Danielle Dolinsky Gorman is an investor and platform leader at Luma Launch, based in Santa Monica. Prior to Luma, she worked in marketing at Hyperloop, Mattel, and American Express.
What attracted you to venture capital and working with startups?
I first learned about the VC/startup world while I was getting my MBA at USC Marshall. I took a bunch of entrepreneurship classes and even worked on my own startup idea as part of my Venture Initiation class. We had to present to different investors every week and that’s when I first learned about the venture side. I was attracted to how as an investor you get to see the ways in which really intelligent people are making many different industries better and more innovative. You also get to touch upon all parts of a business when evaluating it, including marketing, finance, operations and strategy, and that was really exciting for me.
Why Luma in particular? What makes you excited about Silicon Beach?
I was attracted to Luma because of its unique operational structure, entrepreneurial nature and team. We’re the venture arm of Luma Pictures, one of the largest independent creative studios in the world, with offices in Santa Monica and Melbourne, that has worked on major films such as Deadpool, Black Panther, and The Avengers. The creativity of the media arm permeates into the Launch side and influences our decision making. I saw the affiliation with a major studio in a city like Los Angeles to be a huge plus and a way to learn about a new industry.
I wanted to be part of building something and since I’m part of a three-person team at Luma Launch, we function like our own little startup. We have an accelerator where 6 companies work out of our office so we’re able to offer much more daily hands-on support than a traditional fund.
I love that Silicon Beach is always in a state of change with new interesting companies popping up, some of which you can physically see and experience as you’re walking around Santa Monica and Venice.
What was the recruitment and hiring process like for you?
VC is very relationship oriented and when I was recruiting I tried to meet as many people in the community as possible. Persistence and grit are important as there aren’t many open roles in this industry and recruiting is non-traditional. After each meeting, I would always ask for more introductions to continue building my network.
I met the venture lead at my firm, Laurent Grill, when he was a guest judge in the class I was pitching my startup idea in. We stayed in touch and I was persistent in getting him to interview me once I saw the open role pop up on LinkedIn.
What skills did you bring to this position from previous roles in marketing at AmEx, Mattel, and Hyperloop?
A big part of my role is building the Luma brand. It’s a different type of marketing because it’s essentially talking about who we are as investors and how we add value to portfolio companies, rather than marketing a product, but a lot of the skills are the same. It takes creativity, resourcefulness, and detail-oriented execution to make it all happen. We haven’t done much marketing in the past so a lot of what I’m doing is building our brand from scratch. I’ve learned from my past jobs that undefined roles are where I perform the best. For example, at AmEx I had an entrepreneurial role within a big company, and built our teams first online video marketing channel, owning the creative, media strategy, and analytics from start to finish.
Luma doesn't just invest in the vfx space but has helped launch companies like Boulevard (for spa and salon booking) and Lensabl (replacement lenses for glasses). What makes Luma a great partner for a startup that isn't in live-action, animation, and new media?
Right, we are not a traditional strategic venture fund because we invest in all types of industries, autonomously from what is core to the Luma Pictures business. We use our perspective as a media company to be differentiated and work with companies to build their brands from the very beginning stages.
The value of an investment fund also comes down to the people and their network. As I mentioned, there are three of us at Launch with really diverse backgrounds and ways in which we give hands on help to our companies. Matt Lydecker has over 15 years of experience as a Creative Director. He is the go-to when it comes to brand storytelling and has a strong vision for how our company’s products should look. Laurent Grill comes from an operating background and has built numerous businesses which allows him to relate and offer advice to entrepreneurs on a more foundational level. My background is in digital acquisition marketing which allows me to advise our companies when it comes to growth marketing tactics, ad-tech, and media strategy.
We also have an accelerator and give the companies we invest in the option to work out of our beautiful loft space in Santa Monica where we offer hands-on daily support, weekly programming, platform partnerships, and a mentor network.
You straddle a platform and investor role. What does an average day look like for you?
My days vary depending on what needs to be prioritized, and there are usually several meetings sprinkled in there, with other investors or entrepreneurs. If we’re in due diligence on a deal, I’ll be researching the industry, market size and metrics, while also reaching out to our network for external expertise. In terms of the platform side, I’m always in the middle of planning several events, building relationships with service providers, connecting our founders to mentors and prospective customers, and meeting with platform people at other funds.
Which Luma investments are you most excited about? What kind of input / power do you have in partner meetings on investment decisions?
Several of our companies are doing very well and gearing up for either significant Seed or Series A raises. One of the companies that has been exciting to work with is Tapcart because of what they are doing to transform the eCommerce industry - working with clients to create beautiful and easy to shop native app experiences. They’ve grown extremely fast in the few months I’ve known them and are now working with 4 of the top 10 Shopify customers.
Our investment team is very collaborative and there’s a lot of respect for everyone’s opinion since we each bring a different background and skillset to the table. In terms of the investment process, the Launch team will have several meetings with the founder and conduct diligence on the company. Once we have conviction in their product, market size and ability to address a consumer or customer need, we’ll bring them to the investment committee for final review, which includes the board from Luma Pictures. Since we’re a corporate venture, all of our investments require board approval.
You got your MBA from USC. Are there ways you tap into USC's venture and startup community for potential investments and partnerships?
USC has an incredibly well-developed and supportive entrepreneurship community. The Blackstone LaunchPad and Incubator program are the main routes aspiring entrepreneurs can take and I’m working on increasing the amount of deal flow we get from them, especially since one of the other investors at Luma is a fellow Trojan.
What kind of guidance and support do you receive from other (female) VCs? How do you build an inclusive community at Luma and beyond?
There’s a tight knit community when it comes to female investors and entrepreneurs. I’ve seen women go out of their way to support and help one another, which is refreshing. One of my biggest goals is to contribute to that community in some way.
In October, I’m kicking off hosting a quarterly female founder’s dinner at Luma that features a female entrepreneur and trending topic. The first one we’re doing is around the “Myths of Marketing to Millennial Women,” co-hosted by Wonder Ventures and moderated by Kate Edwards (founder of Heartbeat) and Sara Wilson (founder of SW Projects).
Have you faced major challenges as an investor/as a woman in venture?
I’ve only been in this industry for a few months and luckily haven’t felt much disparity. Because I work in such a male-dominated industry, I feel more empowered to state my opinion and I want to make sure I’m not treated differently. There’s definitely a lot of value that comes from having diverse team members and the way that I look at deals, especially as a consumer, can be really different from my two male counterparts.
What advice would you give to young women who want to enter VC - on the investing, operations, or platform side?
VC can be a challenging industry to enter because most of the jobs aren’t posted and are recruited for on a referral basis. The best way to get in to VC is to build your network among funds and founders. It helps to come to the interview or conversation with a few companies you’ve been tracking that you believe that fund should consider investing in, to show that you can source great deals and understand the fund thesis.
At the end of the day it’s all about persistence, don’t allow yourself to fall off people’s radar and don’t be afraid to be assertive.