Episode 87 features Maxine Kozler Koven, Co-Managing Director of LDR Ventures. The conversation with Maxine dives into the world of investing in women founders. Maxine has always had a passion for mentoring and helping people. We also discuss Maxine's interesting career journey, and what needs to be done to support more founders that are women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.
We want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Minority Report Podcast with Erik and Kerel. Each episode we talk with leaders in business, tech and media. And today's episode is sponsored by Marketing EDGE, a national nonprofit committed to shaping the future of marketing leadership by connecting students, academics and professionals to the resources and relationships they need to see move and stay ahead. Today we're joined by Maxine Kozler, who's the CO Managing Director of LDR Ventures. Let's jump in and get to know Maxine. Maxine, how are you?
I'm great. How are you today?
We're thrilled, thrilled to have you. For our audience who doesn't know you? Can you tell us a little bit about Maxine, where were you born and raised?
Oh, my goodness. Jersey girl. Born and raised in New Jersey. I went to high school in Boston, and then I moved to New York City,
Where in Jersey? I'm born and raised in Jersey as well.
So as I always describe it, that most jersey people would know, I was raised in Bergen County. Okay. So very close to New York City. I got a Sicilian grandfather from Hoboken, other relatives from Jersey City, and then we moved down to the Red Bank area when I was in high school.
Okay. All right. I've mainly lived in central jersey, currently living in Edison been an Edison for the last 18 years or so. Yeah. Oh, wow. Small world. Wow.
That's a great place to come from. Yeah. Awesome.
Yeah. Maxine, talk about that a little bit like how do you think sort of growing up where you grew up, sort of impacted who you are today? And you mentioned some of your family? How did that sort of help you create your own sort of identity?
Great question. Great question. I because I live in California. Now, we've been living here about the last nine years, and I am so grateful I came from New Jersey, there's just a feeling about it. In a sense, there's a sense of urgency, a sense of keeping you very much on your toes, people that I grew up are just sharp. They're very, very sharp people very worldly, sharp. You can be educated or not traditionally educated, but everybody's sharp. And you got to be able to think quickly, at least that's what I kind of grew up around. I'm grateful, I would say, my parents came from and grandparents came from very humble background, and worked really, really hard and everybody's self made. And I was able to have definitely a better life like my father paid for college for me, because that was one of his goals in life. He paid for college himself, his one other sibling paid for college, herself. And so to him, that was one of his dream, for me to be able to go to college and to not have to worry. So I'm like very sensitive to kids who have student debt or who are 40. And they're still paying off student debt. So I'm grateful that the privileges my family were able to give to me because they worked so hard. It made me very sensitive, compassionate, that I had an advantage.
I seen your you're in LA. Now, right? Talk to us about LDR ventures, what's what's going on at LDR?
So we're celebrating 11 years now. And it happened very organically. So my co managing director is actually my husband Drew Coven. And we both come from an operational background, he started his first business in his college dorm room. And I've always been operationally involved in businesses starting or growing. And so we just mentored a lot. We were always so interested in, you know, helping people along and we mentored a lot. And that's how we then eventually wrote our first check to someone else. And we continue to mentor and advise and that's our favorite part of investing. But LDR was created out of the fact that we would see someone who we had one company we were helping, and we wound up writing a check to but they had a photoshoot. And they had money for one photoshoot a year. So they had to get every shot. So we had a friend who was a creative director at a big fashion brand, and said, Hey, can you come and give them some guidance? And he met with them? And he said, You know what, let me go to the shoot, because it all happens there. So he spent the day with them on this photoshoot and made sure they got the shots they needed. And he's like, Wow, this is so cool. I'd love to invest too. And that's how it just kind of came along where we then created LDR we started bringing in partners and then we started investing bigger and bigger, but it's still highly connected to mentorship. So we only invest in people that we want to really roll up our sleeves and work with and help. So we don't do that many deals a year is maybe another traditional VC fund, because we get really involved.
That's cool. I want to ask you about some of your sort of bigger investments, or that's one of the primary focus on, you know, female entrepreneurs. Can you talk to us about that a little bit?
Absolutely. Absolutely. It happened organically. You know, as we've said, We walked the walk before we ever talked about it. And when everything blew up with Silicon Valley first and then Hollywood, and we realized we needed to talk about it, because we looked at our portfolio, and we said, Oh, my goodness, it was like three quarters of our investment were in female founders or co founders. were like, what is this problem with investing in women, we've been doing it all along. And we looked at why we had invested in women. And it was the exact opposite reason that most traditional people in venture capital, don't invest in women. They didn't over sell you on the billion dollar vision, they were very realistic, they knew their numbers really well. And they were very practical about how they were going to get to the next stage. And we love that they gave us great confidence instead of walking in and saying, Hey, I'm gonna make you a billion dollars. You gotta give me 2 million to do it. Right.
Yeah. And I want to sort of stay on that point a little bit, Maxine, in terms of, you know, investing, starting LDR ventures. What do you really love about what you're doing today?
I mean, it's like any kind of work that feels almost service oriented, I get so much more out of it. I feel that even because I'll speak to someone for an hour, or maybe they'll be on a panel or meet someone at a conference, or, you know, consulting and really sitting for a couple hours. And just to hear them say that I gave them some piece of advice or guidance that they wouldn't have heard before. Yeah, I actually just heard the greatest thing today that I can't believe I've never seen before it said, talent is everywhere. Opportunity is not. And I'm like this is this is exactly what I'm talking about. You have to put work and effort to find those people who don't know how to get the help. Mm hmm. And in the stream of like, now, thankfully, there's so many more accelerators and incubators and things like that. But yeah, the mentoring, advising consulting, that is by far my favorite part, like, and writing checks and putting money into the deal. And it's like, well, I'm all in, you know, I have every reason in the world for this to work. So it goes hand in hand. But watching talent develop watching people who they just, they just need someone to talk to a lot of founders I talked to especially the female founders, there just need someone to talk to that they don't have to be perfect in front of gotcha, big piece for them.
Gotcha. Gotcha. And you talk about sort of the focus on investing in women, founders, women that are leaders of their company. Obviously, there's a problem that we have in the industry in our industry today, right in terms of female founders, getting the investments that they that they need other underrepresented groups getting the investments that that they need as well, too. What can venture capitalists do to sort of change that if you will, like what needs to be done to get more investments for underrepresented groups?
I mean, I think a lots happened in the last three years, I think, you know, definitely. We went I don't remember the the number. But you know, three years ago, when time's up was really hitting it was about 2% of venture capital, when, and I think we're up to 7% this year, and then up on money is going at least a female founders founders of color have still an uptick. That's huge. from 2% to 7% is 10s of millions of dollars. Yeah, yeah. And I rather methodical change, because methodical change is not going to go away. Because actually between three years ago, and two ago, it shot up and female founders because I think it was a little bit of show, and then it dipped right back down again. Now it's methodically going up, because in that time, accelerators and incubators typically targeted toward female founders, founders of colors evolve, and now we're starting to see methodical growth in it. But I almost feel like the conversations I had three years ago where VCs have to treat it like any other kind of recruiting, you know, it could be for sports, going to that junior high in high school and having those scouts you know, first identify, you know, you have to put the effort in. There's even like venture capital for it because basically like invest in like so you got to get females and founders of.. have people of color, managing the funds and making the decisions. And if you have a firm that doesn't have a reputation for having partners in there who are females, or founders or people of color, they're not going to apply. Because that was the thing are like, well, we hire them, if they applied for a job here, they're not going to apply, because you don't have a history of showing that they're going to be mentor, they're going to have an opportunity to rise up in the company. So they also have to go like maybe you're not going to the MBA programs, you have to go to the undergrads in the business school and start courting them. So I think they, you know, venture capital, private equity, you know, they'd have to just take a really deliberate effort, recruit people to be in their firms from a very young age, and also be going to especially all these new accelerators and incubators that are specifically targeting people of color and female founders.
Gotcha. How does one start a venture capital company?
So my husband makes a great joke about this? How do you become a venture capitalists? You write a check! Well, there's it really, there's a big difference between, you know, the writing that first check, yeah, and becoming it, it's nice, because you can stay very small and nimble. And that's how we like to do it. We stayed small, our how much we invest has gotten bigger, the people investing with us have changed around and gotten bigger. But we still do things on a deal by deal basis. So when people have like big funds to manage, like, they have to go into a certain number of deals a year, when we get to go into what we know criteria for that. But generally, it's need funding. So you know, you've got to go out there and either get the funding or you're self funded. That's like a lot of family offices who are doing more and more venture capital or self funded. And then to me, you have to pick your thesis. Now, some funds will say, like, Listen, we go into everything, we just spot opportunity. For us, what we came down to is we got to invest in what we know, we've had experience in the food businesses, we've had experience in fashion and a lot of just consumer product. So we invest in consumer facing products, and really honed in on food, we have restaurants, we have food products, kind of food science involved and different ways of delivering food. Because we're just like, that's where we can offer the most benefit. It's not even just writing the chat, it's the most direction we can give it saving people time showing them how to scale. So I feel like people adventure and they do some, some are big enough that they can have a lot of different tracks are some of them just understand what you need to do to get from seed to series A. Yeah. But I think it's just really knowing what is your sweet, sweet spot, because you're going to give the founders the most value, and they just need so much more than money.
Right? Right. Thinking about the last year and obviously, you know, everyone's world has been turned upside down over the last year, thinking about your business. And you know, you mentioned that you invested in food and restaurants. And that's been an industry that has certainly been impacted, right by COVID. And the pandemic, how has that shifted your strategy, if you will, if at all in terms of the investments and the companies you work with?
Sure, it would definitely influence it. Because we're in, we were already in a few restaurant groups, which were so proud of them and what they did and how they pivoted and how they, you know, just kept things steady and even improved. And were able to go into different areas. We had some food delivery oriented that just went through the roof, because that became the biggest demand. So I would say, looking at these different food investments in terms of multiple revenue streams, not that anyone could have truly predicted this, but you know, how do you move into like, what's your core so that if you have to change direction, if you still have this core like you still a beloved brand, or you still have a beloved product, if you just have to facilitate getting it to the consumer in a different way, then you're good to go. We can always figure something out. wellness, I feel is bigger than ever because people are now fatally aware of I need to be healthy and take care of myself. This world is stressful, and the world itself is in a bit in trouble. The craziest thing is when the pandemic started and the plane stopped and no But he was driving anywhere and that China could actually see the sky that really influenced us. So we just as soon as this new year started, we made to plant based food investments. And we're making some more like ag tech investments, I think it really pushed us into wave closer to the beginning of the food cycle. So we have so many places where they're cooking the food, they're serving the food, or they're delivering the food. And we got very interested in where's the food coming from? And are we farming in ways and going to be able to continue producing foods to sustain this world. So we've made a couple plant based investments, and we're really getting very heavy into ag tech
Maxine, I want to ask you about some of your experience prior to LDR. You've worked for some great companies work for some great corporations. And you know, I'm sure you've had some unique experiences as a female. And I wanted to ask you about some of your experiences working for some of these companies. You're working in a male dominated industry now. And you're also experienced that at some large companies, did you ever experience issues of discrimination as a female? And if so, how did you handle them?
Oh, my God, most definitely. It's funny by LinkedIn doesn't, I think contain everything. But I started in the music business. So like, nothing phases me. After that, I started as an intern at 18 years of age in a recording studio, I saw everything by age 19, or 20. At that point, I stayed in the music business for a very long time, it was my first career. And to be honest, and I don't even know if I've ever said this publicly, I left the music business, which was like my whole life, and entertainment in general, because I was never going to get to where I wanted to go. Absolutely not. And I mean, there was like one woman running the show, at that point, who had just been elevated. And there was one seat at the table. And that was very clear. It wasn't everyone was just rising up over time. There really felt like there was one seat at the table for a woman and a shot. Yeah, no, I totally left. I'm like, this is a very, very small opportunity here. And I'm not going to wait another 10-15 years to like inch shop this much and so I left the business. But when I was younger, and you know, whether it was just I'm not going to get a mentor, or I'm not going to advance in my career, or just complete and total sexual harassment. I mean, when I was younger, I just didn't know what to do. I absolutely just didn't know what to do. And I managed whatever way I could out of the situation. When one situation I just kind of blatantly said it out loud in front of a bunch of people. And I embarrassed the person. But like, honestly, I just didn't know how to react. And it was funny because someone I was working for at the time pulled me over. And he said, You know, I thought he was going to compliment me for defusing the situation and getting myself out because now this guy will never come talk to me again. And the guy I was working for said, you know, you really blew that you could have blackmailed him and use it against him to get ahead. Wow. That's what my boss told me that I should have done in this situation. And I was probably 21 me too at the time.
Amazing. You know, now you work with a lot of folks who mentor others. And it sounds like then you didn't have a whole lot of resources in the form of mentors or anyone to sort of turn to how's it different now? And like, how do you help others sort of mentor and work with folks? Because it seems like you have a large, large group of people that want to help others and want to make themselves available to help people. How does that work?
Well, specifically, what we found out for, you know, at the time helping female founders and we've definitely widen that, the whole identifying like, invest in like, and so if you need more women getting money, you got to get more women writing checks. So very organically, I started hanging with the other female investors that I found. And we all had that same idea. So we've been hosting events, basically New York, LA, San Francisco, and each one each one of us kind of is the host of one in particular. And then everybody else is the co host. And we enlist women who can invest who can write a check to come and we host events where we're teaching them how to do angel investing and venture capital investing. We're introducing them to female founders. And then we just kind of we get them in the group and then people like LDR will put together deals where we can have that person come in for their first deal and we hold their hand and you know, the first check might be five or 10 grand. And then by the second year, they're feeling confident. And then there's 25 grand. And, you know, we're really moving this along. So people who three years ago came to their first event, you know, they're in like 10 deals now, or 15 deals now. So that was the way we did it. And they became these whole group events where we do an ask and a gift, and you've got people in finance, you've got people there for the first time looking to invest. And then you've got the founders. And everybody goes around the room, and you say, one thing you can give to the group and one thing you need from the group. And this is a situation where people are tripping over each other. What can I do to say, even if it's, I don't know how to ask for help, but we're going to break that tonight. And we're going to teach you, that's great. And that is like nothing, because in fact, I had a friend from the entertainment industry come to one of these events. And she was like, I can't believe what I'm seeing. Because I come from a job where I know there's 10 20 year olds standing behind me waiting for me to get knocked out. And to come to this room of you know, 40-60 women that are just can't wait to help each other. It's very unique, we're creating our own world in our own path.
That's cool. Maxine creating that new world and, or your own world in that new path. That's awesome. You know, for someone that's kind of like new coming into your industry, you know, Kerel asked a good question, like, how do you get into this? Right, you know, and so, what's some advice that you could pass on to someone who wants to come into the industry and make an impact or get involved or, you know, put the money behind, you know, things they believe in? What some advice you could pass on to some new folks.
So somebody who wants to invest? Yeah, sure. Oh, okay. I mean, one of the things is maybe, you know, looking at the companies that you admire, and then see who invested in them, and reach out to those, you know, VCs or private equity, or whoever it is, and say, Hey, you know, I love what you invested in. And I'd love to, you know, just have a conversation, there's a lot of that that happens, where other investors talk to each other. And, you know, they want to share the deal flow. Basically, they're like, Hey, I like the deals you've been in, I'd like to look into invest myself, I'd love to see if you know, you can share some deals with me, we're very early stage investors, we're generally what's called seed stage. So it's like, right after people kind of get those angel or friends and family round. There's not a lot of competition and seed stage people. Like, if someone wants to come in, there's plenty of room. It's not highly competitive. When it gets, you know, bigger and you know, the company's doing well, that's where you know, it's a little more, maybe you got to get in quick and know what you're doing. But earlier with seed things, you have the chance to explore, you get to talk to the founder, you know, you get to really review the material, you talk to other investors who are looking at the deal. It's a bit of a slower pace. But you know, you're really investing in the idea and the founder more than anything, because there's not a big track record. But I first and foremost, invest in what you now. So if you're an accountant who wants to invest, then maybe you're looking at FinTech deals, if you're a doctor, look at them, the med tech deals, because you're coming in with an expertise. You're like, hey, that's a great product. But I know how hard it is to get a new instrument into an operating room, you know, so I definitely take what you know, take your background, and I would look at deals that you're coming in with an expertise that you can make a judgment call and that is hugely valuable to another investor, to hear that point of view and hear that expertise.
That's awesome. Maxine, besides the people that you're working with directly to help. What are some other ways that you're staying inspired? What are other areas of inspiration that you tap into? Maybe day to day, or once a month.
My number one place for inspiration are my interns. My interns are awesome to have 20,21,22 year olds. Just talk about that for a second. They are the best we do only paid internships because we value that what these people are doing? Yes, we're teaching them certain things, and we're helping them to get ready for a little, you know, bigger, traditional work life situation, but just what they're showing me what they're teaching me what they're excited about. what's relevant to their life is amazing of what it does for for us. And it also goes up, they might think something is the newest, greatest thing and I'm like, Okay, listen, let me tell you, we had this way five years ago and 10 years ago. So you know, we were wearing. Using a new technology or using air table is like all of a sudden I started getting things in air table. So I quickly learned air table. And then I'm like, how many of you are using this in like six months from now? Are we still using air table? Or should we be converting thing? So like things like that, like, Are the kids using it not? My biggest thing is brands like all here, especially when we do like fashion stuff. Things that I'm like on left and right, I'm getting the deck and my investor friends are also looking at the deck and we're hearing about it and the buzzes around. And then I'll ask some 20 year olds, and we also try and get non city interns that we're not getting same hype from New York, LA San Francisco broaden the perspective in big time. Big time, geography is huge. And, you know, I'll mention this brand, and they'll have never heard of it at all, or we've been having a reverse where some of the food stuff we've been looking at and investing in. They know all about. They've heard that we're being attacked on Instagram. And I'm not getting it. And I'm even trying to follow these people. And I'm like, wow, this brand has their social media algorithms. So wired up, go to a certain demographic, then I'll have it. So everyone my internet knows about it. They've seen it 1000s of times at this point, they're getting touch points on, you know, snap and Instagram and this and that. And then I asked the big question. So what do you think of it? They go, What do you mean, what do you think of it? What What did you think of it when you tried it? They're like, Oh, we haven't tried it, we wouldn't buy that. Hearing the buys, they're getting swamped with it on social media. They've never tried it and they have no interest in buying. So I don't really care that everybody's talking about it. nobody's buying the product. It's not converting to buy. So all these things I learned from them because they're in a totally, totally different demographic than I am. And I can't live my little bubble.
Thanks shoutouts to the paid interns..... That's awesome.
Maxine, fun question. I love asking everyone that we have on the podcast, which is to tell us your top three apps on your phone that you use, but you can't name email, calendar or text messaging.
Okay. I thought you're gonna ask me my emoji. My top three apps. That's a good Apple Music is definitely on, you know, most many times during the day. Does the podcast app count? That's fine. Yeah. Okay, got it. So podcast app. Definitely. I'm trying like, I have to look at my phone. I'm trying to think what would be not the clock. I mean, I have an eight year old. So if he's got my he's got his own section on my phone. So among us is being used a lot on my phone. All right. trying to think what else? Oh my god. What else do you see? Oh my god, the outnet. It's a clothing. It's a clothing. There's a company called net a porter. And then all their juicy deals are on something called the outnet. \ Gotcha.
Well, that's great. Listen, thank you so much for hanging out with us. Maxine. Our audience loves to stay in touch, reach out and continue to communicate what are some ways that they can find you?
best ways Maxi firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you go to https://ldrventures.com/, you'll see I have my one of the few people who actually has their email address up there.
Awesome. Well, thanks again to our friends at Marketing EDGE for sponsoring our podcast. Maxine, thanks again for hanging out with us and spending some time sharing your experiences, and being honest and an open. Thank you very much. And for more episodes, you can find more episodes of Minority Report Podcast where you find all of your audio and video, just search for the logo. Thanks.