Kwanza Jones at Bennett College

Kwanza Jones is many things: an investor, a venture capitalist, a CEO, and an artist; but most importantly, Jones is a “catalyst.” She makes it her business to energize and empower others. Since 2014, Jones has been the co-founder and CEO of the Kwanza Jones & José E. Feliciano SUPERCHARGED Initiative, a philanthropic grant-making and investment organization aiming to impact the areas of education, entrepreneurship, equal opportunity, and empowerment. Since inception, the Initiative and its affiliates have made over $40 million in commitments to funds and companies with diverse or female founders.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Kwanza as part of On Second Thought’s “I Look Like an Investor” series that profiles inspiring, black female investors. During our conversation, Jones explained her philosophy of investing with impact beyond the financials. “It’s not just about the numbers that you have and it’s not just about the track record,” says Jones. “If you were only looking at what’s on paper then you end up ultimately missing other things that are just as important, like the company culture.”

It’s about More than Just the Money

Photo provided by Kwanza Jones

Beyond capital, Jones supercharges the entrepreneurs and investors she works with by assessing and meeting their unique needs, including making valuable introductions to others. “It can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s more than just saying, ‘all right, here’s the money’.” She understands that different entrepreneurs need different things.

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Invest in the Team

Jones prefers to partner with companies led by multiple fund managers or co-founders, explaining that “no one succeeds alone.” There’s a wonderful benefit of a great partnership, whether co-founders or fund managers. What results is a diversity of thought, background, and experiences that can prevent what Jones calls “a sea of sameness,” where you’ll “keep getting the same thoughts [and] the same ideas.”

In a team, Jones looks for people “who can show that they have a commitment to completing things,” particularly when it hasn’t been easy. “It helps me understand that as a fund manager or entrepreneur, you’re going to be able to stick through things for a longer period of time and try to have a longer-term perspective.”

Empathy and Listening Skills Go A Long Way

And when it comes to identifying which entrepreneurs are worth investing in, Jones points to a few important qualities. Quality number one? “You can’t be an asshole… You’ve got to be able to know how to connect with people… You have to have some empathy.” Explains Jones, “If that’s how you are, then that’s the culture that you’re creating… for your company… for the vendors that you work with, [and] for the customers that you have.”

The second quality is the ability to communicate. “Being an effective communicator really means being an effective listener, “says Jones. She wants to see people who can listen silently, truly absorb what they are hearing, and respond from a place of having heard. The third and final quality Jones mentions is the self-awareness to be able to identify where your strengths and weaknesses are, and to build a team that helps you fill in any gaps you might have.

Iterate Until You Find the Right Investment Thesis for You

Finally, Jones explains how she came to define her investment thesis, explaining that it took years of refinement. “Where the pillars came from,” Jones says, referring to her focus on education, entrepreneurship, equal opportunity, and empowerment, “was the result of many iterations and ultimately identifying things that are common denominators for the advancement of society.” Instead of focusing on a particular sector, which wouldn’t allow her to have the impact she wanted, Jones chose to be intentional and purpose-driven, thinking about the future and driving societal change for the better.

“I like to think instead that no matter what type of investor you are you can invest with impact. “

Reflecting on what she’s learned since starting out as an investor, Jones points to three things. First, she mentions the importance of keeping a growth mindset and an openness to learning. “You’ll never be bored,” explains Jones. “You’ll always be challenged.”

Remember What’s Most Important

Beyond that, Jones mentions that “there are always going to be people who continue to test or underestimate you. They’re always going to be people who do not treat you how you know you should be treated. And that’s fine.” And finally, to look beyond the product and the fund to the people. “It’s the people,” she says. “That’s the core thing. It’s always about the people.”

Kwanza’s Investing Tips:

For black female investors looking to learn from Jones’ experience, here are her five key investing tips:

1.    Offer more than money. If you want the companies you invest in to succeed, and if you want to make a real impact on the world, you have to offer more than just capital. Whether it’s helping your entrepreneurs to network, teaching them key skills, or giving extra attention to the companies who need it, you should be more than a checkbook.

2.    Choose companies whose values you share. If you only invest in companies with great numbers, without truly getting to know the company culture, you might find yourself at odds with your entrepreneurs.

3.    Seek partners in groups. The more people contributing to an organization at its core, the more diversity of thought there will be, leading to creativity and innovation.

4.    Choose entrepreneurs wisely. Look for good people who can communicate, who are committed to seeing things through, and who are self-aware, having built a team who can balance them out.

5.    You’ll be underestimated. It’s inevitable that as a black female investor, you’ll come up against adversity. People will misjudge you, underestimate you, and challenge you. That is the reality of our world. But it’s okay. You can’t change people, so just look out for the good ones.