How to get funding from deluded, self-congratulating investors

From 1997 to 2012 just 1% of VC funded companies had female founders. Three of those companies were mine. People tell me it’s much better for women now, but statistically, this is BS. I raised money for a startup recently, and here’s what I found works best for female founders:

Get a male cofounder. Women raising money without a male co-founder have no better odds than they did 30 years ago. Women pitching companies in the US is like women driving in Saudi Arabia: you need a male escort.

In 1998 I cofounded a company eventually funded by Drexel. In one of the meetings a VC asked me to leave the room so they could talk money. In 2007 I launched a company with a male cofounder fifteen years younger than I was. Most VCs assumed he was the experienced founder and I was the recent college grad. Today investors make the same types of assumptions, they are just better at masking them.

Embrace the phrase “it’s all about the people.” Early stage ideas always morph, so instead of evaluating ideas, VCs look at the founding team and go with their gut. But VCs should not trust their gut because they have little experience with successful female founders. Until VCs have a more clear picture in their head of a successful female founder female founders have to work around prejudice. This means playing to the VC need to have a male co-founder on the team.

Show reckless passion. Each time I raised money, the guy was the brains and I was the crazy creative one. I played the role of wild card, trend-spotting Svengali. I said things that were crazy and the guy I was with backed it up with data. Few men will ruin their entire life in the name of their Great Idea. Even fewer women will do that. Women have to show their recklessness in the pitch because odds are that a woman is risk averse.

Show you’re working long hours. The higher a woman’s socioeconomic status the less likely she’ll work full time. VCs don’t know this data per se, but they know intuitively that highly educated women don’t work full time. Talk about your insane working hours and your maniacal devotion to the problem your company addresses. Don’t talk about details of taking care of family. It never occurs to VCs that it’s a logistical nightmare. And don’t be fooled by the hoop-la about balanced life and family first; that’s only for men because successful men have stay-at-home wives.

Watch out for other women. Women who are investors have not been founders. Which means investors are not risk takers like founders are, and female investors are likely to assume other women are like them. Moreover, female founders don’t align with female investor goals. Investors already have money, so then what are they buying? Male investors are trying to buy fun and interestingness while female VCs are buying respect. So men love a manic pixie dream girl  founder. And women investors focus on male founders because women get more respect wielding power in a male world.

Cultivate a network. I think the VC environment today is worse for women, not better. Because when firms say they encourage women to pitch, it’s virtue signaling that just wastes our time.

In 2020 I pitched a healthcare company targeting women my age. A guy half my age pitched a very similar company targeting women my age: 45-65. One big difference was that I had traction and he didn’t. The guy got funding.

So I figured I’d partner with him. In our meeting I asked him what his plan was to get customers and he said, “We’re going to gamify the interface.”

“What? You’re going to turn the site into a video game?”

“Yeah. We think old women will like that.”

Old? Video games? I wanted to kill him. So I said, “I think you have autism.”

He said, “Yah, I was diagnosed when I was a kid. How do you know?”

I wanted to say, Because I hate you.

But there is some lever in my head that prevents me from burning every bridge I’ve ever built. Not that he is a bridge, but the man who connected me to Mr. Video Game is someone I might need. So I bonded with him over autism. I’m autistic, my kids are. Autistic people are so smart, blah blah.

And I continue to cultivate a male network just in case. In case what, I don’t know. But remember the guy who was 15 years younger than I was? I talked with him recently. He is still running the company today, and he’s married to a stay-at-home wife.











5 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    This post has had me laugh so hard I had troubles finishing it up on the train to work.
    “Old? Video games? I wanted to kill him.” This is golden.
    But so do you think there is no chance for an all-female founders startup in the nearest future? What if it focused on education?

    You are the best Penelope! Keep writing :D

  2. JJ
    JJ says:

    Little fact check comment – women do not need a male escort to drive in Iran. Plenty of other stuff is completely backwards there, but that’s not one of them. Thanks!

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Women don’t need a male chaperone to drive in Iran and afaik never did. You are confusing Iran with Saudi Arabia. Iran is quite far from gender equality but Saudi Arabia makes them look like a gender-less utopia.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I appreciate everyone’s feedback on driving in Iran. I have learned something about Iran. And thanks for reminding me that the stories I read about driving were from Saudi Arabia. So I changed the sentence to read driving in Saudi Arabia. And hopefully this will make me a more diligent fact-checker. In that vein, though, it’s so hard to fact-check oneself because we get in our heads when we know something so then we have no instinct to fact-check that fact. Not saying that’s good. Just an observation.



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