Female Founders: Soraya Darabi of TMV On Why We Need More Women Founders, and The Five Things You Need To Thrive as A Founder
On average, female founders have been proven to generate the greatest amount of revenue. In fact, our friends at First Round Capital found that companies with a female founder performed more than 60% better than companies composed only of men.
Women inherently are more likely to collaborate and empower one another to achieve new heights of success — what’s better than that?
Having more female founders and diverse founders for that matter and/or in leadership positions brings greater diversity of thought to the table. Full stop.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Soraya Darabi, Co-founder and General Partner of TMV.
Soraya Darabi is an experienced entrepreneur and investor; the Founder of TMV, a successful early-stage holding company overseeing two venture funds and three investment vehicles all focused on ideas that will transform industries and inspire new ones. At TMV, Soraya serves as General Partner where she leads impact investments across the future of work, healthcare and education technology. In addition, she’s the host of “Business Schooled — a Podcast by Synchrony,” where she interviews persevering founders who have made it past their startup days and reached new heights of success, plus she’s been named: one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business,” an Inc. Magazine “30 Under 30”, and Fortune Magazine’s “40 Under 40: Women to Watch.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve always been an early adopter of interesting and impactful technologies. I launched my career working for major media companies, like Conde Nast where I became fluent in social media and spent time translating the web 2.0 era on behalf of a 200-year-old institution. From there, I found myself at The New York Times where I launched social media for the global news leader and worked alongside many of my journalism heroes.
As a result of these experiences and truly being at the forefront of the intersection of social media and media, I became immersed in the world of venture capitalists and tech founders, ultimately setting me on the path to where I am today as the co-founder of TMV — an early-stage venture fund investing in purpose-driven companies. Because of my background and early years in tech, I craved the startup experience and eventually left The New York Times to work at Drop.IO before going on to co-found the first geo-location app in the app store, FoodSpotting.
These opportunities allowed me to segway from media to entrepreneurship, providing me a foundation to start writing checks to companies that were interesting, audacious and nonobvious. I became an early angel investor in companies like Casper, Gimlet Media and several others that were truly ahead of their time.
This track record culminated into my eventual and official entry into the world of Venture Capital and journey of building TMV to where it is today alongside my co-founder, Marina Hadjipateras.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Since starting TMV, I’ve experienced so many amazing things that I hadn’t been privy to as prior to fully immersing myself into the world of Venture Capital.
Looking back at my journey, I learned early on to put myself out into the world in order to create a beacon for founders who were creating meaningful, purpose-driven businesses. Of course, this wasn’t just limited to those who were building companies in the largest addressable markets in the world — this approach extended well beyond those founders and towards others who were hyper-focused on a double- and triple-bottom-line. As I was starting out in this space, many in my network thought my approach went beyond the standard textbook approach to investing and showed that I didn’t care about returns.
In hindsight, I ended up showing by example that when these founders and their companies begin to scale their business, they are proving their worth in more ways than one. This was the case with Cityblock Health, which recently became a unicorn, and will be the case as Kindbody and others as they continue to navigate their own journey towards unicorn status.
These types of markers for success have become a standard for my work and that of my TMV team over the years. And, as a result, we now find that our days are filled with the most interesting and colorful conversations with the world’s best technologists, creatives and entrepreneurs who are thinking through the most robust and interesting challenges at scale.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was first starting out in venture, I noticed there were two different types of people: those who were always networking and those who were always chained to their office and laser-focused on what they were building.
As a hybrid of the two, I used to feel weird with my place in the world of VC and like I didn’t fit the mold of what entrepreneurs were “supposed to look like”. This is because when it comes to working, I like to be laser-focused on what matters however, I’m an extrovert by nature and get energy and ideas from being out in the world.
Over time, what used to feel like a vulnerability, ended up becoming a strength. I’ve learned that a good business person benefits from being out in the world and creating a strong network around them, while also being deeply skilled in what matters most in order to move their business forward.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Absolutely. The road to getting any business off the ground can have its challenges. As a woman in VC, I am able to meet with so many incredible founders from all walks of life and who have wonderful ideas about what the future of the world looks like. In fact, while just around 2% of venture capital dollars are going to women, at TMV we have proudly built a portfolio of companies that is currently 75% female and/or minority-owned. Simply put: female founders are out there — we just need to find them.
That being said, and as someone who has started several companies of their own, there are always barriers to entry and it can certainly feel intimidating to be the token female or minority in the room. However, if you are smart, articulate and know your product, nobody can argue with that, so start there.
Many women also lack connections with mentors or peers who can help them navigate new and uncertain terrain. The sense of connection and empowerment that we can glean from others who have been in similar situations can provide tremendous opportunities to learn — it is both a powerful and necessary tool for sustained success and growth. If you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur looking to scale your idea, start by connecting with your community.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
In order to create real, meaningful change, we need to diversify our boardrooms and put more women in C-suite positions. We also need to provide better education to companies about DE&I and make sure they are being held accountable.
The talent is out there and women are already moving mountains on their own volition. They are doing this by coming together to support and advance one another beyond their own networks. I know this, because I have been there firsthand — in fact, I’m still very much there and I continue to advocate for women and minority business leaders. Four years ago, I co-created Transact — a community of emerging female fund managers — alongside a few of my industry peers in order to create a real dialogue about access to deal flow, best practices, and so much more. Flash forward, Transact has continued to experience tremendous organic growth and the community now proudly boasts a global community of over 130 female fund managers and we’re showing no signs of slowing down. This is a testament to the work that needs to be done.
We must be willing to listen and truly put in the time and energy in order to see real, impactful change.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
The world needs more women founders, here’s why:
- On average, female founders have been proven to generate the greatest amount of revenue. In fact, our friends at First Round Capital found that companies with a female founder performed more than 60% better than companies composed only of men.
- Women inherently are more likely to collaborate and empower one another to achieve new heights of success — what’s better than that?
- Having more female founders and diverse founders for that matter and/or in leadership positions brings greater diversity of thought to the table. Full stop.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?
Founders do not look a certain way, the media has perpetuated that myth. It’s not men in hoodies who create the most wealth in America through technology and solo-founded businesses. Some of the best examples of modern moguls are women above the age of 40 and immigrants. So the main myth I would like to debunk is that there is an Ivy League or IQ prerequisite or gender prerequisite to being a founder. That’s not the case. There is an uneven playing field for accessing capital as the majority of LPs and GPs are homogeneous but there aren’t prerequisites for building and shaping the world through business.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Everyone can absolutely be a founder, it requires a certain mix of ingredients to form the recipe:
First, in terms of identity formation, one must be able to envision themselves as a founder: “I am the type of person who builds things.” To get to this point, you must have exposure to entrepreneurs in your life that will model for you how they struck out on their own and broke a certain mold. Ultimately, this is the hardest part of becoming an entrepreneur — and it is heavily biased toward people who can afford to take on risk. It also helps to have multiple mentors who have forged their own path before who will take the time to introduce fundamental lessons to you, but business books and podcasts are a great hack if you lack these mentors in your day-to-day life. Everything else comes down to having an excellent idea, timed perfectly with market conditions and access to talent. But thanks to the 1099 economy and the web, talent has never been more readily available. So yes, anyone can be an entrepreneur, but it begins with discipline and studying the playbook in an efficient manner. Because if you don’t seize upon your idea, someone else will.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
There are three key things that have stuck with me, which are:
- Invest in the stock market, early, mainly for learnings. Take the time to understand what having a balanced portfolio is everything. Financial literacy makes its way into every facet of life and work — don’t skip this valuable life skill! Parents, teach it to your kids as early as you can.
- Companies break up because of people more than any other factor. Take your time before jumping into business with the partners you are most excited to work with. Don’t optimize for likability, optimize for strengths and vulnerabilities that complement a dynamic team structure. Identify early on what team members you will need for short and long term success.
- “Everything feels better in the morning.” Actually, my mom told me this every other day of my life growing up but somehow it clicked for me especially as a grown-up so I’m throwing that advice into the mix for good measure.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Yes, I like to think so. I believe we are put on this earth to leave it better than how we found it.
Since the earliest days in my career, I’ve been driven by impact fueled by the belief that purpose-driven companies are the main drivers for a financially sound and ethical future.
At TMV, we are hyper-focused on purpose-driven investing with a thorough lens for diversity overall because we understand that it represents how the world actually looks. This means that we’re always looking to invest in a spectrum of startups and founders, who — because of their diverse backgrounds — are better equipped to build the businesses they are building. As a result of our ongoing commitment to positively impact the world, some of the companies we’ve invested in include: Bravely, which promotes employee well-being by connecting people to on-demand coaching from a network of vetted coaches; Goodr, solving hunger logistics issues; Kindbody, democratizing access to full-spectrum fertility care and wellness services; Parsley Health, doctor-led holistic health care both online and off; and Ridwell, making it easier to reduce waste and recycle.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I launched Transact Global in 2018 with four friends because we believe women should be transactional and control dollars to, in turn, fund the next wave of diverse founders — or just founders plainly. For decades Venture was an all-male game and no one batted an eye. If women are 51% of the workforce in a non-covid reality, why can’t we be 52% of the VC industry? I’m doing my part and believe wholeheartedly in conscious capitalism saving the day.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
My heroes are mostly journalists.
I especially admire women who write and speak economically but pack a lot of punch like Terry Gross (ZOMG) and Kara Swisher. Kara tweeted recently about Trump (in regards to his attempt to start his own social media club now that the OGs are no longer welcoming) “you can’t make fetch or Twitter happen.” Perfect. Just perfect.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.