A Conversation with Kerri Walsh Jennings and one of Silicon Valley’s most successful VC’s, Theresia Gouw
p1440 recently announced Theresia Gouw, co-founder of Aspect Ventures and one of the “world’s smartest tech investors” will lead the company’s first round of funding. Learn more about the announcement here. Below, Kerri and Theresia talk leadership, partnership and the future of p1440.
Q: Theresia, p1440 is quite a bit different than the early-stage companies you typically invest in. Why did you decide to partner with Kerri and p1440?
TG: Yes, this is a bit different from my day job, so I made a personal investment from my own capital to get behind Kerri and the p1440 team. I was actually at Stanford in Grad School when Kerri was there as an undergrad. I watched many of her games, watched her win national titles and then, of course, Olympic gold medals. She’s a legend and has always been an inspiration.
I learned about 1440 at a sports technology event that Bloomberg hosted last year and what struck me first was, why is Kerri the only female sports founder or investor in the whole place or the only one speaking? When I heard what she was doing, I thought it was amazing and I wanted to see if I could be helpful in some way. I obviously know very little about professional beach volleyball or beach volleyball in general, but I do know a thing or two about digital media investing and building an audience and a platform around a brand. So, we got connected and started having some conversations. Then, as I learned more about not only what the business was at that time, but saw the vision of where it was going, I was excited to get behind it.
KWJ: I remember when I met Theresia at the Bloomberg event, one of the first things she said to me was “it’s a shame that you’re the only female athlete represented here.” I said, “yes, you’re right.” Then I went home and thought more about how that was the norm and how I couldn’t wait to change it. And I appreciated the fact that Theresia recognized that right off the bat.
Q: Theresia, you are the first investor to come on board in this round of funding. What did you see in this opportunity?
TG: To me it’s first and foremost about the founders. Whether it’s p1440 or a software startup, I’m investing in people. As I got to know Kerri the other founders, it was clear to me that they were unified in their passion and their vision for what they wanted to build. The second thing is the market – do I believe there’s a new market opportunity coming forward? Here, I would give the p1440 team all the credit for educating me on the tremendous growth happening in the sport today. There’s a group of underserved people — 900 million global participants in the sport of volleyball, and there’s something missing that the market isn’t giving them. That was very clear to me.
The last thing I’m usually looking for, is what’s the technology advantage? In this case it’s not a technology advantage but a competitive advantage. While we will add to the technology, that’s clearly not what we lead with. The competitive advantage is Kerri and her unique ability to be the ambassador and shape the future of the sport. And I was also was drawn to the fact that we need more women founders to show the world what can be possible.
Q: Kerri, you’ve talked a lot about the untapped business opportunities within the beach volleyball global community. Talk about why there’s so much potential in the sport.
KWJ: There has never been a better time in the history of beach volleyball to be doing what we’re doing. The sport has not modernized or innovated much over the past few decades. We’re years behind other sports in the digital content space. Our sport is hungry for it and our community has been underserved for years. The time is now. There are so many components and complementary forces converging. Women’s beach volleyball is the fastest-growing NCAA sport in Division 1, and the Juniors game is exploding. More high school girls now play volleyball over basketball. It’s crazy. Globally, there are almost a billion people around the world who play the game, yet the market still sees us as a niche. That’s not a niche, that’s a powerhouse.
We are also a female-led sport. We walk side by side, hand in hand with the men, and we make each other better, but the women are running the show and driving its growth. And it’s a beautiful thing. We are lifestyle, we are sport, we are empowerment, we are promoting autonomy and self-growth and community. We’re everything that’s culturally relevant today and we have the ability to impact our sport in exciting new ways.
Q: What’s been missing for the sport, especially in the digital space?
KWJ: I think the sport as a whole has been complacent and we can talk about it, or we can do something about it. What’s missing is that we haven’t been telling our own stories and showing people what this beautiful sport is all about. We need to tell the stories of our athletes. We haven’t had a place that gives athletes more tools in terms of access to coaching, training, nutrition, health, wellness and mind/body resources we all need to be our best. And we need to create ways to make the sport commercially viable so more money can be invested back into the game. That’s where we haven’t leveraged digital and that’s where the opportunity lies.
Q. While you come from different worlds, are there any parallels you see in each other or values you share?
TG: What really struck me when I first met Kerri was her passion — not just for the sport, but for her company, p1440, her vision and how she described it. This is a much different business than what I’m usually getting pitched every day, and it was her clarity of vision and purpose that stood out. The second thing that struck me, and still does, is her humility. Unfortunately, that is somewhat rare amongst powerful founders. She is someone who’s done so much and comes from a place of, “I’m the same as everybody else who walks in the door.” It’s impressive.
KWJ: One of the first things I loved about Theresia when we met was that she “took up space.” She was where she wanted to be and was there with an observing eye. I don’t know all of the parallels in our lives, but I do know that Teresa did not fall on top of the mountain. I know that she started with a vision, a knowing within herself, and a belief that she was going to get there. From getting to know her over the past year and watching from the periphery, I see that everything she does is done with purpose, it’s done with heart, and it’s done with integrity. She’s there to do business the right way. And so I aspire to live that way in my life, and it’s always nice to surround yourself by people who are doing it right.
Q: You’re both moms. What does that mean to you and what kind of role model do you want to be for them?
TG: Being a mom has made me better, stronger, more focused in my professional life because it gives me a sense of clarity and a sense of purpose that’s bigger than myself. I know that sounds pretty big, but I definitely think at the simplest, there’s no question becoming a mother and having my kids has made me better at everything that I’m doing. Everything has gotten better because of them.
The biggest thing in terms of being a role model for my children, for all our children actually, is first and foremost… dream big. Anybody can do anything. And if you don’t see a role model that looks like you find one or be one, make one, become that person.
KJW: I want to raise kids who inherently and instinctively believe in themselves, and look to themselves to be the creators of their lives. And they do that by surrounding themselves with amazing people who have this big, bold, beautiful vision of life and what it can be. Being a mother is the greatest gift of my life. It fuels all of my other passions in a way that it makes me more accountable to how I represent myself. The things I say, the thoughts I have, because I want my children to be their biggest cheerleaders of themselves. And if I’m not that, what kind of example am I to my children?
Q: Theresia, do you see yourself stepping into a role of mentorship as Kerri steps into kind of a new role in business?
TG: I would be honored to be that. As I said, I invest in people. So I’m investing in people that I want to work with. At a minimum, that want to talk to me and get advice and bounce ideas off of me. But the best thing is when someone actually openly says, “I want you to be my mentor.” That’s my dream job. That is my job. That’s what I love doing. That’s why choosing who I work with is the most important decision I make every day.
KJW: I can’t wait to just watch how Theresia operates because I’m so intrigued by people who kick butt. They own what they do and they are the leaders of the pack. And they also have what fuels their heart as their family and the connection with their family, the connection with themselves. Truly that makes all this go. So I can’t wait to learn that from her. I will take Theresia with me on the court. It will be one of the most empowering things I do. My husband told me to do this. He said, ‘when you’re nervous, just know the army of people you have behind you.’ And now that Theresia’s on my side, watch out. It’s like game on times a million!
TG: I’m not sure I’m really going to help you on the court, but I’m excited to be part of it.
KWJ: I will take your feisty self and your, ‘I’m doing it attitude’ with me everywhere I go on and off the court. Absolutely!
Q: Last question, there are 1440 minutes in a day. What is the most important part of your own 1440 or maybe the best part of each of your days?
KWJ: I think the most important part of my 1440 is the mindset through which I live each of those minutes. I want to live on purpose. I want to create my best life and my best life happens when I am, where my feet are, where I’m in the present moment, and not worried about what’s next, not worried about what I just did, but in the moment ready to go. It’s also when I have true connections with whoever I’m with. And when I feel like I do that throughout the day with my 1440 whether it’s my family, a friend, or a partner, that makes my day feel successful.
TG: The best parts of my day are when I feel like I’m really connecting with people, of course, my family first and foremost. But there are also those days when you’re traveling on business, when you’re connecting with whoever you’re meeting with. Whether it’s an entrepreneur like Kerri or one of my other entrepreneurs, and you’re talking about something you’re mutually excited about and you’re both learning and growing, those are the ‘aha’ moments that you hold onto.