Female Founders Fight Back on the Unconscious Bias That Exists Among Investors

Paraphrasing a dialogue between a group of women founders in Mumbai at various stages in their business life cycle..

So recently a couple of big investors had their annual parties. Interestingly, the number of women founders at these were negligible. Power packed bashes – yes. However, diversity seems to be missing from the picture.  

If we take a look at the investments in the last year that have been made on women founders the numbers are again disappointing. The few that have been made have been amply publicized but they are highlighted in an otherwise spare canvas. To this we will hear the usual story that there aren’t that many women founders out there. As Founder of Ladies Who Lead even I disagree on this as we meet so many women founders on a day to day basis. Women founders tell me that they have to prove themselves to a larger level and struggle a lot longer to make a convincing case.

Seed funding has grown in size but is also going to male led startups. Speak to any woman founder and they say questions VCs ask are a lot more sceptical than they would otherwise ask. They expect women led start ups to go beyond the seed phase before they take them seriously and then simultaneously invest in a startup with a fifth of the revenues led by a male founder. Is seed funding even available for women founders anymore or are angels the way to go? 

VCs might say that these are not viable or scalable business ideas. To which there are more contradictory examples. One such founder who has raised a series B round today, and has a business of scale, says when she started out she was able to meet everyone at the top because of her network but absolutely no one was ready to put money on the table. Everyone told her to go from 0 – 50 in a year, or ‘you’re too small for us’. All while she saw them make investments in much smaller startups pretty much the next day. She strongly believes the unconscious bias does exist, ‘the investors understand our business and what we’re trying to achieve, they make all the right noises but somehow aren't putting their money on the table.

We don’t need cookie cutter ideas on how to run and grow the business. What we need is smart and patient capital that plugs us into the start up network so we can disrupt the model. It's important to explore your subconscious bias before going into a meeting with a woman founder - These are not  “sustainable lifestyle’ businesses, we are growing real brick and mortar companies, real platforms and real value propositions which will form the companies of the future. So rest assured our business plans are aggressive whilst maintaining a healthy sliver of reality. 

Real businesses take time to grow and as seed funding evolves its important to make sure that capital remains patient and actually goes in at the seed stage so that we can bring more start ups to scale. While VCs wait for their exits, do remember that they are few and far in between. So dont judge business models by the companies you have invested in. Look for the founders you love and help them disrupt these models! We need investors who go beyond the superficial ‘we support women founders’ and ‘come to us we will mentor you’ spiel, we need investors who put money behind us and ask 'what can you do with this'. We are tired of hearing we’re great and yes women should aim high and do more. We are running our homes, managing families and work harder than anyone else. We have come to you because we are already over achievers.  

Aabha Bakaya, Founder – Ladies Who Lead