Responding to a popular request, we are now sharing transcripts of our investor podcast interviews in this new series. The following interview with Miriam Rivera was recorded in October 2018.
Miriam Rivera, Partner at Ulu Ventures, a firm committed to diversity as its core investment philosophy.
Sramana Mitra: In order to introduce you to our audience, I think the first place we would like to start is to explain Ulu Ventures and your background. Tell us about your investing focus. How big is the fund? What kind of investments do you like to make? Let’s get to know one another?
Miriam Rivera: I started Ulu Ventures about 10 years ago. I’m one of the co-founders. I did this after I had been at Google where I was a very early employee and helped to grow the company from about 160 employees to about 1,500 employees and contractors by the time I left. I worked on a lot of our early partnership deals that generated the lion’s share of the revenue as well as our advertising partnerships, which were responsible for billions of dollars of revenue.
I started Ulu Ventures, in part, because I share a lot of your mission in terms of wanting to democratize access to venture capital in the US. In our country, we have so much talent that’s coming from so many different parts of the world. Oftentimes, they’re not getting access to venture capital. In particular, women only get about 2% of the venture capital dollars even though women have exceeded men in terms of educational attainment in this country.
They are certainly under-represented relative to their participation in the tech sector. The same is true for under-represented minorities in this country and even immigrants who are probably over-represented in the tech sector as a percentage of the population. At Ulu, we use a very quantitative process to help make our decisions around investments. The basic idea is, we’re going to treat everyone the same. What typically happens is that the criteria tend to change depending on who’s the person being addressed as an entrepreneur.
We want to try to avoid having a cognitive bias in our process so that we really can access talent from wherever it comes. As a result, we really have a much more diverse set of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley than what our industry has. A third of our entrepreneurs are women, which is more representative of their participation in the tech sector. The same kinds of numbers are coming out for groups like under-represented minorities who might make up about 10% of the sector. That’s what we’re seeing.
We don’t have an explicit quota or number that we’re trying to reach, but we tend to get a diverse base that is representative of what we’re seeing in the tech sector by applying a more quantitative and objective process. Ulu Ventures is a seed-stage firm. We focus on early-stage investments. We’re often the first dollars into companies. We typically invest about $500,000 in the companies. Our fund two is a $66 million fund and we’re about half invested at this point.