Laura Behrens Wu, Chief Executive Officer at Shippo, a shipping and data company, voiced a sobering concern: Are female venture capitalists harder on female founders than their male counterparts?
In a Bloomberg article in May, Behrens, who founded her company roughly three years ago, says that female venture capitalists are harder on female founders, claiming, “They do harder due diligence, making sure they're not going to embarrass themselves."
Behrens added: “Maybe they have a chip on their shoulders?" She clearly empathizes with women venture capitalists, understanding firsthand what it's like to feel like they must constantly prove themselves.
The bulk of her investors were male, supplying $7 million from Jeff Clavier at SoftTech VC and Albert Wenger from Union Square Ventures. She's also quick to note that while she has some money from female VCs, they're from the earlier seed stage, when investors typically offer smaller dollar amounts, with minimal commitment.
A new Bloomberg analysis shows that this isn't quite accurate, at least from the top 17 venture firms. Those with senior women partners backed companies founded or co-founded by women at roughly the same rate as firms with no senior female partners.
The group of 17 top-ranked venture firms is based on $1 billion-plus public offerings or acquisitions over the last five years for U.S.-based portfolio companies invested in at early stages, according to data provided by CB Insights.
The traditional school of thought had been that the lack of funding for women at Silicon Valley was largely due to a lack of female VCs, which would be concerning because of a lack of equality. This would mean a lack of diversity, which could lead to companies losing out on attracting the best entrepreneurs and businesses.
Some of the most female-founder-friendly firms have no senior female partners, and in some cases, no female partners at all. When adjusted to compare the numbers of women co-founders to the number of senior partners at any given firm, Felicis, Lowercase, Index Ventures and First Round Capital had the highest proportion of support for women founders. None of these have senior women investing partners, although Felicis Ventures employed one – Renata Quintini, until she departed for Lux Capital earlier this year.
It should be noted, however, that adding female partners to venture firms has not resulted in an increase in funding for female-founded startups, according to a report published this week (June 1, 2017). The top 10 private companies founded or co-founded by women have not raised any money from a female VC in its Series A or Series B rounds. The analysis found that the top firms with all-male senior investing partners backed proportionately more women-founded startups.
The firms with the most investments in companies with female founders were New Enterprise Associates, Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z), and Sequoia Capital. All but 16Z have at least one senior female-investing partner.
Firms with no senior female-investing partners who back proportionately more female founders were: Felicis Ventures, Lowercase Capital, Index Ventures and First Round Capital. Again, Felicis had a female investor on its team until earlier this year.
Although many venture firms are working to increase diversity, many have said that their efforts are not necessarily about increasing diversity of the founders. They do acknowledge that ultimately, more diversity among decision-makers brings better results.
Jess Lee, the former CEO and co-founder of the online fashion startup Polyvore, said that her gender gives her a competitive advantage. “I have an advantage in understanding the female consumer," Lee claims. She joined Sequoia Capital as the first U.S.-based female investment partner in the firm's 44-year history.
Sequoia had been trying to convince Lee to join since 2012, before she sold her Mountain View-based shopping site for fashion and home decor to Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) for $230 million in 2015.
Sequoia has been one of the most successful venture firms in the world, backing a number of tech mainstays such as Apple, Google, Oracle, YouTube, PayPal and Yahoo in their early days. More recent hits include WhatsApp and Stripe.
Lee, 34, is its 11th partner and one of the youngest with the firm. Although Sequoia has had five female investors with its funds in India and China, Lee is the first U.S.-based female investor. A lack of diversity has been a growing concern in the VC industry, reaching its apex with Ellen Pao's unsuccessful bias suit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2015.
PitchBook Data estimates that just six percent of the senior investors at VC firms were women in 2016, up incrementally from the five percent in 2010.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!