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Golf Sucks: Quarantine & the Death of Country Club Business Networking

By now, we’re all pretty aware that unrepresented founders are pressed to raise the capital they need to keep their vision moving forward. The data is discouraging, unfair, and so many other adjectives— with so much of that, having to do with golf. Well, golf and privilege based activities like it.

For decades, finance has been ruled by homogenous groups of predominantly men who share common interests and hobbies. These men meet at local country clubs, health clubs, and golf courses— places that throughout modern history have doubled as de facto deal sourcing hubs for the finance industry. Partners, principals, associates, and analysts alike enjoy memberships to these casual, yet very private and exclusive environments where they swim, play racquetball, golf— and deal. It’s in these spaces that the men who hold the keys to the kingdom source, negotiate & trade deals— everyday.

For professionals able to enjoy access to these clubs- parlaying leisure time into profit is a privilege only impeded by the individual’s ability to socialize his way to opportunity. Meanwhile, those of us who can not gain entry into these clubs are left out— tasked to go on a veritable scavenger hunt for golf course leftovers. If women and PoC can’t gain access into these arenas, can’t afford these arenas, or just don’t share these interests-- we are completely outside of access to this genre of deal flow. And in our world, deal flow is everything. More than simply being unfair and inequitable, when homogeneous people exclusively share deals with people that look like them, who belong to their social class, we get deals that also look and sound the same. Which is exactly the problem that we face today.

It’s a not so secret society.

The professional fraternity lifestyle associated with this group has become almost a parody of itself, with everything from memes to entire instagram accounts dedicated to the “finance bro” or “private equity guy” demographic-- reruns of the old 1980’s Wall Street troupes, updated for a modern audience. And for many of those entering the Investment Banking, Private Equity, or Venture world even today-- these memberships serve as a badge of authenticity within finance. I know of countless young investors who felt obligated to pay for the Equinox membership or join the local country club in order to gain access to the golf courses, despite the fact that some of them don’t even really enjoy playing it.

Behind closed doors, this “norm” is finally breaking down. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, many states across the US are enacting “stay at home” orders that are temporarily closing down gyms, country clubs, sport clubs, and most other opportunities for large social gatherings. Yet, while these gathering spots are closing, the finance world is still spinning. Investors (in some cases) are still expected to be sourcing new deal opportunities and “get those numbers up”.

For those of us who are based outside massive tech hubs, or like to do deals across less accessible geographies, this is nothing new. For my entire career, I have found deals across historically overlooked geographies, and most of the time did this hundreds of miles away from where the deals were located. Many like me have built digital networks, with virtual social circles across slack channels, massive google sheets, group chats, and in come cases digital AI enabled sourcing platforms. We are no strangers to Google Hangouts, or Zoom pitches. I’ve spoken on digital panels about investing and innovation, and been a part of digital investor “happy hours” for years. Underrepresented finance professionals have created our own networks in response to being excluded from traditional ones.

What’s next?

For those of us who have always existed on the fringes of the “finance bro” ecosystem, these digital sourcing and networking strategies have always been here for us. For those of you who may be worried about finding new deals in this Brave New World, I say welcome! There is an amalgam of tools that exist to help you continue to source. If your fund has a particular industry focus, there are likely Slack channels designed for deal sharing in that industry. For those of us that specialize in investing in underrepresented founders, there is BLCKVC, Women in VC, the Female Founded Club, and countless other great arenas for people to share deals led by people of color, women, members of the queer community, and other underrepresented founders. And most of these founders are more than happy to have a conversation, or a full pitch over a digital video conferencing platform!

Founders everywhere are taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to gain the attention of funders near and far, and even begin to forge relationships with their dream fund-- who they may not, or likely did not previously have access to. While we as underdog investors come out on the other side of this pandemic more connected and stronger than ever, let’s hope golf club dealing-- does not.

Contributed by Alexis Alston, Associate, Lightship Capital

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