How to Survive as a Female Founder
Hi, I’m Rachel. I’m the founder of Seeds. We convert more freemium gamers into paying customers, and we do it using social good.
So what that means is, if you buy a virtual good — a virtual sword, say, or virtual gold — in a game that features Seeds, you get an item that improves your gameplay, and simultaneously we’ll channel what you spent into a microloan made to a woman entrepreneur in the developing world. We make profit on both the gaming and microlending sides.
I’ve been struggling for years to make this work, and signs indicate that it is finally on the cusp of taking off.
But the road has been long and hard. There were late rent checks, metro turnstyles hopped when I didn’t have the cash to pay (one time immediately after giving a keynote at a DC tech conference). A kind, sensible lawyer sister (and teacher mom) who let me put charges on their credit cards and pay them back later when I didn’t see another option. Understandably concerned relatives who told me that it was time to “get a real job.” A lot of it sucked. But what sucks the most is that I saw male friends with startups get a lot more support, more readily…and often with less traction to show.
I’m deeply grateful for all of the support Seeds has received already from the fantastic investors, customers, and teammates who have believed in us thus far. Through a lot of grit, we’ve managed to put together an okay seed round. And our business is not infallible — it’s a tech startup, and most of those fail.
But I also don’t want to sugarcoat my experience, which has been that of a female founder who has had to do more with less resources, because I’m scared that people will say I’m whining or unduly blaming pro-weiner investor bias.
So without further ado, here’s my short list of tips for surviving as a female founder. This is the hustle that worked for me thus far. If you’re having trouble getting funding when the dudes around you aren’t, you can:
1)Read Mark Suster’s blog and realize that you can bootstrap your shizz with Airbnb. I am eternally grateful that Mark posted this. Following the lead of fellow female founder Tracy DiNunzio, you too can sleep on your couch whilst Airbnbing the hell out of your apartment.
For me it was a Washington Heights spot and (subsequently) a Bushwick two-bedroom that I have to myself (to scale the biz!). This will actually be fun a lot of the time, you’ll meet cool travelers, but you’ll get sick of not having a proper place to sleep.
Your chill Wash Heights roommate will also eventually get annoyed (we all have limits), so feel that out and move to Bushwick when it happens. Also beware dating dudes who tell you you can sleep at their place while Airbnbing, because if your full apartment is booked and that goes south…you is homeless girl. But luckily, all in all, making that move to the two-b will triple your Airbnb revenue, so you can pay for contract hires, tampons, cheeseburgers, etc. You will survive.
2)Utilize your old skillz to take advantage of new hustle. I was a Futures and Equities Trader before launching Seeds. Even though that environment was way worse than startup land — I was paid a 15% lower base salary than the dudes I started with, just like they warn you about in all the books, and this despite having profitable trading experience that all but one of them didn’t, as well as a better educational background than 100% of them had…lakjflkgajklkf…but I beat them out later with a bigger trading bonus — I missed trading itself. I knew how to make money.
So in October of 2013, when I read about the Feds seizing a bunch of Bitcoin and realized I could buy and sell it online (legally — Coinbase yo!) I saw a huge opportunity for a big profitable trade. I correctly assumed that the BTC price was undervalued, and bought as much as I could afford…and then sold it off in January 2014 near the highs. I made roughly an 8x profit on this trade, and I used the money I made to pay our employees. Seeds stayed alive!
3)Pitch old guys with more daughters than sons. Seriously. I’ve read that there’s data that shows that congressmen with more daughters than sons vote pro-women more often (thanks to Lea Hu for providing me with this citation). Based on my own anecdotal experience, I would wager that there’s a correlation in investment patterns for men over 55 with more daughters than sons as well. The only time I’ve felt that being a woman was a true advantage in a pitch meeting was when the investor in question was a male octogenarian…with a son and two daughters. But that guy is also funny and a truly awesome human being, so there was that too.
4. Don’t pitch a notorious chauvinist who has invested in about 8 of your (male) friends’ companies when many of said companies had less of a product and less traction that you currently do, unless you’re 99% sure he’s going to come in and you desperately need the money. Because when he says no, you’re gonna see the difference in how hard it is to raise money for you versus the way it is for your male peers more starkly than ever — because you concretely know their traction and their terms as compared to yours, and it isn’t some abstraction/perception you can blame on your own sensitivity in your more generous moments. And therefore, you’re going to want to punch yourself in your own face for compromising your principles in pitching that guy in the first place. Smh.
5. Have a sense of humor. Because being pissed off about this will only make them even less likely to invest. And I should know.
In sum, I get pretty mad about this sometimes, and it irritates me further when people even imply something like, ‘oh stop complaining and just execute.’ Because duh, that’s what all of us are constantly doing our best to do all the time.
And the thing about “not complaining” is that if every female founder who experiences stuff like this gets discouraged from talking about it because it sounds too serious or not cool to bring up, because it could mean a risk of being scrutinized or attacked by internet trolls and bummed out even further when stuff’s hard already…it’s not gonna change. To be totally fair, launching a startup is just plain hard, for everyone. But it’s even harder when you have more trouble getting funding because of factors outside of your control. Like your birth-time genitals.
Feminism used to be cool y’all. Talking about it used to be something that cool people would do all the time. When did that change? Can we dial it back?
So as a privileged white girl from an upper middle class family, my thinking is this: we gotta knock this out. And part of the way we do that is, more of us launch startups in the first place. More of us talk about the lack of fairness openly (and with jokes!) so that we can make talking about it cool, and unconscious bias in well-meaning investors, male and female, starts to come into awareness and dissipate, and then the ecosystem for female founders can grow in leaps and bounds. More of us are in it. And then, ultimately, we can know it’s getting better when even the bad ones get a fair shot, and can learn. Because we all gotta learn.
Special thanks to my friend Eileen Carey of the indomitable Glassbreakers for giving me this dope title. Much appreciated. ☺
Also if you wouldn’t mind following Seeds on AngelList at www.angel.co/seeds we will love you for it!
PS — If you’re a gamer, shout out to the developers of your favorite game that you’d like Seeds to be a part of it. Then you can make purchases that are channeled into microloans to women in the developing world, giving them a leg up. These women need capital much, much more than I do, and we can work together to get more of it in their hands, so they can build themselves up. Thank you.