“Fundraising is a catastrophic challenge for founders, and even more difficult for black founders.”
It’s a bold, even damning statement — one I made during a recent discussion speculating on what’s to come in 2022 for women at the helm of startups, like me.
As one of the few black female CEOs in the developer tools space, I’m often asked to comment on large collective social issues centered around technology. It’s a lot to bear, but I realize the value for all of us to raise these issues and with my voice, when I can. Yet, while I wish I could offer decisive answers, I have many questions.
Technological innovation < social progress
In the world of technology, we are hungry to be part of the next digital product that enjoys pioneering status and shapes what is to come industry-wise. This is particularly relevant with regard to the search for capital. And while we’ve seen some impressive transformations in the developer tools space, with VC-backed funding, I sometimes worry that we risk confusing technological growth with the social progress we really need. The women are still in the background. Why?
There are some great female developer founders, like Nora Jones from Jeli, Window Snyder from Thistle Technologies, Edith Harbaugh from Launch Darkly, and Jean Yang from Akita Software, to name a few. There are also female angels and incredible VCs. These are the women I consider leaders in the industry – those who overcome the hurdles of donating or requesting funding while remaining authentic to who they are.
Sponsors should support more female VCs, and funds should offer women the same graces and latitudes given to men. Shanea Leven
Despite those of us trying to make a name for ourselves in dev tools, the reality is that the dev tools space is mostly run by white males. For those of us who do not meet these gender and racial criteria, simply thriving requires more attention to detail, energy, and time than is often sustainable.
We need to set a level, acknowledging the current ways women must struggle to thrive. We have to ask tough questions.
The fight to be taken seriously
We want to be able to fundraise from other people who look like us, don’t we? But many female investors fight just as hard to be taken seriously as the founders they want to back. If we all face the same social constraint – fighting to prove our legitimacy – we probably harbor the same risk aversion.
This creates a crippling cycle in which female investors take less risk, especially when it comes to investing in female founders, and raise less funds than their male counterparts. How can we break this cycle?
Sponsors should support more female VCs, and funds should offer women the same graces and latitudes given to men. Female VCs should be promoted into partnerships, where they can quickly write meaningful checks.
I have personally witnessed the extraordinary results of Female Angels and Empowered VCs connecting with others to support Female Founders; the community and the sense of brotherhood they inspire has the potential to change the industry. This is what we need to retain and scale.
The struggle to overcome ingrained psychological barriers
Today, there is a widespread belief that women are less aggressive in the process of confirming a cycle, both as Founders and VCs. As a founder, I’ve been told that male counterparts are able to commit larger funds, faster – that women seem to be more risk averse, often progressing slower in the process and asking for less.
So what causes the break in women? This is probably the most obvious answer: we actually face a greater risk of rejection in the funding process. We also tend to have less connection with the VC community, where the “VC rules” – what to do, say, and how to act – are often confusing and counter-intuitive. Nothing like clear guidelines on writing a good piece of code.
The fight against the numbers
Imagine you have 1,000 potential investors and only 10% of them are focused on companies offering technologies like yours. Then only 2% of them invest in companies at your stage and 5% of them share your same philosophies – and you can only access another percentage of those. Now imagine going into these discussions knowing that we are ultimately people who present to people, so you have to “click” through an often all-too-brief interaction.
You will be engaged in this investor’s business for the next decade or more. So while you’re trying to navigate the numbers — the odds against you — you’re also trying to understand a VC’s history, personality, and outlook. How were they burned before? Can we empathize with their past businesses and assure them that our business is a worthwhile investment…all in 30 minutes or less?
So how can women successfully compete for funding?
The simple answer: we can’t do it alone. Like most professional approaches, the search for funding is ideally reinforced by a social network. While I wish I could say that women inherently have everything they need to excel in the world of venture capital, I believe we need allies and support beyond basic networking and spanning the gender and race.
We need everyone with a stake in the game to join the fight for women, with special attention to the challenges faced by women of color. We need to recognize the potential danger for female founders and investors working in a survival mindset and provide them with the coaching and guidance they need to enter fundraising discussions practiced, prepared and able to speak for themselves. of a stronger company.
Simply put, we must trust in the abilities and potential of women at both ends of the deal, with no strings attached.
And so, my last question to founders and investors everywhere: are you ready to join our fight?