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Unicorn Lessons

Aileen Lee, Cowboy Ventures

In 2013, Aileen Lee coined the term “unicorn” to refer to the growing field of startups with $1 billion valuations. At the time, she was a year into her role as a founder and managing partner of Cowboy Ventures, and her team was preparing a now-influential internal report examining how (and how often) companies with these massive valuations tend to emerge. Her summary of the report, published by TechCrunch, uncovered many insightful datapoints, but also revealed that only 2 of the 39 unicorns they studied had female co-founders, a finding that catalyzed her advocacy for increased diversity in technology startups. She more recently became a founding member of All Raise, a nonprofit organization devoted to increasing the representation of women in the venture-backed tech ecosystem. She describes her circuitous path to a job in venture capital, surfaces some of the central strategies of seed-stage investing, and encourages people from diverse backgrounds to help transform the venture capital business.