Written by Melissa Moore, cofounder of Seneca VC
On the eve of Juneteenth, I’m looking back to reflect on 2020, and jeez, what a terrible year it’s been. From the initial coronavirus lockdown across the world, to over 30M Americans losing their jobs, to the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery (and countless others) that have escalated the Black Lives Matter movement — it’s been a rough year.
As a Filipina-American immigrant, I’ve often felt powerless and angry at the injustice that Black and Brown people face everyday. Yet I know that I also have great privilege and a small platform to be able to create the change I want to see in the world.
When I think about my North Star and the guiding principles to the projects I work on, to the people I want to support, and the community I want to build — it comes down to EQUITY. Equity for women and underrepresented people in tech, in venture, and in the world. This is why I started Seneca.
Each day we’re making progress, but there’s still a long road ahead. This is a peek into what this year has been like for me. TLDR; WTF 2020.
I’ve often said that building a venture firm is very similar to building a startup. Like many startup founders, our business was turned upside down and brought to a screeching halt in early March 2020. To pretend that it’s still “business as usual” or to say we’re “open for business” is a disservice to our community — and frankly, a lie.
The last three months have been hard, to say the least. Entrepreneurs are already used to uncertainty, but entering this world of COVID-19 has made “uncertainty” an understatement.
There have been so many times in the last few months that I’ve wanted to write to you — to open up a google doc and start to explain, to rationalize, to even just say hello. But you didn’t hear from me through our usual newsletters or on social media because, like many of you, our team was grappling with how to deal with a pandemic, taking care of our physical & mental health, and adjusting to home life with our families 24/7.
Our Fundraising Story Pre-COVID
In mid-February, we were well on our way to our first close of our micro fund when COVID-19 hit the US. I had spent weeks meeting with some amazing angels and allies who believed in our mission and were eager to be part of the Seneca journey. We had just announced our 2020 Founders + Funders conference, and had lined up a stellar cast of investors who were excited to join us. The year was off to a great start!
A few days later, the stock market crashed by 35%. And the following week, we heard from two key LPs (limited partners) that they were not going to be able to come into our round because their cash was tied up.
We immediately knew that the impending health and financial crisis was going to be a huge problem for us, and we called an emergency partner all-hands. For a full week, my partners and I discussed what-ifs and made contingency plans. We had to decide whether it was feasible to run for the first close in the next 3 weeks or if we needed to push our internal deadline. Then in early March, shelter-in-place was announced in San Francisco, and we knew that this was the big red flag waving for us to stop.
So What Went Wrong?
One of the reasons I started Seneca two years ago was because of my frustration with the status quo. I never thought of myself as an activist or a feminist before, but being part of communities like Women 2.0 and Elpha sparked a burning desire to create a more equitable world for women and underrepresented founders. I knew that we couldn’t change just one side of the equation, but we needed more diverse investors with check-writing power as well. I was fortunate to reconnect with a handful of like-minded people (my cofounders), and we started on a Slack channel what would become Seneca VC.
So what went wrong? The truth is, like many women, my team and I at Seneca were overprepared. We practiced, prepared, and researched -- never quite feeling that our pitch was ready enough for us to hit the pavement and start our fundraising full-time. We spent a good part of 2019 building out our investment thesis, honing our pitch deck, building relationships with potential LPs, and nurturing a fantastic community of founders and investors. We invested so much time “getting ready”, that by the time we were in execution mode, it was a couple months too late and we found ourselves hitting a wall when COVID-19 started escalating. Talk about bad luck in timing.
What I wish we had done differently? Speed of execution. In startupland, time is a founder’s most valuable resource. Every day is one day closer to running out of time, money, and lifeline for a startup. If our whole team had gone full speed and doubled down on our fundraising in the early fall of 2019, I honestly believed we would have been able to do our first close one month earlier, and we’d be deploying capital now to the brilliant and promising founders we believe in. Timing is everything.
Like most of the world, we’re in limbo. We’re in a waiting game to see what the world will be like when businesses start to reopen, when a vaccine will finally be created making it safe again to connect with people in real life, and what the tech economy and new industries will look like post-COVID19.
Despite these challenges, I’m proud of everything we accomplished in the past year: we made small investments in four amazing startups (Strattic, Elpha, The Coven, and FYI), hosted two conferences in San Francisco and New York bringing together 450 diverse founders and funders, and ran two cohorts of Seneca Advance, a Lean Startup training program for underrepresented founders.
During this transition period, I remain committed to supporting you, our community, with time, energy, and access to a network of mission-aligned founders and investors.
I’ve been working with partners behind the scenes to convert our offerings to digital -- to provide you with meaningful connections and low cost resources during this time of need.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue to share stories about what it’s like to be an emerging investor in this COVID-19 world, some passion projects I’m working on, and hopefully, provide some ways we can continue to be of service to you.
If you have any feedback, tips, or advice for going through this time, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to just hit reply.