Mayra Ceja, Republic Advisor, venture capitalist, and host of Venture Unplugged, sat down with us to talk about her first foray into the podcasting world, what it’s like to interview founders about startups and themselves, and the best advice she’s received from founders on her show.
Edited for length and clarity.
Republic: What is Venture Unplugged and why did you start it?
Mayra Ceja: Venture Unplugged is a new podcast series where I dive deep into the lives and challenges of today’s top investors and founders. Our goal is for the audience to walk away with a new understanding of each successful guest, learning something inspiring from venture investing’s most interesting success cases.
R: Why did you choose the podcast format and not, say, a Medium blog?
MC: I enjoy hosting fireside chats with top founders and investors at events — something I’ve been doing for the longest time. While I love doing that with live audiences, I really saw the podcasting medium as an opportunity to bring my discussions to a wider audience. I love podcasts, and having my own really allows me to go deeper, touching not only upon the aspects of the business, but upon founders’ personal challenges and growth trajectories as people, too.
I’m not subjected to limitations of an event or a host. (Laughs.)
R: What do you think is the most interesting growth trajectory that you've come across in your interviews?
MC: Some of it has to do around founder stress and founder mental health. It's a very challenging environment to launch a start-up, and as we all know, most businesses and startups fail. Nine out of ten startups tend to fail, and that creates a very difficult and emotionally taxing situation. For example, in one of the most touching podcast interviews with Leah Busque Sollivan [founder of TaskRabbit], she describes how for her last and final raise that eventually led to Ikea’s purchase of the company — the stress got so bad for her she had to be hospitalized.
What I have found from successful investors is that they've actively worked to create more balance and focus on creating structure and rituals around that. Finding more balance to counter some of that stress that comes from these very challenging, high-growth situations.
R: Regarding your time at Princeton: What effect did you have on the seed investment community there?
MC: Having a seat at the investment table is crucial Only 11% of Women are VCs. As female and Latina VC, I like to lead change by example and influence.
When I launched Princeton University’s first seed fund, I took the portfolio from zero to twenty-one investments in about eighteen months, which was an incredible experience. What ended up happening was that I was on the investment committee — a predominantly male investment committee - but what I noticed was really interesting as an outcome was that because I had a seat at the table, the portfolio looked a bit different.
Not intentionally. We didn’t go out to find more women, we didn’t go out to find more minorities, but as a result of me having a seat at the table, perhaps being able to advocate for different types of ventures that were happening...maybe that made a difference. At the end, we had over a third of [invested companies] that included female founders, which is much higher than the — I believe it’s two percent, we can double-check — of female founders that get invested overall in the industry. So, I’ve always been an advocate that if you want to see change, be part of that change. Putting yourself in roles where you can have power and influence.
That’s what drove me to venture capital. You can make a lot more difference by being able to direct where that money goes to rather than sitting on the sidelines or hoping for change.
R: You’ve spoken with a lot of notable names. How do you keep from being star-struck?
MC: What fascinates me about interviewing famous people — millionaires and billionaires — is that at the end of the day, they're really being challenged by the same things that we are. In Justin Kan’s episode, he opens up about his emotions and anxieties and the daily habits he uses to find happiness. What we learn from this interview and others is that successful people have the same anxieties and fears that we all do. Yet they're doing something slightly different. I'm driven by curiosity in each one of the interviews.
I'm curious to learn what that delta is, what makes them slightly different that yields a huge amount of difference in their lives.
R: What is the best piece of advice that you think a guest on your show has given you?
MC: This was actually from the Tim Draper interview. One of the things that I always ask my guests afterwards is do you have any personal advice for me on how to make this better?
Tim Draper was very sincere and said “You have great questions. Keep going. I think you may have found your calling.”
Prior to Republic, Mayra Ceja (@MayraCeja007) spent time at Princeton University's first seed stage fund, which she took from zero to 21 investments in 18 months. Earlier, she managed investor relations for Guggenheim Partners' hedge fund. She received her MBA from Wharton and BA from Princeton.