Investors, Innovators, Influencers – Vanessa Larco, NEA


Vanessa Larco is a partner at NEA.

Tell us about the professional journey that took you where you are today. What major lessons did you learn along the way?

I studied Computer Science at Georgia Tech because I liked math and puzzles without thinking much about what job I would get after graduation. When I looked for internships, I learned about the Product Management role and took a PM job at Microsoft. I fell in love with the role and the industry. I worked as a PM leader across companies such as Playdom/Disney, Twilio and Box. Somewhere in between those roles, I started my own gaming company (which got acquired). I never expected or even considered going into venture. A few years ago, someone who I considered an informal mentor, who is also a General Partner at NEA, pitched me on switching into venture. It took me several months to wrap my head around the opportunity but decided that it had all the key ingredients for the types of leaps I like to take and here I am. The lesson I’ve continuously learned over and over again is to keep an open mind, stick to your principles and take leaps.

What motivates you?

Relationships. My family, my friends and my colleagues are my source of support, motivation and joy.

Who are your role models and why?

I have so many role models! I am fortunate to be surrounded by incredible investors, technical leaders, heroic mothers. I try to learn from everyone around me. I’m really inspired by the next generation as well.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Before or during COVID? Currently, it’s a mix of juggling parenting a toddler, supporting the leaders of the companies in our portfolio and meeting new founders. Every day turns out to be something totally unexpected– especially these days.

What do you wish founders knew about before meeting you? What about female founders specifically?

There’s a high likelihood that I know about 1/10th of what you know about your industry. Please spend some time getting me up to speed on the space and carefully explain the opportunity you see. I am trying to get to know a space, your offering and you in a very short amount of time. It’s challenging for the both of us!

What are the major trends you are seeing in your space?

Investing in companies via Zoom is new for many in our industry. The earlier stage companies that are less proven are likely to have to go through a lengthier fundraise process as we try to get to know each other through this new channel. Investors are hungry for companies that will get tailwinds from the current remote work situation and are less willing to take a bet on a company that depends on things going back to in-person interactions.

What are you most excited about these days?

I’m really excited about software that supports the HR functions and Finance functions. There’s so much that these teams need to do to support their organization and they don’t always have many resources or great tools to help them. I think there are a lot of opportunities here.

What do you look for in a potential investment?

A big space I’m excited about, a founding team that I want to work with for decades and a product/service that customers love.

How do you find and curate your deal flow? What are the most effective ways for a founder to connect with you?

I respond to nearly all the cold outreach I get through twitter and email if the founder has done work to identify why I would be a good partner for them. Introductions through people in my current portfolio is always best, but that leads to a pretty limited opportunity set. I also work closely with Angel investors, Seed funds and Accelerators in the spaces where I am knowledgable. It’s a bit of a mash-up of everything, to be honest.

What are a few of the investments that you are the most proud of, regardless of the company’s success?

That’s impossible to answer– I’m proud of all of them. My portfolio includes: Cleo (hicleo.com), EvidentID, Rocket.Chat, Mejuri, Lily AI, Greenlight Card, Feather, Noonlight. I am also incredibly proud to be a Board Observer at Robinhood, OmniSci, Willow Pump, and Forethought.ai.