Venture capitalists tend to have sharp elbows and prickly demeanors. But Julie Sandler, who joined Madrona Venture Group two years ago after a stint on Amazon.com’s Kindle team, is taking a different approach as she builds bridges in the Seattle entrepreneurial community.
“Our entrepreneurs rave about working with Julie,” says Madrona’s Greg Gottesman. “One of the things I love about Julie is that she can say no to a prospective entrepreneur, and that person can still go away feeling great about the interaction. And that’s a real skill.”
That trait has paid off, with Madrona today announcing that Sandler has been promoted to principal at the firm.
Now, given some of the changes in the venture capital industry in recent years, Sandler is one of the top women VCs in Seattle. She’s not taking that role lightly, trying to do her part to promote entrepreneurship among women as a founding member of the Seattle Entrepreneurial Women’s Network and leader of Startup Weekend Women’s Edition.
We chatted with Sandler this week to get her take on startups; the Seattle scene and how to get more women involved in technology and entrepreneurship.
On her new role: “I am really excited about the opportunity, especially continuing working and partnering with incredible entrepreneurs in our region. One of the great things about working at Madrona is we have the opportunity to partner with some of the most exceptional and bright entrepreneurial and tech talent out there.”
On what has surprised her about being a venture capitalist: “Surprise is not the right word. I am a Seattle girl. Seattle is my hometown, and over the past couple of years, it has been a true source of excitement really, and for that matter pride, to see the tremendous amount of innovation coming from our community. The Pacific Northwest is home to the best and brightest entrepreneurial and tech talent out there, so it is both a professional and personal joy to be able to continue working with these inspiring entrepreneurs in our region.”
What’s your style as a VC? “Our entrepreneurs do all of the heavy lifting. Our goal is to support them, work with them and listen really closely to what their needs are and do whatever we can to do to help them meet their goals. Again, you try to fill holes, and be helpful wherever you possibly can. For me, my background has been more in product and marketing, and I also help our companies a lot with recruiting and … with both the quantitative and qualitative considerations as they try to scale their businesses. It is a very collaborative approach, and that’s very much our style here at Madrona and a style that, so far, has worked well on both sides of the table…. I think the single most important thing that we do, especially early on, is listen. We listen very closely to the needs of the entrepreneurs that we are meeting with, and what problems they are facing and what challenges they are tackling.”
What types of companies are you interested in right now? “There’s certainly a broad range, and that’s one of the great things about Seattle. There’s such a broad array of ideas and backgrounds in entrepreneurs. A couple of areas most recently that I have been excited about are some of the intersections we’ve seen between consumer devices and health care and also a little bit in ed tech.”
On whether there’s a lack of capital in the NW: “It’s an indisputable fact, there are fewer institutional funds up here, and I would say if you look at the broader investment ecosystem around Seattle, there is the angel piece as well. There was a piece that was written in GeekWire … by Nick Soman talking about the angel investing ethos in Seattle versus other cities and one of the things that he thought was needed was to create more of a pay-it-forward mentality amongst all investors, whether you’d seen your success as an investor or whether you’ve seen your success as an operator, to view it as an important cultural imperative to pay-it-forward to entrepreneurs. I thought that was an interesting line of thought. One of the things at Madrona that we are very focused on is partnering with the entrepreneurs in our community who we think are on to something very exciting, and we think can (build) really big companies. And we’ve done our best to play a role in strengthening that ecosystem and finding entrepreneurs that can help realize their visions, and hopefully grow really incredible companies in Seattle.”
On getting more women involved in technology and entrepreneurship: “You want to see the entrepreneurial talent across groups in any startup community fully tapped. And anybody familiar with our community would say that we’ve made (great) strides over the past five or 10 years. I also think there is tremendous opportunity to get more and more entrepreneurial-minded women — both starting new companies and also joining startups. For me, it has been a priority to make sure, especially for women entrepreneurs, … that we spur and support and encourage them to build their businesses. But, most importantly, to connect them in our community with the resources and with the people that can be helpful in making their companies successful. That’s a really critical thing. The Seattle Entrepreneurial Women’s Network — that’s very much the thesis for why that group exists, and Startup Weekend Women’s Edition was also in that vein…. It is a pretty critical ingredient to any ecosystem to have people who have the ambitions actually making the jump.”
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