I recently interviewed the wonderful Kathy Copic, who has an extensive background in data and machine learning, and is now a partner at Fieldwork Partners, which provides fast-growing teams consulting on data strategy and hiring.
She is fairly new to angel investing but has already done a ton of research, has many useful insights to share, and is part of the Modern Angels angel investing group for women.
My background is in physics — I was a physicist for a long time! I worked in experimental particle physics at CERN, a big laboratory in Switzerland and France, and Fermilab, outside Chicago in the US. At CERN, I got to go 100 meters underground and work on instruments that took data as part of the ATLAS Collaboration. My work in data started in academic data; building detectors, analyzing data, working with big teams of people to understand basic questions about the universe. It was really fun!
I moved into tech and education after physics. While I was working at Berkeley as a physicist, data science was really taking off in companies. A lot of friends from academia were looking to move into industry, and other friends in tech were looking to hire. They wanted to find people who had deep experiences in working with large amounts of messy data, computing and programming, data analysis, machine learning, things that people were doing in scientific research.
I moved to working at the Insight Data Science Fellows program. We worked with hundreds of teams hiring in data science, data engineering, AI, machine learning, health data — fields where there was a bigger need for people with data experience than there were applicants.
Insight was a fellowship program where people who had deep experience in one area could build skills and a portfolio to provide evidence to hiring teams that they are ready to transition. For example, if someone was an astronomer and they spent all their time working with data about stars, they could come work with the Insight team for about a month on a project that could show how they could translate those skills into industries like media, healthcare, tech.
Working with so many Fellows and teams across the industry, I got to know a lot of people! Now I’ve started small consulting company with two other partners. It’s called Fieldwork Partners, and we work with teams on data and engineering planning and hiring — similar to what we did at Insight. Through that work, I also get to meet a lot of people, and that’s how I got into angel investing.
It was through Amanda Robson’s Modern Angels, a group of over 250 women and non-binary angel investors.
The first company I invested in was specifically looking for more women on their cap table, and so they came to the Modern Angels group. The thing that got me interested in the company was that it seemed like a product that I would use, something I was excited about, an experienced team. It was through a syndicate, which is people putting together money into a group. This syndicate was organized by one of the investors, and I was invited to join.
In this case, I didn't even meet the team. I looked at their deck and I talked to their investors, who were excited about bringing on more people. We had a short call and it really didn't feel like it’s the kind of angel investment where they’re going to call me in the middle of the night and I'm going to help them through a challenge. I'd certainly be up for sharing and helping in whatever way I can for this team, but it's also not what they were looking for.
There's a conference for women in computing called the Grace Hopper Celebration. In 2018, I was there as part of a panel talking about careers in data, and I was accepted into a senior women's program for one of the days. Part of the day was dedicated to investing, andI had honestly not thought much about investing before. During the session, three women investors explained some basics about how people can become accredited investors, and how people get started. They shared data on how female entrepreneurs get less venture capital, that there are fewer women LPs, and how women invest less outside of their retirement.
One of the reasons I angel invest is to help influence who's giving the money, help influence what kinds of products are getting made, and to try to think about things that would help underserved markets, like half the population!
It’s been really valuable to have a community of people providing not just connections to deals, but also sharing opinions on what they're doing and how they are vetting their own investments.
One of the things that the Modern Angels Group did that I thought was really great was that they had a bunch of casual talks where you could get to meet people who have done a lot of angel investing. One of the people that I thought was really great was Anne Raimondi, COO at Asana. She spoke clearly about asking yourself WHY you want to make a specific angel investment. Is it because of the product, community, founders, or you're trying to increase your financial return? Understanding what, specifically, you’re trying to gain from angel investing can help you target your investments better.
Definitely! I’m excited about working with more teams.
As for the network, I think it’s always improving!
My expertise is in my work I’ve done around data. Understanding what data and machine learning and AI are good for, what they're not good for, thinking about what kinds of technologies could be used to improve a product, and what's hype or not worth it.
I’ve also worked a lot on scaling teams, how to hire for some of these complicated positions like machine learning engineer versus data scientist versus data analyst: What are those jobs? How are they different from each other? How do you get some really great people into those roles?
I am most excited to invest in things that provide access and products to communities that haven't been well served by venture capital.
A broader experience is definitely a major green flag. Somebody who has done more things in their career than just a straight track of fancy schools and big fancy companies. Those founders will always have opportunities and access to money, and often have limited life experience.
I look for people who have experience with the markets that they're trying to serve.
I think it’s a big red flag if someone has a group of users in mind, but they themselves aren't part of that community. Or they have some solutions that they think will work, but they're trying to impose them on the customers instead of hearing the direct needs of the customers.
I think it's really important to pay attention to the terms of the investment because there are structures that can squeeze people out of investments at later stages.
If you're getting started, I suggest connecting with some more experienced folks to understand what are the kinds of terms and ways to get involved that are more likely to yield something in the end. You need to make sure that if the company is extremely successful, say they IPO or get acquired, that you end up getting a financial reward from it. Many times, the way that it's structured, you don't end up getting much return on very early investments.
Sometimes one of the only ways to do that is to put in more and more money later. But a lot of angel investors can't put more money in to match big firms. So make sure that you understand the risks and the possible outcomes and are OK with it. Make sure you understand what’s possible: if the company has a great outcome, how do you know what the range of your outcomes are. You don't want to end up disappointed if the companies that you invest in are successful, but you don't feel like it comes back to you.
People know that if the company fails, they lose their money. What people don't know is that if the company succeeds and the later rounds are structured in a way that doesn't benefit you, that could end up badly.