I’m Joining NextView Ventures as an Investor. Here’s Why

I am so excited to share that today I joined NextView Ventures as a Senior Associate on the investing team, based in New York City, the town I’m lucky enough to call home. Thank you to NextView for this awesome announcement!

NextView is a seed-stage, generalist venture capital fund led by brilliant, kind, and curious individuals. Their exceptional reputation is built on their successful investing record, and their unwavering commitment to supporting the founders they invest in—both as leaders and human beings. In an industry often shrouded by platitudes and false promises, NextView is the exception. They are honest, accessible, and real. They are also super fun to be around, whip-smart, and deeply experienced as investors and entrepreneurs. All of these qualities are invaluable in venture capital, and many of them are rare.

NextView was founded in Boston, but their portfolio spans the country with a strong focus on New York, where Melody Koh (Partner) and Dorothy Ren (Associate) are also based. (Formerly, Melody was the first product hire at Blue Apron, where she built the product team from the ground up.) NextView and I share conviction that New York City remains an under-tapped wealth of interdisciplinary innovation and opportunity, and I could not be more excited to double-down this city and its founders.

Dark as the past year has been and the present remains, New York and the country at large are uniquely positioned to reinvent the ways in which we work, live, and succeed. I believe New York founders will help lead the charge, and if you’re building a company here or beyond, please get in touch. I can’t wait to meet you. (Social distance park hangs, Zooms, carrier pigeons, you name it, I’m there.)

I have seen the power of New York entrepreneurs first-hand over the past year through my experience at Chief, the private network for women executives. As an early employee at the women-led, NYC-founded company, I built relationships with extraordinary women leading businesses of all sizes, across all industries. Through the Chief network I saw incredible brain trusts form—the seeds of new founding teams and businesses. This interdisciplinary collaboration is the heart of New York City’s success, and I can’t think of a better time to lean into ideas, opportunities, and calculated risk.

Those who know me well know that I’ve been obsessed with early-stage investing for quite a while, and that my experiences at Chief, in journalism, angel investing in companies like Somewhere Good, and in management at Bridgewater Associates are all informed by my relentless pursuit of truth, innovation, and equity. To some, my career experience spanning various fields appears incoherent or disadvantageous. I’ve been repeatedly told I “have no qualifications for VC” and that “it’s a shame I didn’t go to Stanford.” These critiques can cut, but usually I find them funny. VC is a game in which breadth of experience, talent, network, and ideas win.

When I met Melody, Rob, Lee, David, Dorothy, and Nicole, I immediately felt seen and valued for all sides of my experience and personality. Our interview process was one of honest dialogue, personality exploration, and celebration of difference. At one point I assumed I wouldn’t get the job because I’d been too transparent about myself, my strengths, and my areas for growth. Imposter syndrome is real. Soon after experiencing that doubt, I got an offer. I cannot overstate how refreshing that felt, or how privileged I am to receive this opportunity. In such a competitive and often biased industry, I take seriously my responsibility to ensure more “non traditional” VC candidates find the recognition they deserve.

I look forward to hitting the ground running, meeting new early-stage founders, and deepening relationships with the many incredible entrepreneurs I’m already lucky to already call friends. While my investing and operating experience thus far lies in community businesses, marketplaces, social, and d2c consumer goods, I joined NextView because it is a truly generalist fund, investing in diverse solutions to everyday problems and opportunities.

As a journalist and investor, my curiosity is deep, my tolerance for pretense is low, and my commitment to funding women and BIPOC investors is very high. I encourage you to get in touch in whatever way you’re most comfortable with—cold reach outs are welcome. You can find me on Twitter @LeahFessler, or on email at leah@nextviewventures.com. You can find NextView on Twitter here. I’m on Linkedin here, and live in Brooklyn (yes, I’m still here).

People often ask me why I am interested in VC, and it’s a good (albeit often loaded) question. As I begin my first full-time investing role, I want to share a bit more on why VC as a means to introduce myself to those I don’t already know.

About three years ago, I began tossing around a theory with close friends and colleagues. At the time, I was working as a reporter at Quartz, covering the intersections of gender and technology — reporting on topics such as the sexism coded into Siri and Alexa, the ways in which gender bias manifests on Slack, and the underestimation and underrepresentation of women, Black people, and people of color in VC.

My theory was simple: Being a good early-stage investor is essentially the same as being a good journalist.

For both, you need a wide and deep network rooted in genuine trust, open-mindedness, and a penchant for keeping your ear to the ground. You need to be obsessively curious, always digging for the next trend, problem, or catalyst for change. You need to be an exceptional interviewer and have high EQ— which boils down to being a great listener, accustomed to questioning assumptions, including your own. You need to toe the line between setting aside personal biases and leaning into your hunches, no matter how crazy they may seem. Above all, to be a good investor or journalist, you need to know how to spot, hone, and tell a great story.

Reporters don’t just call bullshit, they dig deeper to find the truth. Intelligent investors do the same. Diligence is just another word for the reporting process, and when done well, it leads you to ideas and founders you may otherwise overlook. When done poorly, it confirms your biases and blinders. At scale, such close-minded or limited-sourcing diligence results both in biased media bubbles, and the severe underinvestment in women and BIPOC founders we see today. The fact that women represent less than a quarter of expert sources in news coverage (despite earning significantly more secondary degrees) is not dissimilar in root causes from the fact that women receive less than 3% of venture capital funding.

When I quit my reporting job to “join VC,” I thought that everyone would see this parallel as clearly as I did. That was a naive assumption, and while it led to some disappointing experiences, it also turned into a very helpful filter.

Giving the “journalism-VC pitch” allowed me to quickly identify open-minded, forward-thinking investors, forming relationships with individuals like Will Quist, Alexia Bonastos, Steve Schlafman, Arlan Hamilton, Christie Pitts, Monique Woodard, and Nisha Dua—partners who achieved success in VC by listening to and betting on the unexpected. Encouragement and opportunities from these investors among others (I see you, thank you), gave me the confidence to invest in myself and my own story, rather than bending over backwards to become someone I wasn’t, and didn’t want to be.

That honesty paid off, even if it took a minute. I will always be a writer, but I refuse to believe that there is any “right” profile for VC, or any career—or that you need to give up one expertise to focus on another. Your resume is a resume, not a script. Journalism taught me to draw lines between seemingly disparate dots—to form stories by pondering how details might collide to form a narrative, rather than assuming that because they appear at odds, they cannot fit together.

Esoteric as this may seem, it’s the core of how I’ve approached my own career, and how I approach investing. No founder or investor’s “credentials” define them. How you think makes you different, and I believe that diversity of thought is the key to to community and financial success—whether building a founding team, a VC fund, or your own life. It’s an ethos I learned in my first job at Bridgewater, a hedge fund notorious (and often misunderstood) for its radical transparency: Know what you don’t know, and what to do about it.

Usually, “what to do about it” isn’t faking it till you make it, or assuming that due to your own “success,” you know what’s right for everyone else. “What to do about it” is surrounding yourself with people who have different lived experiences, who can teach you what it means to see the world through new lenses. People who see what you don’t.

Over time, I’ve learned that like most good ideas, my theory about journalists making great investors wasn’t novel. This realization provided great relief, as the writers-turned-investors I met showed me that my vision was possible. This representation matters. Their success made a seat for me at the table, if only metaphorically. As Katherine Boyle, Partner at General Catalyst and former reporter at The Washington Post, taught me in a recent podcast with Harry Stebbings, the only difference between journalism and investing is that (to paraphrase) the end result in journalism is a story, and in investing, it’s a check.

In this podcast, Boyle goes on to explain the many metaphorical (and literal) doors that were slammed in her face as she similarly worked to get hired in venture capital. She mentions the advice she received from another journalist-turned-investor, who found great success himself, but urged her not to pursue the same path: “You won’t be taken seriously,” he told her.

The truth, as Boyle emphasizes, is that this man’s advice could not be more accurate. I cannot count the times I have felt belittled, eye-rolled, or even laughed at for thinking I could seriously take a swing at VC. And while gender plays a role in it, and while my extreme privilege being a white, cis, educated woman protected me from far deeper discrimination, above all, I think the skepticism I faced came from fear of something different. It’s interesting how witnessing diverse paths to success can make people question—then stringently defend—their own.

And while I may be different in thought, experience, and perspective from the VC stereotype, I could not be less unique. I am extremely grateful for NextView taking a chance on me, but there are so many people like (and wonderfully different) from me who deserve similar opportunities.

I’m getting into this work because I genuinely believe (and know) there are many folks who are not represented in venture or entrepreneurship, who I do not represent, and who must receive checks and jobs—not because it’s charity, but because it’s good business. Whether in my own career or my next step at NextView, I’m investing in difference. I’m investing in compelling stories, and challenged assumptions. I can’t wait to begin, and to meet you if you made it this far. :)

Get in touch: @leahfessler or leah@nextviewventures.com

Investor at NextView Ventures. Journalist. Thinking about gender, equality, and pugs. Formerly at Chief, Quartz, Slow, Bridgewater Associates, Middlebury.

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