Kira Noodleman enjoys tackling problems in disruptive industries and across cultures. Her appreciation for skillful risk-taking attracted her to entrepreneurship, and ultimately to her role in venture capital. Kira is currently a principal at Bee Partners and also advises at Berkeley SkyDeck.
— What is your / your fund’s mission?
At Bee Partners, we embrace the reality that machines will win at precision, complexity, and data inference. Humans will still own purpose, ingenuity, and instinct.
We seek exceptional Founders with unbounded potential who execute. We then write them their first check, and live their mission. As a result, we have been that first check writer in 65% of our portfolio, we’ve led 17 of our last 20 investments, 70% of our companies succeed to the Series A, and we resolve 95% of our portfolio requests within 48 hours.
— What is one thing you are excited about right now?
I’m super excited about robotics right now applied to industrial and retail/logistics settings. It’s interesting because there is always a question of whether retrofitting existing machines or building from the ground up is the right call — and depends on the cost of customization and the ultimate value delivered, weighed against whether that value created is appropriately extensible to other use cases. There aren’t many hardware or software platforms or ecosystems out there, so often folks are trying to build from the ground up. Commercializing the robot is REALLY hard to do, and we are looking out for and excited to see applied, tangible use cases.
I’m also excited about the efforts I’m a part of in building the #FemaleFunders community for Bay Area women in VC, and the work I do with female founders via mentorship of groups like The Violet Society.
— Who is one founder you think we should watch?
Definitely Shely Aronov, Founder and CEO of Inner Plant. She’s currently raising her Series A, and has been developing technology that makes plants into living sensors. This will enable early detection of pathogens and nutrient deficiencies directly from plants in the field. Literally, farmers can talk to plants and understand what is happening in real time on a microbiological level — it feels like sci-fi.
The reason I love this opportunity is 2-fold: it has massive potential to generate financial returns AND significantly reduce drivers of climate change.
— What are the 3 top qualities of every great leader?
Having a strategic “big hairy audacious goal” (BHAG) paired with excellence in tactical execution is a winning combination.
Grit — what situations have you persevered through? What did you learn?
Uncanny passion for the problem you’re solving — why are you THE Founder to solve this problem?
— What was your very first investment/when? And what struck you about them?
The first deal I sourced is New Culture — a company producing cow cheese without the cow by using fermentation instead of animals to make dairy proteins; they later add plant-based fats and sugars as part of the traditional cheesemaking process. I was struck by how good the cheese tasted (I love a good cheese plate), and how well the Founding team knew both their market and technology — Matt is a serial founder from New Zealand, and Inja has a Master’s Degree in Biophysics and Protein Structure. Multiple companies have tried to produce fake cheese with non-dairy proteins, but low resemblance to real cheese resulted in slow and limited adoption. So basically, I could tell what they were doing was different by simply tasting it; the cheese was delicious and they had hardly modified it for flavor.
I also loved the positive impact New Culture will effect on the environment — methane from cows is incredibly damaging.
— What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?
Does this Founder have “Founder-Problem fit”? Meaning, is this THE Founder to be solving this problem? It’s a mix of the Founder having uncanny passion plus articulating a deep market insight that hasn’t been exploited in the market before.
— What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?
Be thoughtful about how you frame the problem, as that inevitably leads to the solution you’re pitching. Without a powerful problem statement, I’m not hooked.
— What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?
Resource magnetism is #1 with a bullet — and it translates to 3 things. Are you able to effectively and efficiently attract capital, customers and talent? We don’t expect Founders to be able to do it all individually — but we do expect them to find a way to bring it all together. Those are the pillars that any startup must develop.
— Favorite business book, blog or podcast?
“Great by Choice” is awesome. For anyone building a foundational business, read up on the 20 Mile March (or Google it if a book feels daunting).
— What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
Yoga. It’s a moving meditation through which I can reconnect to myself after a chaotic day. I also appreciate meditation in general and try to attend a weekly sangha or sitting group.
— Who is one leader you admire?
Josh Harder, formerly a VC from Bessemer, is now in Congress in California’s Central Valley. I admire how he jumped into a brand new arena of influence to try to drive more impact in politics. And it’s really fun to imagine VC skills being harnessed in the public sector.
— What is one interesting thing most people won’t know about you?
I teach yoga on the side! And host a quarterly “Dealflow Yoga” class with VCs. It’s a fun way to meaningfully connect and go beyond traditional networking.
— What is one piece of advice you’d give every founder?
Create optionality, or create more options for yourself as often as possible for the next inflection point. Capital efficiency and wisely using and raising capital is a very attractive quality to investors.
Startups interested in an opportunity to pitch Bee Partners can apply here.
Jeremy Webb Startup Grind - Medium https://medium.com/startup-grind/vc-corner-q-a-kira-noodleman-357b979cf2c9