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By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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Venture capital for today's women entrepreneurs

Uploaded: Aug 12, 2014
Seven years ago, on the day I left Virginia, I had to run a last-minute errand at Walmart - where I was honked at and ridiculed one last time, thanks to my Hillary Clinton for President 2008 bumper sticker. I knew it was time to go. My homeland was no longer my homeland. Good riddance, state of very little progress and backwards ideals! I was moving to the land of equal opportunity. In California I had interviewed with a number of high-ranking women, and I was clutching an offer letter signed by Sheryl Sandberg. At last I was escaping the good ole boys network that had stifled me since middle school.

Gradually I came to realize that Silicon Valley, was, well, not that different from Virginia after all. Virginia was undoubtedly more conservative, but somehow Virginia had an excuse - it was Virginia, after all, a state founded by stodgy old men in powdered wigs. I expected better of California.

Take the venture-capital industry. I've read plenty of accounts of sexism and sexual harassment in the venture capital world. Like many, I want to believe they are one-offs - that for the most part VCs are unbiased investors thoughtfully nurturing the management teams and businesses they believe in. But last week I was discouraged to read yet another account of a female CEO struggling to raise venture funding in the valley. This narrative was published in Forbes anonymously. At what point does an anomaly become a trend?

As a marketer, I see an opportunity here. Women entrepreneurs are tired of dealing with male venture capitalists whose manners remain stuck in the 1950's. It seems to me that any any VC firm hoping to capitalize on the next-generation ideas and management talent possessed by female entrepreneurs should simply publish and enforce a Code of Ethics. That way women would be assured of harassment-free negotiations and VC firms would have their pick of the most disruptive advancements originating from female founders.

As the writer of the Forbes article attests, there are already female-focused venture firms. She says, "If I chose to solely approach women investors about my business, I would be dramatically reducing our funding options." Would she? Really? Because even that perspective seems dated. We have self-made women billionaires now! Maybe what we need is way more female-focused VCs - enough to put pressure on the traditional, male-focused firms. In fact, if every self-made female millionaire I know started her own fund, we'd really be getting somewhere.

Female entrepreneurs: are you looking for your next start-up idea? Have I got a market for you! And if you do start a venture fund for women, I want in.

Comments

Posted by Maria, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:11 am


As a female entrepreneur, the same things that the woman in the Forbes experienced, I have experienced in Silicon Valley by male venture capitalists e.g. real come-ons and real chauvinism. However, I refuse to be victimized by it. If you can't deal with this, you wont be able to deal with the fact that the more successful you are the more attractive you become. Fending off horny empowered men will be the easiest task you will do in the many misadventures of the entrepreneurship game.

As long as men control the venture capital sector, they will name the rules of the game. The only solution here is for women to enter the game in a real way, and to change the rules along the way. I personally believe that time will come, but meanwhile I refuse to be a victim.


Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:13 am

There is a lot of sexism in the industries all around.

It is time, we recognize, identify, nurture 'women' leaders in the VC space.

I find that women in Finance industry at work place are lot more analytical, disciplined and easy to work with than some of my male CFOs, etc.,

Women contribution need to be recognized and the glass ceiling needs to be broken.

Roxxane Austin is one bright lady that ran DIRECTV business in 2000's and we need more of her caliber and we need to recognize that caliber talent.


Respectfully


Posted by A woman CEO in MV, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

This reminds me of an experince I had years ago. I pitched a product idea to a well-known publisher and was turned down for funding, even though I had a decent track record for making things that sell. I ended up funding the product myself, and upon release, it became very profitable. At an industry event, the CEO of the publishing company asked me why I hadn't requested funding help. I didn't have the heart to tell him that one of his underlings had turned down my company.


Posted by reader, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 9:33 am

@A woman CEO in MV: You really should tell him. He needs to hear how his underlings work. If I was you, I would send him a note, or at least a copy of this article with the comments to him and his colleagues.


Posted by engr mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 5:44 pm

HI Jessica,
I'm a woman who has had offers of funding without the ability to move on them for lack of the right business partnerships/resources.

I think about where in life my ideas have taken flight, and it's been within my extended networks of one kind or another. In virtually any endeavor in life, it's really hard to "cold call" anyone in power with an innovation and expect to make inroads. I sometimes think the greatest value of a college education is just the personal linkages one makes to various communities which create opportunities. Like most people, I have many networks, including personal relationships that lead to confidence in my ideas to offers of funding, but unfortunately (being more steeped in tech circles) no business networks where I can find partners with complementary skills. It really feels like the latter is a greater challenge than finding the former, if one has no connections whatsoever, but perhaps I'm a little biased there because of my experience.

The negative element you bring up wouldn't be a concern in a world of VC diversity, then it would be possible to simply ignore it. But the worlds of certain kinds of business, or VC funding, are never likely to be as egalitarian or accessible as other personal networks.


Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Readers,

I love the discussion on this topic. Thank you for commenting! I'd like to believe that the hour has arrived when we can turn around this sector with an infusion of feminists (men and women alike). I don't want women entrepreneurs to be resigned to "the way things are." I suspect that one of the reasons that women feel powerless and victimized by these situations is that playing by the rules would mean compromising their values and integrity. Not something anyone should have to do in order to bring a promising business venture to life!


Posted by engr mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 14, 2014 at 11:46 pm

In Switzerland the kids learn the chocolate business in school. Why don't we teach our children the history and practice of manufacturing and entrepreneurship in this country?


Posted by going to SLO, a resident of another community,
on Aug 15, 2014 at 6:25 am

@engr mom: We learned all about mfg, its historical roots, where the future may be and why in my high school, plus we had classes where we tried to start our own business from scratch.
The things you speak of are being taught in schools, maybe just not in PA district schools(?)


Posted by Ironic, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks,
on Aug 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

There was a lot of publicity recently about the first all-woman VC fund. Their first investment was in a babysitting startup. We've come a long way, baby.

Interesting that the anon author is so dropdead gorgeous that she had to work to try to downplay her looks. I would love to read a similar article written by a less attractive woman. If such a woman exists, since an ugly aspiring entrepreneur might not even be able to book a meeting with funders who prefer blondes and babes.


Posted by AHM, a resident of Professorville,
on Aug 16, 2014 at 3:18 am

@Ironic - where in the article did she say she was especially attractive? I did not read the article as saying "woe is me, I look like a model, I get hit on all the time" but rather "I'm a woman & when I dress in a stereotypically feminine way [skirts, heels, hair down] people see me as a sex object." I thought the author was pretty clear that many, if not most, women founders she knows have experienced this and certainly it can't be the case that all women founders are significantly better-looking than the average woman.


Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 17, 2014 at 7:38 am

I studied under Peter Drucker @ Claremont Graduate School.

He said that the US schools lack apprentice programs while the student are in High School; where that was not the case in Germany.

Our students both female and male have a lot of energy. Engaging them early while their genes are flowing with bright ideas would be a step up. We do have 16 year olds in grocery stores but not elsewhere.

I hope you agree our young are watching more TV than they need.

Respectfully


Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2014 at 4:37 pm

This might be a bit of a red herring (the figure of speech not tech trade pub) but are we supposed to not know Jessica T's actual name or full name? That she works for Google is practically a dare to search for an actual first and last name that fits her profile.

I would think the column is stronger with an actual or complete identity?

What does it say that she does not use her full name?

(This is in the context of a lot of people commenting recently that Palo Alto Weekly comments board basically breeds trolls. And there is a recent story in NY Times based on a study of "trolls'. I would say 80 percent of the comments on PAW are unsigned, or pseudonyms or not complete i.d's)

What do you think of recent media crush on Elizabeth Holmes? How much of the $9 B valuation of her company is due to her personal appearance? That is reverse sexism. Or am I a sexist commentator to even ask?

Mazel tov to the new T family. (sounds like a DNA term... AGCT and all that)


Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm

further, I think classism or income inequality is more significant than gender or ethnicity....Capital begets capital...


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