Vanessa Larco, a partner with New Enterprise Associates, did not intend to become a venture capitalist.
Larco started her career as a product manager at Microsoft. Later she co-founded Funloop, a gaming startup, and more recently was a director of product management at Box, where she led a large team on redesign and relaunch of one of the company’s applications, “All New Box.”
She loves helping build new technologies and the Silicon Valley Business Journal recognized her as one of the most influential women in tech and Glamour also recognized her for changing the tech industry.
She said that her time with Box was one of the most amazing experiences of her product management career, but in 2016 “the learning curve was beginning to flatten out,” and she began to think about other opportunities.
Over the years, she built a relationship with NEA General Partner Peter Sonsini. Larco and Sonsini would occasionally discuss developments in the enterprise space, she explained. Sonsini was one of the people she turned to for advice on the next steps in her career. After nine months of talking to Sonsini and others at NEA, the Menlo Park, California-based firm offered Larco a role as a partner.
“It was jarring,” Larco said. “I always thought of myself as a product person and maybe a founder, so my first reaction was, ‘I am not an investor,’”
NEA told her that her experience as a technologist and operator is highly applicable and they would teach her everything else about investing.
Although Larco was leaving behind a career that she loved, it was hard to say no to the opportunity at NEA, which would give her the steep learning curve that she was craving, she said.
“The first six months at NEA was a shock to the system,” Larco said. “It was intimidating to go to events where I did not know anyone and there were many things I felt that I needed to learn right away.”
NEA brought Larco on as an enterprise partner, but her background in gaming was also attractive to the firm’s consumer team. Since joining the firm three years ago, she has been splitting her time looking at enterprise and consumer opportunities.
From the start, Larco knew that on the enterprise side she was interested in backing companies that developed collaboration and productivity software. Her first significant bet in the space was in 2017 when she led a deal in Evident, a provider of a secure solution for sharing verified personal information and which raised $8.8 million in Series A funding.
But it took her more time to find her focus in consumer technology.
Her “aha” moment came right after she gave birth to her first child. Larco realized the dearth of software solutions for her new phase of life.
“We are making things easier in many aspects of our lives, from laundry to food delivery,” Larco said, “so why not use technology to make parenthood easier?”
Larco spent her entire maternity leave meeting with femtech startups that cater to new parents and women’s health. Among the companies she met were Milk Stork, a breast milk shipping company, Peanut, a mobile chatting solution for moms, and Willow, a wearable, mobile-connected breast milk pump.
After researching the space, in March 2019, Larco led NEA’s $27.5 million Series B round in Cleo, an employer-paid support app for new parents. Cleo offers working families various services, including fertility, lactation consultancy and sleep training. Larco’s bet is that all the new parent-related technologies will eventually connect into Cleo’s system.
Larco is convinced that femtech will eventually be a large economy. She continues to look for investment opportunities in this sector as well as in collaboration software.
Although she started her VC career making several seed-stage investments, Larco is now focused on investing in Series A and B rounds, with check sizes between $6 million and $25 million.
Larco said that she finds her work as a venture capitalist to be very fulfilling, but she also acknowledges that it is hard to be a good investor.
“When I started with NEA, I told myself that I will try this for three years,” she said, “But it has been three years already, and I am still here. My portfolio companies are doing really well, so ‘knock on wood,’ I will stay in this career for a while,” Larco said.