Posted on April 07 2017
Hi - Sophia here. #tgif, am I right?
We're starting a new thing here at Trusst called #founderfridays, where we share our perspective on real-life issues around both building a company and building an innovative product. In light of Inclusive Innovation Week in Pittsburgh, I thought it would be great to kick off our series by talking a little bit about my experience as a female CEO raising money and building a company.
I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to sit on a panel this Wednesday hosted by Next Act Fund, a new Angel group in Pittsburgh. Next Act Fund (NAF) is a startup itself - recently formed and currently raising money to create a strong group of women who mentor, engage, and fund women-led companies in the Pittsburgh region. (Quick pitch - if anyone is interested in becoming involved - you should definitely reach out to them. They're an awesome group). NAF asked four of us (three female CEO's currently raising capital and one man who used to raise money but now invests) to discuss our experiences and lessons learned raising funds to support our companies.
There is not a correlation between raising more funds and the end success of your company. More money can enable a company to scale more quickly, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
Ok- so there are a whole bunch of reasons why it can be harder for women to raise capital. As a female founder creating a product for a specific type of woman, I can attest that it can be challenging to engage with some (or most, if I’m being honest) of the male investors out there. This is also my first company - and entry into the startup world/world of raising money and pitching to investors - which can feel very daunting at the beginning! More than a few times I have presented to a room that is 95% men who either (a) give me a blank stare (b) say they'll need to ask their wife (c) ask a lot of questions about the practicality of the product instead of the business itself. Now, education is always an important part of the journey as a new company, but when I explain Trusst to a woman - she just gets it – so we spend less time talking about the validity of the product and more time focused on what we’re going to achieve with the funds. Friends who are female CEO's building products or software in areas that are perceived as part of a “woman’s lifestyle” similar experiences. I think it important to continue this education and bridge the gap between male investors and female-focused companies. Fostering empathy for each other's perspectives can only lead to positive steps forward. In fact - our most engaged investor happens to be a man, and he totally gets it.
My leave behind for the weekend ahead are the best takeaways from our panel Wednesday:
#1 - Find the right investors for your business. Yes, it seems obvious once written out, but too many times we spread ourselves thin trying to talk to anyone and everyone. Spend your time wisely and focus on the angels/groups who have a background in your industry, and can understand the product and your business.
#2 – In the same vein - know your audience. Figure out the right way to convey your business and product to your targeted investor. I started using analogies to help explain the difference between an underwire and our BAST system - the right connection helped the concept click.
#3 - Be confident, be bold, and ask for the right amount of money. Too little will keep you in a constant fundraising cycle.
#4 - Yes, there still in an unconscious bias in many situations and it's hard for a woman to raise money in a male-dominated world. But it's possible, and it's getting a lot better! Keep your chin up and keep pushing every day. Believe in yourself and your product - after all, it's all about your customer.
Someone last night asked me what keeps me going and keeps me motivated to keep growing Trusst. I told her that it's 100% the women who discover our technology, try it on for the first time at our storefront, and leave wearing their new bra, throwing their old bras in a bag. It's your inspiring stories and encouraging feedback about how much our tech has changed your comfort levels and sometimes even whole lifestyles. So, thanks to all of you for continuing to motivate me to push and fight for our mission and for women everywhere to have the confidence to build our dreams. Happy Friday.