Antler recently brought together four women in the startup/ VC ecosystem to discuss challenges and opportunities around this topic.
The conversation was led by Tanja Kufner, Antler Venture Partner and long-time investor, having invested in ~70 companies. She was joined by Constanze Buchheim, an angel investor, and the founder and CEO of i-potentials, and a driving force in championing women in leadership. They were also joined by co-founder and CEO of Teemyco in Stockholm, Charlotte Ekelund, and Antler Associate Anne Solhaug Tutar.
Here’s what they had to say.
While we should be enabling more women to launch their own startup, and celebrating those who do, all panelists agreed that founder titles shouldn’t be gendered.
Anne agreed, adding that while the day is coming when you can just be a founder or an investor, rather than a female founder or female investors, there is still much progress and change that needs to happen in the ecosystem, and more broadly in society to get there.
Constanze, who revealed her own experience of gender disparity throughout her career, recalled academic literature that seeks to explain who we trust and why.
“Who do we trust last and why? There are studies, from the 1970s, that are the basis for the Thomas Principle that we see today — a Thomas trusts a Thomas. They tend to go through the networks of very similar people,” she said.
A way to combat this in a very male-dominated industry is to aspire for more diversity on the investing front. Private funds identified by Wharton Business School and Catalyst at Large (Biegel et al., 2019) as operating with a gender focus — meaning that they invest in a more gender-diversified portfolio — had on average 72% female partners, 69% female investment committee members, and 54% female limited partners.
Why make the shift? Returns on investing in female-led startups are on the rise. Female CEO exit value went up 30% from 2019 to Q3 2020 while the male CEO figure went down 44% in the same timeframe.
“It’s taking a leap of faith. Define, what is the failure that you’re so afraid of? What’s the worst that can happen? The startup fails and you feel like you didn’t make it. But maybe also in that case you got one experience richer? It’s all about mindset in the end,” says Charlotte.
In a recent study by KPMG, 75% of female executives across industries noted having experienced imposter syndrome in their careers. So, how can you channel the right mindset and push beyond this? The panelists shared tips around having confidence in yourself and your company, utilizing the growing female founder networks and mentoring programs as an anchor and springboard to accelerate your growth, and above all — have courage.
Constanze recalled a memory from her early career days where she was working with a male colleague on a project, and asked him — “well, what if the markets are crashing?”, and he simply replied, “then we’re going to the next one”. A great reminder to listeners to strengthen the mindset that you can go beyond prescribed boundaries.
Tanja shared some insights from an earlier conversation she had with Managing Director of Cleo Capital, Sarah Kunst, where a key piece of advice shared was to leave investors wanting more.
“When asked, how do you think your startup will be performing three months from now? Kunst says there’s a huge difference between how a woman will frame that conversation and a man,” says Tanja.
In contrast to popular belief, the panelists resounded that women take on more risk than men — as they claimed that typically, women finance their own ventures and have the added complexity of family.
“If you’re a woman and you want to be a founder, you actually have to take on more risk than your male counterparts,” says Anne. “2.3% of all VC dollars went to female-led companies last year. So, that means that as a woman, your chances of succeeding or raising capital are slimmer than if you’re a man.”
Anne related this to her own experience founding Future Foods — the first health food FMCG in Turkey, which later expanded to five markets and was acquired after 2.5 years of operation — and how she created capital through realistic budgeting and selling belongings.
The future is bright. As Anne put it, “our voices are included and they’re sought after, and that’s really amazing”.
By challenging ego, calling out bias, removing barriers to entry, and lifting up others to increase visibility and lead by example, equal gender representation in the startup and venture capital world may soon be realized.
“No matter if you are a man or a woman — reach out your hands and help others take the next step. And for those of you who see those hands, be really bullish, courageous, confident, and take the hand to take you to the next level. This is how we grow, all together,” says Constanze.
**Antler updated the headline of this article on April 1, 2020, to better reflect the entirety of the article. The views in this article are that of the panelists quoted, and not all views expressed are shared by Antler. We promote ongoing conversation around equal gender representation, visibility and mentorship, and other challenges that women face in the tech and startup industries. Antler is building a stronger more diverse startup ecosystem by lowering the barriers to entry and providing a platform for more women to launch their own startups, including initiatives such as Women of Antler.
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