren’t in venture capital, I would have started a nonprofit with my friend, which was centered around effective altruism.
Katie: What’s the best piece of life advice you’ve ever received?
Abyah: My mom has always said “quitting is not an option.” She never said, “failure is not an option,” because my parents weren’t concerned about failure, but they refused to let me quit.
Katie: Wise words from your parents! Thanks so much, Abyah!