“Make a difference with the things that make you different”: Interview with Diversity VC’s new CEO, Ladi Greenstreet and COO, Daisy Onubogu

Diversity VC is focused on creating a fairer and more diverse venture capital industry. Some of their initiatives to support their mission include building a network of VC professionals, working with universities and young professionals to help firms hire from more diverse backgrounds, and producing research to get a better understanding of the current state of the industry and how to improve it.

They are particularly noteworthy for their work with Future VC, their internship and development programme to enable people to start their career in VC, and launching the Diversity VC Standard certifying that firms are following best practices for diversity and inclusion which has had 50+ firms signed up for.

Since Diversity VC was founded in 2016, the organisation has been led by professionals from the venture capital industry. Now, the original founders (Check Warner, Travis Winstanley, and Lillian Li) are taking a step back and taking positions on the Diversity VC Counsel and Advisory Board.

As Diversity VC carries on with ramping up its efforts, Ladi Greenstreet has been appointed CEO and Daisy Onubogu will be the COO of Diversity VC. Diversity VC continues to be led by volunteers. Ladi is currently leading Accenture’s Open Innovation program in UK and Ireland; and Daisy is Backed VC’s Head of Network and Community.

We caught up with Ladi and Daisy to hear more about what they think about the current status of VC, what needs to change in VC and startups to introduce more diversity and inclusion in the industry, their future outlook of the industry, and also some startups from underrepresented founders that they are excited about.

How do you think the VC landscape has changed in the last few years from a diversity and inclusion point of view?

Ladi: Let’s take gender diversity as an example. Back in 2017, our ‘Women in UK Venture Capital’ report was the very first publication of its type to cast a look at Diversity in the Industry. At that time, women represented just 27% of employees and 13% of decision makers in UK venture capital. A significant (66%) number of firms had no women representation at all in their decision making team. Our broader report on VC D&I in 2019 showed only a small (3%) increase in women and unfortunately almost no progress for the decision makers who affect the course of our industry. One thing is for sure; there is more commitment from VC’s to change than there has ever been and I am hopeful that when we publish our next report we will see further improvements to diversity within VC across gender and beyond. However, in order to achieve our mission of a fairer, equitable and more inclusive venture capital industry, we need equal representation at LP level, from the decision makers in VCs to the founders who receive funding. We still have a long road ahead.

Daisy: I think it’s been slow going but there is some progress to note. A few years ago the industry was largely still in ignorance or in some cases, denial. I remember at Web Summit in 2016 I heard someone ask whether the “diversity thing” was as bad and widespread as claimed, or whether it was a few isolated incidents and anecdata being taken wildly out of proportion. Moreover to the extent, it was believed, discussions often focused on urging individuals to “do the right thing” rather than highlighting the systemic nature of the exclusions faced by underrepresented groups and specific strategies to address these.

Aside from great initiatives like Diversity VC, what else do you think needs to change or happen for there to be more diversity and inclusion in the venture capital industry?

Ladi: At Diversity.VC we believe that by activating key decision makers, enabling funds with tools/processes/understanding and, by monitoring actions across the industry effecting change, we can breakdown the systemic barriers for all identities who wish to make or receive investments. But deep down, we are trying to affect culture and it will take all of us to play our part. We need leaders across the industry to demonstrate meaningful action, and at the end of the day prove once and for all that Diversity & Inclusion isn’t just good practice, it’s good business.

Daisy: Continued commitment to taking a systemic approach to this issue. VC auditing all their processes and ways of working for where exclusion is built in, and implementing the solutions that actually solve it.

What tips or advice do you have for startup founders to help them to promote diversity and inclusion in their organisation?

Ladi: D&I needs to be core to your business strategy. If you push it to the periphery or treat it as an afterthought it could well be your undoing tomorrow. But, if you focus today on D&I as an enabler, it could well be your competitive advantage. Additionally, we’ve all heard by now that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”, so measure it. There are some great tools out there to help with this [continue reading on to find out what the tools are!].

Daisy: Have someone who is officially and actually responsible for organising and doing this work in your organisation. Depending on the size, maybe it sits in another related role, or maybe it’s a team as opposed to someone. In any case, this is real and difficult work. It won’t just happen because of vibes and good intentions, it’ll happen because there are clear strategies and strong execution.  Someone has to design those strategies and make sure they are carried out. If it’s no one’s responsibility it either doesn’t happen at all, or falls on underrepresented individuals to do it for free, on top of their actual job.

In your opinion, what resources or support do underrepresented founders need to flourish in today’s ecosystem?

Ladi: There’s an old African proverb “If you want to go quickly, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”. Community is one of the most powerful support mechanisms for an individual. I want to say is “more funding” but a community can help provide that and so much more.

Daisy: Real access, bias free evaluation processes, psychologically safe environments. The same level playing field everyone needs but only some enjoy. If you dismantle the structural barriers that unfairly block them from even getting in the door for a meeting, if you fix the bias that unfairly judges them or what they’re building as a wrong fit no matter what, and you change the environments where thanks to microaggressions they are alienated, underrepresented founders would thrive.

As you start your roles at Diversity VC, what challenges do you foresee that will lie ahead with growing Diversity VC?

Ladi: We have global ambition and an incredibly talented network of support. We want to scale our impact as far and wide as possible, driving every VC in the world to make a change. Our challenge over the next 12 months is how we match such ambition whilst focusing on the core of what we do. We also need to maintain the high standard we have set ourselves as we scale our people and build a sustainable business model.

Daisy: We’re fairly sure we’re up to the task but there’s no denying it’s going to be tough! We’re going to need to grow our team of volunteers really significantly, and also fundraise, such that we are actually resourced enough to accomplish everything we’re trying to. There are multiple challenges in there, like balancing all this with our busy day jobs, and designing an org structure and ways of working that will complement and get the best results from a part-time army of volunteers.

VC has been long standing as a difficult industry to pursue a career in. What advice do you have for anyone (particularly underrepresented individuals) who want to break into the VC industry?

Ladi: Make a difference with the things that make you different. We all have our own unique experiences, networks, ideas. Represent your whole self. Then keep singing your song.

Daisy: I couldn’t possibly say it better on more comprehensively than Pietro Invernizzi has said it here.

 

In the early days in your roles as CEO and COO, what should we watch out for next with Diversity VC?

Ladi: You’ll see even more incredible Interns come through our Future VC programme that has already received support from over 350+ VCs, placing 90+ paid internships and offering 4 full-time jobs. You’ll see refinements to our operations, including our Diversity.VC Standard accreditation that will enable us to having a greater impact at scale. We are continuing to scale, with international chapters opening up across the globe and we are hiring more incredible talent. Pay close attention, exciting times are ahead.

Daisy: Another key report will be published soon, announcements about new key team members included a Head of Research, Head of Audits & Certifications, and quite a few key initiatives to better support our community of change makers across the ecosystem.

What startups are you excited about that are coming from underrepresented founders?

Ladi: There are so many I want to name. But, back to my earlier point about measuring impact, I want to give a shout out to the companies that are enabling D&I across the industry. Our partners, Diversio, but also others in the space including FairHQ, Flair, Pipeline Equity and others.

Daisy: Ruka, Afrocenchix, The Engineering Company, Organise, Base+.

 

What are your future predictions for VC in Europe in the next 5 years?

Ladi: New metrics and alternative investing models. My hope is that whilst Europe leads the way in the adoption of sustainability metrics, it spurns an increase in the adoption of D&I metrics too. No surprises that data is on the rise, but in the next 5 years you’ll start to see a more seamless collection of data points pre, during and post-investment. Private market technology solutions will enable more transparency between VCs and Founders as both search for differentiated value. I am also excited to see new investment models that use this data e.g. ClearCo expansion to Europe, or provide differentiated value to the founder e.g. Kindred Capital.

Daisy: I think we’ll see the rise of Calm Funds, and other pathways for investing in innovation besides the hypergrowth model. I also think VC will begin to see real challenges from DAOs, Neo Co-operatives and exit-to-community models. I also think we’ll be seeing the yields of the current systemic work happening. Underrepresented founder led unicorns, diverse partner teams, and investment decision makers.