Elizabeth Yin, Co-founder at LaunchBit

Elizabeth Yin shared:
What female-founders really encounter when they fundraise?


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The common thread in all our experiences is the initial shock and denial we go through when we experience this first-hand.

Personally, after not having encountered any blatant questioning of my motivation, skills and capabilities, even when I was working on diesel engines and heavy construction equipment in the MidWest, literally elbow deep in grease, for a few years with white dudes, it came as a shock to me when an investor (associate, really) plainly told me that he will "want to watch our progress before investing because building a startup is hard and it's easier to quit when there's a husband to support you". (1) I have no husband (2) if I had one who could support me, isn't it logical I would stick around longer? (3) how does being a husband, wife, single or whatever have any bearing on how passionately I just pitched about changing the world and building a bloody big business doing it? I was so focused on my passion/my business that I was totally unprepared for the gender and marital status derailing the investment. Like every good joke that has an unexpected twist, my reaction to him cracked me up: I wanted to pat this chap on his head and say "there there, kid, you'll grow up someday". I felt very motherly. I still have no clue why, but that's the first thing that went through my head when I heard him blather nonsense; feel an acute sense of compassion for this ignoramus. Should I have actually done something more than just cutting my meeting short and walking out of there? (like, really patting him on his head, or calling him out) I don't think so. Building my bloody big business without him, and, despite him, being a role model and creating patterns he can associate with good investments/successful entrepreneurs, and changing the rules from the inside is what feels more important to me.

Let there be no doubt that these old rules are changing already, and those who are not adapting to the change fast enough are looking like fools, missing out on opportunities. But it hasn't changed enough yet for me to be comfortable calling this investor out.

Definitely agree that we're [playing this game in a much harder setting] (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/). And on the brighter side, these increased barriers, twists and turns make us better at focusing on the road.

Co-founder at LaunchBit

Thanks for sharing your story, Chandini. I'm sorry someone said that to you... There's another 500founder (I think also your batch) who also faced an investor who made a similar remark about how it would be impossible for her to build a big business as long as she had a husband to support her. Not sure it's the same investor? I did not realize how prevalent these kinds of comments were until I started talking with other female 500founders, so I appreciate your going public with your story.

Seed Investor at Scout Ventures

"In short, between the wardrobe decisions, the pregnancy-cover ups, etc, entrepreneurs, as much as possible, try to combat pattern recognition with pattern recognition."

This reminds me of the power and influence courses taught at US b-schools. I know a handful of them teach it-- here's the course description at HBS: http://www.hbs.edu/coursecatalog/2056.html

The idea is that politics and biases exist in business, so the purpose of this course is to teach you how to hack them. They present to you all the research and findings about influence and how people perceive power-- wear a suit (look older), wear glasses (look smarter), say things in a certain way, etc.

It's pretty fascinating stuff.

Director, Android Platform Management at Zynga

Any books you recommend or Bibliography from this course ? As a personal example : I do feel I have a strong urge to combat with stereotypes and pattern recognition, or a fear of being boxed up in a terse description ... On the flip side I do realize that I am guilty of the urge to establish a stereotype when meeting people which I try to fight against with the fabric of my soul to give every human relationship, I see mutually valuable, the best chance!

Founder & CEO at popforms

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm sorry that gender even enters the picture. Maybe Seattle is different than Silicon Valley but this hasn't been my experience at all. I'm only raising a small angel round at the moment but I haven't felt experienced anything like what you described.

Deals are about relationships though and so if people do treat you that way then I wouldn't want then to invest anyway.

Best of luck with your venture!

Co-founder at LaunchBit

To be fair, these anecdotes are not representative of my overall fundraising experience. I only had one bad apple say something actually rude to me. 1 out of about 100 investors I met with isn't bad, and there's always a small percentage of bad apples. In fact, that's exactly why it's hard to say whether there is or isn't a meritocracy in all this -- I don't know what the other 99 were actually thinking...

I didn't think anything of this until much much later. I more recently swapped notes with a lot of female founders in 500Startups who all had their bad apple stories (from different bad apples), and that's really what got me thinking and compelled me to write (because now it's not just 1 data point anymore).

Cofounder at Feast

Elizabeth, this is so good. Thank you for sharing. I'll have to get back to you in about 6 months on my own experiences ;) but reading yours and others' certainly makes me feel more prepared (and excited!) for what's ahead.

Really curious to hear more about your data and experiments with wearing different outfits. Last summer, I decided to ditch my extensive, curated wardrobe that I was very proud of in favor of essentially a uniform. My belief at the time was that dressing fashionably made it easier to be stereotyped, which is why I'm surprised that shorter skirts worked better than pants for you.

I think I've been garnering more respect in the boring uniform than I ever did in my vintage dresses and slouchy cardigans, but I think it may have more to do with how it changed how I perceive and carry myself ("got nothing to prove with the clothes anymore, let's talk about something else") than the outfits themselves. Wardrobe decisions aren't just about how others perceive you, they affect how you perceive yourself. I'm about to switch things up with a new outfit experiment to see how it performs.

Data Scientist at TripleLift

My cofounder and CEO is Sandy Lin and I wish she were here to chime in with her perspective but she's on a much needed vacation. I'm not aware of blatant sexism but from her recollections it seems that people are more willing to meet with her but are also less willing to take her seriously. I suppose in SEM terms it would be like her having a higher click through rate but a lower conversion rate.

The silver lining behind all this is that there's an opportunity for the investor who doesn't discriminate and can invest in women-led startups while the others are chasing the white male.

Angela Hsieh, Graphic Designer at LaunchBit Angela Hsieh
Graphic Designer at LaunchBit
Angela Hsieh, Graphic Designer at LaunchBit Angela Hsieh
Graphic Designer at LaunchBit
Lee Constantine, Marketing Associate at LaunchBit Lee Constantine
Marketing Associate at LaunchBit