Jenny Friedman is co-founder and Managing Partner at Supernode Ventures, based in New York City. Prior to Supernode, she was an investor at Eniac Ventures.
What attracted you to venture capital and working with startups?
During and after college, I went right into a generalist investing role at Goldman Sachs. With a focus on the public markets, I worked on portfolio management, asset allocation, due diligence, strategic planning, and sourcing investment opportunities. I really liked working in a variety of mediums in the financial markets… but I was more interested in investing in people, technology, and ideas, especially at the early stage.
In 2015, before starting business school, I joined Minibar Delivery, an early-stage e-commerce startup which was a great foundation to facilitate a transition into tech & operations and ultimately into venture. I worked there with a lean team of no more than six while we grew our footprint and expanded into more than 14 cities. On the operating side, I worked on data analytics, business development, product strategy, go-to-market, and partnerships.
With an investing and operating background, I was fortunate enough to land a role at Eniac Ventures, a seed-stage venture firm. I sourced and evaluated new investments both inbound and outbound; conducted due diligence; researched across different industries; wrote investment memos. I also learned the value of being a hands-on investor - whether that was strategizing with CEOs and implementing growth plans or helping hire an executive. Having had these formative experiences in portfolio management, venture capital, and operations has been enormously helpful for me as an investor and to my portfolio companies as they look to scale.
I’ve heard from a lot of people in the venture community that great VCs need an operating background. Do you think that’s true?
I decided to cultivate operating experience because I thought it would help put my best foot forward in my role as a vc. At Eniac, I worked for four partners with engineering backgrounds who’d operated at 12 companies. I think it really helped from an investor standpoint to know what it’s like to build a business from the other side of the table. A lot of people ask me how to get into venture and what background they need to break in. In my opinion, there is no clear path to getting into venture. People come from all sorts of backgrounds, and many are constantly going from VC to the operational side and back. Some of the best VCs come from careers in both investing and operating. It definitely can’t hurt to join a startup and learn from the inside.
Did you ever think about starting your own company?
You know… I actually didn’t, even though I am constantly thinking about markets and product opportunities. What I like about venture is that I can get my feet wet in all different sectors, which is harder to do as a founder.
How would you describe the culture at Supernode?
We try to have a flat organizational structure at Supernode. It’s important to me that our team members can bring their unique perspectives and leverage their expertise. Laurel and I are the two female founders - the rest of our team comes from different professional backgrounds such as consulting, banking, operations, and public policy. With a diversified team we’re better at deliberating on companies and refining our investment theses.
Supernode is about being at the center of what’s going on in NYC. We bring people together for new projects, connect professionals, and build inclusion within existing networks. Laurel and I really believe in the value of community. We host several gatherings during the week, notably our industry-specific dinners, Cereal Entrepreneurs Breakfast, and tech-media events. These gatherings are helpful for everyone in the ecosystem - our portfolio companies, CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs, enterprise customers, LPs, even potential LPs. Entrepreneurs can informally pitch. CEOs can find talent and discuss challenges. Journalists get leads for new pieces.
Just last week we held 3 separate dinners for specific verticals: CPG, blockchain and crypto, real estate and proptech. We want our events to be curated and we spend our time being thoughtful about why we’re putting on these events and who we’re inviting.
How did you meet Laurel, and what led you to co-founding Supernode together?
It’s funny.. we actually met at a UJA Federation tech event. It was the definition of right place, right time. She was angel investing out of her syndicate fund, Flatiron Investors. She was in the early stages of putting together a fund with committed capital and was looking for a business partner. It was a unique opportunity for me to take what I’d learned from seed stage investing at Eniac and build something spectacular with Laurel at Supernode. You could say it was something of a shot-gun marriage but it’s been going great so far!
What does your role look like on a typical day?
Just like a startup, Supernode is very dynamic. I have to establish relationships with VCs and founders. I meet with potential talent for our portfolio companies. Relationship-building is key for accessing deal flow, helping our startups raise funding in the future, and for understanding different, nascent trends.
I spend the majority of my time sourcing and evaluating companies. I’ll set up an initial call with entrepreneurs and evaluate if the business is a good fit for Supernode. After some due diligence, market research, and connecting with people who have deep domain expertise, I might set up another meeting. At that point, I’m looking to understand their vision and see if they have the grit to lead a successful business.
Curating all the events I mentioned earlier also takes a chunk of time. Laurel is primarily focused on the raise and I divide my time between maintaining community, managing our portfolio, and looking for new deals.
Have you faced major challenges in venture and running your own firm?
Investing in pre-seed and seed is always tricky. There are so few data points, KPIs, and fundamentals. A huge part of our investment decision lies in the founder and their drive, expertise, technical talent, as well as the product’s niche / focus area. That challenge is also what makes early stage investing the most exciting. You’re starting at a point of infancy and creating something new with founders.
Coming from Goldman to venture and the startup world, I transitioned from a corporate structure with thousands of employees to small teams at Minibar and Eniac (where I worked directly with founding General Partner Nihal Mehta). There are pros and cons to having a small team but I’ve found that if you’re at a great company with smart and driven colleagues, it can be self-motivating.
A lot of VCs release annual reports like Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report (KPCB) or First Round’s State of Startups. Is Supernode thinking about releasing their own industry analyses?
There’s only so much time that we can dedicate to outside mediums since Supernode is a small team. Funds in their second, third, (or thereafter) raise tend to release POVs more frequently as their teams expand.
We’re actually putting together some industry deep dives with our summer MBA associates. I asked them to investigate 3 areas/industries of interest that align with Supernode’s investment theses. Whenever I’m speaking with another VC about one of these research areas - clean meat and synthetic foods, for example - I reference some of our preliminary research and can send them what we’ve dug up so far. We are doing this work internally. Our next step is to have a more active online presence and put our ideas out there as we continue to expand.
How did you find your summer interns?
I posted job listings to my alma maters, Columbia Business School and Wharton. To be completely candid, I was looking for interns that I could mentor. It’s so hard to get into venture and with all the support I received from my first job in VC, I’ve felt a responsibility to pay it forward.
Hiring ends up being a long process if you’re thoroughly assessing each candidate. Like other firms who are hiring, we were inundated with resumes from schools, referrals, and other VCs who liked a candidate but passed on them for whatever reason. I basically spent a few hours a day managing HR.
Any advice for young women who want to enter venture capital - on the investing, operations, or platform side?
If you’re a woman interested in venture, GO FOR IT! The population of women in vc has increased dramatically. Every time I host an event, I make sure - if it’s a unisex event - that the ratio of attendees is as close to 1:1 as possible. It feels like SF is still behind when it comes to all of the empowerment channels in NY. We have women in vc dinners, slack channels, etc. Earlier this week I went to a “Manicures, Cocktails, & Conversations about Consumer Tech” event held by two sharp female VCs. The number of us continues to grow and it’s a really exciting time for more women to join the venture community.