Above: Elizabeth Galbut (right), with business partner Pocket Sun.
Elizabeth Galbut is not your typical entrepreneur. At 26 years old, she’s already created two venture capital firms: SoGal Ventures and A-Level Capital.
Recruited to work for Deloitte while still in college, she eventually went on to attend John Hopkins and the Maryland Institute College of Art for a dual masters in business and design. Elizabeth put her unique experiences to use to inform the investment decisions she makes today.
As a featured Justwomen speaker coming up later this month, Elizabeth took the time to chat with us about the types of companies she invests in, the difference between startup and corporate culture, and advice for people who are interested in following her path.
Tell me about co-founding SoGal Ventures.
What got you interested in venture capitalism?
While I was at Deloitte Consulting, I was working with a variety of large healthcare clients — big pharma, big insurance, big healthcare clients. A lot of clients who needed to strategize around innovation and technology.
That was my first experience looking at startups and evaluating them from a corporate business perspective. And when I went on to John Hopkins for my business degree, I was focusing on how to design products and drive innovation in the healthcare space.
After that, I participated in a venture capital competition — much like a mock trial, but judged by real VCs — we had 80 students participate. That’s where it all kind of started the path to SoGal Ventures. One of our alumni and investors invited me out to Stanford for a program that brought together about 30 VCs from all over the world, and I met my cofounder there.
Women make 6% of partners at US VC firms.
What experiences do you think women are uniquely positioned to bring to the table?
Women on average make somewhere from 70-80% of consumer and healthcare decisions for their families. So the amount of purchasing power is enormous. I heavily influence my significant other’s health purchasing decisions, and being able to understand that role as a decision maker is extremely valuable. It’s not all women versus all men, but there are personality attributes in myself — such as collaboration, transparency, and helpfulness — that I really believe make women great investors who give better returns as well.
How do you select companies to invest in?
Your company has invested in several different companies focused mostly on tackling healthcare and consumer problems in the U.S. and Asia. How do you select which companies to invest in, and what makes them stand out most to you?
For us, it’s really about the founders. Because we’re investing so early on, an idea may be great, but the market has to be big enough to make it an interesting investment opportunity. When it comes down to it, with a lot of these companies, we’re investing in 2-5 people. And at the end of the day, it’s 95% about the people.
We go all over the world working with these companies and getting to know the founders really, really well before making a decision. When I meet someone, I can often tell very quickly if that person is going to be successful and has the right team and skillset to build a company that is beyond just a technology product. If I’m impressed, I continue to get to know them over time and test out working together.
What are the upsides of working at a startup?
This series of Justwomen focuses on transitioning from a corporate to a startup environment. What are the upsides of working at a startup environment versus a corporate one?
You definitely have a lot more autonomy. If you’re a proactive person, you’re able to get years of experience in a few months because you’re able to touch all aspects of a business. In a corporate environment, you might be on a certain team — whether it’s finance or accounting or marketing — and you’re really focused on one subject.
I think it also gives you a much better ability to use your creativity and exercise that on a daily basis. You can pick something that is really important to you personally and help build that, whether you’re the founder or the employee.
It also really enables you to then do as much or as little as you want, knowing that your success is determined by what you put into it. In a corporation, you may choose to work 100 hours a week, but your value is capped at 5% of your salary, or someone has to quit or die for you to be promoted. It’s really much more a path to chart your own destiny.
What about the unique challenges?
You’re always on. If you get sick, there might not be anybody else to do it. It’s definitely a lot less flexible in that sense, and it’s very risky. You have to be someone who likes taking risks but also has a good track record of taking intelligent risks.
What advice do you have for women?
What advice would you have for women interested in starting their own business or venture capital firm?
Networking is extremely important — not just with women of course, but also with men. The more you attend events and talk to people about the idea of what you want to do, the easier it will be to achieve that. If you know the ways you want people to help you and you’re very open, there are ways for things to happen very rapidly to you.
Also, be careful about co-founder decisions. Don’t jump in just because you met someone and you really love them. Really feel them out, do projects together — don’t formalize until you’re confident because it’s like a marriage. Once you are confident, formalize and protect both or all three of you.
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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.