You’ve got to play your hand to win. That’s Sonia Nagar’s approach to investing.
Sonia started her career in the Advanced Engineering Group at General Motors. An innately ambitious person, she had goals beyond engineering. “All of these leaders at GM had MBAs, and I really liked the idea of being a CEO, so I went to Harvard to get my MBA.”
Post-graduation, she landed at Amazon as a Product Manager in the Clothing & Accessories category, and then relocated to New York -- precipitating a leap to founding her first start-up, Pickie, a mobile shopping app. This was her first experience raising money, working with venture capitalists and experiencing the investment process start to finish.
Another move, this time to Chicago, led to her current role as Partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital. “I thought I was going to start another company. I was meeting with venture capitalists to get to know them before I asked them for money. In the process, I was introduced to the Pritzker Group and they asked me: had I ever thought about being on the other side of the table?”
Current job: Partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital
Currently located: Chicago, Illinois
Education: Harvard Business School, MBA. University of Michigan, BSE, Mechanical Engineering
The first check Sonia wrote was for a million dollars, to a New York-based company called Wander Beauty. “Some of the best advice I got was to find the five or six smartest people you know, and make sure you’re there when they decide to found something,” she recalls. For Sonia, Divya Gugnani – co-founder and CEO of Wander Beauty, and innovator and trendsetter in the online beauty space – was one of these people.
“I met Divya when I was in New York, and she gave me great advice when my company [Pickie] was going through an acquisition process. I reconnected with her, and there was an opportunity to invest.”
“It was a great confidence builder. Because Divya is a serial founder, we got in early and the company has grown something like fivefold since we invested. So it’s been a really great investment.”
An early investment in a company that didn’t work out was an important lesson Sonia learned. “We knew the founder very well," she says. "It was a really good idea, but in the end the team didn’t have a unique advantage in building this company. It was more of an academic exercise for them, like a good case study.”
What was missing from the scenario was the passion. Even if a founder has a really smart idea, if it’s just about the money, inevitably, things are harder. “They weren’t close enough to the customer to evolve the product to where it needed to go in order to win.”
For Sonia, missing passion is a huge red flag. “I see the same idea getting pitched by multiple founders. And so the questions I have to ask myself are: what is this team’s unique advantage? what makes them the best people to go build this better than the other five people that are going to pitch me on this idea in the next month? There should be a deep level of customer insight.”
Sonia’s investments are focused in retail, direct-to-consumer technology or services, product companies, and marketplaces. She believes there are definitely benefits to focusing on specific markets. ”It's good to be known for something. The best deals are going to be competitive, and if you have a focus area, you’re more valuable to the founder.”
For women investors, “The odds are against you in so many ways," she says. "For women, societally, culturally, we're not used to failing so much. Or losing money so much.“
1. Be aggressive, place the bid, and take swings to win.
2. Connect with other angels.
3. Talk about how you can add value as an investor.
4. Figure out deal flow and sourcing.
5. Write direct checks and build relationships with founders.
More women investors means more women get funded, and more wealth gets created. (See how Female Funders is supporting this cycle through our Angel Academy program here.) “It’s a virtuous cycle. It helps close the funding gap. I'd say right now 95% of angel investors I run into are male. Half the population doesn’t have access to wealth creation opportunities, and that's not good.”
“I’m interested in services and product categories for underserved communities. Up until now, everything I've invested in has been the exception and not the rule. I want to continue investing in ‘exceptions’. Exceptional people. Where I walk away from meetings saying ‘Wow, this person is on to something and I think they could be really big.”
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