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Secrets to successful leadership from a woman in the know

Venture capitalist, Sonja Perkins is the MD of The Perkins Fund, an innovative and successful venture capitalist firm

Venture capitalist, Sonja Perkins is probably best known as the managing director of The Perkins Fund, an innovative and successful venture capitalist firm, which focuses on early-stage tech ventures. So what is her key to success?

Perkins’ side project, The Broadway Angels, is certainly bringing her attention too. This is because the investment group is entirely composed of women, or as Perkins would say, top class investors and executives who happen to be female.

However, she is adamant that this is not an attempt at positive discrimination. As one of only a handful of women working in the top ranks of the VC world, Perkins recognises that a great deal of talent is being lost and misused by women in the workplace and she has some advice on how to change this.

Pitching with the Boys

While Broadway Angels is composed entirely of women, it takes pitches from all genders. Perkins estimates that 50 per cent of pitches come from women and this has given her some important insights into how women can do it better under the current regime.

Perkins claims that women pitchers tend to be very conservative about advantages and possibilities. In particular, they undersell their market opportunity and abilities. She has noticed, that a man will come into the room and outline his growth expectations for the next ten years while a woman will concentrate on her more realistic six-month projections.

Naturally, the woman’s presentation is more likely to be true, but in VC, investors are attracted to big numbers, win or fail. Perkins wants to take the realism which women bring to the table and expand on it to help them make a presentation with a larger, viable market opportunity.

Perkins has also noticed that the skills a woman needs to get to the pitch in the first place, are not the same skill needed to land the funding. She’s concerned that the super-polished look, which makes a woman a successful leader in the workplace – the designer clothes, the spiked heels and perfectly styled hair – is not what investors trust.

Investors want to see a practical, no-nonsense pitch delivery. They don’t want to be distracted by bright colours. Men come in sombre grey suits. Perkins believes, women need a business uniform too.

Perkins herself is no fan of jewellery and jokes that she missed out on some great investment opportunities in that market because she didn’t understand it well enough. But she claims, the alternative way of getting to the top doesn’t need to be all hard work.

Work smarter, not harder is her motto. When she was a new hire at Menlo Ventures, she always concentrated on making great deals and steered away from taking risky chances that were less likely to materialise. By doing her research and managing her risks, her internal rate of return was high enough to make her a partner.

But what else does she have to say about success? Perkins is a big believer in the power of being nice. She claims, above all else, when engaging a new hire, the person has to be nice. If they’re not nice, they’re out.

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