Women Entrepreneurs and Fundraising -Here is Your Reality Check

Jun 05, 2012

I hate gender politics, so please don’t take this the wrong way.  But I chose to write this today anyway.  Now, before you write this off as a “man hater” article, please listen, as I have listened to all of you.

And let me just clarify on the topic of “man-hater” for a second before this gets started.  I was a tomboy growing up.  I skateboarded, and I played with spiders.  But I also grew up in a house full of women (4 girls and a mom).

What is that we’re talking about? I shouldn’t have to say it.  Recent events include the Dell IT conference, and Ellen Pao suing one the most prominent VC firms for sexual harassment; what many who know her are saying should’ve been called rape.  This has stirred up quite a bit of angry feelings among entrepreneurs, both male and female, as well I’m sure it’s stirred up very similar feelings among other industries in that field.

I am not here to debate about either of these events, and who is right/wrong.  First, I don’t follow what goes on in the media, unless it pops up on my radar, like it did in this case.  Second, I don’t have enough knowledge to debate about either of these events.  What I am defending today, is my own experiences (which thankfully, did not turn out this way but came very close in more than one occasion), and some personal stories that were sent to me (in confidence, and will remain as such) of what has happened to women raising money.  Also, after they have raised money.  We forget about the after once someone is given control in your company.  A few of these stories were so disgusting, I couldn’t even finish reading them.  Just stop and think about it for a second if you have not caught on yet.  You have an older man, usually around 50-70 yrs. old with millions, if not billions, of dollars….and younger females raising money for their companies.  With money, often comes inflated egos that we often see in Venture Capital to begin with.  Add all this together, combined with the fact most venture capital is all men…and we have a pretty bad situation.

Now, many of you already know, but let explain what happens & why someone is raising money for their company.  With service based business, they are fairly easy to scale on your own.  With technology and/or internet based businesses, you have a chicken and an egg problem (it needs to be scaled before it can be monetized).  This leaves the majority of founders in a position to have to raise money.

Most often, the fate of that company lies in that person’s ability, to raise money.  As leaders, founders, CEO’s, entrepreneurs…whatever you feel like calling yourself today….that weight, lies on your shoulders.  That is what we are judged by.  It is our job, and most of the time, our job alone as a leader, to carry the weight.  This is the same for both male and female leaders.  If we are lucky, we have managed to get a good team behind us, and lead with a strong vision.

But…what happens…when an investor wants something else in exchange for that money, we are not willing to give up? No problem, right?  We leave the money on the table, and we walk.  There will be another.  But what happens…when you go to…another 10?  20?  100?  And the same thing happens over and over again?  All the while, you are spending your money, plane tickets, hotel fares, meals, & entertainment. “This is part of sales” is what they’ll tell you.  True in many cases, however another 50% will also tell you “we should review the business plan in your hotel room” (another reason why I will never write a business plan).

What happens now?  You have to come back home, and try to explain to your team, why you really couldn’t raise money.  That it was there, many times, but you had to turn it down because of “stipulations” attached to that money.  Do you have any idea what it’s like to be embarrassed like that in front of your employees?  To have to explain to those who look up to you, as a leader, why you can’t do your job?  Why there is a “glass ceiling” as Harvard calls it, blocking your way?  Do you understand what happens?  Do you think anyone understands what happens?

Let me explain to you what happens. Your employees start to think, you’re weak. They begin to regret being under a female leader, because nothing can move forward.  You must not be doing something right.  They start to doubt your vision, your leadership, your ideas.  Your mentors all gather around and scratch their heads.  They start throwing out a million different possibilities & “to-do’s” making your head swell, none of which point to the real problem.  All the while, your head is spinning.  Your team is pressuring.  The market is moving.  And you watch as your window of opportunity closes before you.

Like every entrepreneur, I am proud to be a rebel.  A challenger of the status quo.  But that does not mean, I am crazy, or any of us are. How disappointed I am in all of us, to see how hidden this is, and that no one wants to talk about it….myself included.  And to see others who see it, yet choose to say nothing, especially when we have so much power to be able to do so.

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