Through the Looking Glass: Kelly Hoey

Kelly is a speaker, strategist, and investor with a focus on creating opportunities through networking solutions. She has worked with leading companies, professionals, and organizations to help them understand, leverage, and unleash the potential of their formal and informal social networks. Kelly is the author of the book “Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World”. You can follow her on Twitter @jkhoey.

I’d love to start with a little bit about how you got involved with working and investing in the tech and startup world.

All because of networks. I left the legal industry and became the first president of the global business network 85 Broads (after the founder Janet Hansen offered me the job of a lifetime). In that role, I encountered such a diverse range of professional and career-focused women, in terms of the businesses and the ventures that they were either in or moving into, and that exposure really expanded my network. 

There was a bunch of women at 85 Broads who were entrepreneurial and involved in the NYC startup community. Two of them had an idea for a startup accelerator. As they socialized the idea within the startup community, people would say to them, “You need to talk to Kelly.” They talked to me. I came on as a co-founder. Upon reflection, it was sort of organic as to how I became involved in the startup community.

The second piece, in terms of thinking more like an investor as opposed to a startup advisor, happened because of another 85 Broads member, who started Pipeline Angels. When Natalia initially had her idea for Pipeline Angels, she reached out to me to share her idea, ask what I thought about it, and then asked me if I would be part of the first cohort. 

I did that first cohort of the Pipeline Angels and during an early presentation to the group, a male startup founder/angel investor described how he made investments. And he said something along the lines of, “I do my research into this and that, and then, you know, I trust my gut and this is why I make investments.” After hearing his approach, I was like, ‘Well, I can do that’.

Getting involved in early stage investing has really brought together so many of the things that I believe in: being actively engaged in your financial health, taking an active interest in companies I believe in, as well as the education component of being a lifelong learner.

When you started angel investing, how did that compare to your level of involvement with other financial asset classes? 

Doing the angel investing bootcamp really had me look at my other Investments differently, in terms of what my exposure was, and it made me much more vocal. I have an investment advisor in Canada (because of retirement funds there), and I have an investment advisor here in the States, but my involvement with my investments typically meant meeting with them annually and going over what's in my account. After the bootcamp, I asked a lot more questions (why is a particular stock in there, what I want in there etc.). I think doing the angel investment boot camp made me much more vocal as opposed to you know, just kind of nodding slightly, as the advisor reviewed the account. 

Did you approach your startup investments from an international lens? Or was it sort of opportunistic? 

It's the same way as I invested in Laconia. It's about who you know. It's totally relationships. Angel investments are made purely on the basis of knowing the founders. Products and markets change, people rarely do. Being an angel investor worked when I had the time to be really fixated on getting to know founders and had the bandwidth to be there to help them out and research opportunities etc. My two cents: if you're going to be an angel investor, then you need to decide whether you're going to be all in. You’ve got to be there and be active in whatever vertical or sector you’re looking at. After a certain point, I didn't have the time to do that. I figured if I'm going to be a passive early stage investor, then it's much better that I have somebody else do it, so I became an LP.

One thing that seems to come up repeatedly is that LP demographics typically skew a certain way. What have you seen work or not work in terms of expanding the traditional decision-making base in venture to a next-gen LP base?

I'm hoping things like this interview.

The women who are investing need to speak up and say why they are investing and who they're investing with and what they do. It's one of those things that when I'm asked to talk about it in situations like this, I do because I think women need to be much more active and visible.

And women need to think about how they are investing their money.  Your traditional investment advisors will not give you advice on early stage. It's one of those things you have to seek out. We seek things out through people we know and socialize with people, who look like us.

With the amount of wealth that is sitting in the hands of women, I'd like to see us actively doing something with it as opposed to bemoaning the fact that we don't see the types of products, services, and founders we want. My attitude is we can either complain or we can direct the wealth in the direction we want to go. And if you need education, get an education. If you need inspiration because somebody else who looks like you has done it, read this article. 

It seems like even in conversations I've had with underrepresented General Partners who have networks of women and minorities, their close rate is significantly lower. Why? 

At the early-stage, you have a lot of conversations in order for people to get comfortable and to get them to see themselves as investors and valuable contributors beyond money.

It is just going to take time. There will be a trigger point. Because this is not something we need to complain about as that’s not a solution. There's a really easy solution in terms of women saying they can't see female founders or fund managers, or people running investments who look like you, Geri. Pull out your pocketbook ladies! There are women to invest in. What's the problem? 

Speaking as an LP, as a female investor, besides knowing Jeffrey and thinking of him as mentor of mine and one of the people who I've always trusted in the New York startup community, when he told me about launching Laconia, my reaction was ‘How about me? Can I be an investor in your fund?’. 

There was also the way the fund was set up in terms of the complete transparency and the ability to get involved, because I hadn't thought about being an LP. I recognized it was important to be invested in early stage companies, but back in 2015, I was thinking about writing my book and knew I could not be a successful full-time author and angel investor at the same time. I remember Jeffrey and I were having breakfast, and he was talking about raising the fund. As he described the structure of the fund, something about the fact that it was really hands-on was really appealing to me as opposed to just handing over the check. I think that transparency in the ability to add value and get involved more than just writing a check is probably what tipped me over to be an LP. 

Any thoughts on people who are considering investing in any capacity on the best ways to get started?

If you don't understand your investment portfolio, go and meet your financial advisors. I'm sure people have a traditional financial advisor who can help them understand what stuff is really safe, where's the risk, etc. But you should figure out what percentage should be in a higher risk, greater return category (early stage investment) and then actively make a commitment to do that.

If you don't know how to get involved, then I would say go and do an angel investment boot camp. There's enough of those out now, and all you put at risk for doing the boot camp is the amount of money that any of us would be writing for a table for a rubber chicken dinner at a not-for-profit gala. So just consider it your nonprofit investment. Or become an activator with SheEO (global community supporting women-led ventures launched by Vicki Saunders) because you can dip your toe in, gain exposure to incredible female founders and then you get to write that contribution off as a not-for-profit investment. Do something to get the exposure and flavor of early stage investing. For me, going from an angel bootcamp group to investing as an LP was a really natural progression.

I also think doing the angel investments made me a better LP investor. I’d suggest to anyone that they think about what asset classes should be part of their overall investment portfolio and then think about how they want to be involved with those investments. Do you want to just have a meeting once a year and never hear from someone you’ve trusted with your money? Maybe that's what you do with your financial advisor. Early stage companies need more help and you want to be involved. 

You had written a piece a while ago about Aruba. Tell me a little bit more about your takeaways from that trip. 

What's funny about that piece on women in leadership in Aruba is that the first thing people (typically women) say to me is, “It's a small country” and my response is, “Time out.” It was a perfect petri dish ecosystem to examine leadership and competitive behavior between women. It's the same dynamics as with industries here in New York City -  not everyone gets to have the top rule.

So why is Aruba succeeding in behaving in a certain way (advancing and retaining women) and why can't we all do that? What struck me were the network dynamics of women in Aruba truly helping other women. There was no work culture of backstabbing and kneecapping. Women who understand the pressures and demands that other women have to deal with in their roles (whether industry or government) are delivering advice and feedback based on the role or position their friend is in, and not with any sort of rivalry or cattiness or scarcity mindset. 

The other factor that stands out in Aruba is that these women leaders all stayed in the game. It never crossed their minds to step out or exit their career, and that makes a huge difference because across the board at all levels, from top to bottom in government and industry, you have female role models and gender diversity.

When I was interviewing Arubans for the New York Times piece, I asked a young man what he thought about having all these female bosses. He told me he’d never even thought about it. Other than realizing they live in a place where there may be limitations on career, women in Aruba don’t have any feeling of a glass ceiling or limit on what they can do.

I immediately tell people, usually women, that this is an example for the rest of us to follow. Don't just dismiss the story. There was this immediate jerk reaction to dismiss the story when it came out, as opposed to saying ‘What can we learn from Aruba? Is there anything in my individual behavior I can change?’. We may not be able to change the entire country, but we can change our individual behavior. Shifts in individual behavior is what starts cultural transformation.

Thinking about Aruba, what I want other women to look in the mirror and ask themselves how are they supporting other women. Look at who you have promoted or recommended or sponsored. 

I’m really proud that I had the opportunity to highlight the women leaders in Aruba. Highlighting them hopefully encourages more women to see themselves in leadership roles. I'm also so interested in making sure we're shining bright lights on people who are succeeding rather than simply continuing to talk about the challenges. Problems are solved by action. If we only keep talking about how shitty things are, things won’t change.