Moz co-founder’s venture fund for women-led initiatives makes its first investment
Gillian Muessig isn’t angry about the gender gap in venture capital. She’s just done waiting around for change.
“I have no more patience to be gracious, to let the status quo continue,” said Muessig, a tech industry veteran who helped launch SEO company Moz in 2004.
Muessig’s latest project is Sybilla Masters Fund, which got off the ground three years ago. It just closed a $1 million fund and made its first investment in women-led startup Fyrii.AI, a Silicon Valley-based enterprise sales startup run by a woman of color, Padma Subramanian.
The fund is named after Sybilla Masters, an early inventor in colonial America who was given a patent for a corn mill she invented — but in her husband’s name. Muessig’s goal is to close the gender gap in venture capital.
There has been some progress over the past decade, with more female-led startups getting funding and more women in VC roles. U.S. venture-backed companies with a female founder or co-founder raised a record $25.1 billion in the first half of 2021, PitchBook reported, but it’s still a small fraction of the $150 billion raised in total.
PitchBook also noted that the gap in deal value between all-female founded teams and startups with both male and female founders continues to widen.
Female founders are having a standout year— BUT ONLY IF THEY HAVE A MALE COFOUNDER.
— Halle Tecco MBA, MPH (@halletecco) August 26, 2021
Muessig believes having more women-led venture capital firms will lead to more investment in female-led startups. Venture capitalists naturally fund initiatives run by “themselves in a younger form,” Muessig said.
“The money must come from different hands and flow through different channels,” she said.
A report from Axios earlier this year found that women represent 14.2% of the leaders within venture capital firms. That’s up from 12.4% last year, and 5.7% in 2016.
Even with those gains, 61% of venture capital firms didn’t have one woman in a key decision-making role, unchanged from the year prior.
Muessig said that while new women-led funds such as Sybilla are cropping up, and more women are making decisions at investment firms, the most well-funded VC organizations worldwide are still male-dominated.
“Those funds are trillions of dollars in assets under management (AUM),” she said. “It will be scores, not dozens of years, before the newly minted women-led funds sort themselves out, some failing, other growing and even one such fund reaches a trillion dollar AUM mark.”
Muessig added: “It was Hans Rosling who famously said, ‘Things are absolutely awful. Things have never been better. And both these things are true.’
Sybilla Masters Fund will invest in 16 companies as part of its first fund, and is aiming to raise $15 million for its second fund. Eventually, Muessig wants to raise a $100 million fund, and also support 100 women to raise their own funds.
“We’ll prove the model,” she said.
Muessig runs the fund with her co-managing director, Anne Kennedy, a marketing veteran. The duo originally launched Outlines Venture Group together; Outlines is now the general partner of the Sybilla Masters Fund, which has four venture partners.
Muessig founded Moz with her son, Rand Fishkin. It was acquired earlier this year by iContact.