The FiftyFifty Pledge

Chris Tottman
7 min readMay 8, 2018


Three things have smashed into my consciousness in the last 24 months and initiated a monster: My new passion project FiftyFifty

This Initiative is a new criteria for events that I am starting to roll out that requires 50:50 Male:Female attendance. From small scale dinners to full scale events and conferences associated with company pipelines. It will expand from there — person to person, colleague to colleague & company to company. Get involved and get Gender Equality at the top of the funnel

What are the three things that converged in the last two years that gave me the Aha moment?

1. The first is my daughter, Daisy — or Dizzy Doer, the chronicler of the LinkyBrains Mafia Journal — she is a passionate, super bright, hard working & very ambitious. She is also young and learning and so she holds onto beliefs and thoughts tightly. She is no push over & wont back down but she will come back on reflection. Thats good and I learn a lot from her.

She is also in the middle of her finals at Exeter where she is reading English. Diversity and gender equality agenda has been a particular feature of our late night whatsapp fests in the last three years. Plenty to process over the last three years with ISIS, elections, not my president, #metoo — its feels endless for a young woman (or man) entering a seemingly angry world getting angrier

We both know that history is full of disgusting people, our current is full of disgusting people and our futures will be full of disgusting people. We know there are huge oceans of goodness too

Daisy and I can agree disagreeably and agreeably vice versa — we’re family. We both believe anger is NOT a strategy — neither of us know the answer to the gender equality issue

2. The second is my work as a VC at Notion. Notion is a way of life for me its no just a VC. Its not just something I have co-founded and scaled. We create the conditions to unlock unrealised potential & unreal successes. Enduring success.

This year my focus in building the firm (when I am not making and managing investments) was to provide support and leadership in spinning up our Talent Strategy with Maddy Cross & then my plan was to move onto CSR, Notion for Good & the challenge of gender equality in tech & VC

VC has many challenges and gender equality at the top is a big one — less than 7% of VC Partners are Female

And gender equality at the bottom of the process is an even bigger problem — circa 2% of VC dollars go to start ups with Female Founders

Oops does that mean it’s broken all the way through? Guess so. Know so. Yes so.

Notion are an all male Partner Team and three of us started working together more than 20 years ago (Ian the other Founder 15 years ago) well before we Founded Notion. That’s a tough ceiling to crack — someone needs to die.

My record on investing where there are female founders:

Fund 1 — Zero from Three — 0%

Fund 2 — One from Five — 20%

Fund 3 — One from Four — 25%

Twice I have personally co-founded businesses with women co-founders — both times 50:50. Humbled to have 50.

In VC land not matter which end of the telescope you look through a VC will invest in about 1% of the opportunities they see. Unless a VC see’s a 50 50 Male only TO Female Founder mix then you can’t expect to move the needle to move to 50 50 — Its math. This creates many conflicting arguments around the gender mix at beginning of the entrepreneurial lifecycle, to mix of roles, MBA mix, the gender mix in companies founded by female founders, then founders themselves, cognitive biases etc. Basically I don’t see 50 50 and I don’t see 90:10. I invest in less than 1% of those I see. Mmm. The needles stuck! Clearly I’m doing something right at 20% and 25% but the pipeline mix is clearly pathetic.

My brain was stuck in ‘No one see’s enough women nor the right mix’ — The pipelines the issue not the lag indicator — 2% — don’t focus on the 2%. Of course everyones seems to be talking and focusing more on the 7% and the 2%.

The real problem is PIPELINE — Radically change the pipeline — radically move the needle

Lets turn the entire problem upside down — I need to put more focus on the funnel mix. Notion is a way of life. Find an enduring fix.

3. The third thing was I accidently created the start of a movement called #LinkyBrains six weeks ago. Totally by accident with 2 middle aged white blokes I happened to cycle with. I think you’ll get the picture. As people viscerally responded as they connected with the message the response was 80:20 Male:Female

As the “thing” was going viral in the first week we were already getting loads of negative sentiment about diversity & gender equality. Remember this is by accident and growing virally and organically. As much as I understood the critique I just could not understand the negativity so soon — serendipity had created a huge response (these are people moved by a message — we’re not some huge corporate who doing a Super Bowl add) but the active respondents were overwhelmingly male 80:20–100’s of people volunteering to a simple mission — connecting the alternative thinkers so they can collaborate and help make change for good

See the mission here — Its clean, simple & edifying —

Initially I fought my instinct to argue but that’s just restraint — what I wanted to say was we need more women leaders, we need people to stop pointing fingers and start getting active positively male or female. Why does something get crucified in its infancy because it was 3 white blokes cycling and the network effect emanates out from that genesis. I cant change how I was born

Luckily — I only worry about whats in my control and some of what in my influence — it’s a pipeline problem — worry about what you can control & influence. Solve pipeline (what ever that meant in LinkyBrains) and the activities related to pipeline then maybe this force for good will survive not flop. You can’t have an 80:20 Movement..

Make my PipeLine Activities FiftyFifty — The 5050 idea was born — once you’ve said it — its so simple & once its said it cant be unsaid.

Working with the amazing Suki Fuller at LinkyBrains we immediately announced the LinkyBrains Summer Summit being considered would be 5050 Male:Female Attendance NOT just speakers but Attendees — well received and well regarded — still not enough Female engagement to have a Summit! Like a Summit of 40 people — I’ve got 15 years but please this a massive headwind.

Think smaller — We announced the first LinkyBrains Dinner 1.0–50:50 Male:Female — BOOM.

It was an incredible success — with amazing diversity well beyond gender. This group of 18 are now working away on joint projects together they’re passionate about and supporting each other with the diverse experience and skills they can bring to a project or relationships. Critique has turned to encouragement and people from all divides are shouting encouragement.

Dinner 2.0 is on the 15th — entirely new group of people 50:50.

Five weeks of headwind, curtain twitchers, naysayers, thousands of messages, hours of iteration, conscious and subconscious processing, lots of extremely positive engagement from across the divide, huge support from the Linkys and huge support and guidance at Notion and FiftyFifty is a Movement from a 6 week old Movement & a diversity initiative from an all Male Partner led VC but with strong support from Maddy and Kate who run our Venture Platform activities. I also have the combined weight of all the LinkyBrains — male & female. A huge rising tide of support

I believe FiftyFifty will work and catch fire because its simple, its easy to implement & its get results and value very quickly — just like my favourite investments & the products that I buy.

Its also NOT divisive — its collaborative, energised, diverse and edifying — just like the teams I love. It also works all my FiftyFifty Activities are massively over subscribed. Have multiplied the social reach of the message

I surveyed Linkedin last week for a VC Academy to be run by Notion for those wanted to access VC roles — 5050 of course BOOM. Over the bank holiday weekend >110,000 views and nearly 700 comments and likes in just 4 days.

Incredibly diverse people from across the industry are reaching out to help and assist. A strong initial indicator for success. FiftyFifty works. Delivers results. Of course there will be naysayers and critique,,

Suki and I hope you all like it. Spread the word. Initiate a FiftyFifty activity today & don’t stop till its standard in your pipeline activities and then your colleagues and companies — all single contributors, all leaders and all companies can initiate a FiftyFifty Initiative — start with one activity and expand from there.

Add more. Tell more. Lets make it standard and ubiquitous.

Just ask is this FiftyFifty, are we inviting and accepting attendance FiftyFifty, speakers FiftyFifty & is the project owned FiftyFifty. Slowly expand the pace and start it impacting all the actives over time.

I’m not expecting tomorrow a main annual platform for a big company to be FiftyFifty (maybe they’ll squeeze in a side event or someone will jack the event) but I am expecting 100’s to kick off in weeks and months and within a year I hope that candidates will be asking companies and leaders ‘whats your policy on FiftyFifty’.

Change the world one person, one pipeline, one company at a time. I’ll announce 50 pledges and then 500 — Its just sweat & persistence not money

Move the needle change the pipeline and watch it flow through the company and then the culture. Make your next pipeline activity FiftyFifty. Pledge now. Just sign up, get news and do it now.

Help us change the world — thanks to everyone involved at Notion and LinkyBrains — your support is incredible


Follow me on Linkedin — to follow the story or register at & to get news on this and more great initiatives



Chris Tottman

Invest via / Founder of / Focused on building highly scalable platforms FOR GOOD