Whitney Rockley – Living the Dream as a Canadian Venture Capitalist By Cheryl Arkison
Photography: Lora Vertue When most people say that they are living the dream, they usually mean a big house by the ocean and time to do all their dream hobbies like surfing, gardening, or lunching in fine restaurants. For Whitney Rockley it means owning her own business. As a kid, she only ever wanted to create and own her own business. Her career after school started in environmental policy work, hardly the stuff of entrepreneurship. A swing through San Francisco brought her into the starched shirts of the venture capital world. A world she embraced. Stints in Calgary, London, Zurich, and now in Toronto sealed her place in this world. Despite years of backing businesses and seeing entrepreneurs both thrive and wither, she never lost sight of that childhood dream. “Venture capitalists don’t know what it is like to be an entrepreneur. Most don’t know what it is like to sit in the trenches and go right to the edge to put everything on the line.” Whitney describes her traditional, professional world full of calculated risk. But that is hardly the world for someone who wants to own their own business, is it? Anticipating a major shake-up in her industry 18 months ago, Whitney and a colleague spent some time analyzing and dreaming. They asked themselves what they were seeing that is so big it isn’t going to go off trend and where they expected a phenomenal acceleration of technology. The answer, to them, lay in making existing infrastructure of big industry ‘smarter’, particularly as it works for the water, power, oil and gas, transportation, and building efficiency sectors. These sectors are where she and her business partner had success in the past. So they locked arms, took a deep breath, and started McRock Capital in March 2012. Now they are entrepreneurs as well as venture capitalists. And nothing could make Whitney happier. “Personally, it is the most amazing – full-stop – thing I’ve ever done. I expected to be exhausted, but it is the opposite. Your energy comes from this place that is so real.”
This is despite the risk it takes to live her dream. Whitney and her business partner are financing themselves as they seek to back success. The vast majority of venture capital funds are established firms with backing from financial institutions, corporations, or high net worth family offices. It is rare to see start-up venture capitalists, even more rare for a woman to be leading it and for that firm to be started in Canada. “It takes a lot of courage to start a fund. It’s binary – you either raise a fund or you don’t. We did it because we are passionate about what we are doing and want to build the most successful venture fund in the world. We think it is contagious when you love what you do and are good at it. Investors will back us because we have a successful track record, a compelling investment strategy and are respected in the industry.”
Thankfully, both Whitney and her business partner have strong family support for such a risky adventure. Whitney has been married for 15 years. She and her husband have two children, ages 10 and 11. The family has moved with her for her career and they back her now as she takes on this challenge.“There is a lot of holding breath, but also unwavering support,” says Whitney. She adds that her kids are old enough to understand what she is doing and the sacrifices it takes. She believes in showing them it is okay to take risks. “As long as the family unit is strong we can go through anything.” It might be the Tae Kwon Do she practices with her daughter, or it might be her sense of humor, but Whitney manages to keep a level head about this new venture. With Whitney and her business partner financing their firm, as well as investing themselves and gathering outside investors, they are essentially paying twice for every investment. It is a harsh way to run things, but important to them as they run the firm their way. Whitney describes it as “personal funding by two passionate people.” The entrepreneurs get it, but they have to walk the investors through the model. Entrepreneurs also get the injection of personality McRock Capital put into their business. They are the firm, they are the brand. It made perfect sense to Whitney and her business partner to make their brand an honest reflection of themselves as individuals. On their website they’ve got videos tracking their journey – finding an office, the perils of business travel, fundraising efforts, and even homage to one of their biggest supporters. It is this humor, this personal side that sets them apart from the other venture capital firms. And it appeals to the entrepreneurs. They get the risks and the shot of personality. Entrepreneurs are used to selling themselves; McRock Capital is no different. Like all entrepreneurs, she has commitment and the right attitude. “My mantra is Positivity. Try to be eternally positive. Dispel negativity. Tell yourself you are doing it and it will happen. And be grateful for what you have.” Gratitude and the positivity are what make living the dream possible. Sure, there is hard work and boundless energy, but knowing what it takes to get where you are and having the right attitude to stay there make the dream a reality. “Make no mistake, we are still in the trenches. But 2013 is our year. We will get it off the ground. It’s been mental, but we are so excited.” When I asked venture capitalist and entrepreneur Whitney what her superpower would be if she had one, she asked for boundless energy, relentlessness. “Where nothing can take you down.”This, coming from a woman taking on a new business model in the venture capital world. From a woman with two kids and a burgeoning Tae Kwon Do habit. From a woman already living her dream.
Whitney’s Word Play Sunshine – Beautiful Cliff – Jump Balance – Hard Rejection – Tough Purse – Don’t Care Twitter – Effective Perfection – Ugly
Fun – Yay! Growth – Life Speed – Inevitable Cake – Yummy Money – Outcome Mentor – Grateful Whiskey – Armchair
Darts – Bull’s-eye Risk – Living Friends – Precious Peace – The Ultimate End Goal Advice – Welcome Sleep – Not Enough Dream – Big