Am I too busy, too proud or too resistant to seek VC funding? Yes.
Since I suddenly became a “woman in tech” a year in a half ago I knew I had a lot to learn about the culture, tech, terminology and rhythm of this new brave world. Here on Medium (and elsewhere), you see a slew of “How Your Morning Routine Will Make You Rich” or “10 Things Top CEO’s Do That You Don’t” type stories. I read the headlines (okay, sometimes I poke my head in) and move on. As the CEO of a start up-ishy business, I read and read and read in the mornings. I read Gary Vaynerchuk books, I sent myself “back to school” via mailing lists, product news and dailies like Charlie O'Donnell’s Digiday, TechNewsWorld, AlleyWatch, Medium, Product Hunt and the million different rabbit e-holes I dig and wind myself through every morning. Then I answer emails, head to the gym, work on my venture or whatever.
Two things I have learned for sure, is that there is still a long way to go technologically and women are not always considered a safe bet.
Now gender bias is in us all, as are many other biases we have to acknowledge, confront and consequently reprogram our thinking. I am, for sure, ageist. I think tweens and teenagers are the worst people on the planet and I just want them to grow up and stop screaming. #amirite?
Sexism is a new thing to me. Yup, you read that right. It’s new to me. I used to be able to count the “sexist” things I encountered on one hand. 1) 1984. The female band teacher in 6th grade said I could not play drums because I would get a bad reputation and girls don’t play drums. 2) 1988. My grandfather told me not to worry too much about grades because I was too pretty to be taken seriously in business anyway. 3) 1991. I escaped an attempted “party” (read gang rape) of frat boys in college by jumping out of a Jeep into a 7–11 parking lot as they spit on me and sped off. 4) 1995. I was asked to leave a film set because I was too distracting and asked to clean the oven. NBD. That was it. Hm.
As a 20-something, I landed jobs where I was respected, needed and rewarded. I was freelance for 15 years and was met with equality (except for #4) and mutual respect. We all got paid the same. Never a question. Sometimes, I would even get a bonus for killing it. No sexism here!
Of course, I never worked a day in corporate America. Of course, I enjoyed being “the only chick” some men liked to work with and a buddy not a potential date — because this was business and my career. Looking back, I remember hiding my DD’s under big shirts, purposefully not flirting back, being a little “hard core” and unapproachable and certainly never dating peers despite being surrounded by men — some rich and relatively powerful. (Hindsight is 20/20. See #1,2,3 I ingested gender bias.)
Then, suddenly I was 35, had an infant, a shotgun husband (not in the business) and an overwhelming need to turn the film industry on its head for being egregiously wasteful. I founded a non-profit called Film Biz Recycling. VERY. LONG. STORY. SHORT., after seven years, I shuttered the NYC division. I thought the concept was ahead its time, I was not the best fund-raiser, I was inexperienced and naive. My male friends and champions told me it was because my partner and I were (and still are) female. Seriously? No way… really? This was a first. Good ideas don’t have genitalia.
While Film Biz was running, my “side hustle” was managing a (then 23 city, now 43 city) community of freelancers in creative fields in film, TV, theater and events I called ArtCube — a Google Group. Ugly, klunky Google Groups. Cubers found jobs, sold props, rented their equipment, sought help in a jam and depended upon it — ArtCube evolved to a culture and way of thinking and for many, a way of life.
Film Biz NYC died. (Soon to go to Savannah, but that’s another story.) But now I was out of work. What now? This community was a full-time occupation that needed my full attention. A“real job” would not let me do it well. I could not let them down! They depended on me!
Enter ArtCube 2.o. We decided to let the folks who were part of the community choose if it was worth $5 a month. One fateful October day in 2015, we shut off access and sent a well-thought-out letter explaining the new subscription-based model. We crossed our fingers, sweated bullets and hoped the community would stick around and because of the value we knew ArtCube brought to their lives.
We also knew the Google Group had to go. More on that in a minute.
Well, we got some “pay wall” hate mail blaming us for the props they would throw away because of a monthly five dollars. But so many were more than happy to throw down a little for a huge return that made life and work (one and the same for many freelancers) easier and less stressful. ArtCube gives business members (who pay more) a leg up on the competition — they know the minute a potential client has a need and that potential client gets 5 bids in an hour. That’s quite a reversal if you know the biz at all.
Today, we see our 2.0 membership grow by about 70 paying users a month — just in NYC and we add more Cubes upon user request— Amsterdam, Las Vegas, Mexico City and yesterday we added Berlin.
We enjoy positive growth every month with no dips to red. However, we are still on Google Groups and we have long outgrown the platform. For months we sought a solution out of the box — community management software has a slew of options, but none right for us. The features were lame, the cost prohibitive and/or designed for corporations’ marketing strategy. Not us.
Luckily, we found a software company that understood what we needed, was affordable and recognized our potential. Our huge, billion dollar industry potential. Our success would be their success. They didn’t consider us a start up. We were a business that needed custom software. Oh, yeah, right. We’re a business.
Mind you, throughout, I did what I did this morning and most mornings. I read. I read more. I networked so I could learn more and find out what else to read. What I read was enough to let me know it is a waste of time to try to find VC funding. This morning’s read was no different.
Reza Chowdhury’s enlightening but not shocking article The Truth Behind Women and Funding in NYC reinforced what encouraged me to bootstrap. It really does not matter we have almost 1000 users before we have an app, that my partner and I have been working together for 15 years, it doesn’t matter millennials will pay us to assist their careers, forget our traction, proof of concept, the fact that our niche but wide demographic is a 1.4B market, my business partner and I, another woman (also in her 40’s who has spent a lifetime in this industry), would be hard pressed to be counted in the scant 4.88% of all-female founding teams that get a VC funding deal.
So, where’s the ROI on seeking VC funds? It seems to me in the time it would take to make appointments, pitch, negotiate and get a check (with a 95% failure rate) I can spend that time improving the MVP (beta testing in a month!) adding features, listening to the feedback and generating more revenue that goes right back into the app that by 2020 will reward us handsomely. Plus, I don’t have to give away any equity or listen to an opinion that knows nothing about my industry. Nope. Not a good business decision.
I know very well why 90% of startups fail. The writing is on the wall. There’s no point in trying to compete with an industry looking for a twenty-something dude straight out of the Ivy League with a half-baked idea, bravado and a crazy, CRAZY amount of unearned confidence. (This actually might be my gender bias rearing its ugly head.) But, hey, if I was that guy, I’d be knocking down VC doors. Why not? The same metrics Venture Capitalists use to judge us Founders, (history, track record, business model, proof of concept and capital) encourages the 90% failure rate bros to come striding through your door. Good luck with that.
I’m too busy for embedded gender bias. I’m too proud to be turned down over and over when I know how far ArtCube will go. I don’t want to go back to the 80’s and 90’s where I hid my femininity so the world could experience and recognize my ideas. I don’t want to be proud that I’m one of the special ones and “one of the only chicks with a chick partner” that can get VC funding. I’m going to create a good product, work really hard and love every single moment of the life I lead and create an empire knowing I don’t need to be a member of the 4.88% to do that.
If you have any good mailing lists for me to read or would like to have lunch while I very patiently wait for my software to be done, please be in touch!