As a first time founder, the concept of fundraising for our pre-seed round was so daunting to me. How do I begin to ask people to write me $50K+ checks? And where do these people even hang out??
Fundraising is not like Shark Tank. It’s not a glamorous 5 minute pitch where you get a decision on the spot. It’s a long arduous process of relationship building, optics, and iteration. Every founder’s experience will vary depending on their existing network, nature of the business, and market they’re in, but the common thread I’ve found is that (almost) every founder hates it.
We are so lucky to have partnered with our first investor, Tom Cirone, who not only wholeheartedly believes in Pepper’s potential and mission, but who also showed the utmost respect for us as founders during the process. (Thank you Tom!)
Alas, I could not say the same for every investor we’ve engaged with.
94% of female founders say they’ve experienced bias in fundraising.
First, I will say that I believe everyone I met with had good intentions and was not malicious. But wow, that doesn’t make up for the RIDICULOUS eye-rolling moments where I could not believe the other person didn’t realize what he was saying/doing and how offensive it was.
Fundraising as a female founder is already tough (Harvard Business Review study found evidence that confirms this), but because we’re selling a female-focused product that makes most men uncomfortable, the odds are further stacked against us. (You know how I love a good challenge though)
There is a tidal wave of recent female-led companies that are making taboo conversations everyday topics. I admire the bold women before me who already started paving the way:
Miki Agrawal, Co-founder of Thinx – provocative feminine hygiene company that popularized period-proof underwear. Thinx’s subway ads were infamously denied by the MTA for being too sexually suggestive (read: they weren’t), exposing the double standards that society has for representing female bodies in the media. Thinx went to the media and was able to launch their ads.
Polly Rodriguez, the Founder & CEO of Unbound – a sexual well-being company that makes subscription boxes, toys and awesome content. She shared from her own fundraising experience “there are people who judge you or won’t take meetings with you just because they think what you’re doing is unethical or trashy.” Unbound recently raised $2.7MM.
Georgina Gooley, Co-founder of Billie, a female-first shaving brand that is tackling the ‘Pink Tax’ for women’s products that are priced more expensively than similar goods marketed to men. Their most recent campaign addresses the stigma against female body hair and has even inspired celebs like Rihanna and Halsey to proudly show off their body hair selfies.
I want to share with you a few examples from my experiences to hopefully spark dialogue on how we can change the status quo together, and to connect with other founders who have similar experiences.
Get ready for some high-key groaning and eye-rolling:
“Can’t say I know anything about bras or this space! Ha-ha-ha!”
Yes bras are for women and you are not a woman! What a brilliant observation. I don’t expect you to know this space, which is why I’m telling you all about this missed opportunity that all the other investors have overlooked. My job is to become an expert in this space and our customer. Your job is to know markets and opportunities. This is a very real market, and if talking about the pain points of small-chested women make your cheeks flush red (true story!!) and distract you from seeing the numbers, then I’ll pass.
“I want to ask my wife about it first.”
I’m not sure why you don’t believe it when we tell you that this is a pain point and we have thousands of women who agree, but you insist on asking your wife who may/may not be in the target size range or demographic to provide her single opinion on a business that she doesn’t have full context around. Your due diligence process is lacking.
What have you heard while pitching your business? How do you respond in a way that is able to change the other person’s behavior and perspective?