Phenomenal Ventures, founded by Mena Harris and Helen Min, the first • TechCrunch

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Mena Harris He knows How to build. The lawyer and author leveraged her side hustle to make activist t-shirts a brand called Phenomenal, which recently transitioned from merchandise to media to entertainment. Now, she wants to invest in her next venture, Phenomenal Ventures.

The entrepreneur, who is the niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, is launching the business with a partnership. Helen M, was formerly head of marketing at AngelList, Plaid and more. The two met on Facebook as early recruits, became best friends, and eventually shared notes on tech operators from grade school to angel investing. The joint VC firm’s idea is to materialize in 2021, months before the downturn begins, Harris explained.

“We feel confident in our ability to succeed, but despite some uncertainty around the economy, we want to start humbly and get the job done,” she said.

Phenomenal Ventures has already closed a $6 million seed-focused fund with investments from firms including 776, Trib Capital, Slow Ventures and the founders of tech companies including Dropbox, Quora and Pinterest. About 38% of LPs are founders or former founders. About half of the fund’s investors self-identify as women, and 12 percent self-identify as black.

The new fund will allow Phenomenal Ventures to participate in pre-seed to Series A rounds, with average valuations ranging from $100,00 to $500,000. The organization has also tapped Zabrin Khan She began her investment career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz and Lead Edge Capital.

The firm has invested in 13 companies so far, nine of which are built by underrepresented founders (although Min says they don’t have specific diversity mandates or quotas).

Every company that Mena and I have worked at—Facebook, Slack, Dropbox, Uber, Plaid, Quora, AngelList as startup employees, all literally unrepresented founders—our networks reflect those companies and our networks. We’ve been a part of that for so long, to say we’re going to adjust that deal flow because of the network that we’re in… I don’t think so. [that] Super makes sense, especially not for a fund,” Min said. “Venture is about leveraging the unique access you have.”

It is interesting to note when the organization officially started its operations. The tech industry is undergoing a reboot, as evidenced by public market struggles and sector-agnostic firings. Funding for female founders is shrinking. “There are still different amounts of funds being raised, we know there’s still money being raised and raised, but a lot of it isn’t led by GPs alone — and even fewer are led by women, let alone women of color, or people like us who are women of color and not professional venture capitalists,” Harris said. He said.

The round-the-clock fundraising process for Phenomenal Ventures’ fund took around a year. “I’m very clear about this, and I wish a lot of people would be: we’re ready to raise a big fund,” she said, adding that they closed the first half of the fund in the first three weeks of fundraising. Then, Min says, the slowdown slowed LPs, which affected the fundraising process.

Eventually, Harris and Min decided to stop fundraising after their initial approach, focusing instead on making a proof-of-concept fund that would put them in business. “There’s a real trade-off between the time we spend on fundraising and the time we spend on deal flow and talking to founders and helping our portfolio companies, so we decided to call it that,” Min added.

“We’re really confident in our ability to succeed, but we want to start humble and get the job done … even though there’s some uncertainty around the economy,” Harris said, later adding, “You can raise money forever, especially with the way the economy is.”

Phenomenal Media and Phenomenal Ventures operate as two separate legal entities, Harris said. Optically, brand overlap definitely helps in marketing. But a surprising brand presence in the e-commerce space means the company often gets inbound pitches for physical goods. While Min said he would never say no to the DTC category — which has had a tumultuous past few years — he invests in what he knows: software enterprise companies, fintech and the future of business.

“I think that’s really surprising to people because we’re women, and then it’s kind of the brand and the story,” Min said. But we really focus on venture-like things.

For Harris, the organization feels like an opportunity to make a “mission-driven impact” on the tech industry, where she’s been for more than 15 years. She is looking at the entire “value chain” of startups, the first stop.

“By being inclusive and doing it at this scale, you have the ability to work with your LPs, GPs, founders or portfolio companies to make an impact as far as employee culture and the end users you serve,” Harris said.



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