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As we all know, female partners at VC firms are uncommon. This fact alone prompted us to dive a little deeper into Ford’s career and explore the reasoning within the firm for elevating her role. It’s important to note that although women remain underrepresented, their numbers are increasing. One recent study by Crunchbase News found that among the top 100 venture firms, the percentage of woman partners had edged up to 8 percent in 2017 from 7 percent the year before, an increase of 17 percent but still relatively low. (Earlier this year, we also covered former startup founder Ilana Stern’s hiring as GP at Peterson Ventures.)
Ford joined Edison in 2014 after working for two decades in mostly marketing roles at several B2B software companies. Since then she’s worked with more than 55 portfolio companies and completed three exits. Most recently, in 2018, Ford led Edison’s exit of New Jersey-based accounts receivables automation provider Billtrust for “an 11X return.”
Ford first developed a relationship with Edison when working at one of its portfolio companies, Operative Media. It was then that she met Edison’s managing partner, Chris Sugden, who served on the startup’s board. He suggested she might be a good fit to join Edison, considering her operational background.
“Her advice and guidance was focused initially on sales and marketing, but soon branched out to all areas of a high-growth company given her direct experience of over 20 years working inside similarly-sized businesses,” Sugden told me via email.
It wasn’t long before Ford proved her value in other ways. According to Sugden, she quickly became the “go-to board member.” In one case, he said, she moved the board and company’s management to accelerate exit timing. In general, Sugden noted that Ford had established herself as a trusted adviser to the CEO and management team across the Edison portfolio while acknowledging the challenges of becoming an investor.
“This is not easy to do when entrepreneurs and CEOs are typically focused on working with one partner from their investor and see others as a distraction or nuisance,” he added. “Kelly didn’t look at making investments as ‘easy.’ I see a lot of senior executives from successful startups miss this. There is a ton to learn and Kelly is a true student of the game.”
Also, during her time at Edison, Ford has been responsible for a number of firsts, according to Sugden.
She was the firm’s first operating partner. With that, she created the Edison Edge operating platform and, Sugden said, essentially ushered in the firm’s integrated approach to growth-stage investing. Ford also established the firm’s Center of Excellence for Sales & Marketing, and created the Edison Growth Index, a proprietary study on the key characteristics of fast-growing technology companies.
Ford is currently on the board of directors for Blue Medora, ExecVision, Kinetiq and Suuchi. Other active investments include Bento for Business, Emplify, LawnStarter and Terminus. In the year ahead, Ford will focus on fintech investing.
“The year ahead presents immense opportunity for the private capital and fintech industries. Growth equity is taking center stage and receiving its due as an asset class,” said Ford. “Fintech businesses are maturing as both critical ingredients and platforms.”
With Ford’s promotion, 33-year-old Edison now has six general partners, including Sugden, Michael Kopelman, Lenard Marcus, Tom Vander Schaaff and Ryan Ziegler.
With a focus on fintech, healthcare IT and enterprise software sectors, Edison targets high-growth companies located outside of the coasts with $5 million to $25 million in revenue. Its investments also include buyouts, recapitalizations, spinouts and secondary stock purchases. The firm currently manages more than $1.6 billion in assets.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias
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