It certainly isn’t news that the tech industry has a long way to go in terms of gender equality, especially when it comes to raising capital. One recent report found that only 10% of startups that raised Series A rounds last year had female founders, while 94% of decision-makers at VC funds were male.
As female startup founders, we need to see that imbalance as an opportunity for change, not an insurmountable hurdle. I thought hard about that as I opened the seed round for my tech company Stylyze. If I could pull it off, I figured, it wouldn’t just be a win for me and for my startup. It would be a step in the right direction for our industry as a whole. Here are three strategic lessons my experience taught me, which other first-time female startup founders–in the tech sector and out–might also find useful amid the race for funding.
Every founder needs a support network to succeed, and for female founders, that’s especially true. The support of like-minded, successful women can provide important guidance. They can also act as light bearers who offer you words of encouragement or a reality check when you need it most.
Prior to opening Stylyze’s seed round, I built an advisory board of successful women entrepreneurs and CEOs, including Natalie Angelillo and Judy Harris,Courtney Stroum Meagher, and Tama Smith. I also joined a women’s CEO group led by Janis Machala.
Each of these connections individually was crucial, but I relied on this community as a whole for resources and information, not just around the fundraising process, but also about how to be a great CEO. That was indispensable when it came to navigating an industry where women are still so underrepresented at the executive level. And having a support network in your corner is valuable for practical reasons, too, giving you access to important connections when it comes down to actually raising money.
As a female founder, our investment team certainly doesn’t need to be comprised only of female investors. Still, finding women who are a good fit for your company can help kick off a powerful fundraising campaign. Look for angel investment groups with track records investing in new businesses led by women, like Golden Seeds and Seraph Capital. Venture capital firms such as Forerunner Ventures, Cowboy Ventures and The Women’s Venture Capital Fund are great resources for later-stage seed and Series A funding and beyond.
You could also work from the opposite direction: Make a list of your target investors and VC firms, then research which of them have invested in companies founded by women. If any haven’t, don’t write them off. Instead, hold your head high and proceed with the attitude that yours will be the first female-founded company they invest in–if the fit is truly right.
When I sought investors for Stylyze, I looked for individuals who were passionate about our business and committed to supporting my team. This included a phenomenal group of female as well as male investors. Whenever I sensed a gender bias creeping into our conversations, I didn’t take it personally. I was grateful for being able to determine early on that the investor probably wasn’t a good fit.
Excellence always matters the most–and it’s the part of the equation that we can control. I decided at the very outset not to devote any of my energy to accommodating bias. Instead, I put it towards doing the best job I could 100% of the time, and in turn, attracting the right investors. The last thing I want is special treatment. I want a fair shot.
My hope is that the byproduct of this approach is that we actually get it. The more women who pursue their dreams as female founders, the better. The more women who become angel investors and take positions of leadership with venture capital firms, the better. The more women who do their best work every day, the better.
We change the statistics, one exceptional woman at a time.
Kristen Miller, CEO of Stylyze, is an entrepreneur who successfully founded and sold her first business at the age of 24. Since then, Kristen has founded three additional companies in the home improvement/home decor industries.