How to Play a Man Card and Win

Sarah Blankinship
Jul 21, 2016 · 3 min read

Throughout my career, I’ve observed that the best work partnerships are built over time. However, in startup fundraising, time is of the essence. Nurturing and building working relationships with investors may have to happen quickly, without the benefit of multiple interactions and mutual experiences.

So how did we, as a small startup team, quickly understand whether a potential investor would turn into a Partner?

We observed. For our own purposes, we categorized investors into five tribes: Partners, Speculators, Condescenders, Predators and Pirates.

What did we learn? One key learning was that inconsistent behavior, 1-on-1 versus in a group meeting, was a strong indicator of a potential non partner.

The behavior patterns became particularly visible when we observed and compared the actions of the investors in both types of meeting settings.

In our journey for fundraising partners, it became clear that the guys who run the investment dollars are most willing to give those investment dollars to the guys who look and act like them. The VC Bro-Nopoly statistics support our observations.

So, as a management team, we had to learn when to ‘Play a Man Card’ to understand which investors could be Partners.

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In our experience, Speculators, Condescenders, Predators and Pirates all had a reaction to a female CEO or leader, which detracted from the meeting or funding goals. In those tribes, they were often more comfortable hearing business data, strategy, or message coming from another man.

In our pitch meetings, we field tested which tribe the investors would self-select into. I would meet with the male investors by myself, and with a male COO or colleague.

I’m surprised and disappointed to report that, in most investors, the behavior differences were significant in a 1-on-1 setting, versus with a (female) CEO + any male colleague.

I assumed our strong track records, CV’s, traction and opportunity would be more interesting than my gender. I was wrong.

We observed generalized behaviors in each tribe, and summarized our experiences:

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Luckily, there are investors who want to be Partners. We have not, and will not, settle for less.

Partners. These are the people with integrity, who do not see or react to gender with bias. Who treat the female CEO the same whether she is 1-on-1, or with all her man cards. Our Partners are exacting, they are experienced, they know what it takes to succeed and are interested in helping us achieve more than we thought we could. Our partner investors happen to be majority women, which reinforces the recent HBR research on the success rates of women funding women.

Thanks to our experiences with all tribes, we are better prepared, with our best set of Partners.

Part of our work with CEO WATTAGE is to help women CEOs build connections and relationships necessary for successful fundraising partnerships, regardless of whether one has a man card in her back pocket. Ultimately, it’s the network that drives relationship building, that drives investment, that drives business success.

In addition to sharing our stories, we must deliberately leverage our networks to find our Partners. With enough Partners, we will be able to cut the man card from the deck.


This post was originally published on CEO WATTAGE, a platform to help achieve gender equality in leadership. Sarah is the Founder and CEO of RightPatch, a Seattle-based biotech company. She is lucky to be from a long line of inspiring women.

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