An Open Letter From a 500 Startups Portfolio Female CEO
An open letter:
Dear female entrepreneurs and women in tech,
By now, many of you have heard or read about the multiple incidents of inappropriate behavior and most recently the events brought to light by Sarah Kunst involving Dave McClure. For better or for worse, the spotlight is on us — females in tech. The media, LPs and the tech community are watching to see what happens next.
While my personal interactions with Dave have always been positive, professional and supportive, I will not marginalize Sarah’s account of what happened, because I too, have been on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior by other men in tech. I want to make it clear that I do not condone this type of behavior and I think it is brave and important that Sarah spoke up.
During the 2.5 years that I have been running my company, I have met with 100–150 investors, and encountered dozens of mentors, advisors and people who wanted to help us. And while most of these interactions have been professional and helped propel the company forward, I, like many women in Silicon Valley, have had my fair share of unexpected, humiliating and insulting experiences. I’m going to be very honest here — these experiences are unfortunately commonplace in tech. It’s an open secret that most female founders have undergone discrimination, unwanted sexual advances and were made to feel uncomfortable in some form or another in the course of their career. Definitely not saying that every investor or male in power does it, but almost every female founder will eventually encounter it.
So I agree, it is IMPORTANT we speak up. Things must change. However, I am troubled by the aggressive and disparaging dialogue in the aftermath of these events. Threatening to pull funds from 500 as an organization is not the answer. I would like to refocus the conversation on what proactive things the tech community can do to prevent situations like this. Right now we have the ability to affect change. Below are some of my suggestions, and I would really like to invite others to join this discussion so something positive and enduring can come out of this:
Some of my suggestions for change would be to have LPs ask that at least one female partner be in all VC partner meetings and to set a quota for how many female-led companies each VC fund should push through to partner meetings per year. I am not asking VC’s to fund a company because it is female-led, but I am asking for female-led companies to have the chance to be screened in a partner meeting and more importantly, gain the crucial knowledge and experience of going through a full partner meeting. Silicon Valley funding often depends on intros, but this can be very difficult for international, female, minority and LGBTQ founders who don’t have the network. So I would like to see more opportunities for VC’s and diverse founders to meet. TechCrunch already does a great job at this with their Include Office Hours, where under-represented founders can meet with a variety of VCs. I personally was able to meet with Crunchfund and Homebrew during the two Include Office Hours I attended. The amount of learning a founder can gain from 15min with a top VC is really tremendous. In general, I want to see more female angel investors, more female VC partners, more female conference speakers, more females in tech and more female-led unicorns. I want to see females lifting females up, and then the knowledge trickling down to more and more of us. As long as there is an imbalance of power in the tech world, more situations like this will inevitably arise. We can change things by shifting the power dynamics, we can change things by running like hell to the top!
Additionally, there is a lack of resources and training. I would like to see a public protocol developed on how organizations should handle and communicate situations where the line is crossed, and I would like resources available for women in tech where they can safely discuss, report and resolve these issues.
I want to end this by saying that I work at the intersection of healthcare and hardware, and while fundraising is never easy for any of us, I think healthcare and hardware definitely presents its own unique set of challenges and is a space that few investors venture into.
I am thankful to 500 Startups(B18) for taking a chance on my team, so early on, and when many others had overlooked us. 500 gave us a home, a network and a place where we felt that we belonged. 500 has a history of funding female, minority and LGBTQ founders. In a TechCrunch article from 2015, 500 Startups claimed they had “invested in over 400 female founders and over 300 companies with at least one-female co-founder (in over 200 of those companies the founder is also chief executive).” In other examples, 500 Startups has an LGBTQ AngelList syndicate, it’s an LP in female-founder only funds, it hosted a series of LGBTQ tech events, and it has a fund for investments in Black and Latino founders.
I believe that 500 Startups stood for and continues to stand as a bastion of inclusiveness in tech. 500 may have been founded by Dave McClure, but today, 500 is made up of 100+ diverse individuals, and 1000s of diverse founders. 500 serves as a vital source of early stage funding and a welcoming community for many female, minority, international, LGBTQ and otherwise underrepresented founders. Let us remember this.
The answer is not pulling apart an organization that has helped so many people, but rather finding constructive ways to deal with and learn from the situation that we find ourselves in now.
Thank you — Ran Ma, CEO and Co-founder, Siren Care
PS. I am personally open to mentoring other female founders on how to navigate raising VC funding in Silicon Valley. I am very lucky to have incredibly supportive and professional investors on board. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
PPS. These opinions are mine, and mine only. Thank you for everyone who has advised on, contributed ideas to, and overall has been supportive of this letter.