Secrets to Success of First Female Partner at Big-Swinging Silicon Valley VC Firm

Published: Mar 09, 2016

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Sarah Tavel's career path from Harvard graduate to first female partner at one of the biggest swinging Silicon Valley venture capital firms is an inspiring one. Tavel, recently featured as one of Paper magazine's I.T. It Girls, says that one of the secrets to her success is being "open to the fact that you don't know." Another is knowing the questions, not the answers.

"I'm really good at asking the right questions," she explains of her ability to thrive in unfamiliar conditions. "I think that's how I became successful. I still wasn't technical, and yet I was leading the most technical teams at Pinterest. The way that I did that wasn't by faking it; it was just knowing the right questions to ask."

While at a small venture capital firm called Bessemer, Tavel invested in Pinterest when it was just a tiny, four-person firm. She later joined Pinterest as one of its first 35 employees. And while she worked at Pinterest as a product manager, one of the oldest and most storied venture capital firms in Silicon Valley came looking for. And when Greylock Partners (which has invested in Pandora, Airbnb, Instagram, and Facebook, among other tech giants) comes looking for you and wants to hire you, you say yes.


Here's Tavel speaking about her transition to Greylock from Pinterest.

She says that it wasn't her previous experience at Bessemer that she considered to be her biggest asset as she transitioned back into the world of venture capital, but her enthusiasm and experiences with Pinterest.
"It was when I invested in Pinterest that I felt for the first time that I saw what an advantage it was to be a woman. I felt like I had insight into the product that I wouldn't have if I wasn't," Tavel explains. Even now, Tavel feels as though this otherness gives her an edge. "I might be interested in companies that other people aren't interested in."

Perhaps her interests at Harvard also give her a different perspective than most VC investors. Tavel received her degree in philosophy and captained the Crimson's women's rugby team.

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