Last week, we hosted the Women in Tech breakfast at New York TechWeek: bringing together an amazing group of founders and investors to talk about what female entrepreneurs need (and how they should go about getting it). Here’s what we learned.
From L to R: Elizabeth Galbut, Managing Partner at SoGal Ventures; Sutian Dong, Partner at Female Founders Fund; Karen Cahn, Founder & CEO at iFundWomen; Meg He, Founder at ADAY; Beth Haggerty, Founder & CEO at Parity Partners
We started planning our panel in early September, just as the news around gender bias (and worse) in Silicon Valley had started to simmer a bit. As we spoke to potential panelists, we kept hearing the same thing — they were ready to change the conversation. They wanted to stop talking about the news cycle and get back to talking about their business.
So we decided to organize our panel around a single question: What do female founders need? Financial capital, of course — that’s a no brainer. But what else? We were interested in having a conversation around resources, role models, mentors, networking, and how they all serve an important purpose: helping women move their businesses forward.
Before the panel, we asked attendees to answer the same question, and spoke with the female founders in our portfolio as well. We found that their answers fell into four categories or themes.
Founders need mentors. (The right ones.)
Mentors shouldn’t just be people who support you. They should be people who have expertise in your industry, have done the things you want to do, and can help you in ways others can’t. A number of women specified that they were looking for male mentors — allies, they called them — who could advocate for them during tough situations.
“Go to the experts in your field,” says Karen Cahn. “Fact is, that might not be a woman. That shouldn’t stop you.”
On a related note, a founder from our portfolio highlighted the need for mentors that helped women think, well, a little more like men. In pitch meetings, people will always ask you about risk, her mentor told her. “The difference is that women often answer these questions straightforwardly, while men are more likely to shift the conversation to upside risk.”
“VC is a services business,” says Sutian Dong. “Leverage your investor relationships so these people can also be your mentors.”
Founders need talent.
We heard from a number of people that finding qualified talent as a female founder was difficult. (Finding qualified candidates that were female or diverse was even harder.) Companies like Werk and Fairygodboss are trying to solve this problem — and are focused on connecting women with companies that put effort into diversity and inclusion. Organizations like Parity Partners, of which our panelist Beth Haggerty is the founder and CEO, have Talent Networks that help address this issue as well.
Founders need training.
The need to develop relevant skills was the third thing that we heard again and again. Founders want training: whether it’s helping them pitch VCs, negotiate, scale their team, handle their finances or be a better CEO. “I know I need help finding my voice in a male dominated space,” one attendee said. During a Q&A at the end of the panel, we also heard from women who needed help learning how to network productively. “How do you reach out to someone without an introduction?” one woman asked. Panelist and Partner at Female Founders Fund Sutian Dong’s advice: Keep emailing. No response is a good response.
Founders need structure.
Finally, a number of women spoke about the importance of spaces (both digital and real-world) that made it easy for founders and entrepreneurs to come together for workshops and structured group sessions. A number of resources came up here: from Parity Partners’ Parity Pods to Pomegranate’s “breakfast salons.” Panelist and ADAY Founder Meg He said that she and her former classmates from business school have monthly workshops using Google Hangouts, while panelist and iFundWomen founder Karen Cahn talked about offering Slack to their crowdfunders for this same purpose.
“We all have a commitment in this ecosystem to support each other, and help each other grow.” — Meg He
If you were in the audience, we hope that our panel left you with some actionable takeaways — and inspired you to keep building your business. Make sure to follow us at @rgaventures for news about upcoming events and panels like this one.