Transcript follows & video below. This is Part II of the interview. You can find Pt I here.
- Do you think that the challenges that women entrepreneurs/startups have historically faced, mean that we will always be under represented sourcing venture? I know from your perspective that most women that pitch & have a good company or good idea would get funded but in Europe it is very different as you know because you have done some work in Europe. And I think probably too still here, you read articles about should women have different funding models rather than the usual venture funding model? In other words debt based funding or getting help from friends, social funding or things like that rather than going for venture capital. So there must be some obstacles for women in some sectors?
Personally I would just be very hesitant to say there should be different structures for different genders. That doesn’t feel quite right! I think every entrepreneur needs to take advantage of every opportunity. Or at least needs to be aware of & pursue whatever funding opportunities there are. Maybe if it’s appropriate for your business & you want to do it & you’ll go into venture & it’s available to you, go ahead get a venture funding round, it’s great! But for most startups for which that’s not the right path, I think sure. Perhaps it’s an educational problem increasing the awareness of friend & family & angel groups & small Government loans & all those types of things that can kind of get you past that first step of getting the business established.
- How do you feel about incubators? Do you think that is a way that more women could achieve funding?
I don’t know that incubators have any better results on gender ratios than seed stage investment firms? Or venture capital firms? So I’m not sure that they’re solving any problems? They’re great if you’re in a position where you can drop everything for 3 months & move & focus on building a business for that time. I’m excited to see anything that draws more innovation. I think it’s really important for this country to drive innovation. It’s what ultimately grows the economy, grows jobs, all these kind of good things. So I’ve not seen anything listed that’s particularly beneficial for women entrepreneurs in that model.
I think one of the arguments for ‘xx combinator’ (on Fred Wilson’s blog, there were a number of posts) was that basically a lot of women can’t uproot themselves for 3 months. But then also there are a lot of fathers with children that can’t do that either. (See my interview with Tereza Nemessanyi )
I think you often see a very young average age in those incubators. Because those are the folks at that age that are more likely to take those risks than women. Because I think it is often an irrational risk to take. Entrepreneurship is probably an irrational risk at any age even more so when you are earlier in your career. That’s who goes to those incubators. So maybe there’s a model that could be very successful that is a slightly more virtual model that doesn’t require the same model physically, the uprooting, the person commitment etc? Although you would definitely lose something by not having that but maybe there are some other models to experiment with? And the whole point being if there is some other untapped potential of companies that could be started, that could be really interesting for opportunities.
- Do you have any tips for women who are currently sourcing venture? Anything that you’ve learnt the hard way or the easy way that you would advise?
It’s all the same stuff right! Be prepared that you might have to knock on an awful lot of doors and hear an awful lot of nos, or just even worse hear an awful lot of nothings! And the relationship part really matters, not only when you get to the final stages with an investor. But all the people that could potentially make those introductions along the way. I’ve taken a lot of meetings with people that are not always directly related to what I’m doing but if there looks like some area of interesting connection because you never know where they’re going to lead you to. And it’s always much easier to get into an investor’s office with a much warmer welcome if you’re introduced by someone they know & respect.
Yes they all say that, so thank you for that!
- Would you like to see changes in the venture capital community that could support more women startups & if so what are your ideas?
The only thing I would say is that I’ve heard some people say that the way they approach investing in entrepreneurs coming in is that they’re gender blind, they don’t pay attention, that it doesn’t really matter to them. And I don’t think that helps the issue. In my mind (& some of this comes from my definitely amateur but excessive reading of psychology & topics like that) gender does matter! Nobody is coming in & saying that it doesn’t matter & that it doesn’t impact the person that you are. What is actually much more important is that people kind of recognize their biases or recognize that they might have them. So whatever gender you are, whatever side of the table, by just saying it doesn’t matter, I think you’re sweeping a problem with which all these numbers say there’s something going on here, something’s got to exist? So the better thing I think is to say ‘Am I treating this person differently? Are there things going on in my head as I interact in this conversation that might be impacting my perception of them? This stuff doesn’t change overnight but that would be the methodology that has been successful in other areas of life. That’s more likely to be successful in having people change their potentially ultimate behaviors.
So raising awareness both on the venture capitalist’s side but also on women’s side who are going in to pitch to realize that there may be those sort of obstacles & having the skills & tools that are necessary?
Yes exactly that you may be perceiving this person a little differently. Yes on both sides it probably helps to learn more about communication styles. I remember, when I was at MIT & you go into a maths test or whatever, all the guys would come out bragging about how well they did & all the girls would come out feeling like they’d just failed. The scores are all the same right, the average for the 2 wasn’t any different. But the style which they presented is quite different and it’s probably just the braggarts of both groups that end up going on to be entrepreneurs. Because you’ve got to have a bit of that bravado to even get over the line. But whichever side you’re on, I think it’s helpful to recognize that there may be communication differences and again to factor that into how you’re perceiving the person across the table.
I think you’ve put your finger on the pulse really because we all spring out of the same culture. And it really is in the culture that we’re raised as women in maybe even subtly different ways than possibly men.
I think it’s very explicitly different ways! But the roles are explicitly different so it’s not shocking that we’re raised differently. It’s just that I think there is a hidden assumption that that impacts our ability to start & run successful companies. And unfortunately the data, because not many people try to do it. The numbers are quite low & I think this kind of thing where how do we increase the funnel earlier on & for women who are already in the process? How do we keep minds open & just pull up some of these ways that we think about the people on the other side of the table that may be destructive to creating value. Because we’re all here to have impact & create value but if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity in terms of investment or starting a company, then you’re not creating that value. Then that’s a pity for everybody!
Exactly the whole community!
- You are a technical CoFounder, do you believe that it is easier for technical women founders to achieve venture funding than non-technical? If so what are your reasons for this?
It probably doesn’t hurt! I’d have to say that I don’t write any of the code, only a very small amount & then we threw it away as quickly as possible. But I do have a technical background & technical degrees. I think that just helps with that credibility thing. It certainly helped coming from MIT, having that MIT network. That was just very helpful! So from that perspective, that would probably be similar for men as well but it certainly just because of the underlying biases & perceptions.
- Could you list some of the advantages of gender diversity in a startup? Are there any disadvantages?
To some degree it depends on the population you’re serving. What’s most important is that you have the best people for each particular role that can work together. That’s obviously very important piece of it to build the product or service that you’re then selling. I can certainly say that if you’re only paying attention to one gender as you look at potential individuals for any of these roles, you may miss out on some very interesting folks & somebody that could really be the difference between success & failure. I’m hesitant to talk about the personality differences of men & women. It’s obviously there & having some gender balance can create a less macho culture than one that was all male or predominantly so. But regardless I think what’s really important is that you have a constructive culture where people can talk about & disagree in a way that everyone can walk away & still feel like ‘We decided to go this way but I was heard & I understand why we’re going this way!’
So no matter what gender, everybody has an ability to contribute?
To contribute, then to argue but then to agree & move on. Because of my presence, I’ve never been in a truly male environment but I would say that those who are more male tend to be more macho which can take away from certain people wanting to contribute.
- Just one last question, I interviewed Cindy Gallop & she quoted Madeline Albright who said ‘There’s a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women’. How would you see us supporting each other in beefing up these numbers & making women entrepreneurs & startups a bigger population?
Yeah, I think there are some bigger groups who have been making some wonderful inroads on that like Astia more nationally, then Women2.0. Those are very helpful in just raising awareness & getting large groups together & all the programs that they run. I think for the specific group of entrepreneurs, it’s actually small networks that are also overlayed on that that are really important. So having a few women entrepreneur friends, for me that has actually been important, with whom you can compare notes & commiserate. Also compare business strategies & everything else is very helpful. Of course you want to do that with men too. They’re most of the networks too, if you have anything to do with technology. And keep that balance. But I think if I was just starting out I would be looking to get involved in both those groups, the bigger more known groups & then trying to build a personal network of female entrepreneurs that can kind of help translate some of the stuff that’s going on along the way.
Brilliant, thank you so much for your time & for participating in this project.
Thanks to Alexander Blu for music ‘Democracy’
- The Venture Capital Gender Gap (foundersblock.com)
- The Unbundling of the Venture Capital Industry (startupboy.com)
- A Brave New World – Amid industry turmoil a rash of new VC players emerge in Canada (techvibes.com)
- Wireless Seed Stage Forum Key Connector for First-Class Startups and Informed Investors (prweb.com)
- On Raising a Fund – the IA Ventures story (informationarbitrage.com)
- A Silicon Bubble Shows Signs Of Reinflating (dealbook.nytimes.com)
- SFgate.com Women 2.0 gives female-led startups a boost (sfgate.com)
- Women 2.0 gives female-led startups a boost (sfgate.com)
- Kauffman Foundation Commits $500,000 to Astia to Advance Women’s Participation in High-Growth Entrepreneurship (kauffman.org)
- Taulia Inc. Receives $3.2M in Series A Funding from Leading Silicon Valley Venture Capital Firms (prweb.com)
- Tereza’s Op Ed (avc.com)
- DFJ Mercury Raises $70 Million Fund II (eon.businesswire.com)
- How to sell out to venture capital without feeling like you’re a sellout (tech.fortune.cnn.com)
- Why it’s Critical That you Reference Check Your VC (cloudave.com)