This founder shares her tips for overcoming gender bias in the tech startup industry
Alexis Aaron, co-founder of Sortd, recently shared her insights on gender bias within the industry, overcoming prevention questions, and how reframing the problem you’re solving for can win over different investors
Grace is responsible for strengthening and bolstering Antler’s brand presence in Australia. With a passion for tech and innovation communications, Grace has over six years of experience in helping Aussie and global disruptors tell their stories. Prior to Antler, she worked at GoFundMe Australia and award-winning tech PR agency, Sling & Stone. She competed in SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod competition in 2016.
September 19, 2023
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What started as a conversation between friends about pain points shopping online two years ago, today stands as Sortd with $1.26m in Pre-Seed funding. The all-in-one platform empowers shoppers to save, compare, share and checkout from thousands of e-commerce sites.
Founded by commercial lawyer Alexis Aaron and film producer Jodine Wolman, the pair bootstrapped their idea with a loan, worked on it two days a week while juggling full-time careers, and created an MVP with 500 users, all before joining Antler in 2022. Within nine months, they have secured Pre-Seed funding, launched Sortd’s app, and are affiliated with leading retailers including The Iconic, Farfetch, and Shopbop.
Alexis recently sat down with us for Women of Antler, a community-led program which aims to address issues such as the gender funding gap, unconscious bias, and provide practical support for all founders to receive equal opportunities. Here she shared her experience co-founding Sortd and facing gender bias within the industry.
Despite the highs and lows of launching a tech startup, Alexis said; “If I’d known then what I know now, it wouldn’t have deterred me from co-founding Sortd.”
Reframe Prevention Questions
Overseas studies show women founders are typically asked prevention questions by a ratio of two to one, compared to their male counterparts. These questions are positioned around what could go wrong or signalling potential risks, as opposed to promotional questions which are focused on growth and opportunities.
Alexis and Jodine are not immune. In the middle of one investor pitch, they were asked, “What would stop two men overseas from copying your idea?” The question is ultimately about defensibility, however, it should have been framed differently.
To answer the question, on reflection, Alexis said, “Nothing. There is nothing to stop someone trying to replicate our idea, but that’s the same with all ideas. That’s irrelevant. What matters is we have the skillset, tenacity, and connection to the problem we’re solving for, and we will take this company from strength to strength.”
Now, Alexis and Jodine anticipate prevention questions. They are prepared to think critically about what is at the core of the question and directly answer that. Whether it is on product-market-fit, go-to-market strategies, product defensibility, and so on.
Position Your Problem As An Opportunity
“Well, I just don’t see that as a problem.” Alexis and Jodine have faced flippant comments that the friction point they’re solving for “just isn’t a problem”. However, they know it is.
Many online shoppers face the pain point of scouring the web trying to discover what they want to buy, often resorting to countless tabs open, copying them to their phone notes, sharing with a friend, or worse, accidentally closing all their tabs and starting from scratch.
These comments were initially challenging and somewhat demotivating. However, the pair did receive some advice on differentiating between problems, opportunities, and inconveniences, which reshaped how they position Sortd. There are some universal problems the world faces from food insecurity, climate change, and catastrophic weather events. And then, there are opportunities and inconveniences in day-to-day life too, such as pain points in shopping online.
“Sometimes you have a market, a growing opportunity, and a viable business model that solves an inconvenience. As long as it is affecting people, it’s worth solving for. Position it as an opportunity,” said Alexis.
Overcoming Buzz Words
After Sortd recently launched its app and announced its Pre-Seed fundraising round, Alexis and Jodine’s gender became the headline in many listicles, articles, and posts focused on the company’s growth.
“The buzz around ‘female founders’ doesn’t sit right with me,” said Alexis. “We need to recognise that all founders are one and the same in terms of equality. I am not a female founder, I am a founder that is female.”
Beyond the choice of language, Alexis reiterated the importance for all founders to be treated with the same respect, the same access to funding, and the same access to opportunities.
Antler is committed to driving greater diversity and inclusion across the startup ecosystem and VC industry. In doing so, we have a global policy ensuring that as an investor, we assess people on the attributes that make great founders and in the process build diverse portfolios.
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