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London Tech Week

Visionary VCs: Deepali Nangia talks about the importance of relationships to venture capital

Deepali Nangia barely knew what a venture partner was before a friend’s husband suggested it was something she should explore. Now a partner with Speedinvest for a year — a ‘brown girl from Kolkata’ who joined ‘some white blokes from Austria’, as she puts it — she talked to TFN about her background and diversity in venture capital.

An intercontinental background

Nangia was born and grew up in Kolkata but started her working life in the United States. She began in investment banking before moving to private equity, but when her boyfriend had to relocate, she followed. “He was moved to London, and I moved for love,” she explained, and her employers at the time, GE, allowed her to transfer to the London office. “I’ve lived in London ever since, and although I still have an Indian passport, London is where I call home.” She still lives in London with her boyfriend — now her husband — and their two teenage children.

It was in London that she began working in tech finance. First as an advisor working with female founders before joining Atomico as an angel, where she managed a portfolio of around 30 female founders. It was perhaps not surprising that when she started investigating venture capital, it only took a few approaches before she was put in contact with Speedinvest. “I was spending more and more time with Speedinvest,’’ she recalled. “ I really enjoyed working with the team. I thought it was a great culture to be a part of, and, very organically, they asked me if I wanted to join as a full-time partner.”

The multiple challenges of diversity

Nangia has long been a champion of female founders and is well aware of the challenges that diverse founders face. “All female founders have a challenge,” she says, “but with diverse founders, it’s a double whammy: you have to get over the female hump and the diversity hump.”

A key part of the problem, as Nangia sees it, is structural. Venture is an industry dominated by men, and although there have been great strides towards a workforce that is more reflective of society, this has still to percolate to the most senior levels.

“A huge proportion of women in VC are more junior- and middle-rank. And not top-rank,” she explains. This has a practical impact because it means women are not the ones making the final, financial decisions. “I’ve seen this personally, female principals bring femtech deals to partners, and even though the women are super-excited about the deal, the men don’t understand what these businesses are about.”

Nangia acknowledges this will improve with time, as women work their way up the venture capital ranks, but believes more effort is still needed to improve outcomes. “Male allyship is very important,” she says. “Whether it’s mentorship, friendship, discussion deals, men can really help change the equation.”

The importance of the relationship

Throughout her career, whether as an advisor or a venture partner, Nangia has appreciated the importance of the relationship. In a sector that is often dominated by money, numbers, and quantitative outcomes, notes the importance of feeling right about the partnership.

“It’s an eight-to-ten-year journey to build a big business,” she says, “it’s not something that just happens.” So, while the pitch deck, experience and world-changing ideas are critical, Nangia is also looking for personal qualities like intellectual curiosity and authenticity.

Her advice to founders looking for funding is to look for that personal fit, “I sometimes feel there’s a spray and pray mentality, but the chances of finding a funding fit are much lower that way.” Doing the legwork of researching and building contacts pays dividends. “And always ask for advice,” she adds, “even if you don’t get capital, ask for advice — they might send you to someone who might be interested in you.”

Recognising that the importance of having, or making, the right connection in getting funding, Nangia accepts that some is down to good fortune. “Meeting the right founder at the right time, at the right market, at the right price, there’s a lot of luck involved,” she says. But Nangia has arguably made her own luck, following up on those initial conversations led to her being a partner at Speedinvest, and none of it may have happened if she didn’t move continent with her then-boyfriend.

And those decisions might, just, inform some of her thinking about the importance of relationships in funding. “You want to make a great return,” she says, “but for a founder, it’s not always about picking the highest valuation, it’s about picking that person who’s going to be with you through thick and thin. It’s like a marriage that you’re going to be in, there are going to be lots of ups and downs!”

Nangia has invested in and mentored multiple female-founded companies, including PensionBee, Planera, Kama Labs, Sano Genetics, Shell Works, SideQuest, Juno Bio, Flown, Okko Health, Vine Health, Vaayu and Yhangry, among others. 

Interview by Akansha Dimri

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