Humanizing Technology

New Twists on Tech Investing

By Jennifer Greenstein Altmann ’91 and Debbie Swartz

Anuradha “Anu” Duggal ’01 and Hunter Walk ’95 may have been six classes apart and had different majors (international studies and history, respectively), but they do have something in common—a desire to help budding technology entrepreneurs find success. Duggal’s Female Founders Fund provides seed-stage funding for women business owners, a group she says is generally unfunded, while Walk’s venture capital company Homebrew makes investments of money, time, and expertise to aid small businesses in their early stages. Both focus on tech-centric businesses, including those involved in commerce, media, and social networks.

Woman-Wise

Anu Duggal has guts. At the age of 25, she started her first business—a wine bar in Bombay called The Tasting Room. Though the American-born Duggal had never lived in India before and knew little about either wine or running a bar, she managed to partner with India’s largest wine producer. It was an experience that bolstered her confidence. She went on to earn an MBA at the London Business School.

Anuradha “Anu” Duggal ’01
Anuradha “Anu” Duggal ’01

Since then, she has been a serial entrepreneur and investor with a focus on tech businesses. Duggal—whom Business Insider called one of the top 100 angel investors in New York City—sees a major opportunity in investing in companies that market to the female audience, which spends more than $100 billion annually online.

“The majority of digital consumers are women,” she says, “and right now less than 5 percent of venture capital goes to women.” The reason? “Venture capitalists are primarily men, so they may not understand or relate to a lot of these companies.”

Her latest venture, the Female Founders Fund—or F Cubed—is raising $5 million for seed-stage investing in businesses founded by women.

Duggal was inspired to create the fund by the success of shopping sites that cater to women, such as Gilt.com and Rent the Runway, as well as by her experience co-founding Exclusively.In, an e-commerce site for South Asian fashion, jewelry, and home decor. Launched by Duggal and three others, the site raised $20 million in capital from Accel Partners and Tiger Global, and has become one of the largest online Indian apparel retailers. (Duggal later stepped away from that project to focus on other things.)

The Female Founders Fund looks to invest in e-commerce, media, and social networks, with a planned investment of $50,000 to $100,000 in 10 to 15 companies.

“We want to prove that when talented female entrepreneurs gain access to capital, they outperform,” she says.

Man With a Plan

With technology becoming ever more accessible, cheaper, and flexible, Hunter Walk sees great potential for nimble small companies to compete toe-to-toe with larger behemoths. Homebrew, the investment company he founded in February 2013 with business partner Satya Patel, gives startups a leg up.

Hunter Walk ’95
Hunter Walk ’95

 “We’ve made six investments,” Walk says. Investments average between $500,000-$800,000 for each company.

What distinguishes Homebrew from other funders is that it offers more than money to promising businesses. It offers operational guidance and assistance in identifying and recruiting top talent. The goal is to help young businesses compete on a larger scale. There’s even office space at Homebrew’s headquarters in San Francisco where funded start-ups can roost until they are able to fly on their own.

Walk has plenty of expertise to share. His résumé boasts product management and sales positions at Google, which he joined in 2003. He moved to YouTube to lead its product development team in 2007, after its acquisition by Google, and worked with the company’s founders, engineers, and designers to develop new features.

So why did he leave YouTube to start Homebrew?

“While it was wonderful to be part of those groups, the most exciting part was in the beginning,” Walk says, noting that both Google and YouTube started small and grew exponentially in a relatively short period of time—it’s a hope he has for the businesses in which he’s now investing.

Walk believes in driving economic growth and innovation from the bottom up. The name of the company itself pays homage to the Silicon Valley hobby group Homebrew Computer Club that inspired the creation of Apple Inc. and other start-ups that helped fuel the personal computer revolution in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Two of the companies Homebrew has championed are theSkimm.com, which offers a daily email to users with a breakdown of what’s going on in the world, and UpCounsel.com, which allows customers to post requests for legal services, receive bids, and hire counsel for patents, contract negotiations, and other legal matters.

Walk says Homebrew’s job is “to clear the roadway” of obstacles for such companies.

“It’s impossible for us to be successful without them being successful,” he says.