Heather Hartnett: Embracing the Humanity of Entrepreneurship

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What makes a great idea come to fruition is truly dependent on the people who build it. As the CEO of the New York City-based Venture Capital fund Human Ventures, Heather Hartnett is dedicated to helping builders build. Heather deeply understands how an idea can only thrive if the people behind it are committed to its success. 

Heather shared some of her tools for building a business, caring for your mental health, and finding your passion. She also fills us in on some of her favorite self-care practices and shares why something that may seem like a failure can actually a blessing in disguise ✨

What are some of your “top tools” for life? (In other words, what pieces of advice or tips have helped you through life?)

HH: Build your network — and do it thoughtfully. It’s not about quantity — it’s about quality. Invest in relationships and prioritize making them meaningful. The strength of my relationships — and the diversity of them — is key to any success I have as the CEO of Human Ventures, a venture capital fund backing, building and scaling industry-changing technology companies through a startup studio model.   

When we started Human Ventures, we created it as a platform to help builders build. How do you attract and retain the very best entrepreneurs at the beginning? We called it “Human” because a company idea is nothing without the Humans building it. If you bring people with grit and passion, who also have the desire to build hugely successful companies, they will by nature have a strong impact. So when we’re backing a company, we’re actually backing the founder and his or her ability to execute. Our valuable network at Human has been the key component to getting it off the ground.

How do you practice self-care while also hustling and following your passion?

HH: It’s definitely hard and continues to be challenging as I take on more. I love yoga. I never regret taking the time to do it and I always feel good after it — there are very few things you can say that about. As women, so often we fall to the bottom of our to do lists. The time we carve out for ourselves is the first thing to go when something pops up unexpectedly. I really try to commit to that time and hold myself accountable to it. I know I will be better in my professional and personal lives if I have that time to decompress.

My husband and I are also very committed to making time to spend together. And since we both work in the startup world, we make sure that time is device free and try to talk shop as little as possible. It’s so tempting because we’re both so passionate about what we do, but we make sure to remember — we’re humans first.  

What are some of your top tools for caring for your mental health? 

HH: Meditation. I spent 5 years growing the David Lynch Foundation, a non-profit established to bring meditation (specifically Transcendental Meditation) to populations suffering from traumatic stress, and I’m now a member of the board. TM has been an integral part of my life from a young age, and it’s been critical to to my mental health. Ideally it’s practiced 20 minutes twice a day, and when I can fit it in, I know it’s some of the most important time in my day. Meditation, like anything that is good for you, requires consistency — you have to practice to feel the benefits. And it’s key to recognize that taking this time for yourself — regardless of how many thoughts might be running through your head — is a worthwhile investment in a life-changing habit.

If there’s one thing you could tell your past self, what would it be?

HH: Find out what your strengths are and lean into them. Don’t try and fit into someone else’s idea of what you should or shouldn’t be. Don’t do things to “tick of the box,” do them because they give you experience and allow you to learn. I would also tell my past self “you have so much to learn!”

What advice would you share with people who don’t know what they want in life and/or their career?

HH: Experiment, be curious, and ask a ton of questions. In startup terminology, test, iterate and learn. Make a list of the things you’re passionate about and the areas where you want to develop your skills. Think about your background as it translates to your passions. Figure out how you can add value to the ecosystem you ultimately want to be in. You don’t have to come from the top school or top firm, the really smart people will find you if you’re standing out.

What’s a lesson you learned because of a “failure?”  

HH: I have a huge extended family and most of them are lawyers. I idolized my grandfather and he was a lawyer, so I thought if I wanted to be anything like him, I would have to go to law school first. I studied and studied for the LSATs and REALLY tried to like it. But I couldn’t retain the knowledge. I hated it. I failed at it. I didn’t go to law school. Thank goodness I failed at taking the test, or I might have become a lawyer.

What’s one message you think the world needs to hear right now?

HH: One of the most important things we can do in a 24/7 world of notifications and news alerts and email inbox overload is make sure we remain connected to our humanity. We built Human Ventures on the principle that what matters most is the human — not the idea. There’s a lot of technology out there that’s trying to suck your attention and draw you into an internet rabbit hole, at Human, we’re focused on thinking through how life stages are changing (looking at you, Gen Zers!) and how that affects our lens on the world. Gen Z is leading the way in prioritizing humanity and human connection in a world where relationships and experiences too often feel detached and impersonal.

What’s your favorite quote/saying?  

HH: “Hustle ‘til the haters ask you for a job.”

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Heather Hartnett is the CEO and Founding Partner of Human Ventures, a New York City-based venture capital fund backing, building and scaling industry-changing technology companies through a startup studio model. Hartnett has been recognized for creating one of New York’s premiere startup studios and for the unique approach and fresh perspective she’s bringing to investing by publications such as “The Information,” which has referred to her as the “new breed of VC.”

Since launching three years ago under Hartnett’s leadership, Human has invested in and co-built more than 20 companies. Those companies have grown to a combined $150M+ in enterprise value and have gone on to raise $80M+ in additional capital from notable later stage investors.