Interview
09/03/2023

10 questions for Natalie Schmitke

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In our “10 questions for…” series, we interview employees from all over the company so that Burda – and their colleagues – can get to know them even better. Today, we talked to Natalie Schmitke, Principal at BurdaPrincipal Investments (BPI), the international growth arm of Hubert Burda Media. Here she explains why diversity is so important in venture capital (VC) and what effective leadership means for her. Additionally, we learn how the right mindset in times of crisis can lead to new investment cases.

Our publisher's favourite question: What are you working on right now?

Following a deep-dive last year, I am looking at a few exciting start-ups that focus on more efficient use of energy. The current turbulent times have emphasised the need for innovation in this space, providing tailwind to a select number of promising consumer and product-lead B2B platform businesses.

How long have you worked for Burda, and what did you do before you joined BPI?

Since 2017 and prior to that, I worked as an investment banker in London and as a CFO of a tech start-up in NYC.

Why is it so important for companies in the investment industry to be diverse?

Having a diverse workforce is crucial in investing as it leads to better decision-making and fresh ideas. Hence, diversity is essential to remain competitive, innovative, and in touch with the needs of each stakeholder. At BPI, we are proud to report that 43% of our team are women, while 39% of our portfolio and 60% of our invested capital is in teams with at least one female founder. This is exceptional in the VC industry.

What defines, in your opinion, a female leadership style in the tough, male-dominated investment world?

In my opinion, it is important to keep in mind that leadership styles can vary greatly among individuals and may not necessarily be defined by gender. One could argue that female leadership styles may exhibit more focus on collaboration, communication, and empathy. But again, these traits are not exclusive to female leaders, and I believe effective leadership requires a range of skills and characteristics that can be developed regardless of gender.

What fascinates you most about your job?

One of the most exciting aspects of being a VC is the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs who are passionate about their vision and are dedicated to turning their ideas into reality. The process of identifying promising startups, evaluating their potential, and then providing the necessary resources to help them succeed can be incredibly rewarding. Additionally, I enjoy the ability to stay on top of emerging trends and technologies. Venture capitalists need to be knowledgeable about a wide range of industries and markets.

What skills does your job require?

In venture capital, you need a combination of skills: Analytical - you must be able to identify promising startups and evaluate their potential for success. Communication - you'll also need to build strong relationships with founders and others in the ecosystem and establish the right level of trust. Leadership - you may serve on boards or as an advisor to startups you've invested in, and you'll need to provide guidance and support to help these companies. Grit – of course, persistence and resilience are critical in this highly competitive field. Strategic thinking - finally, you need to have a deep understanding of the startup ecosystem and be able to adapt and evolve as the industry changes.

What do you consider the most important tools to be for working more effectively?

I am curious whether ChatGPT will be one for me very soon. I might have used it to rephrase some of my answers here…

How do you maintain your resilience in times of crisis like these?

I believe that resilience during difficult times requires a mindset that is attuned to spotting opportunities, even in the face of adversity. Although we are currently experiencing significant challenges, history shows us that some of the most successful ventures have been born out of moments of crisis. As such, the present climate is ripe for the emergence of capital efficient businesses, which present compelling investment opportunities for us as investors.

What is the toughest part of the job?

When we speak with founders of potential investments, we have the opportunity to learn about their passion projects that they have often dedicated years of their lives to. Given the venture capital model, we are tasked with making difficult decisions and, unfortunately, have to decline many of these companies. This is, without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of our job.

Work-life balance: How do you like to switch off in your free time?

I love spending time with my family and friends and am also an avid traveller (80+ countries and counting)

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More images & downloads

Identifying and evaluating promising startups is part of the job: Natalie Schmitke joined London Business School's Booster event as a juror in February. Which start-up probably might have convinced them the most during the pitch? © Natalie Schmitke

Teamwork is a top priority at BPI. Here with her colleagues Thomas Juvin and Francesco Moro, © Natalie Schmitke

A trip to the Bolivian salt flats, © Natalie Schmitke

Natalie Schmitke works as Principal at the BPI London office © Natalie Schmitke

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