Brianne Kimmel, founder and managing director of Worklife Ventures, recently sat down with journalist Brooke LaMantia to talk about money, growing up in the Midwest as a Ukrainian-American, life as a female founder, and thoughts on creative ways for women to earn more. In an age where anyone can start something from their kitchen table, Worklife puts the power of agency and creativity back in the hands of everyday individuals.
We’re here for Kimmel’s money advice and are excited to share the interview with you.
What was your first job?
I moved to Sydney, Australia with my best friend from high school and no job after college.
I got my first job at an ad agency working as a social media manager and influencer marketer for Nikon, it was wild because the people I met during this time have grown up to be some of the people I look up to the most like Vogue China EIC Margaret Zhang.
There was a whole crew of bloggers, photographers, and social media people who were pretty poor at the time and went to a lot of media events for free food and open bars.
It was shortly before Uber launched, so I remember the best events handed out taxi vouchers that paid for your ride home. At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Actually, now that I think about it... The Uber launch party in Sydney is to this day one of the most fun nights I've had.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I really wanted to be an architect.
Building is something that's been in my family for a long time. My great grandfather designed and built our family home with my grandfather, which my dad still lives in today.
My boyfriend’s from Hong Kong, so the first time he visited Ohio he asked if we could stay for a few weeks because it felt more like a resort with acres of land and a custom designed house. I guess it’s normal to take things for granted, especially where you grew up.
I've always been very fascinated by the physical world, which sounds crazy because I work in tech but it’s still true today.
It’s fairly easy to change the copy on a website, but it’s impossible to change a single brick without changing the whole house. I like that about the world.
Growing up, I loved the Sims and games where I could design and build things. Those are what ultimately got me into tech. Girls who play video games are 3x more likely to study STEM, so I'm a huge fan of encouraging video games at home.
I invested in Primer, an online education company for kids, because the curriculum is based interests and kids learn in a group format. For example: if your child loves playing video games, how cool is it to learn how to actually design and build one. I wish I had that opportunity growing up.
During the pandemic, I worked from home and renovated a historic house in Los Angeles.
Right now, I’m designing a karaoke room that’s got a cool 80s rockstar vibe with antiques from Hong Kong. It’s my favorite city and my boyfriend grew up there, so it’s a fun thing to do together.
Growing up, how did your family talk about money and work?
I grew up in Northeast Ohio, in the Rust Belt. My parents and grandparents were very hard working people and work was always directly attributed to waking up early and putting in the hard hours.
I still like to work that way, but making a conscious effort to study how other people work.
I’m increasingly interested in the four day work week and other ways of flipping traditional work on its head.
I'm the first in my family to have a four year degree. I actually started college when I was in high school. I was really bored at my high school and skipped a lot of classes and hung out in the art room with my best friend.
We both decided to go to college early because we were afraid we’d probably get kicked out.
We got close, she got suspended for dying her hair pink and I kept getting warnings for selling burned CDs out of my locker. I’ll never forget because the song that got me grounded was Lapdance by N.E.R.D.
A kid in my class' mom didn’t appreciate the song. Totally fine, but I like to think she came around to it after listening to 'Get Lucky' 100 times in the car.
It’s funny on all things money, I don't think anyone in my family really talked about...
I guess I’ve always been so independent that my parents didn’t feel like they needed to talk about money.
I worked two jobs in high school, got good grades, and didn’t really ask for help.
That said, I wish we talked about money more because once I got into the real world, I knew very little about money.
As a smartass highschooler in college, I took not one, but two Shakespeare classes, so I always joke that I can recite any sonnet but I can’t do my own taxes. But hey, that's why we have software to make our lives easier.
Do you remember your first big payday?
Because I've always lived in very expensive cities, I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck for most of my life. When I moved to Silicon Valley, it was so unaffordable that people were renting out their kitchens and closets and calling those bedrooms.
That being said, I’ve always had secondary sources of income.
In Sydney, I started a side business that made $100,000 a year.
And when I moved to San Francisco, I taught classes at General Assembly.
During the pandemic, I really wanted to get a job at a wine bar or go bartend somewhere because I like working evenings and find that’s when I’m most creatively inspired.
The thing I hate most about tech is the monoculture... It's not something that any of us really want.
We just all love what we do, make really smart friends at work, and find ways to help each other out in the future.
I really love what I do and honestly would rather stay in and work more evenings because it doesn't feel like work. Very few people can say that and I'm grateful to have turned my hobby (angel investing) into my day job.
That said, I find I'm happiest when I have permission to be silly and not a corporate robot that's trapped on Zoom all day. Maybe that’s why I live with a comedian, our jobs couldn’t be more different.
Plus, going to his work stuff is by definition very entertaining.
What does an investor do?
My job is to write the first check to a person with an idea and help them turn that idea into a $10 billion dollar company.
I’ve helped founders name their company, design the first logo, hire the first engineer, fire a co-founder… The job gets pretty gnarly because a lot of money is at stake.
In the early days of a startup, my job is to be the right hand person to the founder.
I’ve helped a CEO immediately after she was hit by a car. No joke. Without a good lawyer and help navigating medical expenses, she could have lost her company because some asshole hit her with his car.
I get super involved because I don’t just want to invest, I want to build the next great place to work.
Look at every startup that gets a TV show: WeWork, Theranos, Uber… We praise founders for being charismatic, but rarely do we praise companies for building a great place to work.
The fact that I am one of the 2% of female venture capitalists with the ability to write a check without sign-off from a male on my team is very helpful for companies we back because I look different and I can bring in female engineers, developers, and designers. We view diversity as a competitive advantage, which is why every person on our team is a self-made, self-taught person and we specifically want to back and hire immigrants and underrepresented people in tech.
I offer most evenings and weekends to give career advice, and personally make sure every female hire is getting paid fairly and she has the ability to work on projects aligned to her personal goals.
Not to mention, we’ve backed more non-binary, gender queer, and people in same sex relationships than any other firm, so we don’t want to stop at white women who look like me.
We want to build diverse teams and build a community where people feel seen and where differences are praised.
I’ve built a team of writers, researchers, and take a strong stance on storytelling on our blog to make sure we’re creating a space where inspiring stories are told and everyone’s voice is heard.
Do you feel comfortable talking about money?
Early in my career, I felt like men in my network were comfortable talking about money and showing off the expensive things that they bought. I didn't feel I was ready or successful enough in my own journey to do that.
In the last 12 months, that has changed. I recently spoke on a podcast called My First Million.
It felt uncomfortable, but it also felt like a good step for women in tech broadly. It’s incredibly rare for a woman to go on a podcast that's talking all about how much money you make. It was an opportunity to say “Hey, notice us. We have money in our savings. We are prioritizing our careers. We're actively angel investing in startups. We can hang with the boys.”
Overall, I wish women would talk about money more.
At home we talk about money a lot because we both have pretty demanding careers and make money in very different ways.
I really wanted a home gym, so I built it and paid for it.
If there’s something we both want, we’ll split it 50/50.
We're both really close with our families, so our biggest expenses are using surprising family members with gifts and experiences that are worth it because they're memories vs. over the top splurging on ourselves.
How do you see the cultural dialogue about money changing?
I love what's happening right now. People are starting to talk about money in very creative ways. For example: meme stocks. They serve a purpose. Yes, they're memes. And yes, people discover them on Reddit. And yes, it's weird shit that Elon Musk talks about. But it's getting people to learn about investing, buying stocks, and working towards financial goals.
I think that’s very cool.
What has your experience been like as a female founder and woman in VC?
When I started Worklife back in September of 2019, one question I got asked a lot was: “have you thought about only investing in female-focused brands?” Someone even sent me a pitch deck for a tampon company. I had to reply to the email and say “I've had an IUD for 10 years and work at a SaaS company. I’m not the person to analyze this company because I both don’t use the product or understand the category (consumer packaged goods).”
Worklife invests in enterprise software tools, which the tech ecosystem does not view as social impact. However, these productivity tools are invaluable for remote workers, especially women who feel the pain of working from home on top of being the primary caregivers in their households.
The majority of investments that we've made have a female CEO or at least one female co-founder. Not only are we investing in female founders, we're also ensuring that those teams are 50/50. There are more female VCs focused on work than ever before, and we are building inclusive workspaces.
What are your predictions on the future of work?
We will continue to see people build new projects and careers with flexible working hours outside of the traditional 9 to 5 model.
During the pandemic, everyone hit reset. It's less glamorous to be studying college over Zoom. It's less interesting to work at a tech company if you don't benefit from the cool office and three meals a day.
Throughout the Great Resignation, we’re watching people leave jobs they don't like. They’re doing some soul searching and finding companies that are aligned to their mission and values. Many are also starting their own businesses.
People are exploring life and examining what they're looking for in a way that we didn't see before. Globally, we're reevaluating what matters. Work is a huge part of that.
Is there anything you love so much about your job that you do it for free?
My boyfriend will tell you that I spend most of my evenings and most of my Sunday talking to women in tech who are either thinking about starting a company or want a second opinion before joining a startup. While there’s a lot of good sounding startup advice online, I’ve been fortunate to have strong women a few steps ahead of me career wise to help me make important decisions. I want to be that person now that I'm a little more established.
I really hate the term mentor, I’d much rather be a friend that’s a couple of years older who asks hard questions and truly has your back.
I also get a few confidential calls a month to help women talk through those weird, awkward, ‘what do I do’ situations because there’s still a lot of bad guys with a lot of power in our industry.
A while ago, I had an anonymous call with a female founder who was sexually assaulted by one of her investors, who by the way doesn’t know how to due diligence because there were photos all over the internet of her and her girlfriend. This guy had absolutely no chance, but still made a move.
I helped her write the emails to ultimately walk away from what could have become a long, complicated and toxic professional relationship.
If you ask any female investor, we all have similar stories to tell.
Why can talking about money be a good idea for women?
This is the first generation where—right out of the gate—women are making good money.
Women started 57% of businesses that have opened since March 2020 compared with 48% pre-pandemic, so we’re seeing a lot of growth when it comes to female-founded small businesses.
We’re outperforming our male peers in many industries, but sadly the greatest gap today is still venture capital. Women received only 2.3% of venture capital, the pandemic set us back big time. We need to keep talking about this because the tech industry is behind.
I remember 5 years ago I used to get really frustrated at tech dinners because there’s a point in every group setting where men and women split into two groups: the men go on to talk about money, angel investing, and business stuff. And I got pulled into conversations about you know, older women stuff, which in your twenties doesn’t really apply yet because you’re just trying to feel established in your career and don’t own a house, have a child, or even know how to adult yet.
I’m always shocked by how much women are encouraged to save money, but never really taught how to make more of it. There's no shortage of blog posts or jokes about not buying a $4 cup of coffee or skipping out on a new pair of shoes.
Whereas, in contrast, I work mostly with men who are encouraged to buy a big house, to buy a sports car, to spend more as a form of entertaining friends and telling the world they have power.
I’ve literally never heard a female friend talk about “balling out,” even the ones that can afford to do so mostly live a pretty normal life.
What advice would you give women who want to make more money?
Find creative ways to earn more. The last thing you want to do is view every decision as an expense. A home is an appreciating asset. An NFT is a cultural phenomenon and an opportunity to learn alongside other crypto investors.
It’s important to talk about money and set insane financial goals for yourself.
The same wgmi, “we’re going to make it,” mentality we see in crypto applies to your personal finances too.
During the pandemic, we saw all types of people—SoulCycle instructors, yoga teachers, elementary school educators—start their own businesses. Black women entrepreneurs in particular are killing it right now. From candle companies, to activewear lines, to jewelry lines, we're seeing a new generation of very creative women who are making more money through self-made independent businesses than through their college degrees.
Women are naturally very creative, caring, and self-motivated people. Now is the time for us to capitalize on that.
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