Sequoia shakes up US operation with first female investing partner

21 Oct 2016

Jess Lee, co-founder of Polyvore and now investment partner with Sequoia Capital. Image: Fortune Live Media/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Sequoia Capital, one of the world’s most successful venture capital firms, has named Polyvore co-founder Jess Lee as its first US-based female investing partner.

Widely considered a boys’ club, the Silicon Valley VC world is about to welcome a fresh face. Jess Lee’s shift from Polyvore – through Yahoo – to Sequoia has marked a shift in the latter’s hiring policy. Lee is the company’s 11th investing partner, and its first female partner in its 44 years of operation in the US.


Future Human

Sequoia’s success in backing the likes of Apple and Google in the earlier years has positioned it as one of the world’s most recognisable VC firms.

Lee – originally working at Google – got involved with Polyvore almost nine years ago, but her route there was more organic than you’d expect.

She joined the team after falling in love with the start-up fashion site that allows users to create shareable collages of clothing and interior designs. Spotting tweaks that could improve it, she fired off an email with tips and, pretty soon, she was running the business. She sold it to Yahoo last year.

Women make up just 6pc of the senior investment teams at leading VC firms, according to PitchBook data – up just slightly from 5pc in 2010. However, the diversity shift underneath the surface hints at bigger changes.

In a report on the VC industry and its historically white, male make-up, PitchBook points to 2011 and 2012 – when Aslop Louie Partners hired Ernestine Fu and Alex Banayan – as a turning point.

Not from the traditional VC background as they weren’t bankers, the duo’s success proved that there are other, often better, options out there.

“Other examples of people breaking the mould include Shahed Khan, a tech start-up founder brought on at Upfront Ventures as an analyst before being of legal drinking age, and Kyle Russell, who worked as a TechCrunch writer before leaving in June 2015 to join Andreessen Horowitz as a deal partner, focused on VR/AR, drones, robotics and machine learning,” reads the report.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Kate Mitchell, co-founder and partner of Scale Venture Partners and the chairwoman of the National Venture Capital Association’s task force on diversity, was optimistic that Lee’s move to Sequoia could prove just as pivotal a moment.

“Getting the first female venture capitalist into a top-tier partnership is a big deal,” she said. “Whether that translates into a long-term commitment to better inclusion, only time will tell.”

Jess Lee, co-founder of Polyvore and now investment partner with Sequoia Capital. Image: Fortune Live Media/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic