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Key insights for emerging and aspiring VCs
Senior Associate Gabby Cazeau on putting her engineering background to use at Harlem Capital, a diversity-oriented fund whose team is comprised of over 90% people of color.
Welcome to Invested, Supermaker’s series featuring uncensored takes from within the inner workings of America's prestigious venture capital firms. Invested is led by Leah Fessler, journalist, investor, and Head of Editorial at Chief.
Venture capital undoubtedly has a diversity problem. You could more accurately call it a diversity disaster. As of 2018, just one percent of VCs were Latinx, and three percent were black. “At an intersectional level, black and Latinx women make up zero percent of the venture capital industry,” reports Megan Rose Dickey for TechCrunch.
Harlem Capital directly defies these trends. Founded by Henri Pierre-Jacques and Jarrid Tingle—both of whom graduated from Harvard Business School in 2019 and are under age 30—Harlem Capital is a New York based, minority owned, early stage venture capital firm. In their words, Harlem Capital is “on a mission to change the face of entrepreneurship by investing in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years.”
Unlike nearly any other fund in America, over 90% of Harlem Capital’s team is comprised of people of color. And while the fund does not exclusively invest in any one demographic, they explicitly reserve capital for minority and women run businesses. To date, Harlem Capital has invested in over 14 companies across nine major industries, including Aunt Flow, a women’s hygiene startup, Paladin, a platform facilitating pro-bono legal work, and Moving Analytics, which is working to improve cardiac health and rehab. The fund has also struck formal partnerships with private equity giants such as TPG Capital and KKR & Co.
Beyond its partnership, Harlem Capital has hired some the most promising and accomplished rising stars in VC. Their team now includes eight non-partner investors, interns, and fellows, all of whom are women and/or people of color, representing a diverse array of industry and educational experience.
One of the fund’s first, and most experienced hires is Gabby Cazeau, who is presently working as a Senior Associate at Harlem Capital while finishing her MBA at the Yale School of Management. Prior to this role, Cazeau was both a Spring VC Intern and Venture Fellow at Harlem Capital. Prior to VC, she studied chemical engineering at Washington University, and rose through the ranks at General Mills as a process engineer.
Below, Supermaker interviews Cazeau on her journey to VC, why she chose to work at Harlem Capital, and how her engineering experience and education contribute to her perspective as an investor.
Name: Gabby Cazeau
Job Title: Senior Associate
Time at present job: 1.5 months part-time
BS Chemical Engineering - Washington University in St. Louis; MBA Yale School of Management - 2020
Program Manager Summer Intern at Microsoft; Harlem Capital Intern and Fellow; Product Development and Process Engineer at General Mills
A lot of people outside VC aren’t familiar how funds are structured, and why. What is your job title, and what does this mean, within the context of Harlem Capital?
I’m currently a Senior Associate at Harlem Capital working part-time while finishing my MBA. As a small team, we all work very closely together on many aspects of the firm, and that means that I take on a lot of different responsibilities.
As a member of the investment team, I’m directly involved with sourcing, diligence, and investments. I lead pipeline efforts across our accelerator and pre-seed fund networks. I also work on internal firm operations and support our portfolio companies. I love that every day looks different.
Harlem Capital is a true rising star among new venture funds, given it’s explicit commitment to backing founders of color, women, and non-binary founders. Why is this investing lens a strategic advantage, in your eyes?
In order to create robust solutions in our rapidly changing world, the businesses of tomorrow need to reflect the ideas, potential, and creativity of a more diverse set of people. We will only see those outcomes realized when we provide capital to founders that have historically been underfunded.
One of the defining features of our firm’s culture is a strong growth mindset and an attitude to continually push ourselves further. It’s an incredibly collaborative and supportive environment where we are willing to challenge each other to be our best. We are passionate about supporting and funding diverse founders and it shows in the energy and excitement we bring every day.
Prior to business school, you worked in enterprise product and as an engineer. What were the most important skills you learned in these operating roles, and how do they influence your work today?
In my previous roles, I worked primarily on designing and creating new products. The most important skill I learned is how to develop strong customer/end user empathy. Listening to users and identifying their needs, beyond what they actually say, is critical to building great products.
This skill has helped tremendously in my work at Harlem Capital. When evaluating a potential investment opportunity, it’s important to put myself in their customers shoes and understand the product from that lens. This helps to understand the company’s value proposition better and remove my own biases.
Engineering taught me how to critically think about problems and break them down into fundamental components, to then build a solution. When analyzing industries, it’s helpful for me to break them down to the key fundamentals that will dictate a company’s ability to thrive.
Many people assume that everyone in VC has a business school degree. That’s verifiably untrue. Why did you decide to go to business school, and how specifically has it impacted your journey into VC?
The journey of going to business school started because I recognized that as an engineer I didn’t have the full understanding of a product strategy or business needs. The business school evaluation process catalyzed my interest in VC and led to my internship at Harlem Capital.
On Twitter, you’ve emphasized this quote by Steve Jobs: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." How does this quote resonate in your personal and professional life?
It is a reminder that all of my experiences, good and bad, have shaped who I am. It’s encouragement to take risks, seize opportunities, and stretch myself. Every moment then becomes a chance to learn and grow, never knowing how that will impact me down the road.
A lot of people aspire to work in VC but have no clue how to get there. Being as specific as possible, what steps did you take to land this role at Harlem Capital?
My initial entry to Harlem Capital was through the internship program where I was part of the Spring 2018 intern class. Since I was going to business school in the fall and was interested in learning about tech and VC, I was looking for a pre-MBA internship where I could learn and get some practical experience. I learned about the internship through LinkedIn and friends at MLT (Management Leadership for Tomorrow). There were several rounds of interviews which led to me being selected as part of the Spring 2018 intern class. The last interview round included an industry analysis and pitch for an investment opportunity that fits Harlem Capital’s thesis. I relied on my background in product development during this phase of the interview process.
The journey from intern to fellow to senior associate is a reflection of growth and learning. I’ve always been passionate about the mission and my skills and operational perspective brings a unique combination to the team.
What’s your personal strategy for sourcing deals and sustaining a high-potential top of funnel for your dealflow?
I like to do a lot of active outreach, especially with founders that are a little early in their traction for our stage of funding. I end up taking a lot of meetings and calls with founders and connect with accelerator programs to learn about their cohorts. That helps me get to know the companies and teams so that we can come back a few months later, see how they’ve grown, and determine if it’s a good fit for investing.
When I bring deals to the partners, it’s most important to anticipate what they may ask. Proactively identifying the biggest concerns early on helps to move the deal along the due diligence process.
As a non-partner VC, working as a senior associate, what does your dynamic look like with the partners?
Our work environment is incredibly collaborative and we are often communicating on Slack about what we’re working on. Each partner has varying areas of focus and I’ll work with each of them on different deals, projects, or initiatives. It’s an iterative process where I connect with them at each step in the research and due diligence process.
You’ve personally sourced a number of investments for Harlem Capital. Which investment are you most excited by right now, and why?
While I didn’t source this, I’m really excited by our most recent public deal: ProSky. ProSky is an HR software company that enables companies to evaluate candidates and develop employees through succession pathways, so they can recruit, hire, and retain the best talent. Crystal Huang, the CEO and co-founder, has over 10 years of experience in HR and is well-versed in the challenges organizations face as they work to support employees holistically and efficiently. She and her team have built a robust platform that supports the whole organization, from Chief Human People Officers to recruiters, to better serve talented employees and meet their organization’s needs.
As a woman of color, when have you felt most empowered and encouraged? What are the top things men and non-straight white cis people in VC can do, in your experience, to bolster diversity and inclusion within the industry?
It’s so great to have a direct part in making an impact and increasing the amount of funding going to diverse founders. As a firm, we recently received over 550 applications for our upcoming internship program and it’s inspiring to see so many talented people excited to work in VC. The future of venture is bright as long as we continue to open opportunities for people to enter the industry.
I think one thing people can do is provide visibility and access to the VC industry to people from diverse backgrounds. I think an easy way is to take a cold intro or call with someone outside of their network. I’ve greatly appreciated when people have done that for me.
What industries or investment areas do you think will blow up most in the next five years?
I think we’re all becoming more aware of how our habits and purchasing behavior impacts our environment. Sustainable packaging is one area that I think will continue to expand over the next five years. It’s a space I’m continuing to learn about and am excited to see the businesses that emerge to serve this need.