The Managing Director Encouraging Female Founders To Think BIG

Megumi Ikeda, Managing Director of Hearst Ventures, shares what she looks for during a fundraising pitch - join us to hear from her live on 2nd February

By Florence Robson

26 January 2022

As the Managing Director of Hearst Ventures and the General Manager of Hearst Ventures Europe, Megumi Ikeda, is at the helm of one of the world’s most active and successful corporate venture funds. Under Megumi’s leadership, Hearst Ventures has invested more than $1 billion to date in companies across media, business information, and technology. Its portfolio features the likes of Buzzfeed, as well as B2B platforms like Signal AI, while its pipeline includes companies innovating in areas like payments, e-commerce and data science.

Ahead of our event with her on 2nd February, we caught up with Megumi about asking the right questions, spotting a strong founding team dynamic and bypassing self-limiting thoughts.

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Approaching a corporate venture fund

Megumi has managed the investment arms of a number of companies, including the likes of NBCUniversal. But what’s the difference between pitching for a corporate fund (CVC) and traditional venture capital, and how can you prepare?

The important thing is to always do your homework, says Megumi. Check how long the fund has been around, how it’s structured, who is involved and whether their terms seem atypical. “There is even more variety in the CVC world than there is in traditional VC, so you need to do your due diligence. No matter who you’re approaching for funding, you need to understand their commitment and understanding of the venture ecosystem”.

Sometimes a CVC can offer you investors with a more diverse range of experiences and perspectives than a traditional VC – something which can be either a significant value-add or a hindrance, depending on your personal preference.

Cultivating diversity on both sides of the desk

Hearst Ventures has a number of programmes in place to close the VC funding gap. HearstLab supports early-stage female founders with advice across areas from security to branding, as well as investment, while Level Up Ventures does the same for early-stage tech-enabled startups led by Black and Latinx founders.

As well as these initiatives, Megumi makes it a personal priority to mentor diverse founders. “I try to always take the extra time to give feedback, or take that call or meeting, or reply to that email”, she says.

It is also important to Megumi to ensure that the internal team reflects the founders they are trying to reach. “We’ve tried to get a range of individuals involved in the fund as partners, principals and associates. With a diverse team, you should get a more diverse deal flow.”

Where journalism meets investing

Megumi started her career in Tokyo as a reporter for Dow Jones, covering the start of the first bubble. So where does her journalist past overlap with her investor present? “The joy of both of those professions is that you’re allowed to ask questions about all sorts of topics”, she says. “It’s a true pleasure to be able to get a deep perspective into the minds of people who are real specialists.”

Megumi’s journalist training also helps her to dig deeper and get the story behind the sales pitch. “There is an art to asking questions in a way that will help people to feel comfortable while also allowing them to reveal something beyond simply sharing a specific data point.”

Nailing your pitching session

Whether you’re pitching over Zoom or are face to face with your prospective investors, every interaction matters. “I always watch the founding team dynamic”, says Megumi. “Does the CEO talk over the CTO – or vice versa? Is a man constantly interrupting his female co-founder? Those soft signals are really important.”

Your communication skills also provide a glimpse into your leadership potential. “Even if your business is in a niche or complex sector, if your pitch is passionate and nuanced, it will not only resonate with us as investors, but also proves that you’ll be able to sell your vision when you’re recruiting”, Megumi points out.

But while your presentation style is important, don’t forget the details – especially when you’re at the early stages of your business

“Make sure you have clarity on what you’re going to build and how you’re going to measure it – even if you change your mind later”, says Megumi. “Combine your vision with the micro-steps you’ll take to get there. There should be a bias toward action.”

Think big and stay resilient

As a female founder out to fundraise, it can feel like you’re starting at a disadvantage – but don’t let that affect your mindset. “The venture community can feel a bit foreign but there are plenty of resources available”, says Megumi. “Stay enthusiastic and genuine, and don’t be shy.” While it’s not fun to get a ‘no’, it never hurts to send that cold email or ask for that introduction – just don’t take rejection personally. “It’s important to develop a thick skin and keep trying. You might try it fourteen times and then break through on the fifteenth!”.

Megumi’s ultimate tip for female founders? “Don’t be afraid to think big. No one wants to invest in a small business.”

The Short Stack

Join us on 2nd February for a live session on early-stage fundraising with Megumi Ikeda.

By Florence Robson

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