Betting on Female Startups

Video interview with Jeff Clavier, Founder and Managing Partner of SoftTech VC.  SoftTech VC is one of the most active seed stage investors in Web 2.0 startups. Since 2004, Jeff has invested in more than 80 consumer Internet companies in areas like social media, monetization, search, gaming or B2B/B2C web services. These investments are typically located in Silicon Valley, New-York and Boulder. With over 20 years of operational, entrepreneurial and venture capital experience, Jeff is able to add relevant perspective and value to his companies as they grow from inception to maturity, and hopefully, success. Jeff was born, raised and educated in France, earning a MS in Computer Science and a research degree in Distributed Computing.  You can find Jeff @ his blog Jeff Clavier’s Software Only and on Twitter @Jeff

Transcript follows & video below.

  • What is your sweet spot, in what kinds of businesses do you like to invest?

For the past 6 years, I’ve been investing in consumer internet. Six years ago I saw this new generation of consumer internet companies popping up & being extremely capital efficient & so I said this is a great business opportunity for me as an investor, let’s invest in them. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve closed about 90 investments in 6 years: all consumer internet, search engines, communities. I’ve done a lot of web search companies. I’ve done a few different things on the side, but mostly consumer internet.

  • What percentage of women startups do you get pitches for? And what percentage have you funded?

So to be honest, on the pitches that I receive from women, I don’t track the percentage at all. I was sort of joking to you as we were chatting preparing this, that I’m actually not tracking the gender, sexual orientation, the color, the funny accent or whatever. Actually I don’t know? There’s obviously not that many women entrepreneurs that are pitching. What I can tell you is that in my portfolio, because I’ve done my list, I have 7 women CEOs & I have 3 additional who are co-founders. So 10 women involved as founders or the top executives in companies that are backed. So on 90 deals, we’ll say its about 12%.

Wow thank you, you’re obviously doing your bit for our cause.

Yes but to be clear, I backed those women because they kick ass & the fact that they’re women sort of doesn’t..

But that’s the best reason, I would say, that you don’t have any bias or prejudice. It’s just a good entrepreneur or good startup that you’re looking for.

Great entrepreneur, great idea, great market opportunity, let’s do it!

  • Have you noted differences with women entrepreneurs in how they pitch & build businesses? Obviously you’ve had great exposure with women who’ve come & pitched & run startups that you’re working with.

Because my premise is that I back very strong entrepreneur who I deeply respect, I haven’t seen… I think they pay attention to the social, the personal side of things a bit more. They tend to communicate well, essentially everything that a woman brings to a management team or a founding team. So you find the way that they build the culture. But the way that they actually build their startups, not really no. I cannot point to anything that would be different, I think not in my mind.

  • Cindy Gallop, Founder of IfWeRanTheWorld, said in a recent interview: ‘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, under30, 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?’ What is your take on this Jeff, & if this is happening how can women startups find an opening in this culture apart from bombarding you?

Stepping back if you look at the law of large numbers, it is true that the vast majority of the emails of the intros of the pitches I get are from white, male entrepreneurs even though. To be honest in the valley, because we have such a melting pot of cultures & the kind of funny accents that I don’t even pay attention anymore. Half of what I get is male definitely. Definitely overwhelmingly male but different colors & people coming from different countries with different accents. Being French myself I don’t tend to pay much attention. So its true that the vast majority of what I see is male. I don’t have this notion that we need to have a percentage of women. We only back male or whatever because for me it’s the person. Is that team, is that person the best to address that particular opportunity. If the answer is yes, then I will figure out a way to fund her or him or them. I like to see a founding team of 2 or 3 people. I’ve only seen once a founding team that was only made up of women, it’s my friend in BlogHer , 3 women co-founders, I’ve never seen that. But I’ve seen a bunch of fundings where there was like 2 guys & 1 woman or 1 guy & 2 women & that’s great. I think it’s just diversity of perspective. But once again I’m not thinking about let’s make sure we have a percentage that goes to women. I’m glad to have backed all those in the past & to have this. And they all have tremendously interesting personalities & so I just adore the time I have spent with them. But at the end of the day they’re just one of my CEOs I don’t make more time for them, I don’t extend to them,they’re just a CEO.

And would you have observed any bias or prejudice in the valley amongst the venture capital community? I guess it was a more generalized question that I was asking, because obviously you don’t have any bias.

The big question around women CEOs or women top executives is ‘How can they deal with the issue of spending more time at work, dealing with families, kids & everything?’ To be honest I am just in awe & always have deep respect for people like my wife who essentially deal with their careers & their kids & everything else they do. You look at that & you go ‘I’m not sure how you do it but I love you for that!’ And so the issue is how can you spend all those hours leading the companies & so forth. What I have seen with the women who are in the portfolio & have kids & everything is that they have found a way to work smart, very hard but work smart more than hard. Whereas guys tend to work hard but sometimes not smart. They use brute force & spend a ton of time, instead of working out how they can optimize. Women by definition will have to optimize if they want to balance everything. I will add though that most of the gals I’ve backed recently are younger, they don’t have kids, they’re not married, they’re really focused. Married doesn’t really matter, but they don’t have kids yet because they’re just devoting all their time on the startup, which is personal choice.

And this issue is definitely quite big for women. And what you’ve observed is that women have a better work/life balance & are able to manage & keep the boundaries between work & family.

I think they manage it either because they have to or they’ve figured it out better than we can do. But as I always say the reason for my personal success is to have a fantastic wife who has been way smarter than I’ve been to figure out how to manage all those things.

So we’re grateful to your wife that you can continue doing what you’re doing.

Absolutely!

  • Cindy also says: ‘I think not as many women as men actively seek VC money because they’re not as tapped into the boy’s network as male entrepreneurs are. Young male entrepreneurs can very easily become the flavor of the month and get introduced around from one VC to another — get the perception going that they’re ‘hot’ and get their funding. It doesn’t happen for women that way.’ Do you think that networking with Venture Capitalists is harder for women entrepreneurs?

No, I think I will definitely call bullshit on this one! You have to try first & then see whether it works or not. I see a lot of women or people who are not from here to feel that they can’t do it & therefore they don’t try kind of thing?

Got it, not taking that risk?

I’ve seen a bunch of successful women entrepreneurs & some not to back or couldn’t back or whatever. But they’ve been extremely successful building hype & interest & ended up oversubscribed in terms of their funding round just because they were extremely good at it. So it’s not difficult for someone who is passionate about their project & their startup & what they want to build to go to one of those many events & drop you their card or get your attention for a few minutes & then say hey can I follow up by email & organize a meeting or whatever. If it sounds interesting, then we’ll take the meeting & we’ll continue the conversation. You just have to try! You can’t sit outside & wait for something to happen because there are so many signals coming to us that we won’t see that there is someone who might want to talk to us but is too shy.

So be bold!

Yeah, I would say man up, but I don’t think it’s appropriate.

  • What do you see as the obstacles for inclusion of women entrepreneurs in achieving funding? You’ve just mentioned be bolder & try. I guess that’s try to do the networking but also try with the startup if they’ve got a great idea!

At the end of the day, what the women I’ve backed have done, which is nothing more than anyone else is figure out what they’re passionate about, where they see a market opportunity, figure out what is the better mousetrap, what is the solution, why they will be the entrepreneur who can figure out the new market opportunity or the disruption in an existing market & then go pitch that. Many people say I don’t know any vcs so I don’t know how to get there. Well what you do is figure out who in your network can get you in front of a vc & you always know someone. Especially the women who are from here & have done Stanford or Berkeley or whatever, they know because a bunch of their school mates were there or they always know someone. It’s funny if it’s like one of their parent’s friend or whatever, it doesn’t matter figure out who in the network is actually able to get you in front of the guys or the people who can help you. And then network into it & that’s what everyone does. When I came to this country & decided to actually become a full time business angel, I didn’t know anyone. And so what did I do, I just networked my way into the community & opened the blog & wrote for 3 years about startups & everything. With hard work, a bit of luck & a wonderful wife I been able to do what I’ve done.

That’s fantastic! It’s inspiring!

The beauty of the valley is that it’s a complete meritocracy. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, who you are or what you’ve done. And no one will tell you that you’re not allowed to try. And that’s really the issue that we had in Europe, because you’re like me you come from there. Where if you’re not part of the old boys network & you don’t come from the right schools or whatever then there is sort of this natural road block.

I agree with you about the networking, because I did that via blog posts & commenting on different vc’s blogs. When it came time to wanting to do pitches, after I won a spot on TheFunded.com in January, many were very open to responding to me. Even though they’d never met me & I was coming in cold, so I think that there are ways even when you’re distant.

It’s true you’re building a relationship by sitting on someone’s blog & being part of the community or whatever. It actually does work, it just takes a lot of time! That works for people who are open enough to say we can become blogging buddies right? This happened to me when I was actually actively blogging. I don’t have any time any more. I actually had blogging buddies, people who would sit there & be part of my tight community, which is really good!

No it’s fantastic!

0 Betting on Female Startups

Thanks to Alexander Blu for music ‘Concert’

 Betting on Female Startups

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