As one of the youngest angel investors in San Francisco, Kalin Kelly has advised all levels of entrepreneurs from CEO’s of multi-million dollar companies to individuals with a great idea. Her startup background and expertise in recognizing the good ideas set her apart as an exclusive partner to prominent VC firms as the “Founder's Broker” in Silicon Valley where she protected a portfolio clientele with a combined net worth of $400M+. Kalin has been featured in TechCrunch, Hoodline, KRON4 and as a current Partner at 357 Investments speaks internationally on the topic of evolving entrepreneurship both physically in real estate and figuratively as a mindset, with her soon to be published book The Founder’s Guide to Hacking Office Space.
How did you get to where you are today?
I didn’t come from a family most would typically assume. My blonde hair, blue eyes and California driver’s license usually makes people assume they know where I came from and who I am by looking at me. While I’m aware I do indeed have a certain look, my background isn’t the picture most would think. I came from a family of immigrants, my father born and raised in La Paz, Mexico. My childhood consisted of 99c stores and flea markets for clothing and whatever else we needed. My brother and I were taught to buy low and sell high at a young age. We were the kids in the back of the pick up truck on our way to the weekly garage sales who fondly remember dinners nicknamed SOS or “sh* on a shingle” made with toast and canned tuna. As I got older my “family duties” consisted of manual labor flipping houses every year and the occasional classic car. You could say it wasn’t a typical upbringing.
When I was 15 my home with my father became a place that wasn’t healthy for me to live anymore. Thankfully my mother who had declared bankruptcy earlier in the year took me in and we, together, made it work. Her strength and courage to raise me on her own without support instilled in me the resilience that without which I would not be here today. What’s more, is that moment allowed me to leave behind a man who loved the word “no.” No, you won’t go to college. No, I won’t support you. No, you won’t succeed. No.
I’m thankful for the word no. It was the word no that changed the way I viewed my circumstances. I decided the moment I left my father’s house that life was 10% what actually happened to me and 90% how I reacted to it. From then on that whatever happened in my life was “for” me, and whenever I heard the word “no” I would rise to the challenge. I was set on proving that I, and I alone, decided what my life was going to be.
As they say, the rest was history. Fast forward to graduating Berkeley barely 21 with a full scholarship earned through pitching myself as an investment opportunity to private foundations, becoming a Marketing Director of a multi-million dollar commercial real estate firm at age 22, and at age 25 being named partner at the international brokerage firm 357 Investments with enough personal capital to invest in worthwhile early stage companies as an active angel investor.
As I look back on my life, now 27, the theme of how I got to where I am today is I never settled for a life less than the one I knew I was capable of living. No matter if even those closest to me didn’t understand how it was going to happen, I never settled for what others told me I was worth or accepted the “norm” - after all, it had the word no in it.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
One of the toughest obstacles I’ve experienced in my life was recently. Two years ago now, a dear friend, a fellow entrepreneur, took his own life. It affected me more than I could possibly tell you. Deeply and personally, so much so that it altered my course to focus on what really matters – evolving quality of life through the life sciences and supporting the humans behind the big ideas.
In our startup community we sorely lack the support for the entrepreneurs that deserve it the most. We have a “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality that perpetuates an unhealthy obsession with what one appears to be rather than where one truly is. We also fail to address the sincere hardships that come along with being a bit “mad” to start a company in the first place. It isn’t a glorious route. Entrepreneurship is an arena in which every day is a fierce battle. Those of us with the scars to prove it know that some of us don’t make it out alive. I will never overcome the loss of my brilliant friend but it is because of him that I have overcome the fear of vulnerably showing up for others, especially for those of us with the dreamer’s disease.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
If you talk to anyone who knows me they’ll tell you I’m a bit obsessed with my lists. Call me old fashioned but in this tech centered world I love my written to-do lists. Every morning I prioritize my list with the “musts” at the top and what I’d like to keep top of mind for later at the bottom. Knowing I have more on my list keeps me focused to complete my tasks and the psychological conditioning of enjoying the sensation of scratching off a to-do motivates me to the next. My OCD reward system of sorts.
I also live and die by my calendar – without which I wouldn’t be reminded by how valuable I should view my time as it’s the only resource money will never buy, unless you count funding longevity ventures of course.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Two pieces of advice have stuck with me throughout my career.
The first being - be humble. Humble in the sense that you can always be taught, by anyone. No matter what their station, their title, or their status. Humble behavior is the first thing I look for in an entrepreneur when seeking an investment. Everyone has something to bring to the table-- and speaking of tables, the way in which you treat your waiter is a clear indication of this trait.
The second piece of advice I took to heart was from an interview of Barbara Corcoran who relayed a story about how she was determined to belong in whichever room she was in. That mentality, which others may see as audacity, struck me as a fellow female entrepreneur as vitally important being a consistent minority in any boardroom. No matter my age, my sex, or the color of my hair, I’ve never allowed my fear of being the odd “woman” out deter me from being in the room.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a new venture?
Don’t wait. The only way to learn in my experience, is to sink or swim. It’s never going to be the right time, the right amount of money, or a perfect idea to begin with but you’ll find out quickly if you’ve got the legs for it.
How do we get more women leaders?
Leading by example. Specifically we as women make it up in our minds that the only other woman in the room is our enemy, not our ally. They’ve fought just as hard to be at the table and because of that we view them as competition. This is unfortunately an old way of thinking because let’s be honest, the higher the ladder, the more men at the top.
As women we need to remember we deserve to be at the table, and if we want others to sit with us, we only need extend the invitation.
If you had a life motto, what would it be?
Let them underestimate you, it won’t be for long.