Breaking into venture – with Itxaso de Palacio

Last week, we welcomed Itxaso de Palacio, Partner at Notion Capital, to Balderton’s offices for our latest Women in VC Breakfast event.

Itxaso’s path into venture capital was far from typical. Her journey included a decade in classical ballet, the assembly line at DaimlerChrysler, a masters in engineering and ultimately a PhD in entrepreneurship. Itxaso took her own first steps as an entrepreneur with a matchmaking business that helped other entrepreneurs find co-founders, before entering the world of venture with the launch of Microsoft Ventures in Europe. Today, she is a Partner at Notion Capital.Throughout the session, we heard Itxaso’s top tips for women looking to build their career in venture, no matter what your background – from finding your niche to nurturing your network.Here were some of our highlights:

1. Your strengths are your weapon.

Your skills, experience, values and background makes you unique, and all together, make who you are. Use that mix of skills, experience, values and background as an opportunity – an asset that you leverage to reach your goals and progress in your career. Inevitably, there will be moments where imposter syndrome creeps in, but have confidence in yourself, and keep your eye on the prize.Itxaso recalls her early days in venture when she worked for a financially-driven merchant bank. She was the only engineer in a room full of men from a financial services background. She was coming at the task from a completely different perspective, and had to quickly learn to speak their language in order to make an impact.Ultimately, it proved a great opportunity to broaden her skillset, and helped her to understand the unique perspective and value she could bring to the table.

2. Identify what you like and are good at, and use it to your advantage.

Itxaso defines herself as a “product-led investor”. She has always been fascinated by founders who are obsessed with building the best product for their users. It was not until her colleagues at M12 and Notion pointed it out that she realised she was bringing a unique approach to evaluating businesses. In fact, it is this laser focus and unparalleled expertise that helped her land a role as Partner at Notion.Her advice is to really identify what makes you tick and what you’re uniquely good at. Focus on nurturing and emphasising that skillset. Build your personal brand around it. Instead of trying to be the loudest person in the room, focus on the single most valuable contribution you can make, and share it with confidence.If you stay laser-focused on carving out your own path, in the end, you’ll end up where you belong.

3. Invest in your network. Give first, take later.

When it comes to building your network, Itxaso shares her golden rule: give before you get.Events are a great opportunity to build your network, but the follow-up is what matters most. Whenever you meet someone new, immediately after the conversation jot down what you discussed, and any introductions you could make to be helpful. Then, follow up on those points over email. If you need something in the future, follow up on that original email, and they’ll remember you.What’s more, Itxaso stressed the importance of honesty in every conversation. When meeting with founders, give good, frank advice. They will remember those real, honest conversations down the line.

Itxaso de Palacio

4. Find the best people, and learn from them.

Identify who are going to be your champions, and find every opportunity to learn from them. In the early days, it’s not easy, and you’ll need to fire a lot of bullets. Draw up a list of 50 people who inspire you, and reach out to them all.Once you’ve found your person, ask to set up a 30 minute coffee. Do this a couple of times, and then make it a recurring event, with a different topic each time. If you prepare an agenda, and share it well in advance, they’re much less likely to cancel.In every conversation, always remember the golden rule: give before you get. Think about how you can help them, not just how they can help you.

5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Itxaso left us with one final, essential piece of advice: Take time for yourself every day, otherwise you will burnout. For Itxaso, the mornings are her sacred time for herself – she goes to the gym every day and eats a healthy breakfast. She never misses these two moments, and enjoys taking this time for herself.

Learning to prioritise yourself, and your health, is important. It will make you feel good and help you on your path to success. Don’t underestimate that power.

Huge thanks to Itxaso for coming along and sharing her advice. If you would like to join our next event, you can sign up below!

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