She-VC“Getting more female partners is easy, getting to 50% equal women partners – that’s another story”
“Getting more female partners is easy, getting to 50% equal women partners – that’s another story”
Sarai Bronfeld, Principal at NFX, is young, bold and brave. Delivering on her advice for Israeli Chutzpah, she not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk
“If you are a young female investor you can be much more intimidating than you think, it makes you unpredictable, use that to your advantage. I found myself head to head with many investors twice my age and I was winning deals. I stepped up,” said Sarai Bronfeld, Principal at NFX. "I am lucky to be leading investments end to end, I did this even as an associate, it's not the fund’s policy and I didn't have the experience when I asked for it. I made sure to ask for it though. I also brought in my network, I have an age advantage and I use that."
Once she realized her passion was early-stage venture capital, Bronfeld decided to take a chance and sent a text message to the wife of Gigi Levy-Weiss, legendary investor and the founder of NFX, much to the dismay of her investor husband, Tom. “Gigi gets emails from top ivy league candidates every day willing to work for free, he is a superstar. I met Gigi and his wife at a ‘Beit HaShani’ donation event and I had his wife's number so I just texted her. I sent a message stating what I did and what I was looking for and in the end added that I think I am the energy bomb her husband needs on his team."
Gigi texted her back the next day offering his assistance. “He is known for being helpful which I find so impressive. He connected me to other VCs but I was adamant I want to work with him. Somehow I convinced him to take me. I think women need to be brave, there is nothing to lose. What was the worst that could have happened? He would have said no."
Bronfeld grew up in the south of Israel and served in the IDF's Unit 9900, which is responsible for gathering visual intelligence, including geographical data from satellites and aircraft. She would go on to enroll in medical school before realizing it was a mistake. “I did it for the wrong reasons so I didn’t finish. I wanted the prestige, but I wasn't passionate about the work."
Following her masters in Tel Aviv University, she joined several startups, eventually opening one of her own and meeting her husband in the process. It was through her husband and his assistance that she learned an important lesson regarding the industry. “I noticed people were smart and hardworking, but not out of the ordinary. I thought ‘if they can do it, so can I’. I am just as talented, I just need to want it." This thought eventually led her to NFX.
NFX was founded in 2017 and manages three funds of $150 million, $275 million and $450 million. It is the biggest pre-Seed and Seed only fund in the world. “The total team is half women and half men but we do need to do more regarding female founders. We are not where we want to be. However, that is an effort I am leading, I have a plan. We are going to have a fast track for women where offers come in and we have 9 days to invest. The fast track began during Covid and will now be aimed at female founders. Also, we will be hosting a competition in Israel in order to find the best female founders. It is one of the most important goals for NFX this year, we are investing $1 million in it, so this is not just for appearances."
Keeping up appearances when it comes to diversity bothers Bronfeld quite a bit. “A lot of VCs on-boarded a female GP recently with a lot of PR and excited announcements on social media just for appearances, or because it’s a requirement of their LPs. Unfortunately, new female partners will likely get less carry (%) than new male partners. What did we really solve here? At NFX we're still a relatively young fund and currently have only one woman GP on our team, but we’re one of the few VCs where all partners are equal. Dollar to dollar. It's the three founders of the fund and Morgan (Beller), who joined two years ago at the mere age of 28. Now that’s real equality."
Bronfeld is clearly passionate about the subject and believes that so much more has to be done. "Getting more female partners is easy, getting to 50% equal women partners – that’s another story. However, the real problem is the fact that there are so few female founders. We get thousands of applicants looking for an investment, but way less than 20% are companies with female founders. In my opinion, that’s the real issue. As we invest in less than 1% of what we see, we’re losing this war statistically.”
When asked what about her upbringing enabled her to send cheeky text messages, Bronfeld replied: “I grew up with a strong mother. She had her own business, was calling the shots, and is a badass, hardworking mom. Growing up with that pushed me and it is affecting me even now that I'm a mom and pregnant with my second baby. It is what is motivating me through the next ten years, years that are most crucial for my career and family. I know that once those years pass I will be that successful role model for my kids. I don't just want a career and a family, I also want to have fun and make my dreams come true."
Have you felt that being a woman has affected your career?
“Yes, on the positive side. I find I can use my feminine superpowers. I am not shy about it and I figure that in an industry that is unbalanced it is my prerogative. On the negative side, while VCs are too smart to show if they think less of you, every time I am the only woman in the room or I am head to head on a deal with investors twice my age, I need to come especially prepared. Otherwise I will never succeed. I will just be warming a seat."
What tip would you offer your fellow women?
Bronfeld came prepared and pulled out a piece of paper with her tips, making sure not to miss anything. “Be bold, be brave, be memorable and have that Israeli Chutzpah - that always helps. Know what you want and ask for it. I have a friend that joined a fund as an analyst. From the beginning of her career she wanted to be a partner. Even her password was her name and the word ‘partner’. You need to manifest it. Also, find your unique value and build your expertise. I try to find what I can do better than others. It's okay not to say a lot at the beginning but when you do, make it count. Finally, network."