There is a moment from around April 2021 that Pilar Johnson often thinks about.
She was scared and nervous. The Houston native grew up in a low-income neighborhood and had no venture capital experience. As she entered the industry, imposter syndrome often crept in. Then she and her team at Debut Capital raised a million dollars in early 2021. That funding milestone — passed in three months — calmed her nerves. For now at least.
“I was like, ‘OK, we’re really doing this,'” she told Marketingwithanoy. “People are joining our mission to disrupt the VC space by prioritizing the underrepresented. It was a very special moment for me.”
Marketingwithanoy+ is holding an Independence Day sale! Save 50% on an annual subscription here. (More about Marketingwithanoy+ here if you need it!)
Johnson’s investment thesis is to support the next generation of diverse founders who want to meet the needs of marginalized communities. The daughter of a Mexican mother and African-American father, Johnson is part of an increasing number of minority investors working to increase funding for overlooked founders.
She told Marketingwithanoy that she’s letting empathy guide her investment approach, a method likely welcomed by several founders who are often used to VCs showing the opposite. Her notable investments include popular beauty brand Ami Colé, social hangout Ethel’s Club and wellness company Golde.
Johnson has no roots in the Bay Area, but that’s starting to matter less than in the past. Ten years ago, Johnson didn’t envision a career helping make venture capital more equitable. But outside perspectives like hers can help shift where money is allocated in the industry.
“If someone is interested in becoming an investor and doesn’t think they have the skills, I’d say don’t believe it. You can become a full investor, and that is necessary.” Pilar Johnson
It’s safe to say she’s one to watch.
“We can [make] space for these underrepresented founders to come to us so they can raise more capital,” she said. “That’s the purpose of Debut Existing.”
Figuring things out
After studying radio and film at the University of Austin, Texas, Johnson moved to New York without knowing a soul. She said her dream was to live in New York. Growing up in Texas, movies allowed her to escape from her surroundings; now it was time to seize that opportunity in real life.