Venture capitalist on fostering diversity
Laurence “Lo” Toney may be fairly new to the world of venture capital, but he’s been in the tech industry long enough to know how to improve it. “Diversity is good for business,” says Toney. “Companies perform better if their teams reflect the customers they serve.” And as an investing partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), he’s set his sights on changing the technology ecosystem, specifically by making it more racially and gender diverse.
“One of the reasons I joined GV is that the group isn’t cookie cutter,” he says. “All of us on the team come from different geographies and backgrounds, and that allows us to cast a wider net. And the fact is, as an African-American, I’m going to attract entrepreneurs of color, and I can use my network as well as my colleagues’ networks to find investment opportunities we might otherwise miss.”
GV’s portfolio boasts more than 300 companies and invests money from parent company Alphabet’s balance sheet across a broad range of industries and stages. Examples include Biotech firm 23andMe, enterprise messaging company Slack, cyber protection corporation ThreatStream, and ride-sharing platform Uber.
Toney came to Haas to cultivate diverse professional connections. “I wanted to develop a network that would serve me going forward, and I knew that the alumni and classmates I’d meet would bring different backgrounds and skills to the table,” he says.
This kind of exposure had a lasting impact on his career. During his time at Haas, Toney caught the venture capital bug. But initially he wasn’t clear how to break in. As he met alumni venture capitalists, he noticed that the most successful ones came from operations backgrounds rather than general management ones. So he asked their advice.
“They’d tell me to be a product manager because product managers at tech firms are like mini CEOs,” Toney says. “They have the responsibility to understand their markets and come up with the right solution to meet the customers’ needs. And they get practice in hiring and firing people, which is a good leadership skill.”
Toney followed their counsel, serving in the trenches at various firms, including eBay, Nike, Cake Financial, Zynga Poker, and, finally, LearnStreet, a venture-backed company where he was CEO. “That taught me empathy for the entrepreneur, which I think makes me a better investor,” he says.
Toney transitioned to the venture capital world in 2014, when he became a partner at Comcast Ventures, working in the company’s Catalyst Fund, which invests in seed-stage companies started by entrepreneurs of color.
The opportunity to meet with so many entrepreneurs is what keeps Toney excited and engaged in his work. “Talking to them satisfies my intellectual curiosity and challenges me to make sure I’m tracking the next best innovation,” he says.
Working closely with other entrepreneurs also appeals to Toney’s sense of coming full circle. “So many people have helped me in my path, and I’d like to give back by helping others as well,” he says. —Kate Madden Yee
Mountain View, Calif.