Meet Helen Min: From Facebook to Phenomenal Ventures
By Nicole Casperson
50% of the entry-level finance workforce are women.
When it comes to women coming through the doors of fintech, many tend to gravitate towards B2C offerings.
However, we need women in every vertical and corner of our industry if we genuinely want fintech to serve everyone.
And Helen Min, Co-founder and Managing Partner at Phenomenal Ventures, couldn’t agree more.
Helen has a track record in tech and fintech that dates back to 2008 when she started her journey at Facebook.
Today she is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Phenomenal Ventures alongside *the* Meena Harris.
But before she launched the investment firm of her dreams with the Vice President’s niece, she had to learn her way to the top of the ladder through a series of impactful work experiences.
Let’s look in the rearview mirror to give you a quick snapshot of what her career has looked like.
Helen’s resume includes the following:
- Facebook; Head of Vertical Marketing
- Dropbox; Head of Enterprise Marketing
- Quora; Head of Marketing
- Plaid; Head of Marketing
- AngelList; Head of Marketing
Banger, after banger, after banger…
Helen humbly describes her 14 years leading marketing teams at some of the United States’ most prominent tech and fintech companies as ‘an academic approach’ to learning the space.
I describe it as pure badassery and extreme competence.
But she firmly sees herself as a student of life and has always sought to put herself in rooms where she stood the chance of learning the most.
For example, in my conversation with her, we dove deep into what it was like to start at Plaid–her first significant exposure to working in financial technology.
In her view, it was the best place to learn about space because Plaid is an infrastructure company.
At Plaid, she didn’t just learn about payment processing, for example. She learned about every vertical in the space that Plaid interacts with.
From consumer finance to mortgage and lending, to wealth management, to neobanks, and everything in between that might use Plaid’s banking APIs to connect to consumer bank accounts…she got a crash course on everything.
You can call her experience there the equivalent of attending Fintech University.
But the most crucial door Plaid opened for Helen was the one that led her into the world of angel investing.
While at the company, Helen began to invest in startups.
This passion quickly turned into a career when she became Head of Marketing at AngelList, a company that creates tools for startups, investors, and fund managers to accelerate innovations.
Once again, Helen had chosen a company that approached the new vertical she had entered from an infrastructure layer.
AngelList wasn’t just concerned with angel investing; it was focused on the entire picture.
Meaning that Helen got to deploy her academic approach to career building, but this time at VC University.
Fast forward to 2020, while Helen was still at AngelList, the firm launched Rolling Funds, an initiative that allowed LPs to subscribe quarterly to the fund managers they wished to support with capital and adjust their commitment amounts as needed depending on cash flow, thus opening up the floodgates for many to invest in great deals alongside top VCs.
This launch got her inspired. After two and half years of innovating at AngelList, Helen started to dream bigger again.
She saw the incredible impact she could have as a venture capitalist and how the pandemic had enabled people to make investments faster and to raise funds more quickly with the work of Rolling Funds.
Seeing the opportunity to capitalize on this momentum to elevate women and diverse founders, Helen knew she needed to seize it…as soon as she found the right partner.
Enter Meena Harris.
Meena and Helen go way back, having met at Facebook in 2008.
Then in 2017, Meena started Phenomenal–an activist apparel brand that quickly grew into a 360 media company focused on telling stories about women and women of color.
Helen watched from the sidelines as her friend’s brand grew, and the more she watched, the more she realized that the brand was deeply aligned with her own personal values.
So, after Helen had already invested in about 30 companies, together they launched Phenomenal Ventures in 2021, combining forces to build the investment firm they knew the world needed, but still needed to be created.
At the end of 2021, Helen decided to take on Phenomenal Ventures full-time, and by December 2022, they had closed their first funding round.
Whether you’re a fintech founder, an investor, or an LP–Helen Min’s vast experiences hold lessons for everyone.
In my conversation, she drops some insights that deserve to be put to work.
Let’s dive in.
#1 Diversity as an afterthought isn’t a strategy.
As a woman who was part of many startups that then went public, Helen sees clearly how important it is to embed the desire for diversity into the company’s mission from the get-go.
You can’t just start a code-red diversity initiative twenty years into building a business.
Diversity has to be present from the moment you lay down the company’s first brick to the last.
#2 Limited Partners with limited transparency.
From her experience, Helen has learned that the layer of the value chain where transparency is needed most is among LPs.
The SEC doesn’t require funds to disclose who their LPs are; therefore, the data available on those demographics is limited (no pun intended).
However, as Helen says, “We aren’t going to see meaningful change until we change the makeup of the LPs in this country.”
That means changing who the recipients of generational wealth are and changing the complexion of those running endowments and pension funds.
#3 Where are the B2B girlies at?
We discussed how many of the women founders in fintech lean more into direct-to-consumer product offerings and other B2C endeavors.
How come? Because you can’t be what you can’t see.
There needs to be more awareness about opportunities in this side of fintech among many women entering the financial services landscape because few role models bear the torch.
However, it’s important to remember that “nobody has the monopoly on being right,” and anyone has the power to come into any vertical in this space and change the game for the better.
#4 Companies run by women are not just for women.
The deck Helen and Meena used when they approached LPs and investors never explicitly stated that they were an investment group designed for women or focused on DEI initiatives.
However, that didn’t stop LPs from referring to them as a “social impact investing group” or highlighting how excited they were about working with firms focused on diversity and inclusion.
The lesson: just because two women co-found a company doesn’t mean it’s not for everyone.
How many companies do we know that is designed to serve everyone but were founded by an entirely male cast? Too many.
Let’s end this stigma ASAP.
#5 Everybody touches money, and that must be reflected in the institutions responsible for handling our money.
In her words, “If you’re a builder, and building a product meant to serve everyone,
You’re not going to be able to deliver on that promise unless you have people working on that mission that are representative of the group you want to serve.”
From the investment layer to the board, to who is founding companies, to who is on the executive team, we need more representation that mirrors the makeup of our country. Because as Helen says, “Who is the target audience for the dollar bill? Everyone.”