Roxanne Varza is the highly successful director of Station F, the world’s biggest startup community, a scout for Sequoia Capital, and now the founder of Gold Diggers, a female-only investment syndicate.
In this interview, Roxanne spoke to Roundtable about evolving from a WhatsApp group to a syndicate of top women investors via Gold Diggers, and why women should reconsider the stereotypical ideas of what it means to be an investor.
Roundtable: How did Gold Diggers come about?
Roxanne Varza: It started as a WhatsApp group of about five female angels, just to share deal flow and discuss deals. We realized that more and more companies want to diversify their cap tables but they don’t know where to find female angels, and we found that a lot of female angels like backing projects together – angel investing is pretty social. Little by little, people were recommending others and asking to join our group. Now, everyone is sharing deals and wants to do deals together, so it was natural that we would create this community on Roundtable.
Bringing more women on board
R: What do you hope for in terms of opening your syndicate up on Roundtable?
Roxanne: Well, up until now, we were a WhatsApp group. Our networks know us but we’re not particularly visible – people have more likely heard about us under the radar. So, this is our coming out, if you like! Also, we’re hoping that by doing this we can make the group more accessible to other women. Essentially, we’re doing this to encourage more people to get more women on the cap table and get more women to invest. We think Roundtable is a great platform to do that.
R: Given that Station F also aims to build and empower companies, why is there a need to launch Gold Diggers?
Roxanne: Station F only started investing in the last year, and we only invest in the very few top companies, through the Future 40 initiative. It’s a very specific funnel and very specific deals.
Gold Diggers is totally different. We try to work with founders who are very conscious about gender equality when building a company, and who want to get more women around the table from the early days. I think every company that wants to become a leader in the future will need to do this. Gold Diggers is compatible and complementary to what we’re doing at Station F – it doesn’t compete with it nor replace it.
Gold Diggers is really about the gender piece, which is crucial today, and making sure that people are well-represented in the company from the get-go. But I think we’re bringing some incredible women beyond the gender piece. Our community has some of the best women investors in the French ecosystem, and beyond.
Who can apply to Gold Diggers?
R: Who are you looking for to join Gold Diggers?
Roxanne: We’re looking for women who are pretty active in the ecosystem already, so maybe working in a startup, founding a startup, or have done some investing before. We’re also looking for people to have a minimum threshold of activity in the coming year, so they can commit to doing a minimum number of deals. All of those details are on our Roundtable page too.
Sourcing deals and deal flow
R: How will you source deals?
Roxanne: A lot of people in this group have excellent access to deal flow. Quite a few are active investors or former founders, so we’re planning on a lot of the network to help us access deals. People are looking to have more women on the cap table, so that will drive more gender-friendly deals our way.
R: How will you manage the syndicate deal flow around your Station F and Sequoia activity?
Roxanne: I won’t be able to share all the deal flow that I get via Sequoia, as some of it may not be relevant. As an investor I don’t try to push Station F companies; that doesn’t mean I won’t share them with the rest of the group, but I won’t be a decision-maker for those companies. That’s how I think we’ll manage potential conflicts in the group: whenever somebody has a conflict, they should declare it and not be the decision-maker on that.
Women investors' unique perspectives
R: What do you think makes women investors unique and why do you think there are relatively few women investors?
Roxanne: Especially in this community we’ve created, I’ve noticed a lot of the women are very sensitive to mission and impact-driven businesses. They don’t just want to invest in anything. They’re looking for teams where there is already a woman founder, or other women in the cap table – they don’t want to be in an overly macho environment.
In terms of the projects, I see a lot of women who ask, does this business make a genuine difference in our world? It’s not just about whether it’s a good business and has good metrics. It has to matter.
As to why are there fewer women as investors, it probably comes down to salary differences in terms of what kind of capital they can play with.
And we need to challenge the idea of what it means to be an investor!
People think you need tons of capital, you need to be writing big cheques, frequently.
That isn’t always the case. People can be a lot more opportunistic. I’ve recently seen that founders are willing to lower the minimum cheque size for women. I think women need to know about this.
So, hopefully, this platform with Roundtable will simplify a lot of that, bring good deals to people, allow them to commit and contribute, and do it alongside other people who they think are credible. I think this will benefit founders and the women who want to do this!