How I raised over half a million dollars for Chewse, a business bringing tens of thousands of meals to hungry offices.
By Tracy Lawrence (Co-Founder & CEO, Chewse)
An outsider would look at the Silicon Valley ecosystem and think: “How innovative! With young kids being funded for innovative ideas out of college dorms, women must be welcomed with open arms.”
I argue that this simply isn’t the case. Funding innovative ideas does not translate to innovative ways of thinking about funding. But before you get up in arms about sexism, note that things aren’t quite what they seem.
Pattern-Matching: You’re Not A Piece In The Existing Puzzle Of Success
There’s a concept in the startup world called “pattern-matching.” It’s a reference to a computer science concept of finding exact patterns in a sequence. In the investment community, the term refers to the act of finding patterns in the traits of startups that resemble the traits of successful former investments (you started your website in a dorm room? Sounds like you could be the next Zuck…)
If you don’t fit the mold, then you are outside of it. And in the perception of investors, this can be incredibly powerful or downright damning. If an investor was screwed by co-founders who are in a relationship (often referred to as “couplepreneurs”), that investor is typically less likely to invest in founders of that standing in the future. Too bad if the situation wasn’t directly related to their relationship, but the next couple team that investor meets fit a pattern associated with failure.
I don’t want to spend the time exploring the morals of pattern-matching. VentureBeat writes about it. Hell, even CNN jumped on it. I think it’s human nature – neither good, bad, nor imminently looking to be disrupted.
Women Founders Are A Somewhat New Phenomenom
Shaherose Charania, CEO and co-founder of Women 2.0, estimates women make up less than 5% of all founders. The ecosystem lacks women making the rounds in investment circles. This creates a problem of pattern-matching.
If investors have fewer opportunities to invest in women, they can’t. Which means that the majority of their successes (and failures) are with male founders. Which means women are outside the perceived pattern of success, and less likely to have a default case rooting for them.
Bottom-line: Investors are not sexist (at least, not the ones I’ve had the opportunity to pitch). Women are outside their typical “win case.”
What’s A Girl To Do?
The beauty of being an outlier is that startup wins are a game of outliers – or as Paul Graham puts it, black swans that he’s eager to invest in. Most investors are not in the game to earn small returns. They look to back founders that are visionaries who bat to the fences, who take huge chunks of customer spend and adapt product to win it, and who are looking to defy the odds.
Women, we are the outliers in this ecosystem. Embrace that as the first milestone to success, and then get back to being your innovative, intelligent, scrappy, bold selves (pick any or all of the descriptors). If you’re a true entrepreneur, you won’t waste time feeling remorse for the gender that the lottery of birth threw you. You’re optimistic, thick-skinned, and ready for more!
Selling Yourself In Fundraising
At the end of the day, an investor is going to relate strongly with the way you think about your business, the environment you grew up in, and your entrepreneurial spirit. These are all gender-agnostic in my experience.
So don’t spend the time thinking how to hide your gender – it ain’t going to happen. I’d argue not to spend the time pumping up your gender – unless that’s your thing (and many of my guy friends have suggested I do that). And certainly don’t focus on hating on the opposite gender (love ‘em or hate ‘em…_)
I’m a big fan of embracing your authentic self. Now start pitching, and bring back the bacon.
Photo credit: Aurora Chiste
About the guest blogger: Tracy Lawrence is co-founder and CEO of Chewse, helping offices find the most delicious catered meals. After eating her way through USC and being awarded Entrepreneur of the Year, she took her startup to San Francisco and the 500 Startups incubator. When not feverishly working, she indulges an unhealthy love of farmers markets, pita, blogging, hummus and running. She loves mentoring women entrepreneurs from Los Angeles and/or in food tech! Follow her on Twitter at @chewishgirl.