Nick Beim

Thoughts on the Economics of Innovation

Are Venture Capitalists Biased Against Female Entrepreneurs?

In her article Taking a Hammer to the Silicon Ceiling, Amanda Bennett hits on a real problem in the venture industry where spoken and unspoken biases have a significant impact: it is harder for women to raise money than it is for men. However hopeful one’s outlook, this is an uncomfortable and inescapable truth that the industry should acknowledge.

What’s the reason for it? I’ve been in the venture business for 14 years, and rarely, but sometimes, I’ve seen it come from unabashed bias about women’s ability to do as good a job as men. Generally this relates to the subject of women already having or potentially having children. I’ve heard people remark: “Wouldn’t that be a big distraction for the company, and how could they possibly be as productive as men in those circumstances?” This particular kind of bias is rarely expressed in a public manner but certainly affects the thinking of some. The good news is that as younger generations of investors assume more prominent roles in the industry, I think it will substantially diminish.

More often, I’ve seen the challenges female entrepreneurs face in raising money result from a bias that is rooted in the primary way venture capitalists make decisions, which is through pattern recognition. In a private conversation, a successful west coast venture capitalist expressed the issue to a friend of mine in a backward-looking empirical fashion that was an attempt to be unbiased: “look at the numbers – most successful startups are started by men in their 20’s and 30’s; the number of successful startups founded by women is much smaller.” Yes, but most startups in any historical timeframe were started by men in their 20’s and 30’s. This doesn’t speak to the likelihood of women succeeding, particularly since a significantly larger number of women are starting companies today than in the past.

Social scientists call this logical flaw selecting on your dependent variable: determining that A is a principal cause of B by looking only at cases of B. Used as the primary lens for evaluating new investment opportunities in venture capital, it creates all sorts of intellectual distortions and is the principal reason most venture capitalists are late to promising new trends and only jump on board when there is a significant pattern of success. I think this is the cause of the biggest challenge that female entrepreneurs face in raising money. Most venture capitalists have not internalized the success of female entrepreneurs to a sufficient degree to have it influence their intuitive pattern recognition, partly due to what they perceive as a lack of a large enough n and partly no doubt due to the fact that they have not worked with female entrepreneurs directly. It was also the cause of challenges that entrepreneurs faced in raising money in a variety of pioneering new fields, from personal computers to the internet to digital animation. Success by entrepreneurs in these fields was not yet a large enough historical pattern to influence investors’ thinking.

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A Very Cool Thing I Learned About My Dad

Every so often a family member does something significant that makes you really proud. That happened to me this week when I learned about the full details of the role my Dad played in trying to prevent regulatory failure by the New York Federal Reserve in a pretty astonishing story that was uncovered by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jake Bernstein at ProPublica and This American Life and covered subsequently by Michael Lewis on Bloomberg and by the Washington Post.

The story involves a former employee of the New York Federal Reserve named Carmen Segarra who was fired for refusing to back down from her conclusion that Goldman Sachs fell short of regulatory requirements for dealing with certain conflicts of interest. Sensing that she was working in an overly deferential regulatory system that would reject her conclusions, she secretly recorded meetings that supported her case.

The most notable smoking gun quotes were from a Goldman employee who said that “once clients are wealthy enough, certain consumer laws don’t apply to them” and from a fellow Fed regulator who responded to Segarra’s surprise at this statement by saying “you didn’t hear that.”

The background for this story is that in 2009, the head of the New York Federal Reserve asked my father, David Beim, a Professor at Columbia Business School, to write an internal report on how the Fed could have missed all the incredibly risky behavior at investment banks that helped cause the 2008 financial crisis.

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A Debate about the Future of NY Tech

HotTopics recently hosted an interesting debate moderated by Jeff Glueck about the future of the NY tech scene that I participated in along with Kevin Ryan, Dennis Crowley, Jessica Lawrence, Alfred Lin and Bob Goodman.

Here are the highlights. Some of the big questions we hit were:

-How is the NY technology ecosystem different than Silicon Valley?
-What are NY’s key strengths and challenges?
-Where does NY tech go from here?
-Does NY favor startups that focus on making money over big-swing platforms that defer their focus on revenue?
-In this inning of information technology, what kinds of industries are disrupted by insiders vs. outsiders?

I wish we had had more time to discuss this last question, as it is a very interesting one worth a debate or series of blog posts in its own right.


A Discussion With Some of New York’s Most Successful Repeat Entrepreneurs

Some of the most helpful advice in building startups comes from entrepreneurs who have been there and done it successfully multiple times. To try to find and highlight the best advice of this kind, we recently hosted a panel discussion with a group of New York’s top repeat entrepreneurs, including:

-Kevin Ryan: cofounder and Chairman of the Gilt Groupe, MongoDB, Business Insider, Zola
-Brian O’Kelley: founder and CEO of AppNexus, CTO of Right Media
-Fabrice Grinda: founder/cofounder of OLX, Zingy and Aucland

Together these entrepreneurs founded or cofounded 14 companies that are worth over $6.3 billion and currently employ over 3,000 people, which is a pretty astonishing statistic. They have also made over 150 angel investments in 10 continents across almost every technology sector.

It was a great discussion with a lot of wisdom on the subject of what matters most in building a successful company and key mistakes to avoid. We also had a chance to share some thoughts on the future of the New York technology scene.


The Rise and Future of the New York Startup Ecosystem

made_in_ny2Like many who have been active in the New York startup ecosystem over the past decade, I am optimistic about its future. The last 10 years have seen an increasing number of startup successes in New York — Shutterstock, Tumblr, AppNexus, Gilt Groupe, MongoDB, Etsy, Buddy Media, Warby Parker, Kickstarter, Gerson Lehrman, and OnDeck Capital to name some, with many others on the rise. Venture and angel funding are increasing, large internet companies including Google and Facebook are growing their New York offices, and Cornell and Technion are collaborating to build a large engineering campus on Roosevelt Island.

As optimistic as I am, it’s always useful to check one’s optimism with data. The data takes some work to pull together, and not all of it is public, but when one does pull it together, it paints a very promising picture, one showing that New York has been the fastest-growing technology startup ecosystem in the country over the past 10 years and now ranks second behind Silicon Valley in all key metrics.

These trends suggest strong continued momentum for New York, but if one really wants to get a good sense of where the ecosystem is going, it’s important to take a close look at the primary factors driving its growth.  Other technology startup ecosystems have had periods of rapid growth only to slow down substantially when the macro factors driving their growth dissipated.

A close examination of the macro factors driving New York’s growth suggests that the ecosystem is still in the early stages of its development and that its rapid growth will likely last for many years to come.

The Growth in Venture Financing
So how big, exactly, is New York’s technology startup ecosystem, and how quickly is it growing?  The best proxy for the size of a startup ecosystem is the total amount of venture capital invested in it.  Judged this metric, New York has been the fastest-growing technology startup ecosystem in the U.S. over the past 10 years and currently ranks #2 in the country behind Silicon Valley:

amount_invested

With $2.6 billion in venture capital invested in 2013, New York’s technology startup ecosystem is currently 87% larger than that of Massachusetts and 28% the size of Silicon Valley.