What would a straight white guy do? It's a question constantly on the mind of Pipeline Angels founder and CEO Natalia Oberti Noguera, who credits Cindy Gallop with popularizing the sentiment. In a frank conversation with Latina to Latina host Alicia Menendez, Oberti Noguera asks: What would women and femmes be able to accomplish if they came from a place of abundance?
The potential in that answer is why Oberti Noguera founded Pipeline Angels in 2011. The social entrepreneurship network allows women and femmes to invest capital in women and femme-owned businesses, effectively providing them with a means to equal the playing field. Since launching in 2011, Pipeline Angels now has over 300 members who have invested about $50m in 50-plus companies.
"I had my business aha! moment," Oberti Noguera says. "Realizing that society has a gendered perspective on how we change the world. You know, like, when women and femmes say they're going to change the world, the assumption is that they're going to launch a nonprofit."
Part of what Oberti Noguera tries to amplify is visibility. Looking back at pivotal points in her life, she recalls to Menendez, "I just didn't have the language to describe who I am." That feeling stayed with her. "Those are the sorts of things that I'm just very aware of."
Throughout the interview, Oberti Noguera encourages listeners to think about how language matters. "I personally prefer saying you know, for example, women, non-binary people, men of color," she tells Menendez. "If you want to be inclusive, be explicit." Oberti Noguera notes that inclusive language can actually be shorter and more direct. For example, she argues that using "children" in lieu of "daughters and sons,” and "parents" in the place of "mothers and fathers,” creates space for non-binary individuals and is more linguistically efficient. In the context of the #MeToo movement, the #TimesUp initiative, and conversations around mutual consent, Oberti Noguera re-examines the business language of "not taking no for an answer" and instead focusing on who "will get you to the right yes."
Oberti Noguera and Menendez also talk about why Oberti Noguera thinks she missed the "queer memo" until later in her life, why it's critical to get comfortable with discomfort if you want to enact change, and how moving around as a child made Oberti Noguera a better entrepreneur.
And here's the full transcript of the episode.
Music fade in.
Alicia: Welcome to Latina to Latina, a Bustle podcast. I’m your host, Alicia Menendez. This episode, I’m talking to Natalia Oberti Noguera.
Clip of Natalia: And I had my business aha! moment, that I'm going to share with you, was realizing that society has a gendered perspective on how we change the world. You know, like, when women and femmes say they're going to change the world, the assumption is that they're going to launch a nonprofit.
Alicia: Her mission is to change the world of venture capital, and to make sure women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs get the start-up funding they deserve. But her commitment to inclusion goes way beyond the startup world. For Natalia - who self-identifies as a cis queer Latina, (pronouns she and her) - it is baked into everything she does. Everything. Natalia. I wish that we had had the mics running when you walked in this room. Because you gave the most Natalia entrance that I could have possibly imagined. Where you walked in and said, "I can only be a part of this if you have someone who is black." And you do this type of stuff all the time. I've seen you on panels and being like, “Yo, everyone you just had was white on this panel.” And it's such a part of your ethos, I wonder if you even know you're doing it anymore.
Natalia: I enjoy the white tears, so, I do. Well especially being a non-black Latina, it's you know, there are tons of issues, like, I'm happy you talk about the many marginalized identities I have. You know, I'm queer, I'm a green card holder. you know. And I'm a woman, right, like a cis woman. So I, you know, I wish you know, when it comes to gender, I wish that like the cis guys would call out sexism, when it comes to racism I wish that more white people called out racism, when it comes to homophobia I wish more straight people called out homophobia.
Alicia: Well, when I reached out to you, you were also very clear and very intentional about the fact that if you were going to be a part of it that you wanted to make sure that I had representation across the board in a number of ways. You wanted to make sure that I had someone who was disabled, you wanted to make sure that I had someone who was Asian and Latina, and I really value that. It does, however, require a comfort with discomfort, right? Walking into rooms and saying something that can, for many people, drop like a bomb. Is that innate for you, or did you learn that it was okay to make people uncomfortable, if that created the type of change that you wanted to create?
Natalia: Wow. And I feel like some people would agree with me with this. I, being me, gives people discomfort, you know?
Alicia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Natalia: I already make people uncomfortable for who I am.
Alicia: Tell me what you mean by that.
Natalia: Especially, 2012, my gosh, it's like so long ago, yet so close. Pre-repeal of DOMA, you know, like, back in the day. One of my jokes that I would say often times would be, like, yeah, in the U.S., you know, I might be able to get married in some U.S. states, but not in all. But guess what, I have double the closet, because I get to borrow things from my partner. Who, in case people have not like put two and two together, is a woman, just putting it out there. Woman of color. So, just creating, and also I guess maybe if you put it out, another way of thinking of it, we moved around quite a bit due to my parent's job.
Alicia: Because your dad worked at the UN, right?
Natalia: Yes. And so the first place I ever lived was New Jersey, so we have something in common.
Alicia: Yes, mm-hmm.
Natalia: However it was like... a couple of years in Colombia, couple of years in couple of years in Ecuador, several years in the Dominican Republic, that's where I did my high school, and then I came to Yale. So, New Haven. And so, moving around, I will say, and especially as a kid where you have to go into a new school, "make new friends", etc., I really did feel like that taught me being adaptable, and that's actually a really key skill, that now, as an entrepreneur, I use each day. The other thing is that each time I moved, in order to, like, kind of better understand other people, there's a huge part of better understanding oneself. And so my understanding, and obviously, like, unfortunately I got the queer memo like after college, I'm like what, I missed out, why did it take so long... I think one of the reasons that it took so long in terms of the memo coming to me is that, growing up in Latin America, I didn't really have that many, what is the word, like, role models. So I didn't have that language. And as Mary Wright Edelman says, you can't be what you can't see. And so I think a huge part of that is there still needs to be a lot more conversations in the Latinx community about queerness.
Alicia: Well, let's talk about it, because you say you didn't get the memo until after college. But did you, when you say, did you know and you weren't able to be honest with yourself? Did you know and you weren't able to tell others?
Natalia: That's a great question. I think it was more like, when I look back, I'm like whoa, this is why I felt this way. But because I did not have a frame of reference in terms of what it meant, I couldn't categorize you know, what I was experiencing as: this means that you're queer, right? So in that sense, hindsight is like 20/20. like I'm like, oh, this is what I like just didn't have the language to describe who I am. And so those are the sorts of things that I'm just very aware of, and if I can be part of the solution, if I can be like, you know. There were people who have open doors for me. And so I think it was like Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez and, she said something like, lift while climbing. And I think that's so beautiful. And of course U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. And she had her, I think it was one of the DNC convention speeches about, like, when you go through the door, leave the door open so others can come in.
Alicia: Can we just talk, a little bit, then, because I do think that this, that there, for people who are coming out. And especially for Latinos who are coming out.
Alicia: Latinx. Well, we can get to that conversation too. There aren't a lot of role models and it's not something that you can Wikipedia about how somebody else came out. Anything you want to share from what you learned of the experience of coming out? And coming out again and again and again?
Natalia: You’re starting to date someone, etc., and you want to introduce them to the parents, the closest thing that I had, living in New York, was this older family friend. Her name's Peggy. And she's white. And so the reason that she's special in terms of my own path is when I came out to her, she was like oh, I could've told you that. And I remember being like uh, why didn't you? So it was interesting that someone that kind of knew me at that period, you know, as like recent college grad ...In some ways, the fact that she scoffed, it was almost, like, welcome. Because it meant like this is who I have been. A lot of people still don't get it. That it's not a choice, it's not a preference. This is who I am. And I think that that is powerful. And for me, it’s not just so much the journey also, it's like the people who have been there along the way. And it reminded me of like this concept in the corporate world that we talk about, like sponsor versus mentoring, right? And so women, and femmes tend to be over mentored, and under sponsored, I think it's both.
Alicia: Can you just break it down for someone who's listening and doesn't know the difference between having a mentor and having a sponsor?
Natalia: Yes. A sponsor's someone who, even when you're not in the room, or like they're in that boardroom, and they're out there advocating for you, championing, and getting something tangible. So, for example, it might be someone who's like yeah, I'm getting you that salary raise, I'm getting you that promotion, I'm giving you this special, like, projects that you need to then get to the next level. Mentoring often, you know, is about, like, not as tangible. The research shows are that women and femmes, you know, and especially when they're getting mentored by guys, they'll be told, change your tone, oh, you should speak in such a way, or like a lot of behavioral things. Versus for the guys being, like, let's make sure you're on this key you know, task force, or let's make sure that you're meeting these people. Like super, so, for me, the difference is very much about tangible, tactical and practical.
Alicia: That is, I know your point there wasn't even necessarily to critique this, But I've never thought about it being problematic in terms of, people feel like they're doing them a favor, but it means that they're not also doing the very tangible things that men are getting. What I find so interesting with what you do with Pipeline Angels, the need for a more diverse pool of angel investors, is you found a very specific problem, and you created a very pointed solution, right. People go into these pitch meetings with big ideas, but if everyone sitting at the table says, I'm looking for me. And everyone who's sitting at the table is a white cisgender man. Then that doesn't help you if you are a woman of color, so on and so on.
And so as I understand it, you're doing two different things. You are bringing the idea of angel investment to a more diverse pool of people, empowering them to become angel investors. Both in just spelling out what it is, what, you need to make $200,000 a year or have, or as a couple make 300,000-
Natalia: And my understanding of why they have these arbitrary numbers is because, my lawyer will be happy that I remembered to do this PSA... Angel investing is high risk. So yes.
Alicia: Side effects include.
Natalia: Actually there are more positive side effects. I was like, side effects include, you become part of the fight, the resistance. it can either be 200k which you mentioned, individual income, single person income. Or 300k for a couple. And so-
Alicia: Or a net worth of a million dollars.
Natalia: A footnote regarding the 300k, that for me, a lot of people don't realize that they're very, this might be the word of the day for this episode, practical examples on what it means to not be inclusive. And so, the example I was going to give was, before repeal of DOMA, that meant that a couple who’s queer, might not actually be able to count for the 300k, so there are actual real implications to, like, getting more voices in the room, right, and changing policy. And for me that's something that's really powerful. I, the way that I, the way that I got into Pipeline Angels and came up with it was like, I call it reverse market research. In 2008, I had the opportunity to build a network of women entrepreneurs. I did not know, I was not as well versed. And the reason I'm bringing this up is because Maya Angelou has another cool quote which is...
Alicia: You are the only person who has as many quotes in your brain as Cory Booker.
Natalia: Oh really?
Alicia: Yeah. I would say if it's number one Cory Booker, number two Natalia, or if it's the reverse, but-
Natalia: What about Mary Jane Paul. Like, because she has a lot as well, right.
Alicia: Number three.
Natalia: Oh I loved that show. So, wait, okay. So let's give Maya Angelou a shout out. “I didn't know any better so I didn't do any better, now that I know better I do better.” And so the reason I'm bringing that up is because, back then, you know, I didn't have the language in terms of how to be more gender inclusive. And so the reason I share this also is: I think a huge part of what I'm excited about this podcast with a white Latina is, the more that we can share how we've gotten here, my hope is that that will be helpful, right? And so, going back, in 2008 I built this network of women social entrepreneurs from about six woman to over 1200 within two years. So it's having conversations with them that I realized how hard it was to raise money. Which companies were the ones that were getting the funding and making the news. Oh, the ones that have white guys, you know, in leadership.
And so for me it was really important, and it was really obvious that: there was this disconnect. And I had my business aha! moment, that I'm going to share with you, was realizing that society has a gendered perspective on how we change the world. You know, like when women and femmes say they're going to change the world, the assumption is that they're going to launch a nonprofit. When a guy says he's going to change the world, people are not assuming they're going to launch a nonprofit.
Alicia: Where do you think that comes from, just this idea that women are caretakers? Or this, I mean, a bias?
Natalia: If you think about the free associations people have when you say women and money, they're very different than the free associations people have when they say men and money, right? It's like shark, financier, businessman, VC, and all these things, and then oftentimes you know, there'll be that double standard of, like, in women, money, oh, philanthropist, donors. You're saying like volunteers, community service. That stuff is great, but like why do we have to be bucketed, and siloed, like we can also be the other free associations that are often thought of for guys. And so, for me, what was interesting was that there are a lot of high net worth women who are making a positive impact with their money through philanthropy. I was like, great. Let's create a bridge from philanthropy into angel investing. And share with them that they can make a positive impact with their money by investing in women-led, femme-led for-profit social ventures.
So people often ask like where does Pipeline Angels fit in the funding continuum. And I often talk about like, you know, like we talk about boost dropping, then friends and family round, then angel round, then venture capital round. And another white Latina, Nicole Sanchez, she has spoken at our conferences in the past, and she talks about how the tech media glamorizes bootstrapping. And she says for a lot of our communities, bootstrapping is simply called living.
The other part that I underscore is that for a lot of entrepreneurs, they might not have the friends and family for the friends and family round. And so our members serve as the friends and family, for that round, provide that earlier critical capital injection to get these companies through the pipeline. And so I'm quoting Rihanna, or if you want to be more specific, remixing her. And I'm like, if we want more of us to shine bright like a diamond, we need to invest in diamonds in the rough. And so a really great example is a Pipeline Angels company called Blendorm. The founder's name is Stephanie Lampkin, she's a queer black woman. She was on the cover of The Atlantic last year. She won Google Demo last year. Our members invested in her over two years ago.
So it took over two years for the status quo to realize the potential that she had. And so that's really where I view that our members are adding value. They're creating this runway that, you know, when people are like, where are the high-growth women-led, femme-led businesses, and I'm like where's the runway? Well guess what, we're creating it at Pipeline Angels. Because without that runway, yes, sure, we need to create new systems, which is what we're doing. We also need to dismantle the current systems. It doesn't always happen overnight, it takes time. And so what can we do while we're working to be disruptive and disrupt these systems? We still need to create some support for these entrepreneurs.
Alicia: I want you to teach me to be better. And by that I mean, I come from television. And in television, time is always limited, you're always trying to hit a commercial break. And so some of the language of inclusion becomes really clunky. It's long, it's hard to say. And at the same time, you want people to feel that you're talking to as many people as possible, and that you're being as inclusive as possible, and I think there are a lot of people who struggle with the tension between using the right language, and communicating effectively and efficiently. How long did it take you, how did you learn to do women and femme. To do, what are some of the other things that you say in your-
Natalia: Well I personally prefer saying you know, for example, women, non binary people, men of color. Right.
Alicia: And you use...
Natalia: Or I said, like, simply not cis straight white guys, right? if you want to be inclusive, be explicit.
Alicia: I've heard you say in interviews before that one of the questions you posit is: what would you do if you felt entitled. Which is a very liberating thought. Provocative question. And yet I wonder how does one get there.
Natalia: So especially in the DT era, I feel like that word entitled has come to mean, like, so many other things. Like that really came at... it's interesting. I came at it with like, I used to use that because I was tired...
Alicia: But he doesn't get to have all the words.
Natalia: But like just to kind of put like a little bit of context behind that, there are tons of people, and I'll just give a Cindy Gallop shout out because why not, you know. That whole idea of: what would a straight white guy do right? And then so that, and then, and I don't know, I'm like, I'm just like who else can I shout out in like these two last seconds that I have, and Rachel from The List. I learned this other saying from her which was: Privilege is like oxygen. You don't realize it's there until it's gone. And so, in that sense, if I were to like talk about what being entitled, you know, in that concept… What would you do if you came from a place of abundance, right. And this is just a simple, this is just a simple 101 on reframing, right, instead of talking about, like, the sucky things and what would you do if you came from a place from, you know, of abundance, and...
Alicia: Let’s use that as a measure. So how do you get there? Like, how do you come from a place of abundance.
Natalia: The first thing that you made me think about is Pipeline Angels member Anna Coren. She has a friend who works in fundraising, and she collects no’s. That's how she has reframed it, you know, like, she's like, she needs to get to like a minimum of ten nos a day or something like that. And part of, like, success is, are the nos, and I think this is actually a great place to premiere something else that I have been thinking about. Alicia, this is really important.
What is a saying that really annoys me in the business world. It's, like, never take no for an answer. In the business world, there's this kind of, like, tacit understanding that, like, that is supposed to be something that is going to inspire people, never take no for an answer. And so for me, I want to kind of come up with like a different business model or something like: It's okay to get no.
Music fade out.
Natalia: You know, it's okay for us to come at it in terms of the business world and say no’s are okay, and the goal is not to change that no into a yes, the goal is to find the person who will say yes, right. It's not focusing on the no’s, it's like focusing on who will get you to the right yes.
Alicia: That’s it for now, but we want to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, send us ideas for awesome guests or whatever it is you’re thinking about right now. Remember to subscribe to Latina to Latina on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. And please leave a review… we love hearing from you. Latina to Latina is produced by Lantigua Williams & Co., mixed by Oluwakemi Aladesuyi, with assistance from Anna Parsons. Our executive editor is Emily Anne Epstein, our editorial supervisor is Rosanne Salvatore, and we gotta give special thanks to Jenny Hollander!
Menendez, Alicia, host. “Pipeline Angel’s Natalia Oberti Noguera.” Latina To Latina, Bustle, BDG Media, April 2017. www.bustle.com.