Nathalie Molina Niño is Managing Director at Known Holdings. She is an investor (Builder Capitalist), author, educator and retired global tech entrepreneur. As part of her work as a champion of women, communities of color and the planet, she co-founded the trade organization for Builder Capitalism, a long-view, alternative asset class to Venture Capital. In 2018, her book LEAPFROG, The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs (Penguin Random House, Tarcher Perigee) was named one of Book Authority's "Best CEO Books of All Time." Molina Niño launched her first tech startup at the age of twenty and is the co-founder of Entrepreneurs@Athena at the Athena Center for Leadership Studies of Barnard College at Columbia University. She invests out of her family office, O³, and prior to that via BRAVA Investments, where she served as CEO. In 2015 she stepped in as CRO of PowerToFly, to help grow what is now the fastest growing online hiring platform for women in tech. She has advised organizations such as Disney, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, MTV, Mattel and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. During her career in tech, Molina Niño was involved in launching and growing a multinational business (with Lionbridge, NASDAQ: LIOX) into a $100M operation in 30+ countries within six years.
Today, Molina Niño serves as a Venture Partner at Connectivity Capital Partners, as an advisor for Goldman Sachs' Launch with GS Black and Latinx Cohort, WOCstar Fund, FullCycle, Accion Opportunity Fund, Vote Run Lead, WE NYC (Women Entrepreneurs NYC) and HOPE (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality). In support of her efforts to make reproductive healthcare more accessible and affordable, she serves on the board of the Cadence Health, The National Institute for Reproductive Health and The American Medical Association's Center for Health Equity. In 2019, she was honored with Schneps’ inaugural Women of Wall Street Awards for her influence in banking and finance and was named among People Magazine’s most powerful Latinas.
We are so honored to have spent time getting to know Nathalie and her wonderful mother Maritza at their lovely family home in Silver Lake, California where Nathalie was raised.
Tell us the story of the strong women in your family and how their influence has made you the woman you are today?
My family recently celebrated 50 years since immigrating to the US. And on both my Ecuadorian and my Colombian family’s side, the reason we are here is my powerful grandmothers. Both of them brought children, one was fleeing deadly violence and the other, poverty. Neither arrived here with more than what they could carry. And in their own ways, they both made their way, in a strange country without language skills or connections, by being entrepreneurial, which I increasingly think is just another way of saying “courageous.” Entrepreneurship is the courage to make your own destiny, even against the most impossible of odds, and it’s a well that so many women, especially women who survive abuse and injustice, must draw from. And my family’s matriarchs are a part of that legacy of courage, injustice, and the entrepreneurship of necessity. Anita, my Colombian grandmother sold jewelry door-to-door to other immigrant families and my Ecuadorian abuelita Blanca came home after long days in the sweatshops of downtown Los Angeles and sewed late into the night, making wedding and quinceañera dresses. Half a century later, on days when I feel exhausted or tempted to retreat and go inward, I think of all they did for me and so many in my family to be able to walk the paths we’re on now, and I’m fortified by their legacy. They fought and risked everything for the sweet hope of a future filled with simple but important things: a home, safety, happiness. I do everything I do today because I know what it’s like to work your entire life building something better for others to use as a shelter. I saw them model that for me. The least I can do now is to do the same.
What does that 50 year mark mean to you?
I wouldn’t have even known about the anniversary but for the fact that COVID gave me the opportunity to spend a lot more time with family last year, one silver lining in an otherwise tragic time. Funny enough, we share the anniversary with another perhaps seemingly random family, this one from the animal kingdom, the California Condor. The same month I learned my family was celebrating its 50th year since immigrating, we lost a dear uncle, Segundo. Covid robbed us, as it did for so many, of a proper burial or service. In the absence of what felt like an adequate goodbye, my mother and I drove to a place he introduced me to as a child, Sequoia National Park. There I re-lived childhood memories and shared space with a family of California Condors, who had returned to the wild after a 50 year absence. They’d been bred in captivity and brought back from the brink of extinction, and the first sighting of the Condors in the wild happened while we visited. Having grown up spending time in our ancestral homes in the Andes, I’ve always had a special connection to the mountains, and all its creatures. The indigenous people of the Andes (part of my ancestry) tell the story of a generation, my generation, which they refer to as the Condors. For a long time, largely because of the legend of the Condors, I’ve felt a connection to them. I even have one tattooed on my spine. So the poetry of the 50 years and the Condors was not lost on me. If nothing else, it was a sign to pay attention and take note. A reminder that such milestones are worth pausing and taking time to honor, and perhaps a reminder that even in death, there can be rebirth, if we just take the time to look.The Condor is a sacred animal throughout the Americas. Above featured in VOZ’s Condor Jacket Design, is the Mapuche textile depiction of the Condor, considered the messenger to the spirit world.
Is your family the reason you have focused most of your investing in women of color?
Maybe. But I’m also a pragmatist. People of color make up 70% of the world’s population. In the US, from NYC to Los Angeles and many major cities in between (think: Atlanta, New Orleans) our cities are majority people of color. And in the US women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. What’s more, 8.9 out of 10 of those are started by women of color. My experience growing up definitely influences my investment decisions, but frankly it’s mostly about math and common sense. I invest in the single most entrepreneurial community on the planet, anyone missing out on that opportunity is just bad at math.
In a time of “girl bosses” and “empowerment” culture, you don’t use the term empower, why?
To empower means to give someone power, suggesting that they didn’t have power. What’s worse, it implies that someone else, on the other hand, had it to give. I believe every human being has power and that we live within societies that have set up unjust systems to suppress and abuse that power. The work therefore, in creating a more just world, is to remove obstacles and work to ensure everybody can stand and live, unobstructed, in their own power.
As a successful entrepreneur and the author of LeapFrog, what is some advice you would give to yourself when you were just starting on your path?
I’d remind young Nathalie to be kind to herself, there are plenty of people ready to be unkind, they don’t need your help.
Tell us about your favorite investment thus far?
In 2017 I made an investment into a company that intended to make history by taking the first birth control pill over-the-counter in the US and beyond. Removing the barrier of a medically unnecessary doctor’s visit, especially in a country like the US where nearly 50% of all pregnancies are unintended, has the potential to impact millions of women for generations. They’re now close to entering into the final stages needed for approval by the FDA and I’m over the moon because I know that poor women and people typically locked out of the healthcare system will benefit most from this product hitting shelves. And given the alarming recent developments in reproductive healthcare in the US, this is needed now more than ever.
What leaders have influenced you the most?
I have been lucky enough to be mentored by legends, in some cases people I read about in textbooks have later become my advisors and friends. But of late the leaders who are having the most influence on me are my peers, my co-conspirators, partners and colleagues who inspire me every day with their genius, dedication and their compassion. People like Jim Casselberry, Valerie Redhorse Mohl, and Ushir Shah.
What genre of novels do you enjoy reading? And what book do you wish everyone would read?
When I can, I love to read plays and poetry, and I’m sad to say I haven’t made time for novels of late. But there’s nothing like a good Salman Rushdie novel to blow my mind. The book I wish everyone in business would read is The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, you’d be surprised by what a world-class choreographer has to teach us business folk.
What is the meaning behind the hashtag #outcomesovertopics?
It’s my investment thesis, and truth be told, my life philosophy. Too much attention is paid to (and capital spent on) the theatre of impact instead of real, measurable results that make a difference in people’s lives. While I wont deny that optics matter, when faced with the option of focusing on something that really amounts to just optics, I will always choose outcomes instead.
What are you working on next, and what kind of future do you dream of?
People of color control less than 2 percent of the world’s money, despite making up 70% of the world’s population. I dream of a world where the new majority takes its rightful place in the driver’s seat of the global economy. And I hope that we can find a way not only to achieve a just distribution of wealth, but to use capital to heal and build a sustainable human existence, rather than to extract and destroy. My next company, Known, is a part of that vision, and a model for what the next economy must look like.