March 28, 2022

Inspirational Success Stories - Interview with Carlotta Siniscalco

Carlotta Siniscalco, MBA at Stanford University, is a Partner at Emergence Capital, an early-stage VC fund based in Silicon Valley. Hers is one of the success stories of Italians in Silicon Valley. Milanese by birth, after spending the fourth year of high school in the U.S., she decided to carry out her university studies overseas, and then began her career as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. Let's get to know her better.

You chose to build your career and personal life abroad, far from Italy, "a country that thrives on tradition rather than innovation". Can you tell us why you made this decision and how you approached the world of Venture Capital?

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of new and change. As a young child, I would spend my weekends at the museum of science and technology, in Milan, with my father. I started tinkering with computers and the internet: Windows 1995 had just come out. I was 8 years old.

When I was 16, I spent a year in the United States as a foreign exchange student. That year completely changed my understanding of the world and of my place in it. I realized that there were many places and people outside of my hometown, Milan, that were waiting to be discovered. For the following 20 years, I continued to follow my intuition, curiosity, and thirst for learning.

After high school, I chose to study Economics at the Wharton School, at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. During my first year there, I learned about the career options available to Economics graduates. That was when I discovered what investment banking, consulting, and venture capital were. Venture capital, in particular, sounded fascinating to me – the idea that you, as an investor, could play a role in getting an idea from 0 to 1 to 100 was incredibly attractive, and I was determined to find a way to get an internship in the field. In the winter of 2007 I sent cold emails to every single AIFI member, making my case of why they should hire a 19-year-old student, with no work experience, as their intern. I must have sent out dozens of emails, and only got two replies. One of them was from TT Venture, a VC fund based in Milan focused on technology transfer. Those were my first steps in the world of venture.

After university I decided to take the more traditional path of investment banking and took a job at Goldman Sachs in New York City. It was a good training ground and it helped me land a job at a private equity firm, where I focused on financial services and financial technology companies. Through that experience I realized that I was most interested in more innovative, faster growing companies. For that reason, I chose to move to Silicon Valley – the motherland of technology and innovation – to get my MBA at Stanford and attempt to launch a career in early-stage investing. I was lucky to find the right opportunities and now I am a Partner at Emergence Capital, a VC fund investing in early-stage B2B software.

You imagine what a company could blossom into even when risks abound, by really listening to the founders, helping them build tech companies in Silicon Valley. Any experiences and investments you remember fondly?

Certainly, my first investment – a company called Whistic, in the vendor risk management space. I met the CEO while I was on maternity leave for my first child, in March 2020. A friend introduced us, and I remember meeting Nick, the CEO, while breastfeeding my 3-month-old, on Zoom. We very quickly connected over the vision for the business and the profound need for his solution and started dreaming together about how big his idea could be. Above all, we talked about our values and felt a strong sense of alignment. Although I was still quite early in my journey at Emergence, I chose to bring Nick in front of my partners (virtually, since we were on lockdown because of COVID-19). After completing our due diligence, we led their $12M Series A – the first ever that Emergence conducted via Zoom, and the first in my track record. I became a board member and since then I’ve worked very closely with the Whistic team, developing a strong relationship with the founders and executive team. I’m proud to say that over the past two years the company has performed incredibly well, and it’s poised to become a category leader.

You also have a deep understanding of fintech, having worked in this sector as both a trader and an investor. Other experiences include your years at Advent International, a large global private equity fund, where you were involved in acquisitions both in Europe (including the Cartasi/Nexi carve-out from ICBPI) and in the US. What differences between Europe and the US have you noticed in the fintech sector and what developments do you foresee?

The main difference between the United States and Europe, from the point of view of a VC, is that, while somewhat comparable in overall size, Europe is a heterogeneous market, while the US is a highly homogenous market. In order to sell a product in California, Texas and Florida, there isn’t much adjustment required in terms of language, regulatory framework, and even go-to-market strategy. However, in order to sell in Italy, Germany and Sweden, products need to be highly “localized”, adjusting for language, different business and consumer habits, laws, etc. By doing this localization exercise, European companies expand their addressable market, which is key to assess their attractiveness as an investment.

Fintech is the sector with the highest number of unicorns and funding in Europe. 20% of all European unicorns are in the fintech space, and over $20B were invested in European fintech companies in 2021 alone, an increase of 100% over the prior year. The reason for this incredible success, despite the European heterogenous market, is that European regulators worked hard to remove barriers between countries– including introducing PSD2, financial services passporting, and open banking – allowing European fintech companies to thrive. Looking ahead, I predict that Europe will continue to excel in fintech and has the potential to even take over the United States.

You are an advocate for the advancement of women in the Venture Capital industry, and last year you were the first woman named partner by Emergence in its 18-year history. How do you help other women approach this industry and let their talent emerge?

While I am proud to be the first woman to make partner on this team, I know I won’t be the last. I am committed to helping both Emergence and other VC funds hire and promote more women on their investment team. There are several ways to do that: first and foremost, I spend a meaningful percentage of my time developing my network of promising, young women who may be looking into becoming venture capitalists in the future. By doing so, I help them understand more about the world of venture, and I coach them into how to make their first (or second... or third) steps in this industry Most of them have never met or seen a woman in a senior position in a venture capital fund, and I believe that just showing that it is possible can encourage them to take on this career path.
In addition to this, I think it’s important for companies to ensure they are building and maintaining an inclusive culture where women can thrive. At Emergence we’ve worked really hard on this, and I believe that our strong, inclusive culture has played a key factor in my professional success here. I strongly believe that building an inclusive culture is as important, if not more, as getting women through the door and hired as investors, in order to allow for their talents to emerge.