With all the news about harassment faced in Silicon Valley by women, I brought up this topic with my board members today. I took the opportunity to thank them for being normal and good people.
I raised $8 million in 2013 in my Series A round. I, a first generation Indian immigrant, woman, first-time entrepreneur, the CEO out of a husband-wife team, raising money for a supply chain startup was also in my third trimester with my little baby girl due in three months. (Entrepreneurs who read this sentence will understand how many inherent Silicon Valley biases I would need to overcome).
My investors gave me a fair term sheet, no games, no problems, no drama. I closed the round three weeks after my daughter arrived. I raised more money than I had hoped. I always thought it was my accomplishment and Resilinc’s sheer awesomeness – “Of course we got funded” I thought, “We had reference-able customers, a huge market and a proven business monetization strategy”. But after reading about the massive anomaly in funding that went to female vs male founders ($1.5 billion vs $60+ billion), I realized that the deck was actually hugely stacked against me and that I couldn’t have done it without the good, normal people who believed in me. I needed to say something to these people who’d made a difference in my story and who gave Resilinc a fair chance.
No one ever sets out in the morning saying, “I’ll be a sexist pig today and set a woman or two down, and show them their place”. So the discrimination is so deep in the psyche that change is difficult, although not impossible. We have to talk about this even if it is uncomfortable. After all no one ever believes themselves to be sexist. Yet one prominent investor did say that we will fund Resilinc if anyone but you is the CEO (days after I shared that I was having a baby). He went on to send me CEO profiles of people (all men BTW) without once asking ME what I thought should be the characteristics of the person to lead the company that was founded from our sweat and blood and tears and sacrifice, not to mention our hard earned cash.
So, thanks Greg Silich (Angel Investor), Ravi Mohan (Shasta Ventures), John Dougery (Inventus Capital Partners), Ullas Naik (Streamlined Ventures) and all my seed and venture and angel and institutional investors who have believed in Resilinc and in me. You’re good people. I want everyone to know that.
Their reaction, when I thanked them, is right on the one hand – They felt this shouldn’t even be an issue, because they funded Resilinc and the team because of our capability, business value prop, market size and our expertise. Not despite, or because of anyone’s gender. However, I have experienced discrimination first hand in my career, and as a HIGHLY ambitious woman, I always felt claustrophobic about the glass ceiling above me in every place where I ever worked. And now after seeing the investment statistics, it is clear to me that not everyone is aware of their inherent biases, and therefore, we do need to talk about it.
I feel that the way to drive change is to open the conversation, and to acknowledge the goodness in the people who are being fair and normal, just as we expose the sexist, abusive (and lecherous) pigs that exist among us.
I did that today, and we talked for some time about the challenges women face, and the discrimination I see or experience around me. They talked about some policy proposals that were being floated in the VC community to change things, and I shared my perspectives on how some of those were bandaids at best, and how others could have the unanticipated result of hurting women more.
I am glad we did that.
PS. As for all of you readers who looked at the paragraph about the investor who didn’t want to take a risk on a CEO with all that aforementioned “baggage”, and empathized with the VC – you know who you are – you need to take a deep breath, and confront some new facts about yourself.