“We should be encouraging both men and women to empower each other to create more diverse workplaces, which are statistically stronger after all”
Lost for entrepreneurial inspiration that packs a punch? As always, we’ve got you. This time we sit down with all-round venture superstar Cassandra Harris, Founder and CEO of Litestream Ventures, who has been building a network of co-investors such as Buoyant Ventures, Burnt Island Ventures, Agfunder and Prelude Ventures. She is a venture partner in two other pre-existing funds, Una Terra Ventures and Vireo Ventures, and helped to build two more, including Shark Tank Ventures.
From navigating the choppy waters of venture capital to empowering women entrepreneurs, Cassy has been blazing a trail of innovation, tenacity, and spunk.
One of her latest achievements was assisting in bringing in Flypop’s seed funding round during the COVID-19 pandemic. While most start-ups were ceasing business during this time, the seed funding she helped to raise allowed Flypop to secure match funding from the UK Government’s Future Fund. Airlines are famously hard to get off the ground, never mind finding funding for, so hats off to her! More recently, Cassy has been focused on start-ups solving climate change. She talks about it on her very own The Unicorns Podcast.
Grab a coffee and read on for game-changing insights.
First, we ask Cassy what inspired her to pursue a career in business and venture capital and how she got her start.
“My path into venture capital was nonconventional. Although I studied business at university, I majored in computers and marketing instead. My career didn’t start out in this domain either. My first step into the VC sector was 12 years ago, when I was asked to help build a really early stage venture fund which was part of another start-up I co-founded. Naturally I was really excited about it, and despite not having any commercial interest or carry in the fund itself at the time, learning and applying the venture fund formation process proved to be an indispensable step in my career journey. I am currently a venture partner in two pre-existing funds, Una Terra and Vireo Ventures, and have helped to build two more, including Shark Tank Ventures. We decided to put Shark Tank Ventures on ice during the pandemic and pivoted instead. Building a fund is never easy.” We bet!
Now we are curious to know about her previous venture, Venturespring. We ask Cassy what inspired her to create that kind of business and what sets it apart from other models.
“My previous business, Venturespring emerged 9 years ago after I spotted an opportunity to combine the worlds of venture capital and media, and leverage my experience working with Fortune 500s and within WPP agencies. We were one of London’s first corporate venture building studios, pre-Founders Factory and the rise of in-house corporate venture capital programmes. We were building, launching and accelerating ventures on behalf of large blue chip corporations like Vodafone, Tata Communications, Coca Cola and many more. Realising that venture studios aren’t the most scalable businesses to run, I started thinking about how to disrupt the traditional model and build more of an ‘automated conveyor belt’ platform to fund and accelerate pre-existing ventures instead of building them from scratch. This thought process evolved, and eventually led to the formation of our newest business, Litestream, which we’ve kept strategically under wraps as we’ve been ramping up our infrastructure and operational processes,” Cassy explains.
On that note, we’d like to know what some of the biggest trends and challenges facing the venture capital industry today are and how she stays ahead of the curve.
“VC funding slowed by almost 30% during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, creating ripples which have yet to subside. To stay ahead of the curve, I’ve directed my attention away from the traditional fund model, focusing instead on creating an international community of investors with similar missions. The other side of my approach leans heavily into leveraging the power of media and storytelling to create powerful network effects, both in terms of growing the community of investors and accelerating the startups themselves. My mission is to discover, back and scale visionary founders and their breakthrough technologies that have the power to change the world and improve the lives of at least 1 billion people positively. An aspect of this mission is linked to democratising access to wealth and impacting humanity positively in the process,” Cassy says.
On top of very promising plans for change for the better, Cassandra also has a passion for helping small businesses grow, which is why we’d like her to tell us about some common challenges that she sees entrepreneurs facing and how she helps them overcome those obstacles.
“I’ve experienced first hand how terrifying it can be when a revenue-generating business flips on its head. Taking into account the importance of having cash reserves and investors at hand is crucial. Fundraising can take months, and if you’re trying to save your business from impending doom due to unforeseen disasters, you’re going to need a good number of contacts already in the pipeline.” We’ll take note of that!
International Women’s Month may be over, but our members’ insights into their experience as female entrepreneurs never lose salience, so we ask Cassy about hers.
“A while ago, I was invited to the World Economic Forum to speak on stage to a group of investors, but had to deal with a demeaning former partner who had very little faith in me it seemed. He policed my dress code despite not ever seeing me speak on stage before and told me I wouldn’t be able to close the investment round, and that investors would only invest in someone who didn’t look like me. I was completely anguished by this. But this experience was fuel for me to ensure that women are supported in this space. Despite only a very small percent of venture capital flowing to women it has become very trendy to be a female founder. It is so trendy that some companies front themselves with women, although the shareholders consist mostly of men. Yet, while women could employ the same approach and leverage the presence of men to help pitch their funding rounds, this isn’t a long-term solution, as it perpetuates the stereotype that women are less capable than men. Instead, we should be encouraging both men and women to lean on each others’ strengths and empower each other to create more diverse workplaces, which are statistically stronger after all.”
And what about her tips for other women who are just starting out in the world of business and finance?
“My advice for other women who are just starting out is to invest in building relationships with investors and mastering the art of fundraising for your business as early as possible. As we all know already, a massive challenge faced by female entrepreneurs is access to capital. Even though the percentage of female entrepreneurs is increasing year by year, the percentage of total VC funding they receive still is well below the halfway point. It’s not just getting better at doing due diligence and building financial models, but also forging relationships with the right people. Whether you’re meeting people digitally or in person, the more opportunities you seek out, the faster you’ll see the effects compound. You might even find a mentor along the way.”
We’re always looking for some motivation, so we ask Cassy about her favourite quote.
“Your business is only as strong as the systems you build to support it!”.
Finally, about her experience of being a member of Home Grown Cassy says:
“I love the Homegrown Club business community. There are always super interesting entrepreneurs to meet when you go there! The hotel facilities are fantastic and very good value, especially compared to other Mayfair hotels — perfect for hosting clients, investors and startups.” Heard that?
As we bid adieu to Cassy, we’re left with a treasure trove of entrepreneurial wisdom. Cassy’s journey is a shining example of grit and determination, proving that with the right support and mindset sky’s the limit. Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom and tales of success.
If you’re interested in enriching your entrepreneurial experience and finding a strong community of entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders then contact our membership team at Home Grown.