Q&A with Bessemer's Anna Khan

Anna Khan is a Vice President at Bessemer Venture Partners, based in San Francisco. She joined BVP as an investor in 2012. She is also the founder of Launch X, an incubator for female entrepreneurs. Prior to BVP, she was the Chief of Staff at 4INFO, a digital marketing startup, and worked as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

What attracted you to venture capital and working with startups?

I hear from a lot of people who want to go into venture capital. I tell them that you must be certain that you’re doing it for the right reason. I’ve seen people who want to go into VC because it’s a fancy job - it’s the new consulting, it’s the new banking. But you won’t enjoy VC unless you’re doing it for the right reason.

It comes down to having a good narrative about why VC is the place for you. My journey started in finance because I wanted to understand how markets worked. Then I wanted to help build something, which led me to a Chief of Staff role for a mobile advertising startup in the Valley. I sat on meetings with our funders. I saw them going from board to board. They would educate us on the market and we’d help them paint the future. Once I knew what things were like on the operations side as well as the finance side, I realized VC captured everything I loved.

I enjoyed the highs and lows of entrepreneurship; I could empathize with startup founders. I enjoyed analyzing market developments and building models. But I hadn’t settled on one sector. VC was the way to interact with 10 different products, with 10 different entrepreneurs, and to understand industries as they were breaking new grounds.

I started off at Bessemer as a generalist. Now I focus 80% of my time on enterprise SaaS and 20% on consumer and retail companies.

What is the recruitment/hiring process like?

VC hiring is fluid. Roles come up every two years, sometimes twice a year, sometimes they don’t come up for three years. Firms sometimes don’t announce anything: you have to hustle and have patience. You should meet people for coffee and express your interest in technology and what they do. Show them how thoughtful and different you are when you’re right in front of them. That often leads to introductions and even interviews.

How is the overall culture at Bessemer Venture Partners?

Bessemer is very rare in its culture and I was lucky to grow up at the firm. I joined when I was 22. I learned work ethic and I learned how to be a good investor from mentors that were men. When I joined back in 2012, I was the only woman - but no one ever made me feel like I was a minority. I had a lot of power to voice my opinions and ideas. Bessemer has a great structure in partnership meetings where anyone can speak up if they have a perspective.

It really comes down to the people who work here. We’re nerds; we’re quirky and data-driven. Bessemer is not a flashy or press hungry firm, and when you’re in an academic environment like that, it comes down to the quality of the work that you do. So I was here for a year and then we hired more female analysts. Now we have our first female partner. Gender equity has definitely improved but the numbers are still low.

How do you build an inclusive community at your firm and beyond?

Bessemer is small and it’s hard to get a job at a firm like this. But we’re heading in the right direction because we’re hiring the right people; in that way, building an inclusive community has happened organically for us.

What really bothers me, however, is how few female entrepreneurs get funded. About 2% of all venture funding goes to female CEOs. When I was an analyst, I knew I had to take an active role in changing this imbalance. Men would cold message me all the time but I didn’t feel that enough women were reaching out. So I established female founder office hours with the following premise: ladies, you might not think you’re ready but you are. I met female founders for coffee - sometimes helping them put their deck together or just ideating.

And here’s a perfect example of why we need to empower more female founders. I had two CEOs pitch basically the same company to me just a few hours apart. When the man pitched me, there was so much BS and bravado. He had almost no revenue but told me that this was a $10 billion dollar market. When I met with the female founder, she said our company is pre-revenue but had 10 times the revenue of the male founder! She didn’t believe her hype even though she was great and so was her company.

It made me curious about the differences between how men and women pitch. I spent time researching this while I was a student at Harvard Business School. And I learned that if you give women the same network and the same training as men, then their pitches are equally successful. When I left business school, and a few years removed from Bessemer, I started a four-week bootcamp for female founders. From the applications, 8 women were accepted on each coast for the program. I taught everything from the ins and outs of venture capital to deck building and pitching potential investors. Other female VCs previewed the pitches and provided feedback. The result was incredible. More than 65% of the founders actually raised money after going through my bootcamp.

If there are systematic processes built into Silicon Valley that enable women to receive the same attention and network effect as men, we can increase the amount of VC money going to female founders.

What advice do you have for young women who want to enter VC – whether on the investing, operations, or platform side?

You must have a thesis about something that’s different in technology. If you think developer-led businesses or vertical-led software companies are interesting, VCs want to know why.

It’s critical to have a perspective on technology and share it. I want to be able to say: “if I’m in a room on Monday with so-and-so, they will have exciting companies to share with me.” VCs never have enough time, so we need people who will be assets and think five steps ahead.