The privilege of shaping the future — an interview with Judith Dada from La Familia

Paweł Michalski

May 11, 2021

Judith Dada is cut above the rest. Though she’s been a VC for less than four years, she quickly established her brand as a rising star of the industry. In fact, she became a Partner at La Famiglia, a European seed-stage VC fund, before she even turned 30. Not an easy feat, given not only her age but also her “non-traditional” background: a second-generation immigrant, she became an investor after trying her hand at a number of jobs that only rarely lead to a career in VC.

As soon as I started my conversation with Judith, I learned why she is a force to be reckoned with. Self-aware and eloquent, she does not mince her words. She was more interested in getting her truth across than in being politically correct. What I heard was the sound of the generational change in venture capital.

Paweł Michalski (PM): Did you plan to become a venture capitalist?

Judith Dada (JD): No. For a long time, I have considered myself a “planner.” I was this girl in school with post-its focused on planning her perfect life. I thought I’d be a journalist or a doctor. I believe that was because of my immigrant background — many people with that background crave a master plan for an ideal life.

PM: So what happened?

JD: At some point during my studies, I realized I couldn’t settle on one thing in my life. I thought: forget the master plan. I wanted to let myself be pulled by whatever is out there. I think that’s what makes our lives so special — not thinking about everything as a plan, but being open and a little bit opportunistic about the things that come our way, the people we meet, the things we build together.

I’m 29, and I’ve already tried so many things: from media to consulting to managing a fund. I hope that all those experiences and the diverse networks that I’ve built will have a fantastic compounding return on investment in the decades to come.

PM: Was your career in venture capital more of an opportunity you grabbed or a sum of the experiences you had?

JD: I think both. When I was still at Facebook, I started a small initiative to help startups efficiently handle their data. That’s where I got to know many founders and VCs.

When Jeanette closed La Famiglia’s first fund, a friend of mine contacted me to tell me they were hiring the first person to join the fund and that I should apply. My first reaction was a thank you, but no thank you. After all, I thought of myself as more a founder than an employee.

It took some convincing, and tenacity, for me to take the call with Jeanette. I’m glad I did because I was blown away by the chemistry between us: the things we both think about and care about. I decided to act on a gut feeling and jumped into the void.

In the end, it wasn’t something that I planned for. However, it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t take many leaps of faith before and followed my curiosity, which led me first to Facebook, then to the VC initiative there, and finally to the call with Jeanette.

PM: How does life as a VC look like for you?

JD: I’m on my toes all the time (laugh). I mean, the magical boundary between work and life has disappeared for VCs. There’s so much happening all the time. I’ve never been bored on the job, which is fantastic, considering how many people come to work exhausted or disconnected. However, it’s also increasingly more challenging to plug out of work. I think it’s even harder for me because my husband is a startup founder who’s constantly fundraising. I feel like I’m at work all the time.

PM: So, how much do you love working with founders?

JD: It’s the single most rewarding thing for me. Honestly, seeing teams grow and talent developing — it’s satisfying and humbling at the same time. Sometimes you start working with a handful of people at seed, and in a short time, they have more than a hundred people working at their company. Very often, those are people migrating from other countries, starting new chapters in their lives.

PM: I guess that last part is especially important to you?

JD: Indeed, but not only because of my background. I know that we can never really abstract from who we are. At the same time, I firmly believe that a talent shortage will be one of the biggest problems we will face in the next decade.

Automation, I hope, will solve some part of that challenge, but if we don’t take migration seriously, we will face a huge problem a decade from now. Not to forget, some of the wildly successful tech companies have powerful migration stories — look at Hopin or Gorillas. Those are amazing stories with solid migration roots.

PM: Is there anything that makes you angry about this job or the industry itself?

JD: I get angry all the time (laugh). If you care about your job and you’re attached to it, you sometimes feel excited, occasionally sad, and sometimes angry. I can tell you what makes me especially angry. I feel like there’s still not enough acknowledgment of the privilege that comes with this job.

There is a responsibility that comes with the fact that venture capital is a motor for future prosperity, for the conditions that we want to establish. There needs to be more debate around that. I think that there’s only a small group that is extremely loud about it. Many people are secretly rolling their eyes, thinking: “oh no, another one of those privilege and status conversations.”

PM: Do you believe that VCs have a moral obligation to do things in a certain way?

JD: Every human walking the Earth has to do the right thing for the planet and other people living on it. Look at what’s happening around us: sustainability, social unrest, violence. All of those are consequences of actions that some people, in many different facets, have not wholly owned up to. Maximizing a return on investment doesn’t mean anything goes, and we can throw away this obligation.

PM: What are the consequences of that approach for your business activities?

JD: If we had serious concerns about the moral fiber of the founder or the founding team, we would not invest. Those people could still go on to become wildly successful, there might be other funds that are happy to support them, but that’s not what La Famiglia stands for.

If you want to support someone with everything you’ve got, you have to be able to stand up for them. Of course, there’s always some grey area. We are all humans, and we have to accept that we make mistakes, learn and change all the time.

PM: What do you wish to achieve as a VC?

JD: I want to be at the forefront of what shapes humanity and society. If there’s one true thing I think I know about this world, it is that it is changing, adapting, and always going into new directions. As a social scientist by education, I’ve always been thinking about whether tech shapes society or the other way around. Though I still haven’t decided, I am at the intersection of those forces as an early-stage VC. I believe that the positive ripple effects created by technology in many parts of the world will also continue to happen.

PM: What’s the most challenging part of this job for you?

JD: What makes my job challenging is the multifaceted nature of what makes a successful business. Choosing from the abundance of opportunities, doing it very early, and doing it well is the most challenging part.

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