Bringing the Oxygen
Like many angel investors, at #Angels we strive to support our founders. We help with recruiting, make introductions to advisors, investors and customers, provide product and strategy feedback and pull in beta users. But sometimes founders need a deeper level of support in order to manage the challenges of building a company.
We recently prototyped this sort of sustenance by gathering our female founders for a “talking circle” with Gloria Steinem and Annie Leibovitz. The setting was a celebration of the North American launch of Annie’s latest work, “Women: New Portraits.” In an old airplane hangar, surrounded by Annie’s luminous and honest portraits — from Queen Elizabeth II to female miners to Caitlyn Jenner to Malala — and in the presence of these two groundbreaking entrepreneurs of social change and artistic expression, our group couldn’t stop smiling: it was so unusual to be surrounded entirely by women leaders.
Across the 30+ start-ups we have backed so far at #Angels, a third of our companies have at least one female founder, and 25% have female CEOs. In 2015, 18% of venture-backed companies had a female founder, and just 8% of Bay Area companies that raised Series A funding were female-led. Our female founders are often acutely aware of this disparity — especially when pitching to venture capitalists where the dearth of female investing partners is well documented.
Coaxing something new into existence is always arduous. Imagine having to do it alone, while often struggling to be truly heard and seen. And while a set of founders have these external, systemic factors to overcome, the majority of founders also face some kind of internal challenge that gets tested in the crucible of entrepreneurship.
That afternoon with Gloria and Annie, the simple act of facing each other, with no expectations other than to listen and share, framed not by our valuations but by our values, allowed stories of isolation and determination, ambition and doubt to emerge. The common journey built a palpable energy; what might have felt like aloneness earlier became a source of connection. As one participant said: “this is exactly the thing I needed to fill me up and bring me oxygen.”
Annie started her “Women” project in 1999. Revisiting it in 2015, she said her female subjects are now more confident, and that they know themselves better. These #Angels-backed founders capture that evolution, and have ignored the adage of “you can’t be what you can’t see.” But anyone trying to change our society, our marketplaces, our products or our systems needs inspiration to keep moving forward.
Resilience is one of the most critical traits for a founder, so consider asking yourself: how can I help fill my founders’ emotional tanks? Let’s strive to tend to the spirit, not just the strategy.