Just keep pedalling so you don’t fall off.
That is exactly what willed me on when I was trying to cycle up a steep mountain that didn’t seem like it would ever end. I was so worried if I stopped there was no way in hell I would be able to get back on… and so cycling is very much a metaphor for my life.
Ignorance was what led me to sign up for my first multi-day cycle race experience – I literally had no idea of what I was signing myself up to. My husband is an avid cyclist, and I liked the thought of travelling with him in the Italian Dolomites – beautiful scenery, amazing food and wine. In no way did I understand the implications: that we would be so exhausted at the end of each day that there would be no energy left for romance. But after the first race, we were both hooked and signed up for even more punishment – the 2022 Haute Route Pyrenees, a course of 600km and a close to 16km ascent. It’s the ascent that is the killer – it can take an hour to do 5km.
A lack of female representation
I am also a fund manager, raising the first VC fund in Mexico focused on women. Given my focus on diversity and inclusion, I am very sensitive to the lack of D&I in life in general. Only 10% of the participants in the cycling event were women, and in the field of over 300 that started, I only saw one black person. In our group of travellers, I was the only woman. So, it made me think, is it that women are just too sensible to do long-distance cycling events?
Women have famously done well in long-distance running events, think of Camille Heron who in the 100 mile category is the fastest person (man or woman) ever, but the absence of women is visible in cycling.
I’ve wondered what it’s due to? Is it for example the lack of female role models? We see women competing in extreme running events, but was no female Tour de France for over three decades before this year. Is it the lack of infrastructure? It’s all very well for a man to whip out his equipment to relieve himself but for women – particularly those menstruating – it’s rather uncomfortable to have to go au natural on the side of the road.
Similarly in finance, women make 70% of short-term financial decisions i.e. household consumption, and Noon research shows that Queenagers are behind 90% of Household spending decisions. But women are curiously absent when it comes to making long-term investment decisions.
I want to see more women actively engaged everywhere – as cyclists, as venture capitalists – and together we can develop spaces that are more inclusive.
Someone asked me what has been harder, riding the Haute Route or raising the fund? (I run a firm called Amplifica Capital, the first impact fund in Mexico.) The answer is that it is all hard and can be riddled with unexpected obstacles – yet the experience is also extremely beautiful. For example, in the Pyrenees, we would find ourselves dodging sheep and cows at times, but the emerald green rolling pastures were lovely.
As a Queenage first-time fund manager, the obstacles I have primarily faced have been different questions around track record, risk tolerance and market performance. Working in an industry with both conscious and unconscious bias means people probing whether we should actually have more women in venture capital and whether it’s even worth investing in women.
‘What’s the business case for investing in women?’ is a question I get asked all the time. It’s funny, no one ever asks what the business case is for investing in white middle-aged men? That’s just seen as investing. Female entrepreneurs currently receive less than 1% of venture capital funding. It’s shocking.
Why take on such a challenge?
On my journey in finance, I’ve been angry, I’ve been frustrated, and in many ways, I’ve felt humbled. After all, I am a nearly-50-year-old woman who has worked on projects worth multibillion dollars, in an industry where everyone wants to have the biggest number as a measure of their power, credibility and competence. But these days I am raising a micro nano fund. I’ve raised over $10 million which is simultaneously a fortune, and nothing!
I have been asked many times why I bother trying to do something so hard, something so small. But to me, it doesn’t seem small, and it doesn’t seem small to the women I have invested in, either. And the truth is that I have never thought about quitting, I have cried at rejection, and I have celebrated my successes. I am driven every day by the desire to build a more inclusive venture capital industry where women have more influence and opportunity.
When I was cycling day one of the Pyranees – a 160km and 4km vertical day – I did wonder what the hell I was doing. Surely the more sane option would be to go to the beach and drink margaritas? (And a perfectly viable choice given I live in Mexico.) The next morning I could barely sit due to the wear and tear on my nether regions. But I also had a really strong sense of satisfaction of completing day one – doing something so challenging I wasn’t even sure I could make it.
Learning new skills
I am not a talented cyclist. In fact, last year I managed to find two coaches to share some of their time to help me learn how to descend. I was terrified of going downhill – I thought perhaps a marshall would disqualify me from the race for being so slow on the downhill that I was causing danger to others, a hazard on the road, obstructing the traffic. Thanks to my coaches Jon and Mike I managed to improve my technique, speed and safety for me and others. I am never going to win the downhill, but at least I can move at a respectable pace, and I actually enjoy the descent now – when before I was so tense I couldn’t rest.
In my life, I have never been a salesperson, and so in raising the fund I’ve had to pick up some new skills. An emerging fund manager is an entrepreneur and we do it all from spotting fellow entrepreneurs, investing, doing our due diligence, recruiting, event management, and content generation. A growth mindset with an openness to lifelong learning is essential.
Stepping outside the comfort zone
In both my cycling adventures and my professional life I have had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. But the rewards that come from stepping out of my comfort zone and doing things I wasn’t sure I was even capable of have been enormous.
With endurance sports you can’t cram the night before and get results; it involves months and sometimes a year of planning and preparation. The same is true for fundraising and investing: it takes time to get to know investors and develop relationships, it takes time to get to know entrepreneurs. It is important to develop a repeatable investment process so that investors can know you aren’t investing just based on a hunch or luck.
When racing, sometimes conditions are not ideal, you get a flat tire, the distance markings are wrong, the airlines lose your bike on your flight (incidentally, I have always wondered why DHL is just so good at tracking packages but airlines have no idea where your precious bike is that you handed over to them at the airport – surely a business opportunity!) – you just have to embrace it and move on. The same goes for the markets, with Covid, the start of a recession, bans on Australians getting in and out of the country (who would have thought?), and the long illness and death of my mother all being challenges I needed to deal with while building my first fund.
When I am caught up in the stress of fundraising and investing, cycling is my mindfulness exercise – nothing clears the mind like cycling through Mexico City – where 100% clarity of thought is needed just to stay alive.
The parallels between raising a fund and participating in an endurance sport are very clear to me. They both require mental resilience, commitment, dedication, training planning and self-identifying as someone who is not a quitter and is solid and reliable. If I say I’ll get to the top, I will – even if it’s really hard, even if it hurts to get there. You’ll also need to be a little bit crazy to do either – to go so far outside of your comfort zone and attempt things many people wouldn’t as they seem too hard. But for both, the satisfaction is enormous (being the Queen of the Mountain!).
– Anna Raptis
Anna Raptis is an Australian/Greek/Mexican Queenager who lives in Mexico City with her husband and two daughters. She is Managing Partner and Founder of Amplifica Capital, the first VC firm in Mexico focused on women. Cycling keeps her mind focused.
Want to learn more about the benefits of cycling for Queenagers? Anna recommends picking up a copy of The Midlife Cyclist by Phil Cavell.
And if you want to see what the Haute Route Pyranees race looks like, you can watch a clip of stage one here.
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