Things Investors Say That Confuse Cross-Cultural Founders

Silicon Valley is famously non-diverse, which means that entrepreneurs with different cultural backgrounds can have a tough time. At Quibb, the social network for professional content, we’ve been collecting stories about difficulties and situations entrepreneurs encounter in meeting with investors. The tales of cross-cultural confusion below are from Dhawal Mujumdar, who founded AdsNative to reimagine digital advertising, and Sandi MacPherson, the founder of Quibb.

“It’s true that the US and Canada are very similar culturally, but there are some differences and I still feel a bit like a foreigner,” says Sandi MacPherson, the founder of Quibb. “I remember pitching someone who already thought that me being a woman was a bit weird, being a solo founder was a bit weird, being a non-tech person was a bit weird… so I didn’t want to add to the additional weirdness of being a non-American, too.”

She goes on: “I tried really hard during our meeting to not mention that I was Canadian, but that also meant the added cognitive load of not pronouncing my As and Zs a certain way, to say ‘college’ instead of university, and so on. It was tough, and it added a lot of extra mental pressure to an already high-pressure situation. I slipped at one point near the end, and my ‘secret’ came out. He passed on investing, but he actually cared a lot less about my non-American-ness than I expected. I probably shouldn’t have worried about it so much!”

Diversity data around Silicon Valley have become well-documented, leading to an uptick in resources like Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, which give advice intended to help people who don’t fit the mold. But it’s not just women trying to make their way: People from all over the world are pouring into the Bay Area, bringing their brilliant ideas along with different perspectives. And they often feel very keenly that they don’t fit in.

“During one of my pitch interviews, an investor was talking about baseball and explaining the market using baseball,” says Dhawal Mujumdar, who founded the company AdsNative to reimagine digital advertising. “Then the investor said, ‘I assume you are getting it…’ and I was like, ‘I don’t understand baseball.’”

The moment was a bit awkward, says Mujumdar, who is from India. “The investor said, ‘I just spent five minutes explaining it that way.’ But I hadn’t responded quickly because I was thinking of saying, ‘I get it’ to keep a conversation rolling. In the end, I decided that I prefer to be honest.

“Sometimes people still ask me, ‘Can you help with this?’ and I say, ‘I don’t know,’” notes Mujumdar. “What you know and what you don’t know are important.” After all, when investors know what a founder can and can’t do, they can be more helpful, and they may trust the founder more.

Find other stories about professional experiences like Dhawal’s and Sandi’s by joining Quibb. You can follow Dhawal to see what he’s reading for his job as the founder of AdsNative, which is reimagining digital advertising. Follow Sandi to see what she’s reading for her job as founder of Quibb.

Thanks to Lydia Laurenson, writer and media strategist, for her work on this series.

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