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How female founders led their companies to successful unicorn status or breakout IPOs

According to Pitchbook, female founders raised $40.4 billion in investments and reached $59 billion in exits in 2021. That’s the good news. The bad news: Despite the unprecedented success, female founders attracted only 2% of all U.S. venture capital investments made last year.

Although women founders are raising more, they have a long way to go to match their male counterparts. Founders who plan to go public, raise funding or achieve a successful exit would benefit from knowing how strong leaders communicate, raise visibility for themselves and their brands and engage with employees, customers, media, investors and other key stakeholders.

After launching the SutherlandGold Scorecard on the remote leadership of CEOs at startups and high-growth companies, our follow-up report uses the same Scorecard metrics to evaluate 10 female founders who led their companies to breakout IPO success or achieved unicorn status.

The Female Founders Scorecard reveals how the top female founders share common characteristics, regardless of their specific communication strategies and leadership styles, including the ability to:

  • — They have market foresight and are constantly innovating products and services to serve unmet needs.
  • — Their leadership demonstrates their innate understanding of what employees need and they take action by offering unique benefits to support well-being, work-life challenges and mental health.
  • — Female leaders aren’t afraid to champion diversity, equality and inclusion and they take action by changing industry norms, improving company policies, and fighting for new laws.
  • — Regardless of the conscious and unconscious gender bias female founders encounter, they persist, pushing through countless funding rejections and media questioning by redirecting the conversation to their company’s brand and business results.
  • — Female founders integrate personal stories into their leadership journeys, blending their professional and personal lives to build their brands across channels.

With these shared characteristics in mind, we used our CEO Scorecard methodology to analyze four dimensions of leadership including business performance, media visibility, leadership communication and social media engagement. Here are the final scores.

The companies run by the top female founders we studied flourished during the pandemic. Bumble and Canva had the best business performances, as measured by Crunchbase funding, valuation and revenue. The companies attracted more than $1 billion in funding respectively and earned higher valuations than any others we studied. Here are a few additional business milestones:

A great story is a brand’s most strategic asset. And it’s the people behind the company that makes a story inspiring and intriguing. Leaders who incorporate their personal experiences — from the lows to the highs — always connect on a deeper level with the people who matter to their business.

  • — Wojcicki knows how to attract people to her company and make them care. Her stories are often based on her core values and experiences advocating for a more transparent, personal, and consumer-centric healthcare system.
  • — Wolfe Herd was at her lowest point when she had the revelation to slay the inequality monster by engineering technology to promote equality, respect, and accountability online. Adversity inspired her to create Bumble to empower women.
  • — Perkins’ story about being rejected by over 100 investors and preserved to build Canva, one of the world’s most valuable startups at $40 billion.
  • — Marquez is a much-needed honest and authentic voice in the new world of cryptocurrency and draws literally from Argentinian roots when explaining Blockfi’s mission to make financial services “simple, transparent and trustworthy” for underserved communities.
  • — Ryder and Watson focus their messaging on how they founded their companies by identifying an unmet need based on their own experiences.
  • — FIGS co-founders aim to establish credibility and trust by sharing stories that highlight the company’s integrity.
  • — Antova tells stories that illustrate the importance of keeping industrial networks safe from cyberattacks and the impact on the economy and society.

Executives who want to be seen as leaders create original, challenging ideas to influence a narrative and lead the conversation in a new direction. Thought leadership can add gravitas to an executive’s position and credibility and help to build a company’s brand. But to be seen as thought leaders, leaders have to lead.

The top female founders we studied don’t disappoint when it comes to leading with action — especially when it comes to diversity, equality and inclusion.

Digital and Social Media: For seven of 10 top female founders, speaking at webinars and virtual events is their primary form of digital leadership. The women also share their experiences, wisdom and opinions on online forums and through speaking engagements. Some highlights:

These successful female founders are powerful storytellers who create cohesive and clear communication links between themselves and their businesses. Our study shows how tenacious female leaders get ahead by prioritizing their communication. You can download the full study here.




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Rachelle Spero

Rachelle Spero

Diagnosing Digital Leadership

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