Venture Capitalist Jillian Manus On 'The Pitch' And Why She Abhors 'Shark Tank'

Jillian Manus is something of a legend in the world of venture capitalists, and I can see why. Based on my time with her, she's exceedingly insightful, candid as hell, and downright hilarious.

Professionally, she's a managing partner at Structure Capital, a Silicon Valley early-stage venture capital firm, where she provides strategic support to founding teams, focusing on creating value in underutilized assets and excess capacity.

Manus’ personal mission, “to fuel all efforts which create a path to self-sufficiency and security for women and children,” is laced throughout her work as a venture capitalist, via the Manus Family Foundation and her mentorship of female founders.

While Structure Capital isn’t explicitly focused on funding underrepresented entrepreneurs, 30% of its portfolio is comprised of female founders as compared to 7% in the industry as a whole.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Manus to discuss her decision to join the entrepreneurial podcast, The Pitch, which was recently acquired by Gimlet Media. The second season launched June 14.

Lelia Gowland: Tell me about your decision to join the show.

Jillian Manus: Truthfully? It was prompted by the fact that I abhor Shark Tank. I watch that show, and I want to jump right through the screen and strangle all of them.

I think that show is so predatory. It’s unethical to invest $20,000 or $200,000 for 30% of a company. The problem is, those founders don’t know what they don’t know. They give away too much of the market and also their control.

On Shark Tank, [the venture capitalists] are thinking about, “How can I benefit the most from this product?” It’s about them. It’s not about the founder.

I wanted to do The Pitch to flip this and show all the true ethical values that the venture community can bring to a founder.

Venture capitalists need to not only tear down, but also to build these founders back up. The show enables me to educate the founders, which is what Shark Tank doesn’t do. I’m trying to instill in them some education so that their next pitch will be even better. The true value of The Pitch is the educational tool.

Gowland: In the intro to the show, the host provides a little context into each of the venture capitalists’ funding approach. What do you think about the way you’re introduced as it relates to the other co-hosts?

Manus: One of the wonderful parts of all of this is that we are all completely different. We’re looking through a completely different lens.

Howie is a consummate optimist. He’s the relationship person. He has to get to know the founder, to know he can sit down and have a beer with the founder.

Jake is super analytical about everything. He’s even more sensitive – a little more discerning – about the person, not just about the product.

Phil is wonderful and hyper-analytical. Everything has to have data behind it. He gets in the weeds on the financial model and forecasting. He is very granular. I so appreciate that.

Then I have me: I want to get the best out of people. If I’m able to teach them and raise the bar for them, they will step up. I am very nurturing – I’m known for that a bit – I’m slightly maternal. I don’t like to tear into somebody without giving them something back. I like to also understand the mission of the product. It’s important for me to see the social impact.

Gowland: You’re known for investing in and mentoring women. Was part of your decision to join the show about equity and increasing transparency about the pitch process for women?

Manus: Interestingly enough, I’ve had many female founders approach me and say, “I”ve listened to The Pitch, and it helped me so much.”  Whereas men say, “I’ve listened to The Pitch and it’s so entertaining. You’re so funny.”

The women literally say, “I learned this – I now do this better. Thank you for that education.” That’s what the women are taking away. And then men are taking away, “Well isn’t this a hoot.”

I truly believe everybody has a solution to a problem in their heads. Can they build it is really the question? Do they have the capabilities? Can they assemble a team in order to build it? If we give them the tools and building blocks, I think many people can actually build a solution to a problem.

There should be many more entrepreneurs. I don’t think there are enough. I think people are fearful of what they don’t know. I’m hoping that The Pitch will [encourage people to consider becoming] an entrepreneur where perhaps they hadn’t otherwise thought they could.

It’s a “You can do it” panel as opposed to a, “You can’t, you won’t, and you don’t know how to” panel.” That’s Shark Tank. Our [approach] is, “You can, and if you can’t, we will help you so you can.”

Throughout our conversation, Manus described wanting to instill honor and integrity back to the venture capital. In a culture that idolizes Shark Tank and the “greed is good,” Gordon Gecko model of investor, Manus’ approach serves as a welcome change of pace.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length