Yesterday, Jonothan Sposato published an article that said he will only invest in startups with at least one woman on their team. Adam Quinton has said he will only invest in teams with women too. His rationale is women led companies do better and in this article he lays out stats behind it.
We chatted a little on Twitter yesterday about it. Nicole Yeary of Ms Tech brought it up. I have invested in women led companies with mixed results. Two companies I have invested in, Nextspace and Supply Vision, originally had male CEO’s and now have female CEO’s. My track record of investing in women led companies should not be a proxy for any and all women led companies.
My answer is I invest in great people with great ideas that I think can execute. Period. I don’t care if they are women or men. Brilliant is a woman led company. Sue Khim has been an incredible entrepreneur. At the time of investment, we were really putting our money into Sue, not the initial idea.
If I only invest in companies that have certain gender, ethnic or sexual orientation characteristics, aren’t I being discriminatory against everyone else? At the same time, I am investing in order to make money. But narrowing the funnel of companies I invest in because of gender, ethnic or sexual orientation, I am limiting the chances of my success.
To me, startups are about merit 100%. The best people that can execute on good ideas win. I want to back them.
There has been a lot of consternation over these sorts of issues in the tech world. I agree, it can be tougher for women, for minorities and perhaps for gays but I am not sold on the last one. There are lots of reasons that it’s tougher. Susan Mravca wrote a post that I agree with and published here. She has a great company, JuvodHR that you should try using. It’s her third, and she has had trouble getting backing.
The outrage may have all started in 2013 when Elissa Shevinsky wrote an article titled, “That’s It, I am Finished Defending Sexism in Tech”. She has recanted on her article a little bit. Here is what she said,
“I’m glad to come out in ‘Lean Out’ and say that my original essay — the one that has been the foundation for people assuming that I am [a social justice warrior] — was deeply flawed,” Shevinsky told the Washington Examiner. “I do see sexism and gender issues, a culture war, in Silicon Valley, but the knee-jerk responses (recruit more women! attack the men!) are not the answer.”
She also thinks there are more positive ways to deal with the issue. I agree.
However, I know of women that have been told that they will get backing if they had sex with the decision maker. That’s bullshit and that has to stop.
One way she says is to build great companies where you don’t rely on traditional gatekeepers to say “yes”. That’s why Kickstarter, Indeagogo, AngelList and other capital raising platforms are great.
Educating women on opportunities in the entrepreneurial space is another option. Even if they aren’t technical, there is plenty of upside for women when it comes to startups. Most startups fail because they can’t sell product. Women have proven time and time again that they are excellent sales people for any product. A company I have backed, Dabble, has a CMO that is a top notch person. Devin also happens to be female. Another company I backed, KapowEvents, has women at high ranking positions on the marketing/sales team.
I think it’s important to tell all people interested in entrepreneurship that they don’t have to be initial founders, they can be joiners. Amanda Lannert is CEO of Jellyvision. She was a joiner. I have met her one time and you could tell she would be awesome to work for. Diana Rothchild has taken the reigns at Nextspace and turned the company around. Of course, Cheryl Sandburg is the COO of Facebook ($FB). She wasn’t a founder but would Facebook be the company it is without her? There is plenty of room to excel and grow in the startup world.
It’s also important to get more women involved in core technical subjects like engineering. It’s starting to happen. When I was at the University of Illinois a month ago talking to an engineering class, there were more women in the class than the previous year. Post class, women met with me to talk about their ideas.
I don’t think that discriminating in the ways that Mr. Sposato and Mr. Quinton advocate for is the way to go. Women should be treated as equals and respected. As my friend Susan says, as men we need to learn and point it out when things happen.
The startup world needs active women in it. We shouldn’t discriminate to include them, but it ought to be inviting so they will come.