Vani Rao is a partner at Mastersfund where the all-women team has invested in tech startups for 10+ years. The team’s success includes four exits and $475 million in generated revenue from connecting and attracting well-versed partners, experienced entrepreneurs, and investors.
Vani started her career working on the trading floor at derivatives desks. In her customer-facing role, she worked with smaller businesses all the way up to corporations. That’s where she honed the art of connecting audiences for impactful investments. Today, in her role as a partner at Mastersfund, she uses her market experience to infuse capital into companies owned by female founders as part of her goal to tackle the gender-based funding gap.
On Feb. 8, Vani hosted pitch practice and office for Founders Network members. As part of the events, she’ll provide insights that help early-stage startup founders land their pitch, discover their funding niche, and grow their strategic network.
To learn more about landing your pitch, see if you qualify for membership to join Founders Network.
Building a Market For Women
Vani is a seasoned finance expert who is motivated by numbers. In 2018, she sought a way to combine her expertise and passion for investing with the booming tech scene in Seattle. During this time, she worked on investment models at Lighter Capital that used AI credit modeling to identify successful investment and lending opportunities for SaaS companies.
The role fueled her passion for finding the sweet spot where high-impact market prospects and funding demands meet.
As part of this process, she became connected with Mastersfund. There, she was drawn to one often overlooked – and statistically backed – marker of success: women in leadership. Once her role at Lighter Capital provided an opportunity, Vani made a move to join the Mastersfund team to focus on the untapped potential of funding female founders.
“I joined Mastersfund to support the fund’s intention of trying to reach more women. We’re trying to attack the funding gap. When only two percent of female CEOs receive venture capital – that’s crazy,” says Vani.
The numbers paint a powerful picture. Venture capital funding has increased in the past several years. However, women founders are often left off the table. According to a 2021 study, companies founded by women garnered only 2.4 percent of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups across the United States.
“Women have a 39 percent failure rate,” says Vani. “When you’re talking about an industry that quotes anything from – you know – 75 to 90 percent, it’s remarkable. That’s a market opportunity. And when I think venture capital, first of all, the return opportunity is great.”
As part of her mission to diversify where capital gets prioritized, Vani also works with companies that have a commitment to diversifying the gender balance of their teams. Where investment interests match with companies that lack gender diversity, Vani offers a simple solution for companies who are committed to elevating women. “We may be able to fund you if you diversify your strategic leadership,” she says.
Find Your Way To ‘Yes’
Vani looks to support female founders and growth-stage companies with advice and capital to catapult their businesses to success. To this end, Vani has a clear piece of advice for leaders when they get in front of venture capital firms. Don’t give the person across the table a reason to say no.
“When you go into a venture capital firm, whether you’re talking to a partner or even somebody at the associate or analyst level, you’re talking to people that see lots of companies all the time. The automatic or the easiest response is always going to be no,” says Vani.
Before approaching any conversation on capital, it is essential to think about how you present your strengths to make sure that you are not quickly giving an investor an up-front reason to say no.
In order to avoid this common mistake, Vani recommends making sure that you’ve done your research on the firm. This should include understanding its niche, and identifying bridges between your offering and its portfolio. For example, if you’re based in the U.K. and the VC fund only invests in the U.S. – be sure to beat them to the solution for how you fit into their market. Quickly illustrate the pathway to your shared vision, move the obstacles out of the way, and continue back on the track of shared alignment.
Vani also suggests practicing and sharpening your quick pitch.
“Do your homework. And then, know how to leverage your ‘quick notes’. This is essential, because the higher up you go, the less time you’ll have to get it right,” she shares.
What To Expect At Pitch Practice
Vani is focused on exploring the area where business expertise and opportunities overlap. In her work with female founders through Mastersfund, she brings both money and mentorship to entrepreneurs in her portfolio.
“When I talk to an entrepreneur, I may not be able to fund their business. But it’s important for me to be able to know where I might be able to connect them to something in a conversation. I have the opportunity to meet executives at different companies and I also pass on those types of introductions. It’s important that I keep an open mind and think about the investor relationship as not just financial, but one where we each invest in one another,” she says.
As a partner at Mastersfund, Vani provides insights that help early-stage startup founders land their pitch. She also helps them discover their funding niche, and sharpen their strategic network. Today, Mastersfund has eight companies in its portfolio. The majority have quickly ventured on to successfully raise additional rounds of capital.
To learn more about how you can benefit from pitch practice and office hours from leaders like Vani, see if you qualify for membership.