Everyone has heard the phrase “smartest guys in the room,” but it’s very likely the cumulative IQ in the room would be higher if not everyone was a guy. Diane Yoo is a rare female, and even rarer Asian female, success story in the brutally competitive world of venture capital. The former Miss Asia USA 2008 winner (international beauty pageants are at least as competitive as venture capital) is an accredited investor who has invested in 35+ companies with a focus on diverse founders.
The list of Diane’s achievements is long and stellar. She is in the 1% of Asian-American female founders who are also a partner, and has founded angel networks, venture funds, and investment networks. She works extensively with more than 700 global companies.
Her next project is the toughest she has taken on yet. Diane Yoo is determined to level the playing field for talented women who are all but shutout from tech fundraising. She is co-founder of Global She Ventures, an accelerator in partnership with Rice University to catalyze global women entrepreneurs. Diane is also co-founder to a national media platform, Identity Unveiled, which highlights trailblazing Asian American women who have broken barriers and become firsts in their industry. Diane serves as an investment partner to several Silicon Valley funds, including the largest women’s fund and the first fem-tech fund in the nation.
Grit Daily: We were last in touch late last year. What have you been working on since then?
Diane Yoo: Since our last talk, I’ve been focused on pushing the envelope forward for Asian American female entrepreneurs and executives. I’ve secured numerous IPO candidates where diversity for board members and executives is ripe for women.
Since then I’ve founded the first IPO accelerator in partnership with Korea Investment Corporation (KIC). KIC is a sovereign wealth fund established by the government of South Korea. Their goal is “to enhance sovereign wealth and contribute to the development of the domestic financial industry.” Our program has secured several companies with market valuation of $600 million-$1 billion.
Grit Daily: From your perspective as an experienced and successful VC, why is it that female founders have such a hard time securing funding? After all, we are led to believe these decisions are data-driven.
Diane Yoo: While there may still be a gender bias towards investing, women founders still receive scrutiny such as, “Can she really close her raise (of millions) but more so, does she have the executive leadership and track record or ability to truly run a billion-dollar company?” There are so many highly qualified women who need opportunity and access to board seats to powerfully represent their voices.
Grit Daily: Are female founders scrutinized more than male founders? And since I presume they are, what should they anticipate and how can they prepare for that?
Diane Yoo: The scrutiny is sadly there. Countless women receive endless questions to affirm if their credibility stands. Female founders have proven to have higher returns, be extremely successful as founders and CEOs, and outperform their male colleagues, yet they still remain highly underrepresented.
I’ve seen countless women apologize or feel that they are not enough. That needs to stop. Women should be as unabashed as their counter colleagues and never back down or feel as if they are “not enough” due to internal excuses. I’ve seen women focus on leadership education materials or classes, when really, they need to go out into the field powerfully, even when they don’t feel like it.
Grit Daily: If female founders in general have a harder time successfully pitching VCs, how much harder is it for minority female founders?
Diane Yoo: Minority female founders have more difficulty overall, as there is not only a gender- but also an ethnic-biased lens. Less than 2% of people of color have successfully secured venture money in a trillion dollar industry.
Don’t shy away from how credible you truly are. Nor justify any anxiety in the lens of comparison. All that needs to go, and women and minorities should stay close to a community that supports their ambitions and go out powerfully.
Grit Daily: Entrepreneurs are fixated on networking, which really suggests that who you know is at least as important for successful fundraising the pitch itself. What’s your networking advice to female founders, and how is it different from what you would y tell male founders?
Diane Yoo: Networking is crucial, and it’s absolutely crucial that the founder understands her or his own networks. I see many “connectors” who actually lack the ability to harness the power of their network, and they absolutely are not able to reap from their own curated backyard. VCs look to invest not only in the company, but more so in the founder and their success and DNA.
Grit Daily: I know from our previous Q&A that you are passionate about seeing women succeed in business. What are you doing to help them?
Diane Yoo: I want to place more women in powerful positions. I’ve secured partnerships in efforts to work toward the advancement of diverse leaders through sourcing women, incubating talent through a leadership institute. I’m working with organizations to put more women in power, from board seats to publicly traded companies. I’m very passionate about empowering more women to be in powerful decision-making roles through my work with Wall Street in efforts to bring leaders together to help elevate the industry as a whole.