Venture capital firms have a reputation for being solely interested in the bottom line. Obviously, money matters to VC concerns, but many angel investors are emerging with a contrarian approach that’s reaping serious dividends.
That’s the story of investor Nicole Quinn, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. Also known as the “celebrity whisperer,” Quinn has worked with a star-studded roster of celebs turned entrepreneurs, including Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow.
“I don’t want to just invest in the bubble of Silicon Valley,” Quinn declares. “I want to listen to the core customer and keep my eyes and ears open to new ideas.”
Learn about Nicole Quinn’s investment track record to date and her alternative approach to investing, which pairs big-name celebrities with effective products that have fans clamoring.
From Surrey to Stanford to Lightspeed
Nicole Quinn is a California transplant originally from Surrey, England. Quinn received a degree in economics from the University of York in England and an MBA from Stanford University.
The entrepreneurial bug first bit Quinn in 1999, when she helped her father build an online pharmacy. This was in the early days of the internet, long before high-speed connectivity, and Quinn quickly learned how challenging — and rewarding — entrepreneurship could be.
From there, Quinn put her entrepreneurial expertise to the task at Morgan Stanley, where she worked for eight years and served as head of consumer equities. During that time, her team took Facebook, Pandora, and Groupon to their initial public offerings.
Quinn also worked at Nutmeg, a London fintech startup. Thanks to her experience as a startup co-founder and analyst, Quinn decided to pivot her career to focus on investing to make entrepreneurs’ dreams a reality.
“Hard work, determination, and grit set apart the good from the great,” she says. “I want to work with founders willing to run through walls.”
Today, Quinn is a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, a global firm supporting companies through multistages of growth across GEOs. Lightspeed has partnered with over 400 companies, one-fourth of which have gone on to an IPO or acquisition. In her current role with Lightspeed Venture Partners, Quinn specializes in fintech, e-commerce, and early-stage consumer companies.
Nicole Quinn’s A-List Celebrity Investments
Lightspeed Venture Partners wants to be the first institutional investor in any startup. From there, it is in it for the long haul.
While Quinn has undoubtedly invested in a broad portfolio of companies over the years, she’s made a name for herself with celebrity brands. Quinn helps celebrity entrepreneurs become not just well-known pop culture faces, but legitimate business owners. It’s not unusual to see Quinn regularly visit Hollywood, where she scouts emerging celebrity lifestyle brands.
Quinn builds lifestyle brands around female celebrities, intending to merge Hollywood and Silicon Valley in one deal. Nicole Quinn has invested in:
— Goop: Quinn met Gwyneth Paltrow during an Apple TV series, “Planet of the Apps, ” which Lightspeed was filming with Paltrow as a judge. They had a lot in common, and Quinn and Paltrow established a friendship and partnership that led to tremendous growth for Goop.
— Haus Laboratories: Quinn led Lightspeed’s investment in Haus as the first institutional investor, and subsequently worked with the company to secure a partnership with Amazon to make Lady Gaga’s makeup selection available globally.
— Cameo: Quinn led Lightspeed’s Series A investment in Cameo and serves on the board of directors. She viewed this investment from her customer-centric view and saw the joy on the faces of people receiving Cameo’s, together with the ability for talent to make money and reach their fans.
— Autograph: Quinn is a big believer in blockchain and emerging tech use cases, so when Autograph NFT co-founder Tom Brady and his team were looking for a partnership, it was the perfect fit.
These are just a few of Quinn’s highlights, with several more celebrity deals in the works.
People First: Nicole Quinn’s Unique Investing Style
The numbers game will always be crucial to investors, but as we’ve seen over the past 10 years, you can’t rely on numbers alone to predict the future performance of an investment. In response, Quinn has pivoted her investing style to focus on the founder, products, and potential instead of current numbers. Let’s dig into what makes Quinn’s approach so refreshing.
1. Supporting Founders and CEOs
Sometimes things don’t go as planned, especially for small startups. Instead of jumping ship the moment things turn, Quinn believes in staying the course and being supportive of her founders and CEOs.
A business is only as strong as its CEO, so Quinn focuses on coaching celebrity business owners for the long term. With this approach, she can strengthen startups with capital and coaching that can pull them out of a challenging time.
2. Global Perspective
While many VCs focus solely on Silicon Valley, it’s a bubble. Quinn looks at Silicon Valley startups, but she believes it’s critical to listen to what global consumers want — not just the narrow scope of what’s appealing to Californians.
Quinn spends half of her time looking at brands in Europe. Instead of limiting herself to Silicon Valley or Hollywood, Quinn scans the globe for notable startups, which is unique to Lightspeed’s global perspective.
3. Focus on Fan Connections
Another important part of selecting a company and founder to back is choosing a product that consumers will love. Quinn analyzes how close fans are to the celebrity behind the brand and uses that information as one of her investment criteria.
This isn’t about likability or popularity, but the depth of relationships celebrities have with their fans.
That’s why Quinn checks social media engagement before green-lighting an investment — she analyzes how engaged a celebrity’s followers are in the comments. It’s easier to convert these loyal fans into committed buyers, and social media engagement is often a clue as to how dedicated a fan base truly is.
4. Embrace the Potential for Failure
Quinn grew up in England, which, in her experience, has a culture that fears failure. But after moving to California, she quickly realized that Silicon Valley embraces taking risks. It isn’t unusual to meet entrepreneurs with five unsuccessful startups under their belt before they hit on the right idea to take them to IPO and beyond.
“In Silicon Valley, it is this rare place in the world where failure is not just accepted but embraced,” she says. “Think about the great founders and how many times they failed before they found the thing that took off. The most successful founders can apply learnings from those failures to find success.”
For Quinn, a history of failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a sign that an entrepreneur is willing to go for it — they just need the right coaching and capital to make it happen.
From Hollywood to Consumers’ Homes
Nicole Quinn loves the idea of changing the world through celebrity entrepreneurs’ big ideas. While her nontraditional investment style certainly sets her apart from the pack, it’s a gamble that’s paying off. Going forward, Quinn hopes to source more partnerships from the Hollywood community of founders. In a market where competition is fierce, Quinn gains a competitive edge with celebs turned entrepreneurs who often come with marketing prowess baked into the brand.
“I always like to say every single investment I make is better than the last,” she says. “I think lifelong learning and a growth mindset are key to success in this business.”