With one foot firmly planted in her Copenhagen roots and the other carving a career as a venture capitalist in Los Angeles, Sara Christensen fuels her innate drive with constant curiosity. From once folding clothes at the mall to now backing female founded companies, Sara credits her success to hard work and perseverance. Nine years ago, I heard about this fabulous customer that I HAD to meet in Santa Barbara, and we quickly bonded over a common entrepreneurial spirit, clothes, and our love for our dogs. And all these years later, our friendship has continued to grow. As fellow female entrepreneurs, we both know how important it is to have a support system and sounding board and I’m so grateful that we have each other.
For the 15th addition of my Pillow Talk series, I couldn’t be more excited to feature my dear friend and one of the most inspiring women I know. I recently caught up with Sara for an afternoon of dress up and danishes in her lovely Los Angeles apartment, fitted with floor-to-ceiling views of the city. We chatted about her childhood dream of becoming a weather woman, the importance of gender equality and the one band that gets her going in the morning.
When you were in school, what was your favorite subject and what did you want to “grow up” to be?
In high school, my favorite subjects were english and math. English because I loved the analytical aspect of it, and math because it came pretty natural to me and at the time I appreciated things that were easier rather than not.
As for what I wanted to be when I grew up, if we take it back to early childhood, I really wanted to be a weather woman. I loved to dial 1-800-weather, listen to the automated forecast and recite it back by heart for anyone who would listen. Somewhere in high school that dream fizzled and I honestly had no idea what I wanted to “be”. I just loved to work and I worked every summer from the time I was 15 – everything from folding pants at the mall, to leading workshops at The Children’s Museum, to waitressing (which I was horrible at). It was after my business management classes in college that I decided I wanted to work in marketing, which is where I started after I graduated.
What contributed to you becoming the businesswoman that you are today?
I think 2 things: My work ethic. I love working and always have. It’s an important part of what fills me. The other part is my great fortune of having had such varied work experiences over the past 25-30 years that have given me a cumulative knowledge that in a completely unplanned but perfectly organic way created my specific skill set and expertise. So I guess you could say the short answer would be a combination of curiosity and drive.
Which entrepreneurs do you admire?
Ones who truly love what they do. Not the ones chasing the money and notoriety. Do what you love and the money will follow.
What was your inspiration behind starting a seed funding company for women run businesses?
It’s no secret that the ratio of investment dollars that go towards male founded companies vs. female founded is staggering and a statistic that needs to change. At Per Capita Ventures, we are not discriminatory towards men, but I am proud to say that all but one of our portfolio companies have female founders and our investments span across beauty, fashion, media, food & beverage, as well as tech.
How did you get into Venture Capital?
After college I spent 4 years in retail and media marketing, studying consumer behavior and learning how to track trends. After that I worked briefly in PR but left when offered an opportunity to help launch the first pressed juice company in NYC. That was 2000. Three years later, I had my sights set on going to business school when I was introduced to a man who not only co-founded MTV, but also built brands like 6 Flags Theme Parks, Century 21 Real Estate, and AOL all before he turned 50. When we met, he realized I knew a lot about consumers and trends. He had just started an investment fund and offered me a job to help him find brands to invest in. That changed my life forever.
Sweet treats from Copenhagen Pastry, her favorite Danish bakery in Los Angeles
What has been your favorite part about working with start ups?
I love working with passionate entrepreneurs who have a great work ethic and self discipline, who have a deep understanding of their industry and a clear vision for their company. I want them to win! There’s nothing more frustrating/terrifying than hearing a founder say they’re going to be “the next billion dollar brand.” It makes me worry they’re not focused on what’s important – like how hard it is to get from $1M to $10M, and from $10M-$25M… the struggle is real! It’s hard work building a company. So I really appreciate working with the founders who keep their heads down, stay focused, and understand it’s one step at a time.
What’s the most challenging part of your professional life?
Gender equality. Although the demographics are improving and more women are investing now than ever, my industry has always been, and remains male dominated and issues like equal compensation and equal representation are challenges we continuously have to fight for.
What do you think is the single most important ingredient to success?
How do you try to manage your work/life balance?
It’s a work in progress! I think like most women, my greatest challenge is finding the balance between professional and personal time – I still struggle with the guilt of wanting to take time for myself but I’m working on that. I believe someone once said, “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once.” I think there’s some truth to that.
What do you see yourself doing next to express yourself professionally?
Right now I’m really excited about the growing community of female investors and founders on both coasts. I’m focused on being an active part of that.
How do you manage the fear and doubt that inevitably creeps in when you’re paving a less trodden path?
I can’t count how many times in my life I’ve been thrown straight into the fire, been directed to do something I either had never done before or didn’t think I was ready for or qualified to do and every time failure was not an option. Somehow, with each challenge I learned to become more thoughtful, more resourceful, and better equipped to handle the unknown and unexpected. So, today I approach less trodden paths knowing that I am more capable than I give myself credit for. And knowing that you really can do anything you set your mind to.
What have you been most afraid of trying in your career, but you did it anyway?
I was most afraid of taking the leap into investing knowing that no one looked or sounded like me at the time. I was the only woman, I didn’t have an MBA, and I had no finance or management consulting background. But they saw something in me and gave me a chance. So my only option was to work harder, longer, be a human sponge, and make sure I earned my place at the table.
Was there any opportunity that you had in your life that you didn’t take?
Yes. I still think about it. I was once offered to work for the gold standard of investment banks which was wild as I didn’t study finance nor did I have my MBA which is typically baseline requisite. But for me, a mediocre student with a very non-traditional compilation of work experience, being offered a job based on a few impromptu resume-less interviews felt like the greatest accomplishment/redemption of all time. Like I had proven that I was good enough to be there. However, I didn’t take the job because I was offered another opportunity in a more creative role working with consumer brands which is ultimately my strength. But I still wonder what it would have been like to be on Wall Street and if I would have been any good. Now I’ll never know.
Any sleep rituals that you use to help quiet the mind after a long day?
I like to turn my brain off and watch TV for an hour. There’s so much smart content right now, there’s no lack of good entertainment.
What’s the biggest gift you give yourself to recharge?
Time together with my close girlfriends. We all have such busy lives juggling professional and personal schedules. Quality time together, really connecting is both fulfilling and energizing for me.
What’s your favorite indulgence?
Postmates! It’s ridiculous really – with the service fees and delivery charges, you can end up spending more than it would cost you to drive yourself and valet park while you pick up your order (faster than your Postmate will). But it goes back to what my first boss used to always say, “Convenience is King!”
What’s the first thing you do after you wake up?
My alarm plays Led Zeppelin (my favorite band of all time) so the first thing I do is finish listening to the song. It puts me in a great mood. After that, I make a cup of tea.
What’s the last thing you do before bed?
Look at my schedule for the following day and set my alarm.
How do you make your bedroom a sacred space?
I keep it clear of clutter! And have only the most important things close to me. A candle and a personal photo next to my bed. And on my dresser, a mini vase of fresh cut flowers, a tray with a notebook, pen and poem and next to that my beloved pup’s ashes in a special box.
I know you and I have bonded over dogs over the last 9 years and we know they are the gift that keep on giving. What are some of the lessons and gifts Hercules has given you over the years?
Hercules was himself the greatest gift of my life. We were inseparable for 15 wonderful years. He taught me complete and utter unconditional love. He showed me how to look at the world differently and reminded me that the greatest joys are in the littlest of things. His physical body gave him so many challenges and yet he never once complained. He taught me strength, will and resilience. He was charismatic, compassionate, kind and loyal and woke up every day just happy to be there. I’d like to honor him by living the way he taught me to.
Ok, now I’m weeping, Sara. It has been such a treat spending quality time with you and giving my audience an opportunity to learn about you. I am a huge fan of yours, always have been, and I firmly believe that if more young women read about journeys like yours, it will help empower them to follow their dreams, even if it seems like the path they’re looking to go down is male dominated. Unfortunately, we live in a world where social media puts more emphasis on a woman’s physical attributes than her passion, drive, curiosity and intellect – which are vital attributes for women to have so they can be seated at any table they want to sit at. This is a conversation that we need to keep having. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my friend, for being so brilliant and for inspiring so many. Love you big time xo
Sara co-founded Per Capita Ventures, a family office backed investment vehicle, with Peter Morton in 2017. They focus on early stage consumer facing companies across products, commerce, services and technology. To inquire, email email@example.com.