Q&A with Coefficient Capital’s Anna Whiteman

Anna is a Vice President at Coefficient Capital, where she blends data and heuristics to invest in digitally powered consumer brands.

Briefly introduce us to Coefficient Capital and your journey to the firm?

Coefficient Capital is a $170M growth equity fund that typically leads Series A and Series B rounds for consumer startups.  Mainly, we look for consumer companies that use technology to create a competitive advantage. 

It has never been easier to start a consumer brand, yet that also means it’s never been harder to start a successful consumer brand.  What is a common thread that you see amongst the successful brands you have invested in?

The most successful brands use data intelligently to develop an inherent understanding of their customer demographic and purchasing behavior.

An important thread is understanding your retention patterns and the demos of customers who are using your product over and over. These customers are typically repurchasing based on the aspects of the product or experience that is most valuable to them, so identifying and then magnifying this differentiation drives immense long term value.

Synthesizing the two, many of the most successful brands are tethered to their data, listen closely to their consumers, and adapt based on what these two information streams tell them.

There are all types of data points that brands can gather, and some of it can be rather granular. It’s important to be able to zoom out and see the big picture – how can this data help a brand create a durable, legacy brand? How can it help you adapt to market trends without compromising brand values?  

What will be the next technological trend that impacts retail and consumer brands?

I think the translation of online purchasing capabilities to in-store will be fascinating to watch. Everyone thinks of retail as being this dinosaur that’s incapable of matching the agility of the online experience but that perception is changing quickly.

Think about your neighborhood drug store where you purchase your face wash. Now imagine going into this same store, but instead of purchasing your favorite brand of face wash, you have the option to purchase a face wash that is customized entirely to your skin’s unique needs. Your product is formulated on the spot, right at the point of sale, and is entirely unique to you.

Technology to enable an experience like this is coming, it’s not far away.

 If you could join the crew from Inception and implant one idea into the minds of entrepreneurs, what would it be?

I’m sure you’ve seen the documentary about all of those addicting features and nudges were programmed into our phones to max out our usage time, but I’d love to see a system in place that really incentivizes design around the human condition, where entrepreneurs could freely create in service of healthy individual development.

My philosophy major is coming out right now, but there is a lot that has to change in our incentive schemes and economic structures to enable truly long-term human-centric design. There’s also a debate to be had around what constitutes ‘healthy’ development, but ethics aside, I would want to empower entrepreneurs to think as long-term as possible in developing their ideas. 

What has been a particular inflection point along your career as an investor?

Having a supportive and uplifting coworker is an incredible game changer early on in your career – someone who challenges you, makes you work harder and smarter, and supports you taking big swings. I’ve been so lucky to have a few of these people along the way who were willing to take extra time to practice a big pitch, talk through a difficult negotiation, or just be a source of in and out of office joy. These people have all stuck with me through different periods of change throughout my career and I’m lucky to still consider each of them best friends today. 

Having this type of person in your camp can be so impactful and shape your career for years to come – it can mean the difference between being a wallflower and somebody who owns their voice. 

 What is a thesis that you hold that most people would disagree with?

That information availability in the 21st century is making us smarter as a society. I think information inundation through all kinds of media outlets is causing a massive amount of confusion and forcing people to take stands on issues where they have incomplete information. Society today doesn’t value slow and deliberate information processing and human beings are evolving away from any shred of attention span we once had. I am by no means suggesting that withholding information is preferable, but we really need to rethink how we digest, package and proliferate massive quantities of news on a regular basis if the end goal is to really inform people.

Something that I believe that most people disagree with: 

The future is analog. I think of tech today as being in this extremely immature developmental state – almost like a young kid whose major neural pathways and architecture haven’t been shaped yet by interactions in the wild.

We’ve made incredible progress on building advanced webs of communication and have managed to democratize it to a large degree, but we did so (at least through the internet) at hyper-speed without regard to the human component.

I think you’ll start to see a real humanization of tech in the coming years, which will most likely mean refining it to its basic components.

Most people probably see this as some utopian pipe dream or naive worldview, but I think as people mature, discipline and boundaries will be acknowledged as healthy for development and future higher functioning. Future corners of the internet will be optimized and simplified for fulfillment over efficiency.

 Rank the following: product differentiation, brand differentiation, distribution strategy. 

1.     Product differentiation

2.     Distribution strategy

3.     Brand differentiation

What fictional character do you identify with?

My answer for this is actually a real person. Kelly Ripa.  She’s my South Jersey, blond counterpart who is absolutely full of energy and brings it every single day. If it has to be fictional probably Elaine from Seinfeld.

If you could ask one person for advice, who would it be and why?

Bill Gates because I think (and many would agree) he is a genius. I really admire his ability to focus on a big problem and then manifest an actual solution. I would love to learn how he thinks about tackling huge problems and then reverse engineering his role in bringing the solution to light. He has this incredible discipline and capacity to ingest information, synthesize huge amounts of data, and present elegant actionable solutions.

What are you interested in that most people haven’t heard of?

My answer isn’t unique, but I think a lot of people are scared of the repercussions of moderation in their daily interaction with technology. I’ve been limiting my cell phone screen time to 45 minutes per day for the last year. It’s made a huge difference. I get more done, I’m more focused and concentrated. My general happiness has also risen significantly since I started doing this. I want to keep it up for as long as it’s feasible!

Often, when we are faced with obstacles or things go wrong, we think something is happening to us.  But, when we reflect on these moments later on, we tend to find that it actually happened for us.  What is one such example you have of this?

A few years ago I went through a difficult period where I left my job and ended a seven-year relationship, all within the span of a week. At the time it felt like my entire life was crashing down on me in one, huge wave.

I had to find new sources of strength to not just work through so much change but to come out on top.  The journey from my lowest point was humbling, empowering and outrageously rewarding. I’m grateful every day for the person that those obstacles allowed me to become.

What is your creative outlet and how does it help you channel a flow state?

My creative outlet is spending time running on a beach or surfing out in the ocean. Physically, running and surfing are exhausting to me and mentally I’ve always found the ocean to be so humbling. To be able to pair the physical with the mental in this way helps me put everything else going on in my life into perspective.

What is one daily ritual that you cannot live without?

My morning music selection – what I choose to listen to first thing in the morning sets the tone for my whole day. I’m always spinning up new playlists or asking friends for their top recommendations. Also, a nightcap (beer or mezcal) is more of a daily ritual than I’m proud to admit.

What is a memento from your childhood that you still keep and how does it serve you?

I still wear these string bracelets that my sisters and I would make together growing up.  

I have a really tight knit family, and the bracelets remind me of the importance of spending real quality time with the people you love.

What is the last:

 TV show you binged?


Movie you watched?

Waking Ned Devine (10/10 recommend, hilarious movie).

Song you listened to? 

Growin’ Up by Bruce Springsteen.

Podcast you listened to?

I don’t listen to podcasts!

 Book you read?

How Music Works by David Byrne.

Up Next: Melanie Masarin, Founder & CEO of Ghia

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