Transcript follows & video below. This is Part I of the interview, you can find Part II here.
- You said in a recent interview for TheFasterTimes: ‘VCs fund in their own image: white, male. The cycle is self-perpetuating, so (predominantly male) VCs have a preconceived notion in their heads of what they think constitutes the kind of entrepreneur to back. John Doerr apparently said, ‘If you’re a white, under 30, tech geek with no social life and a Harvard/Stanford dropout, line up for VC money.’ He didn’t say ‘male,’ but he might as well have. If it had been a 17-year-old Russian girl who came up with ChatRoulette would there have been as much interest in funding whatever she might do next?’ When I asked him what he thought about this comment, Jason Mendelson said that it was laughable. How prevalent do you really think this attitude is really towards entrepreneurs in the venture community?
I think its extremely prevalent, & I think its a lot more prevalent & ingrained than many male vcs & in fact entrepreneurs themselves would tell you. Interestingly I think this widespread belief that this is the model of a successful tech entrepreneur is as prevalent amongst white male startup founders themselves as amongst the vcs who are funding them. I tend to say that many things that are true in life are also true in business. So what we’re talking about is that syndrome which we are all familar with, where we all decide that there is a particular model of a life partner that would make us happy & we have a checklist of qualities. As we know what ends up happening is that you fall madly in love with somebody who does not in fact possess any of those qualities on your checklist. And its a wonderful thing! So its a tremendous opportunity for vcs to fall madly in love with the very different model of the entrepreneurs of the future & the very successful financially returning businesses of the future. But if you don’t ever put yourself in situations where you allow that to happen or invite the people with whom that could happen into your life, how will that ever happen???
- You also noted ‘(And by the way, when you combine ‘female’ with ‘older,’ you’ve got a real double whammy of VC ‘unfundability’:)’ I noted that as I too had that box ticked, & obviously it didn’t help my chances of achieving venture although I have to say it never held me back or dampened my enthusiasm. Could you elaborate as to how & why you think being older brings challenges for funding?
Sure & I think its important to say that everything we are talking about has a wider applicability within society & is the result of some very fundamental socio-cultural dynamics. So I talk about myself as a proudly visible member of the most invisible segment of our society which is older women. So separate from the general belief in the tech sector, like many other sectors, that older means set in your ways, incapable of learning new things, less forward thinking, more worried about things to do with family & lifestyle than younger or more unencumbered people. All of that I would argue is tripled when you combine older with female. Older women being the sector that society particularly discounts & so that’s just an additional obstacle. And a misguided one! Because anyone of the many, many 20 something entrepreneurs & business people that I mentor & advise, both male & female, could absolutely tell you nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to someone like me, or the many, many people like me who are also working on entrepreneurial ventures at the moment.
- That interview finished with a brilliant statement from you ‘I would say to VCs in a similar vein, ‘The female entrepreneur is not an irrelevance; she is your future.’ Could you describe your vision of the future as regards female entrepreneurs?
Absolutely, I believe that the future of the world & the future of business is Women! And by the way I don’t mean by that that we are going to be running everything. Which is not what I would want to do actually. Along with that we are at a moment in time when there is an increasing realization of the importance of women & what they bring to the table across the board (even if it hasn’t taken hold as much as we would all like to see it!) Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book ‘Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide’ highlights what many people around the world now know which is that the single most effective way to affect issues of societal development & social benefit anywhere in the world is to educate young girls. And that has the most dramatic impact on everything we would like to see addressed. In the same way even just today reading the Business section in the New York Times there was a piece on the apparel brand UnderArmour which announced that they were going after the female market. They had the UnderArmour spokesperson saying ‘We envisage the market for us women’s apparel being much bigger than it has been in men’s’ (which has currently been their focus until now. So many, many people are realizing that as Paco Underhill said recently to Ad Age ‘If you want business success then you have to find mass acceptance with women.’ More & more people are realizing what a powerful economic force women are as purchasers. Also the things that women bring to the table in terms of business & different approaches & perspectives on business are increasingly valuable & increasingly valued. Because feminine qualities exist on their own, just as masculine qualities exist on their own & they have a value whether they are found in men or women. So I absolutely believe that the future will bring much more receptive conditions & much more opportunity for female entrepreneurs.
- What needs to change so that female startups could more easily source venture capital? Firstly as regards women & also venture capitalists?
When it comes to the women themselves there absolutely is a need for women to be much more confident & much bolder in terms of putting themselves forward. I often have to have the conversation with women that goes ‘Why do you say self promotion like its a bad thing?’ As women from the moment we are born everything around us conspires to make us feel insecure about absolutely everything to do with ourselves: the way we look, the way we dress, the way we talk, whether people like us or not. And we are taught that nice girls don’t put themselves forward, nice girls are always nice to other people. So women have to overcome this barrier of not having the same confidence in many cases as men. Or having to learn that over time? To actually put themselves forward & compete through promoting themselves & their ventures. The other thing that women have to contend with is unfortunately a socio-cultural environment where when women do that it is not greeted fondly by men. So a study of women in the workplace identified several years back unsurprisingly that women who play the game according to how it comes naturally to them are seen as pathetic, weak, feminine & ineffectual. Whereas women who play the game by men’s rules are seen as aggressive, domineering bitches.
We can’t win?
The research study summed it up & it was called ‘Damned if you do, Doomed if you don’t’ and the New York Times article covering the survey said literally women can’t win. In that scenario what I say to all women whom I advise is ‘Go for the domineering bitch option, its the lesser of the two evils. You will at least be heard, you will at least be seen & you will make more happen than if you didn’t take that approach.’
On the venture front, its critically important that the venture capital industry opens itself up to women. And its critically important for both women & vcs. The reason it’s important for women is because you are not taken seriously in this world, until you are taken seriously financially. I was just looking today at Vanity Fair’s new establishment list The top 100 of what they call the new establishment. The top three slots occupied by Mark Zuckerberg of facebook at number 1; Steve Jobs of Apple at number 2 and Sergey Brin & Larry Page of Google at number 3. The first woman appears on that list at number 23 (Lady Gaga). So the reason I say that its critically important to be taken seriously financially is because it’s not until women raise rounds of funding at the level that men are raising in men founded ventures; until women sell their businesses for huge amounts of money; until women get funded for very, very substantial amounts; until women rank more amongst the billionaires of this world & the tech billionaires of this world that most people will actually believe that a woman can be successful in the technology sector as an entrepreneur & startup founder. So women have to absolutely have to crack this financially – that’s very important. For the vcs the future is about women & there are tremendous financial returns to be gained in that. Diversity is what drives real innovation. If you want real ground breaking, transformative business ventures with the ability to deliver ground breaking, transformative financial returns then you want to really mix it up & you absolutely want to welcome & fund the female entrepreneurs to do that.
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