Weekly Obsession: Female Founders

Weekly Obsession: Female Founders
Today on International Women's Day, we are celebrating female founders, for their spirit, perseverance, and fortitude.  Being a company founder is not an easy undertaking, made more challenging by one's gender when it comes to getting funds to support business growth.  There are so many female founders worthy of mention for a whole host of reasons, but Whitney Herd’s story is inspirational because she battled sexism in ways many of us could not imagine.

There are so many female founders worthy of mention for a whole host of reasons, but Whitney Herd’s story is inspirational because she battled sexism in ways many of us could not imagine.  In the summer of 2014, Whitney Wolfe Herd found herself in a “perpetual state of sheer and utter anxiety. I did not want to leave my house.” The 29-year old entrepreneur had just left Tindr, where she was a co-founder and the VP of marketing until she sued the company for sexual harassment. Overnight, she became a target of misogyny she never knew existed. “Hate was just coming at me at all times,” she says. “I always knew toxic masculinity was an issue, but I’d never seen it at such scale.”

Some might have never recovered from this experience, but not Whitney, she did the exact opposite by creating a company, Bumble, that would empower women to be in control of dating. Wolfe Herd was told that the idea was a nonstarter; Bumble is now the fastest-growing dating app in the U.S., valued at over $1 billion, with growth that may outpace Tindr. The success is validating, but so is upending assumptions about how men and women want to relate. Says Wolfe Herd, “I was right.” Wolfe Herd is not only vindicated, but she is now a female tech billionaire founder, something that is quite rare. 

While other female founders do not have extreme of Whitney's experience, they do have similar ones.  Sexual harassment, which has been reported by some founders at the hands of a few high-profile Venture Capitalists. Many times feeling pressure to succumb to their advance to get funding. Especially when going out to raise capital, where their ideas may be dismissed because they are pitching to men, who don’t understand female consumers.  

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, tells a funny story about how she presented her idea to these patent lawyers, trying to explain to the men how she was going to change the world, and make women's butts better, and that this is going to be an idea that everyone would love. One attorney kept looking around the room, and she later found out why. He admitted to her that he thought that her idea was so bad that she’d been sent by Candid Camera. She too is a billionaire founder.

These stories can serve as an inspiration to the cadre of female founders out there that are struggling to get funding or the support required to take their businesses forward, especially in such challenging times as during the pandemic.  Turns out that while European VC investment rose in 2020 despite Coronavirus and Brexit, there was a 27% decrease in funding to female founders.  Arguably then, this year's #InternationalWomensDay event is more important than ever. Combine this with the unpaid labor, burden of childcare, and health risk that many women face, 2020 was the year feminism took a digression. The good news is there are many Female Founders communities that can help provide support and introduction to funding sources. Here are a few resources to get you started. 

Female Founder Organisations 

Female Founders Alliance 

Female Founders

Female Founders Forum

Female Founder Initiative

Accelerators for Female Founders:

Google Female Founders Accelerator

Female Founder Accelerators UK and EU

Hatch Founders – Launchpad, Accelerator and Incubator