Elizabeth Galbut, 28
Managing Partner, SoGal Ventures
When she was just 26, Elizabeth Galbut started her first venture capital firm, which she did despite not fitting the typical “middle-aged white man VC ideal.” Moving forward with a “bullish” focus on diversity, Galbut is now Managing Partner of female-focused venture capital firm, SoGal Ventures. “Women are one of the few remaining investment arbitrage opportunities,” says Galbut, who has helped fund more than 45 innovative startups to date. “We are already on the path to be prolific investors of our generation.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
While I was in graduate school my father was diagnosed with cancer. In parallel, I was working with a student entrepreneur who was starting Proscia, a digital pathology company. After seeing how difficult it was for the startup to raise capital in Baltimore, and knowing how this technology could revolutionize an industry, I knew that if no one else would invest, then I had to figure out how I could invest myself. This led me to start my first venture capital firm, A-Level Capital.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
I was told women's opinions don't matter and aren't respected in venture capital. I started my first venture capital firm when I was 26. Many doubted my ability to be a venture capital investor since I didn't graduate an Ivy League school, had no direct investing experience, hadn't built a multi-million dollar company previously, and didn't fit the typical VC profile of a middle-aged white man. Many thought what I was doing was stupid and would fail. Others told me I had no right to be an investor. Even when I had invested in over 30 companies alongside top brand name VC firms, men would classify what I was building as "cute".
Beyond doubts and criticism, I run up against consistent gender bias almost daily. The most vile and unacceptable behavior is the sexual harassment and abuse of power in the industry. I've been asked by a potential investor for sexual acts in exchange for investment. This is not ok.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
I am bullish on investing in diversity. So far, our funds have invested in 45 startups that are revolutionizing how the next generation lives, works, and stays healthy. Being able to support so many diverse founders who are each positively impacting our world, is something I'm incredibly proud of. Women are one of the few remaining investment arbitrage opportunities. By investing with this thesis, we are already on the path to be prolific investors of our generation.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
Investing in yourself is one of the best investments you can make, as it's one of the only investments you can truly control. Finding the strength within and confidence to pursue my own path was key to overcoming the negativity and doubts of others. It's quite simple-if anyone says you can't do something, they're really just saying that they can't.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Be the change you wish to see in the world. If you keep working at your dreams relentlessly and show up each day, the forward momentum you'll build will be unstoppable.
It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.
One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."
The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.
What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.
How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.
As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.
I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.
So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.
I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.
Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.
It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.
We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.
In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.
We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.
I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!
And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.
During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.
It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.