10 Questions with VC Extraordinaire Heidi Roizen from DFJ

You don’t have to wade too far into Google to come upon a sea of fascinating Heidi Roizen articles, facts, and well, pure adoration. She’s done it all: kicked down walls in the tech world, mentored startup founders, sat on countless Boards, she teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford, and now she’s operating partner at DFJ. And, at the end of the day, she goes to bed knowing she’s conquered the world—without compromising her values. Now, that says something. She’s one of the good ones.

Heidi is speaking at Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference in San Francisco, June 20-22, along with more than 50 other speakers from all corners of tech. You should be there.

You’ve mentioned before that networking shouldn’t be an entrepreneur’s focus—that building relationships should be. What’s the difference, and how should entrepreneurs approach interactions differently, to keep relationships in mind?

The problem is networking has a very transactional feel to it, sort of like monkey bars. You’re always going from one to the next, to the next. The concept is to take a step back. Life is about meaningful work and meaningful relationships. As you travel through work and your career, you’re building relationships along the way. You may think, hey, these people are interested in the same things as I am, and they may be going through similar challenges. You’ll meet those you resonate with along the way. It’s about the building of relationships, and you may very well meet a lot of people you’ll know throughout the rest of your life.

Heidi Roizen

What are your words to live by?

I have a sign in my front yard. It says “Life is Good” and I see it every day as I drive up and drive away. There’s another saying I always come back to, as well: life is good, but if it’s not, change it until it is. You have to take responsibility for your own life. The number one word that relates to entrepreneurship for me is tenacity. You pursue your goals with dogged determination; it’s not giving up in the face of uncertainty.

As your daughter enters the “real world,” what is your biggest hope for her?

She wants to pursue a career in veterinary medicine or possibly psychology. It doesn’t matter to me what she does. As long as she finds work she wants to get up every morning and do, then I am happy. It’s not about the money or the lifestyle or the title. I want her to feel fulfilled.

You’ve now done it all – corporate, entrepreneurship, VC, teaching. What role suits you the most?

When I am counseling or mentoring. My role at DFJ has that, as does my role on Boards. When you’re on a Board, you’re in the background making sure that everything aligns for the startup. I also teach at Stanford, which I find hugely rewarding. It’s my third year in the program and the students tend to keep in touch. I enjoy it; I gravitate to those roles. Mentoring, teaching—it’s a way to give back through the next generation of leadership. I’m helping them to be better human beings.

What’s the biggest screw-up that you witness entrepreneurs make in VC pitch meetings?

It’s not just one thing necessarily, there are categories of things. People overestimate the value of technology and underestimate the work that goes into taking the technology and turning it into a real business. What it will take to distribute your product; what it will take to market it; the customer service and so on. Entrepreneurs usually become entrepreneurs because they want to solve a problem. But as your company grows, it’s all about the people. You need to be a leader.

The headlines about sexism in Silicon Valley—and how women are treated there—are all over the map. Some are optimistic, others less so. Do you have a personal gut reaction to this topic? In other words, do you feel like things are truly changing or that it’s just more of the same?

It’s a problem. All of those conversations exist because it’s a fundamental problem. I read a lot of books on neuroscience and male and female brains truly are wired differently. It’s a science. The vast majority intend well, but there is a small percentage out there—and I’m going to use this word—who are predators. And if you have a company of 100 people and one person is a predator, that is problem. He can do a lot of damage. Allowing bad apples to exist because they’re high performers, that’s not tolerable. You cannot put performance over humanity.

It’s hard to know who to trust when trying to make a deal with VC or other investors. What are some positive signs—or red flags?

There’s an explosion of information online today and an explosion of information. If you’re going to do a deal with a VC, you better be sure you can trust them. It’s a long relationship. Talk to others they have worked with—they absolutely should be able to provide references.

What’s top the skill or trait you feel women entrepreneurs need to have more of?

If you ask a lot of women my age, what would you have told your younger self, I would say: have tough skin. Have a prepared mind. Have a lot of tenacity. Tough skin, well, you gain that through scar tissue. A prepared mind, you gain through doing your homework. Another thing I want to tell young people today: calm down, it’s all going to work out. I see students with so much anxiety about their future, students who are set up for success. You’re going to make a lot of decisions in life, but it’s going to work out.

What are you most proud of, hands down, in your career?

My children. And that’s not a throwaway answer. I’m blessed with two wonderful children, they are incredible, a joy in my life. And I have wonderful relationships with each of them. Professionally, I’ve done a lot of roles and I have not had to compromise my ethics. I know I’m doing the best I can, and I’m fortunate DFJ supports that.

We know the Heidi we see in the news or in the blogs. But how might a good friend describe you?

A lean-in type of person. Always trying to learn. Loyal, funny, creative.

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