A Note From Sam on Kiki

Date Published:
February 7, 2024

Dear Blackbird Community, 

For those following Kiki news, I want to share some background and my perspective on a couple of the issues that have received attention recently. 

I am Samantha Wong, a General Partner at Blackbird Ventures. I sourced and have the primary relationship with Kiki’s co-founders, Toby, Jack and Alex. 

As a former female founder who struggled to raise venture funding for her startup, and as a female general partner who has raised $160M over two separate funds for the New Zealand Blackbird funds that I run, I am empathetic to the challenge of fundraising as a woman. I can fully appreciate the frustration at inequity in funding for female founders that I saw in commentary on this story. More on that later.  

First I want to clarify a few facts relating to Kiki and Blackbird’s approach to supporting founders.

Our Original Investment Thesis

Despite what you may have read, Blackbird did not back a women’s club, nor did Kiki ‘fail’ in Sydney. We, along with numerous other investors, invested in Kiki to expand its subletting platform, off the back of its strong traction in Sydney, where it was known as ‘EasyRent’. At the time of our investment of 16%, EasyRent had been live in Sydney for 12 months, was essentially bootstrapped and was profitable. 

However, the Kiki team had ambitions to own the subletting category globally and so decided to take on one of the largest markets in the world, New York. While the decision to close operations in Sydney and focus its team of just three at that time on New York was a bold but risky one, it had a logical basis. 

Kiki has only been operational in New York for three months. With 1200 listings, it has exceeded expectations. However, there was an imbalance of supply and demand (not uncommon in the early days of a marketplace), and it does not yet have the community magic that it was known for in Sydney, where women made up 70% of Kiki’s users. 

We backed Kiki based on its world class early traction in Sydney. Kiki's recent update explaining that subletting remains essential to their strategy provides welcome clarity and we'll continue to work with them as they navigate the next stages of the business.

Our Approach with Founders

Founders put faith in us as a partner on their ambitious journeys, and we don’t take this responsibility lightly. As we all know, startup founders experiment and learn and sometimes adjust as they go. They do not always get everything 100% right. We see it as our role to provide support to them through the learning, shifting, ups and downs of the startup journey. So that’s where our focus has been working with Kiki over the last few weeks. 

Our starting point will always be to provide support to founders first and directly, rather than commentary via the media or online forums. While I get that some people wanted us to say more, sooner, Blackbird will always prioritise engaging directly with our founders, with updates and information shared more broadly only when we think it's appropriate to do so.

Our Commitment to Funding Gender Diverse Teams

I understand that the story brought into focus the issue of gender diversity in the startup ecosystem, the experience of women raising funding and the statistic that, in VC, women-founded startups receive far less funding than men. It is an issue we are committed to improving.

Since Blackbird started deploying our 2022 core fund, we have invested in 22 companies, and 23% of these have at least one woman founder. While this is broadly in line with industry standards, it’s nowhere near where we want it to be. We are committed to continuing to provide transparent reporting about our progress, acknowledging that we need to do better. 

We run a series of strategies to address diversity at all stages of the investment funnel, as set out in this blog. From programs for discovering the next woman-led startup, to strategies we use in our investment decision-making processes to try to eliminate unconscious bias and setting concrete OKRs for the team, we are doing the work. 

Our virtual mentoring program Giants coaches more than 400 founders every year, 55% of which are female. 50% of the startups in our deep tech focussed incubator program Foundry have a woman or non-binary founder. Our sister company Startmate runs the Womens Fellowship to help women career-pivotting into startups, which has directly resulted in 376 women getting a job in startups or VC or founding a company in the 3.5 years the program has been running. 

There is much more work to do, and we’re committed to doing it. 

I hope this adds some context to this discussion. We remain committed to doing the right thing by our founders, and to diversity in our startup community, and we hold these two values together. We will continue doing our part to build an ecosystem we can all be proud of. 

Sam on behalf of Blackbird