Female enterprise capitalist Brianne Kimmel says enterprise investing requires a certain mindset.
“The perfect VCs are deeply paranoid, and all the time looking for what’s next or what we missed. A big a part of what we do is research,” Kimmel said.
For Kimmel, who launched Los Angeles-based Worklife Ventures in late 2019 and has since raised two funds totaling $45 million with high-profile backers Marc Andreessen and Zoom Video Communications CEO Eric Yuan, much of that research focuses on the changing work/life balance within the U.S., hardly the workaholic syndrome of earlier tech booms. And the trouble got here before Covid led to an excellent greater societal reckoning with the character of the standard workplace.
“A lot of my first investments were for distant teams and helping founders to construct the tools to do business from home and have a more flexible lifestyle,” said Kimmel, who’s 34. “This began as a passion project as an angel investor. I used to be talking about distant work before the pandemic began,” she said.
Scaling up small businesses for freelancers, entrepreneurs and creators to work remotely and productively, and make connections well beyond the traditional office setting, Kimmel’s Worklife Ventures has invested in 50 startups. Nine of them have been valued over $1 billion, including virtual events platform Hopin, website builder Webflow, and audio-based social app Clubhouse.
Constructing upon her network of connections honed from running a startup initiative for business software company Zendesk, the VC firm makes about 20 latest investments every year, within the range of $1 million to $2 million. “We now have a group of firms which can be about changing work. Kids today would somewhat be YouTubers than astronauts,” Kimmel said.
Whilst workplaces reopen, more staff are selecting to remain at home where they might be productive and balance jobs with their personal life, in keeping with a recent survey by Pew Research Center of nearly 6,000 adults. About half would start on the lookout for a latest job in the event that they needed to return to the office full-time, a Worklife Ventures survey of 575 employees at technology firms moreover found.
Distant work should proceed to be a significant component within the labor market, but sustaining momentum — and valuations — from the pandemic bounce while facing a troublesome economic climate may very well be difficult for Kimmel, who ran Worklife Ventures solo for 2 years. She recently let go of two managers and of their place hired former Zendesk colleague Linda Lin to work with founders on go-to-market strategies, including revenue operations, growth & monetization, and scaling. Clubhouse and Hopin raised large funding at billion-dollar-plus valuations, but these once red-hot newcomers have since cut their staff amid slowdowns.
In a letter to her investors covering the associated fee cuts, Kimmel said reduced marketing spend was a function of the macro climate and the VC firm “can be spending the following two quarters constructing deep, robust playbooks for founders.”
Worklife Ventures holds weekly meetings for its portfolio company founders to hunt advice from successful Silicon Valley operators.
All this can be a good distance from Kimmel’s upbringing in Youngstown, Ohio, in a working-class family of immigrants from Ukraine who labored within the town’s steel and auto-making industry. Like Youngstown, which is transitioning from rust industries to tech-led businesses, she found latest horizons within the digital world. After graduating with a journalism degree from Kent State University and anxious to maneuver away, she landed in Sydney and spent five years working at an ad agency. Moving back to the U.S., she got a job in San Francisco at Expedia handling social media functions for 3 years, taught classes at entrepreneurial education organization General Assembly for 4 years, and broke through when she rebranded her coursework into its own entity, SaaS School, a biannual workshop for entrepreneurs to learn from fast-growing software firms. Her concept for Worklife Ventures developed at Zendesk, heading its startup programs and constructing out a base of accelerators, incubators and VC firms.
Kimmel, whose boyfriend is actor Jimmy Yang, is a super-connector. She has a network of 30,000 skilled friends and colleagues, and 80,000 followers on Twitter. She recently opened Worklife Studios in LA’s trendy Silver Lake area to carry events and salons for techies, artists and creators — and as a method of differentiating her approach from the standard office, in addition to the VC dinners more traditionally utilized in industry networking.
It was almost natural for her to start out angel investing, however the spark got here after reading the book “Startupland” by Zendesk CEO and co-founder Mikkel Svane about his experiences constructing an organization. She wrote small checks of $1,000 to $5,000 in startups at their starting, and helped founders to access heavyweight investors the likes of Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund to scale up their small businesses. At an organization event, she met VC Christoph Janz, an angel investor in Zendesk and a managing partner at Berlin-based VC firm Point Nine Capital. Kimmel pitched him on her idea for a fund focused on reimagining work for individual achievement, investing in tools equivalent to podcasting, influencer adoption campaigns and community platforms to assist freelancers and creatives be self-starters and pursue careers of their making. Janz invested in Kimmel’s first fund in 2019.
“She is intellectually curious and focused on latest tech, and in addition has a capability to construct relationships with founders, and she or he works hard,” said Janz. “She has managed to speculate in some great firms, and has a very good pulse on the longer term of distant and hybrid work and the necessity for contemporary tools for people to collaborate, and that has hugely accelerated. She had good insight from the get-go in 2019, which has grow to be more true.”
Kimmel was the primary investor in Heylo, formed in 2019 by two ex-Googlers Eric Winters and Brandon Pearcy as a platform for community group leaders to administer memberships, payments and events planning for social activities, collecting a commission on dues. The San Francisco-anchored startup has grown to 1,000 communities and attracted $1.5 million in enterprise financing, led by Precursor Ventures.
“We met through a friend and investor, and it was like we could finish one another’s sentences,” said Winters. “Brianne lives and breathes what this space is all about. We now have a shared vision of what the longer term will appear like.”
Kimmel also invested early in San Francisco-based Deel, an employee-management upstart launched in 2019. Began by technology accelerator YCombinator graduate Shuo Wang, Deel provides far-flung firms with human resource functions equivalent to payroll and worker advantages on an outsourced basis. Deel chalked up $100 million in revenue inside a 20-month period ending March 2022, is growing by 12 percent month over month, and counts 10,000 client firms in 160 countries, in keeping with Wang. Deel has raised greater than $680 million since its start, and its valuation rose to $5.5 billion in October 2021 with Andreessen Horowitz and Coatue Management in tow.
“She reached out to us once we were early stage. She is super pro in regards to the way forward for work and distant work,” said Wang. “She could be very involved with helping us recruit people and constructing connections with other firms.”
Kimmel also tapped one other startup with outsourced services, Pietra, and invested early. Based in Latest York, Pietra offers founders a fast path to launch, with custom-designed products from factories, e-commerce sites and connections to suppliers.
“We got here out of beta last November and have grown 100 times and helped 50,000 creators to scale up,” said Pietra CEO Ronak Trivedi, a former product manager at Uber. Pietra raised $5 million in 2019 led by Andreessen Horowitz, followed by $15 million in August 2021, with Founders Fund within the lead at a $75 million valuation.
“The world is quickly shifting to owning your personal business and owning your future,” he said. “Being in Brianne’s network has helped to grow our business. It’s hard for investors to construct value in firms they spend money on, but she embodies the thing that she desires to help with. She works hard to get in on one of the best deals and she or he has this thesis on distant work, and side hustles. That is the following generation of younger entrepreneurs, they usually have the tools to have multiple revenue streams.”
Multiple founders she has invested in say Kimmel pursues the investment deals aggressively. Trivedi mentioned that she flew to NYC to have dinner with him and pitch him on taking an investment from her.
“As a small VC, there are a handful of how to construct relationships. You have got to have a watch out for people and for brand spanking new tools,” Kimmel said. But even along with her persistence, Kimmel hasn’t been capable of get in on every deal she sees as a part of the longer term of labor. Merge, a business startup to integrate HR and accounting data, which raised $4.5 million in a seed round in 2021 led by NEA, and which she missed out on, “was No. 1 on my list,” Kimmel said.
Worklife Ventures is betting on good returns from its 50 investments in startups, and with nine of them as unicorns, the stakes are high. Along with Clubhouse, Hopin, Webflow and Deel, the billion dollar-plus valuation list includes smart home fitness trainer Tonal, alternative finance option Pipe, investing platform Public.com, video streamer software Mux, and Stytch, a password-less authentication solution.
“Startups that quickly rise to unicorn status often struggle to justify their valuations after which it might be difficult to boost successive funding. In the event that they get an enormous injection of capital and spend that capital properly, great. But when not, it might result in premature scaling, an enormous burn rate,” Janz said. “They must learn to crawl before they will walk. It is rather dangerous. That’s the downside.”
The track record of Worklife Ventures depends largely on whether its portfolio firms can scale up smartly, achieve profitability, get acquired or go public. Kimmel said she intends to boost one other fund, but this plan hinges on her initial performance. With enterprise funds typically having a 10-year life cycle before investment returns are tallied, Worklife Ventures still has a ways to go.
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