Carolina Küng

Head of Platform, London

Carolina was a competitive surfer until the age of 16 and enjoys all things sports and outdoors.

She is fluent in Portuguese and English, and conversational in German, French and Spanish.

In her spare time, you might find her at Declare, where she leads the London community alongside senior female Tech and FSI leaders, in an effort to promote leadership and diversity in Tech and Venture Capital.

Born in São Paulo to Swiss and Portuguese parents, Carolina was raised in Portugal. While earning her BA in London in Business & International Relations, she spent a year each working at the Swiss embassies in Paris, Madrid, Chicago and New York City. In 2012, Carolina graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with a MSC Masters in Digital Journalism.

Carolina has built her career around tech;  first by reporting on it for AlJazeera and Newsweek, and later by scaling community, marketing and business development at e-Shoptiques and Appway, e-commerce and fintech startups in New York City. In 2016, Carolina joined Insight Venture Partners, where she led platform and community as part of the Onsite growth strategy team.

At Frontline, Carolina manages all Platform and Marketing efforts, helping both Frontline Ventures and the Founders we support get to the next level of growth. Her work cuts across both Seed and Frontline X and she spends her days fielding off eager team ideas on outlandish events and products; focusing instead on how we can uniquely support our Founders, to help them fly higher – and faster.

From a recent interview with Negotiating The Terms

F

What attracted you to venture capital and working with startups?

C

Venture capital is all the hype at the moment, but for me it was happenstance. After getting my undergraduate degree in European Studies and International Political Economy at the Royal Holloway University of London, I wanted to explore a career in diplomacy. As much as I loved my degree, it quickly became obvious that I was lacking in any practical skills – I could debate you passionately for hours, but that was about it – and after several stints at several Swiss Embassies across Paris, Madrid, Zurich, Chicago and NYC to try my hand out in diplomacy, I opted to purse journalism instead. I went to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, initially enrolling in political journalism courses. But there was a business and financial reporting class that piqued my interest. Fraud, intrigue, mystery? sure! I was very lucky that the professor let me audit the class because I was instantly hooked.

We had a number of reporters visit the class including the journalist who uncovered the Bernie Madoff scandal and we dove deep into some of the most riveting business and tech cover-ups in history (think Enron). I became fascinated by investigative tech reporting. Post graduation I was lucky to work for Al Jazeera in Washington DC, followed by the Newsweek video team (The Daily Beast). It was tough; right about when I joined, Newsweek shut down their print magazine. Print was declared dead – though we’re currently seeing a revival – and it put me in a very precarious position even as someone on the video team. At the time I was moonlighting at Newsweek while working at United Nations during the day for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children. On the weekends I worked at a bar. Even with all of these jobs, I could barely afford rent living with 5 roommates in deep Brooklyn.

It made me realize two things. What I was doing was unsustainable and, if I wanted to stay in New York, journalism was sadly in no position to help me secure a visa or a living. Since I liked reporting on technology, I figured why not try working in it? I began by joining an e-commerce start-up and then moved onto to Appway, a Swiss FinTech firm that was expanding from Switzerland to the US. I joined the 5 person team that was leading the expansion into NYC – my title was literally “Head of Pipeline” for a while – I was in charge of developing our talent, business dev, and our marketing pipeline, and I loved it. I was there for over four years during which time we grew the team to 20 employees and I rose up the ranks to Regional Marketing Manager for North America. Four years was enough to build a solid engine and I had pretty much hit the growth ceiling for my role at Appway, so I started passively thinking about what I might want to do next.

By chance, I’d received an InMail on LinkedIn from a recruiter looking for someone to join a top VC/PE firm in the city. My instant reaction was no way! I worked at startups. I liked to wear jeans to work. I was hesitant to respond but the recruiter was persistent and the job description seemed pretty interesting. The firm, Insight Venture Partners, was seeking a candidate to supercharge its portfolio marketing and operations as part of the post-investment Onsite team. I decided to take an interview and met with Hilary Gosher, the formidable managing partner. The rest is history. I knew I’d met someone amazing and took a leap of faith to join the team.

F

Have you faced major challenges in VC as a female platform leader?

C

That is a very tricky question. Whilst I have – unfortunately – been in numerous inappropriate and uncomfortable situations throughout my career, I also feel like now is the best time to be a woman in venture. Obviously our industry is nowhere near respectable parity, but for the first time I think we are witnessing real engines for change versus just talking about the problem endlessly.

That said, it all starts with improving your own work environment and I am extremely fortunate to work with a supportive and forward-thinking team. Back in 2015, before diversity and inclusion issues were at the forefront of public discourse, Frontline’s partners, William McQuillan, Will Prendergast and Shay Garvey wanted to track female-led deal flow. Unsurprisingly, traditional deal-flow tools were not built for diversity tracking at the time. They had to ask our provider, Sevanta, to custom build this feature.

Six months in, the team analysed our deal flow. It didn’t shock anyone that most founders were male (89%). They decided as a firm that it wasn’t good enough, and more importantly, that Frontline needed to critically think about how we present ourselves and how we conduct our deal-flow process if we were to make any real dent in these figures. The team embarked on a complete overhaul of the Frontline website and branding materials to weed out any subliminal messaging that might deter founders and candidates with diverse backgrounds from approaching us. They re-designed our internal hiring policies to ensure that 50% of all candidates in final rounds were of diverse backgrounds, updated job descriptions, and personally committed to speak on panels about improving diversity in VC. As a team, we have sponsored several female founder-focused incubators and events in Ireland and the UK. We actively encourage all of our founders to think about diversity from day one to weed out any potential roadblocks to attracting diverse talent for their teams. More recently, William McQuillan partnered up with Fearless Futures and Diversity VC to expand unconscious bias training to other senior partners in VC across London and Dublin.

We’ve seen some early indicators of success; Frontline’s female founder composition has increased from 11% to 25% since 2016.

So, when you ask about difficulties as a woman in VC, I think a lot of people will say that it’s hard to get great female candidates because there aren’t enough in the ecosystem. We challenge that. Frontline is proving that if you’re willing to put in active effort over time, you should see changes in diversity numbers that trend in a positive direction.

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