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Women in Business Q&A: Chelsea Stoner, General Partner, Battery Ventures

17/12/2015 17:16 GMT | Updated 17/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Chelsea Stoner joined Battery Ventures in 2006 and focuses on investments in the software and healthcare-IT sectors. Chelsea currently serves on the boards of Avalara, Brightree, Intacct and WebPT and is involved with Glassdoor and Marketo. In 2013, Chelsea was named to the Forbes Midas "Hot Prospects" list of up-and-coming venture capitalists.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I grew up in a really small down in northeastern Montana - about as different from Silicon Valley as you can get. My family is of Scandinavian heritage: My great-grandparents came to Montana, with almost no possessions, for the free land and the opportunity to build something meaningful. They literally created everything - including their own home - from scratch and they helped to build the town we lived in from the ground up. This took an enormous amount of mental fortitude and a tremendous work ethic, especially to survive the extreme winters. That grit and dedication was passed down through the generations and is woven through the fabric of my family.

It is largely because of my upbringing that I am where I am today. We were taught to never back down from a challenge, to work hard to achieve our goals, and to lead by example. I'm proud of my roots and where I came from and am working hard to instill the same lessons in my kids.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Battery Ventures?

Prior to working in the venture capital industry, I worked as a consultant and I traveled extensively. I lived and worked everywhere from the Netherlands and London to Hong Kong and Singapore. Working in so many different environments and such varied cultures gave me a better sense of the world, and it helped shape how I lead today.

Being a consultant is difficult work as it means long hours and extensive travel, but I appreciate how it helped me to understand the need to prove value with my knowledge in order to gain credibility. I also learned the power of honesty - there were many situations in which I had to tell people things they didn't want to hear, but which I knew to be right. This is not easy when you're a twenty-something with less experience than a client who has been around the block, but being a "yes woman" doesn't fix the problem, and I was all about problem solving. I've stayed true to this in my venture career, as I'm sure many of the CEOs I've been lucky enough to work with will attest.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Battery Ventures?

Every day I get to work with some of the smartest, most innovative and motivated people, all of whom have built successful businesses based on their personal passions. I've had the fortune of being able to help fund and work with companies that are making big impacts on a variety of industries - from healthcare to cloud computing. For example, Battery Ventures has invested in 19 healthcare-IT companies over the course of its 30-year history, and we are truly dedicated to investing in companies that have potential to revolutionize healthcare for the better. One of those companies is Data Innovations, which provides software for medical laboratories to help improve processes. I served on the board of Data Innovations before its recent acquisition by Roper Industries, and am proud the company was able to more than double both revenue and profit during our ownership.

It was also exciting to be named a general partner at Battery last year. It's been widely discussed in recent months that there are few women leaders in venture capital, and in the tech industry overall, so I'm looking forward to helping change perceptions about women in the industry. I am dedicated to helping bring more women into the investing world and interest more girls in high-tech careers.

A fun challenge I have in my job is finding promising companies that are tucked away in enclaves far outside of California and Silicon Valley. I joke that I am a "two-hopper" investor because I rarely travel to places that are easily accessible by plane, and I often need to take a couple of flights (and on tiny planes!) to get to these companies. Data Innovations, for example, was based in Burlington, Vermont, which is not the easiest place to get to. But there are lots of smart people with interesting businesses in these out-of-the-way places that are looking for a partner to help bring their business to the next level. I am proud to be able to do that, even if it means never flying direct.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking a career in your industry?

Start early and jump in with both feet. Don't be afraid of the challenges, as there will be many, but be open to the possibilities that lie ahead. Work smart and work hard, and don't be afraid that you won't have the ability for work-life balance. If you prove your strengths and you are making good returns, you will be successful.

Another thing I've learned is to be self-aware; understand your talents (and weaknesses) and let the talents shine. This is a key skill that many overlook. Put yourself into situations where your talents can truly differentiate and drive the alpha returns for which we investors all strive. It might be understanding a specific market better than others or having deep operating skills. For me, analytical skills have proven extremely valuable and I've migrated to investments where these skills are most useful. While I really like the emotional quotient or "EQ "(side of this business, I'm passionate about finding answers in the data, especially answers that would have otherwise been overlooked. As an engineer by training, I've always loved math and analysis!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I follow my own advice of working hard and working smart! While most of the Battery partners and investment team members have families and kids, I was the first investment-team member to be pregnant at the firm. Having kids has helped me prioritize what was important in my life and understand that both my career and my family are at the top of the list. As such, I became incredibly efficient at managing my time and focusing on the opportunities that I believe are the best and where I can be most impactful - before I was terrible with time management because I had that luxury, but I now recognize that it's an incredible skill to have, and it has really caused me to focus on only the best opportunities. I've gone from operating in a reactive mode to being much more proactive. And I am a much better investor because I learned to work smarter and focus on what matters. Focus is key! I make it a priority to be home for dinner when I'm in town, then get back online after the kids go to bed. It's an adjustment, but it works.

I am also fortunate to have a very hands-on husband and an excellent support system. Sheryl Sandberg was spot-on when she said one of our biggest career decisions is who we marry, and I couldn't ask for a better partner in this journey. It does take a village given my work and travel schedule and I am lucky to have a wonderful one around me.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

The number one issue I see is confidence. Too many women give up before they even really try because they don't think they have what it takes to make it - both in the tech industry and in the investment world. And this could not be further from the truth. We as women have so much to give, including a different perspective than our male counterparts, that is no less valuable, and we do a disservice by not standing up for ourselves more.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I have been lucky to have had a number of different mentors in both my personal and my professional life that have had made such a meaningful impact on who I am today. I don't think anyone should be groomed and shaped by just one specific perspective. Each person I consider a mentor has made a significant but different impression on my work and life, and I continue to go to these people for advice and insights. This part of the investing world is still an apprenticeship business and I have been quite fortunate to learn from extraordinary investors at Battery and am lucky they took the time and energy required to be good mentors. As with my travels, having a variety of mentors with differing perspectives has given me a much more well-rounded view of the world and of myself.

What do you want to accomplish in the next year?

I'm a creature of habit, so my professional goal is always the same each year - continue to hunt for and invest in great businesses and great leaders so we can send our investors big checks. On a personal level, I want to teach my 4 year old to ride a bike so we can go on family bike rides and read Richard Thaler's latest book about behavioral economics.