Approaching the downturn with optimism could be the answer

Janine Sickmeyer
6 min readJun 28, 2022

We’ve all seen the news: the markets don’t look the same as they did in 2021. It’s not just the news that’s talking about the downturn. Venture capital Twitter is full of doom and gloom. Experienced VCs on Twitter and in real life are urging founders to cut their valuations, put a pause on fundraising, and expand their runway warning of a future recession.

While I’ve seen this on Twitter the past few months, Collision Conference was the first time I have seen these troubling comments in real life.

It had been two years since I attended an in-person tech conference and walking around with a big smile, I optimistically made my way to a table of VCs I admired. “Hi! Congrats on your recent funding announcement. This is pretty exciting being in person again, right?” I said. The group barely looked up from their phones as they took turns with negative remarks about the market, the difficulty raising capital from LPs, the pause of funding by most firms, and even tearing down other VCs by first name (most of which I didn’t even know).

As I made my way back to my crew, I kept thinking about the way these VCs are negatively influencing up-and-coming fund managers and founders. Founders look to experienced VCs for guidance and don’t take their words lightly. Venture capitalists have the power and voice to set the mood for the broader startup industry. We should be careful about what we say, and how we say it.

I’m new here. And although I’ve only been investing for 3 years, I have a decade of experience as a founder which has been incredibly helpful to my work as a venture capitalist. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the table, and this in part is why I take an opposite approach to many other VCs.

I’m not saying we should sugarcoat for the sake of founders, however, there’s a lot to come from taking a positive approach. As a venture capitalist, I’m encouraging founders to keep up with the news and not discouraging them from building their company and growing how they feel is best for them at this time. Let’s get real. The founders Overlooked Ventures invests in (historically-ignored) aren’t seeing the same negative impact on their valuations because they never had the privilege to inflate them in the first place. Christa says it best.

Let’s talk about Collision

The conference itself was full of energy and excitement.

I took the stage this week in a series of panels at Collision where I talked about the importance of investing in overlooked founders and how to make a change in the VC space. This wasn’t my first experience at Collision Conference, though it was a memorable one.

Back in 2014, I attended the first Collision Conference in Las Vegas to get more exposure for my legal SaaS startup. The event was a little smaller back then with around 1,500 attendees and 50+ speakers over two days.

Eight years later, I was invited to speak at Collision 2022, which welcomed over 35,000 attendees and 1500+ startups from 130 countries. It was an honor to speak among iconic and influential venture capitalists like Charles Hudson, Jamison Hill, Renata Quintini, and others.

In addition to panel discussions, I had the pleasure of listening to other founders pitch their startups on the center stage. I would have only dreamed to be on that stage back when I had my first exhibit burst. Below are just a few of the many startups that stood out to me.

Rhian Beutler, Govalo

Govalo is reinventing the digital gifting experience with gift cards, giftable subscriptions, and giftable products. Rhian, founder of Govalo, is a captivating speaker and it was a joy to watch one of our portfolio companies on the big stage.

Padmini Gupta, Xare

Xare allows anyone, anywhere to create a debit or credit card and share it with anyone. I was intrigued by Xare’s product and was stunned by the presentation and branding! Padmini Gupta was a wonderful storyteller and introduced the brand so well.

Abdou Sarr, MODU

MODU is the first platform for Media 3.0 and is enabling anyone, anywhere to capture, create, and integrate immersive content in seconds. Co-founder Abdou Sarr was engaging and ended his presentation with three takeaways. Brilliant!

Moving past male, pale, and stale: Increasing diversity in VC. While some found the title to be a bit provocative, others shared their joy in the title name and attended simply because of that. I sat between VCs Charles Hudson and Jamison Hill to discuss how we move past male, pale, and stale.

Moderator Kia Kokalitcheva kicked off the panel by painting a picture of the state of the diversity in VC. During the discussion, I shared a few of the ways Overlooked Ventures educates the industry and limited partners.

Charles and Jamison spoke about the math problem in venture capital and the need for big funds to make a change and integrate diversity initiatives into their core model. I closed with an optimistic view of the market and the power of investing in historically ignored founders.

Finding the founders of tomorrow. My second panel was on the center stage with two amazing women in VC, Maëlle Gavet and Renata Quintini.

Moderator and reporter, Amy Bernstein asked that I sketch the landscape of how venture capital is finding the founders of tomorrow. I started off by stating that diverse founders are the ones that investors should be backing although funding statistics show otherwise.

The panel also discussed pattern matching and how Overlooked Ventures removes bias. Maëlle urged companies and investors to go beyond putting a statement on their website and to actively find and invest in diverse founders. After discussing media portrayal of women founders, diversifying limited partners & who we are making rich, and how we support founders, the panel ended with closing remarks.

While Maëlle from Techstars warned founders of a recession, I took a different approach with the parting advice. I told founders not to take “nos” too personally and to create a no-jar with the goal of filling it up with marbles because the more no’s you get, the closer to a yes you become.

Overall, Collision was hands down a great conference and I got to meet so many amazing founders and fellow venture capitalists in real life, like Marlon C. Nichols, Eunice Ajim, Jacqueline Jennings, Vaneezeh Siddiqui, Kate Brodock, Mayowa Fawole, Wesley Chan, and others.

In-person events like Collision are beneficial to the VC and startup communities. They bring founders and investors together in one space, breaking down the communication barriers we find ourselves facing online. If a founder sees an investor they want to get in front of, they can shoot their shot in person. These IRL events are also a great opportunity to rally together, no matter what your title is, and get excited for the future of startups.

In a time where everyone else is being negative about the state of the market (or anything else really), put a positive cap on, and do the work. 👊🏼

Big things can happen when you think differently, stop making excuses, and use your influence to make meaningful change.