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The Forecast is Summersalt’s global content hub for all things travel, packing, style, and discovery, packed with informative and inspirational pieces for (and featuring!) women who are going places.

This Venture Capitalist Is Winning the Future While Staying Present

Annie Gabillet

Nicole Johnson is connected to some of the hottest startups out there. Forerunner Ventures, where she works as an investor, can count companies like Glossier, Outdoor Voices, and Warby Parker among its portfolio. The VC firm has also invested in transformative travel brands like Away and HotelTonight. Nicole herself was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 List in Venture Capital. For someone with her pulse on the future of commerce, Nicole also knows how to stay present. Whether driving through the jungles of Belize to look for big cats or exploring Japan, Nicole finds time to travel and see the world from a new perspective. We caught up with her to find out how she does it all.

What inspired you to go into venture capital?

When I got into contact with Forerunner initially, I wasn’t angling for a role in Venture Capital. I was a Research Associate at a digital strategy firm, working with big, blue-chip retailers on their global commerce strategies.I realized quickly that I’d rather be working at one of the startups I was making case studies about. The Warby Parkers, Dollar Shave Clubs, Bonobos of the world. This was 2012-2013, when a small handful of these direct-to-consumer companies were starting to make a real splash, with growing consumer mindshare and industry validation.

What makes a company stand out and warrant an investment from you?

As for the investment screening process, our formula is pretty standard: visionary founders, great teams, big markets, good unit economics. A few areas we lean into heavily at Forerunner in particular are inherent marketing advantages, new distribution channels, and a strong ability to leverage data to drive business efficiencies and better experiences.

What do you find the most rewarding?

The most rewarding moments of my job are those moments of having a tangible impact on the teams we’re privileged to work with. That could be sourcing and helping close a great candidate for their team, co-creating materials for a fundraise process, rebuilding a financial model in a way that helps us all get a better handle on business drivers. And of course, it’s rewarding when we can take a moment to celebrate wins with the founders and teams we work with, whether their achievement is launching a new product, hiring a fantastic new team member, or hitting a revenue milestone ahead of expectations.

What business advice do you want to share with women?

No matter where you are in your career, there is nothing as meaningful as finding good mentorship. That one person or two people, whether inside or outside of your organization, who are truly looking out for you as you think about your growth. I got enormously lucky finding two of these in female form — the whole team at the time, aside from myself  — when I joined Forerunner.

Courtesy of Nicole Johnson

What are you most proud of?

My team! I joined Forerunner when it was a startup in its own right, just two investors early on the journey of finding validation for our thesis, however boldly we were investing behind it. We’ve come an incredible distance in the time I’ve been here, while tripling our team, and it’s been a truly collaborative effort.

Tell us about the last adventure you took:

My last “real” adventure — meaning, a week plus, with minimal connectivity — was in December: a re-visit to Mexico City, followed by a week deep in the Belizean jungle. Days in Belize were spent birdwatching with naturalists (toucans galore), reading in and out of the sun, and driving through the jungle at night looking for big cats and other jungle fauna.

“Days in Belize were spent birdwatching with naturalists, reading in and out of the sun, and driving through the jungle at night looking for big cats and other jungle fauna.”

Let’s talk about “going places.” What’s on the horizon for you?

Right now I’m working on a second trip to Japan. I did Tokyo and Kyoto too quickly the first time and also want to check out the ocean. Places like Naoshima or Taketomi.

Courtesy of Nicole Johnson

What do you never travel without?

Plain white sneakers and a bag big enough to tote around everything I need for a full day of adventure.

Got any great advice for solo travelers?

For meeting people, recharging, and getting a good sense for the local vibe, I always research cool coffee shops in advance. I’ve never been any good at making friends in bars.

Fill in the blank. Traveling makes me:

Refreshed.

What’s your favorite Summersalt travel piece?

My first and favorite piece is my Backflip in black.  

Got any go-to podcasts or albums for passing time on a plane?

Catching up on a week’s worth of The Daily, or listening to any Sam Cooke.

Share your most valuable travel hack:

Using the Hotel Tonight app for last-minute booking. (Full disclosure: Forerunner invested back in the day!) I’m last-minute-everything, so I love it for everything from work trips to NYC, to last-minute getaways up the coast from San Francisco.