STEM: Melissa Grillo Aruz, Forerunner Ventures

This article is part of our Create & Cultivate 100 List created in collaboration with KEDS, you can view the full STEM List Here.

Investing in women. Investing in future.

Meet Melissa Grillo Aruz: VP of Platform at Forerunner Ventures, the early stage venture capital firm investing in some of the buzziest, cultiest, most disruptive brands of the moment, including Dollar Shave Club, Birchbox, and Glossier.

Now 39, the Brooklyn-based mother of two launched her career at ad agency Razorfish, where she handled retail accounts for Victoria’s Secret, Ralph Lauren, and Abercrombie & Fitch. “This was in the early 2000s and these were the brands that were on the forefront of media, launching brand pages on Facebook and yes, MySpace, which now seems obvious, but back then was very innovative,” says Grillo, once behind such digital milestones as creating the first live streaming concert with Fergie for Victoria’s Secret Pink, as well as the first sponsored blog post with Refinery29. A different time, indeed.

From there, Grillo moved onto marketing for Gilt Group during their period of landmark growth, and consulted for J.Crew, Madewell, and Warby Parker. “I started to get excited about this next generation of consumer facing brands that had a strong POV, really connected with their customers in a fresh new way and came to life online,” she explains. It was through this work that she became acquainted with Kirsten Green, future boss and Forerunner Ventures founder. For the last two years, they’ve been forging the future of retail and backing some of this generation’s most sought after startups.

After fifteen years in the fashion space, Venture Capital was still uncharted territory. But Grillo isn’t one to be easily deterred by the unknown. “There was a fun and steep learning curve when I came on board, and I am lucky to be a part of a group that sees the value in disciplines outside those which traditional Venture Capital firms typically offer their companies,” explains Grillo, whose intuition for supporting promising and profitable young brands makes her an irreplaceable asset to the VC firm behind the explosive growth of Bonobos and Outdoor Voices. “It was exciting to know I could be a part of how Forerunner differentiates itself. I learned to capitalize on what I was good at while, at the same time, being humble enough to ask questions, read up on new topics, and as with anything involving startups worked my butt off to learn.”

"I learned to capitalize on what I was good at, while being humble enough to ask questions."

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While the finance industry is historically male-dominated (an antiquated reality that Forerunner is no doubt disrupting, however unintentionally), Grillo rarely feels like a fish out of water.  “The key to dealing with these situations is to try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand what their motivations are,” says the VP, who leans on a close network of entrepreneurial women and hardworking moms for encouragement and support, and counts her professional teammates as mentors. “I can easily tell myself I’ve spent decades growing brands, creating and riding trends, and that I’m really good at what I do, and that internal pep talk usually does the trick! A successful career is earned and requires sacrifice. It truly is done through dedication and a lot of hard work, nothing is handed to you.”

Between running family and working at the fund, Grillo has little time leftover for herself — but one thing’s for sure, she never skips her bedtime routine. It’s the little things. “Every night, no matter how tired I am, I always take off my makeup, put on eye cream and moisturizer read a few pages of my book and off to bed.” When asked how she defines female empowerment, she replies, “Today, for me, it means asking intelligent questions with confidence and walking into a room without questioning whether I belong there or not. As I start my day tomorrow it will mean something else, but it always means operating with confidence and self love.”

"A successful career is earned and requires sacrifice."

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That big things are in the future for Melissa Grillo and the team at Forerunner — now that’s something we’d put our money on.