24 May 2018

Did you know that today marks 40 years since Marilyn Loden coined the expression “glass ceiling” when talking about barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace at the 1978 Women’s Exposition in New York?

At Heist, we like to talk about the things that often get overlooked. Like bad underwear, which tends to get forgotten about. And we didn’t want to let this particular day pass anyone by. So to mark the occasion, we met with two women who are pushing boundaries in their respective fields.

First up is Katie Marrache, who last year, aged 29, became Europe’s youngest female partner at a VC firm when she was appointed to General Partner at JamJar Investments (one of our investors). In between a shoot at her office featuring The Fifty, we caught up with Katie to talk about career changes, challenges, and game-changing brands.

"To me, progress means giving back to the world as much as you get out of it. Making sure that you’re making the most of yourself is really important, and also helping others to make the most of themselves."

The Interview

Katie, you've been doing this for a while now - how did you get into venture capital?

When I was at university, it was still very much the norm to become a banker or lawyer – the Banking and Law Societies were packed. But the Entrepreneurs’ Society was really small, so I used to go to talks at the Saïd Business School alongside my degree. There would be these amazing entrepreneurs giving talks and only 5 people in the huge auditorium. I remember just being really interested in entrepreneurs – what they were doing, the risks they were taking, the type of people they were – I was really inspired by them. For me, engaging with people who were all about going out and doing things was such a nice break from the academic environment of Oxford.

One of those talks actually ended up taking me to my first job: James Caan, who was on Dragons’ Den at the time, came to speak, and I found his story so interesting that I asked him for an internship at the end of his talk. He gave me one, and at the end of that internship he offered me a job managing his personal angel portfolio. So that’s how I got into venture capital – it was a huge learning curve (and I’m still learning so much). I loved it right from the start.

You and the guys at Jamjar have invested in some of the coolest brands of the moment. How do you know when something's going to work? And how do you get involved?

Knowing what’s going to work is the difficult bit. We see everyone as exceptional in the sense that they’ve actually started something they’re committing their life to, and they’re offering you the chance to come on their journey, and that’s always a privilege to hear about and be a part of. But, as an investor, having a view on where it’s going to go can be tricky.

Usually the team is a good indicator of a brand’s potential. If the people are amazing and right for that industry, that’s always a great sign. Then there’s the idea – is it hot, and is it something that consumers will love? How well does the concept translate into reality? You build up an instinct for these things over time.

We don’t exist to control businesses or tell people what to do - we’re there to be a sounding board for ideas, to inform and advise, and maybe occasionally get more involved by doing workshops. We back people who we believe can do it anyway, but hopefully we can make their journey quicker and easier.

"When faced with a challenge, I find perspective very useful. Remembering your context helps so much. It’s liberating, because you realise that the worst thing that can happen isn’t that bad – if you’ve made a mistake, you can change it, or do something to rectify it."

Is there a brand you're really excited about at the moment?

I think Fiit.tv, which we’ve invested in and which has just launched, is really interesting. They’re pushing to introduce a digital element to working out. Users use a wearable heart monitor while they do fitness classes, which are taught by social media influencers, in their own home. I think of it as the Deliveroo of fitness. It’s so efficient – who wants to go on a 45-minute round trip to the gym and have to shower there when you can do it all at home?

I think in 3 to 5 years’ time this will be a key component of working out.

You moved from VC to being a journalist at the BBC a few years ago, and then came full circle when you joined JamJar. What was that like?

The change definitely felt drastic at the time but, looking back now, the two jobs aren’t really that different. They’re both about people – at the BBC, working on the production side of live television, I had to try and really understand people in a very short space of time. It also involved working under high pressure, because you had to get something out there in time and be creative when it came to solving problems. In the end I came full circle, but I wouldn’t necessarily have known that that was what I really wanted to do had I not taken the time to work it out.

But, like I said, at the time it still felt like a huge change. And if I had to give advice to someone thinking about changing careers, I'd say don't put too much pressure on yourself to know exactly what you want to do, especially if you’re young. Think about how you’re going to reflect on this in the long term: are you going to regret that you never tried something you wanted to do? It will only get harder as time goes on.

I also think it’s important to realise that if you haven’t found the type of engagement or inspiration you’re after (which was my case at the time), that you shouldn’t settle for something that isn’t making you happy. And if striving to be happy means taking a risk and looking elsewhere, then you should go for it.

DSC 5450photoshopped
Katie unboxes The Nude. Photo credit: Hanah Young.

We're always talking about 'progress' at Heist. What does that word mean to you?

To me, progress means improvement. I think it’s also about contentment and giving back to the world as much as you get out of it. Making sure that you’re making the most of yourself is really important, and also helping others to make the most of themselves.

Thinking about consumer brands, what does the future look like in your mind?

I think that people often strive for efficiency, so in the future I see us being able to do exactly what we want, and brands giving us true independence and personalisation. We’re only just seeing the beginnings of this now. Think of grocery deliveries – we have to order our groceries three days in advance, but that just doesn’t make sense – we should be able to have them delivered within the hour.

But on the flipside, I think people still need an escape from technology. So although people will have the option to be extremely efficient, I can’t imagine everything will go online. Things like shopping, for example – I think there will still be a place for the high street. We like our physical experiences because we’re tied to the legacy of where we came from – we like to touch, feel and smell things. I can’t see that ever going away.

And where those two aspects intersect, I definitely see virtual reality playing a role.

"With Heist, I think it’s one of those little things that can make your day much better – when you wear nice underwear you just feel nicer, but no one necessarily has to know."

Is there a goal you've set yourself for the future?

On a personal level, it’s also really important to me that I continue to be close to my husband and the rest of my family.

I want to see JamJar thrive – I'm really pleased with how we’re doing, and we’ve made a good start, but we’re only at the beginning of the journey. We’re still a young fund, we’re still learning, and there are all these incredible entrepreneurs still out there to back. I just want to make sure that we continue to see and select the best consumer brands in Europe.

How do you deal with challenges? When they arise, what keeps you going?

I try not to panic. I find perspective very useful. It’s easier said than done, but remembering your context helps so much. Thinking about how small we really are, and how irrelevant most of what we do actually is. It’s actually quite liberating, because you realise that the worst thing that can happen isn’t that bad – if you’ve made a mistake, you can change it, or do something to rectify it. There’s very few things that are non-retractable or that actually permanently matter on the greater scale of human existence.

A great piece of advice I got from my colleague Richard’s book, If I Could Tell You Just One Thing, is to value my relationships. He interviewed a woman called Esther Perel, whose parents survived the Holocaust; even though they had been separated and stripped of everything, they both came to the realisation that it was their relationship with each other that mattered, and that was what survived the war. I think that prioritising your relationships is a good lens through which to look at life.

Tell us about Heist… How do you feel in Heist?

Great. I love Heist. The interesting thing about Heist is that once you’ve tried the tights, you don’t want to wear normal tights ever again. Trying them is the important thing, because once you’ve tried them, you will understand why they’re better. Just much comfier around the waist, more flexible, much softer to the touch, better quality. I think it’s one of those little things that can make your day much better – when you wear nice underwear you just feel nicer, but no one necessarily has to know.

Speaking of the little things that can make your day better - if there was an item of underwear you could change, what would it be?

Definitely the bra. Anything over a C cup you have to start choosing between attractiveness and functionality. You shouldn’t have to choose between looking pretty and feeling comfortable. It’s annoying.

The Quickfire

When you’re on the move:

…what song keeps you motivated?
Rusted Roots' Send Me On My Way – it’s upbeat and unusual.

…are you an early riser?
I’m naturally an early riser – but I do love a lie-in.

…do you jump straight in, or create a plan first?
I definitely like a plan but I also like to get on with stuff. I think you learn a lot by doing. I guess I like to think along the way.

…who do you Instant Message?
My husband.

…what does your diary look like?
Full of meeting interesting people and starting the day further to the North of London and progressing West as the day goes on.

…on Instagram, who do you scroll to?
I really like Sarah Jessica Parker’s Instagram. I think it’s really creative, aesthetically pleasing and quirky.

…what book do you take?
I take my Kindle - I love fiction and I think it’s informative and undervalued, especially by people that are commercial, who sometimes think there’s nothing they can learn from it. So definitely fiction.

…who or what do you miss?
My family.

Hero image photo credit: Hanah Young