European Young Innovators Forum interviewed Anne to launch '#herstory' series
Q: Could you share your story with us? What have
been the best moments of your career?
In a career of nearly 50 years, there are so many, but I would have to
say being part of launching new industry in digital marketing and
making many friends around the world while we invented SEO were
memorable. We will always have been the first.
Publishing my First book “Global Search Engine Marketing: Fine Tuning
Your Search Engine Results” (Que Publishing: 2012) was certainly a
high point, as was launching Zillow and watching it race to #4 in six
weeks for the search term “real estate”. Producing CEO Coach has been a special joy, where Gillian and I can
explore hot topics and voice our observations and opinions. I am
thrilled when I hear from listeners or when one says “I know your
voice”, when I meet them.
Most recently, mentoring entrepreneurs from Central Europe for the
U.S. Department of State (Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders
Initiative) has been extremely rewarding. At one time, it pleased me
to launch my own businesses; now, I am happy to advise founders,
sharing what I know, largely from my own missteps — of which
there were many! I am happiest when I travel far and wide, meeting
entrepreneurs, hearing their stories and supporting their work. When
Gillian Muessig and I formed Outlines Venture Group to do just that, I
knew I had arrived at the right place at the right time.
Q: What motivated you to build your company and
what made you decide to become involved in
With my expertise in search engines, I earned a seat on the board of
directors of a content start-up platform called Helium which had a
successful exit (25x revenues) after only ve years. Though a white
male founded company with white male PE funding, I learned a lot
sitting on that board, the only woman at the table for the rst three
years. The lead investor was a very good teacher. I saw what was
The sale of Helium to RR Donnelley provided enough cash to allow me
to do as I pleased. Anyone would call that a happy moment. Most
important, this was my opportunity to support my life-long belief in
diversity: multiple points of view and experiences lead to richer life
and to more successful outcomes.
At the same time, my business partner Gillian Muessig had a successful
exit herself from Moz. We admired each other’s work and we had
become good friends traveling around the world for SEO conferences.
We knew we wanted to work together, we were excited by
entrepreneurs and we wanted to give a helping hand to start-ups. We
began with a small portfolio of investments, in both cash and mentor
capital. When one start-up, for which I was an advisor, thanked me for
meeting with them, I said “No, you have it backwards. I own shares in
this company, so your success is my success. Now go make me some
money!” As I left that visit, I texted Gillian “we’ve found a business
After several years as angel investors, we realized our sister founders
are receiving a pitifully small access to venture capital, crippling their
ability to scale. We decided to change that and bring gender parity
to venture funding. Further, as angel investors, we observed faults in
the current system that needed tweaking, most notable a large gap in
post-seed funding that needed filling.
Q: You are a very inspiring woman with an impressive
track record. What motivates you to keep going? Do
you have a formula for becoming a successful
My career started in 1970, now nearly half a century ago. I am keenly
aware that time is now limited and I firmly believe in leaving the
world a better place — at least my small part of it. Economic
prosperity is the key to peace and security — doing well by doing
good and doing good by doing well.
Entrepreneurs create economic prosperity in their countries.
Knowing that I am doing what I can to help them is what motivates
Plus, entrepreneurs have a zest for adventure and risk and are fun to be
around. Most of the ones I know are decades younger than I, and that
keeps me from feeling my age.
Q: VC funding is a heavily male-dominated area. Have
you ever felt discouraged working in this eld and
what advice would you provide to women who want
to follow this path?
Ah, the Old Boys Club, the Bros, most of them are white. Where to
begin? A few weeks ago I reviewed a response from an investor to a
woman founder and it was filled with multiple reasons why he would
not be investing, all in an effort to cover up that he would not invest
because he believed a woman was not capable of success.
Sometimes I hear questions a man would never get, such as how are
you going to raise $100 million? Disappointingly, some of these
questions come from women who work in male-led VC firms.
I have no time to be discouraged, so I push it away and reframe such
comments into action steps. The boys’ rules are tired, producing
inflated, over-subscribed investments, as well as billions of dollars in
capital that sit on the shelf, contributing nothing to progress. How
many products and services that would clean up the world’s water
supply provide more effective cancer cures, and help raise healthier
babies are going unfunded because their founders proposing such
advances are women?
On the bright side, I observe a growing core of women innovators
stepping into the venture capital arena, many with fresh approaches
Anne Kennedy with one of the YTILI Fellows at the U.S. Department of State
unencumbered by old rules. The Women’s Venture Capital Fund has
been active for ten years. Backstage Capital, Chloe Capital and BRAVA
Investments are newer. My advice to women who want to become VCs
is to seek out the groups of women VCs who are running their own
shows, join with them and make your fforts stronger together.
Form a network stronger than the ‘Old Boys’ Club’
and play by new rules: girls’ rules!
Q: How will the world of venture capital change in the
next 5 years and what role will women play in this
If I have anything to do with it, there will be gender parity in
funding. It has been said that at the rate we are going today it will take
170 years. I am not waiting that long!
Q: What are the 5 most important skills an
entrepreneur needs to master to be successful?
The 5 most essential skills are:
Time management, Communication, Planning, Financial modeling,
As a bonus, these 4 necessary key attributes:
Persistence, Patience, Optimism, Vision
Q: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old
First, delay marriage till you are 30 — this is what I told my sons since I
was married at 20 and divorced at 35. All that took a lot of mindshare,
but my sons are extraordinary grown men, so I am glad I went through
Second, believe in yourself, even as the world tells you you are not
worthy, for so many reasons, not least, because you are a woman.
Q: Looking back at your career — if you were to do it
all again, would you do anything dfferently? If
Not much. Each step has been on my journey to where I am today. I
evaluated each opportunity and decided whether to take the leap. And
Q: What is next for Anne Kennedy?
A legacy: gender parity in VC funding, which will lead
to more women entrepreneurs funded to successful
The YTILI Seattle cohort and their mentors
exits! And a world commitment to diversity in all
Only then, I will “retire” to a beach somewhere to write trashy novels
under a palm tree.