If you've been following Kiki's Fiasco, and even if you haven't, we all love a good train wreck story, but you could be forgiven for thinking you've accidentally watched the next episode. silicon valley.
A boy in his 20s starts a company. A boy in his 20s is given millions of dollars. Business models don't work for men in their 20s. A 20-something boy meets his first woman and pivots to *drum roll* a “girls-only club for New York girls.”
There are understandable concerns about how satirical this sounds.
While women have (understandably) ridiculed the news online, Blackbird, the venture capital firm behind the company, has remained particularly silent. We all waited with bated breath to see what they would say. When it finally arrived, all we received was an apology for the way the pivot was announced (annoying, but not the real issue), followed by a note about how good a job they actually did. It was a paragraph of defense about what we do and why we can't do it. Are we all just grateful for it?
“Since Blackbird began rolling out its 2022 core fund, we have invested in 22 companies, 23% of which have at least one female founder.”
Let's set aside the fact that they funded 11 male-led companies in a row and instead calculate that 23% of the 22 companies are 5 companies. At least she has five companies with one female founder. Out of these five companies, how many have only female founders? three. How many of the products offered by these ventures are aimed primarily at women? None.
Because data shows that even if an all-female leadership team pitches a product aimed at women, it won't get funded. That is the real canary in the proverbial coal mine.
Half the population is too niche
Blackbird and other venture capital firms scream that having the same number of women in high-level roles creates equality, but at the end of the day, what does having the same number of women in a given role mean? is something that every woman who has worked in any organization knows. Nothing if a company culture still has a single value definition.
Every woman I know who has pitched a product aimed primarily at women has heard from most, if not all, VCs that the product is “too niche.” As if the total addressable market of 3.95 billion people is… small?
This is why female founders are furious about this story. It's not like a group of guys in their 20s would have the courage to start a “women-only club.'' That means if an all-female team walked into this room with the same idea, the very people who funded Kiki would offer those women guidance in return for money. .
Blackbird went on to say:
“Our virtual mentoring program, Giants, mentors more than 400 founders each year, 55% of whom are women. 50% of the startups in Foundry, our deep tech-focused incubator program, include: We have founders who are female or non-binary. Our sister company Startmate runs the Women's Fellowship, which supports career transitions into startups, and in the three-and-a-half years of the program we have 376 women. had a direct result of getting a job at a startup or venture capital firm or founding a company.”
While these types of programs are an easy lever for organizations and they call it a “conduit,” the reality is that over the past five years, VC funding for women-led companies around the world has receded. Either it's stagnant or it's completely stagnant.
Percentage of VC funding going to women worldwide:
- 2019: 2.8%
- 2020: 2.3%
- 2021: 2.4%
- 2022: 1.9%
- 2023: 2.8%
5 years net profit: 0.0%
These programs are not routes. It's a dead end.
Of course, there is a simple answer to this question. If you want more women to fund, fund them. Sounds very simple. And we know that won't happen. This problem is endemic. In general, women are given clichés rather than status. Mentoring instead of money.
Men are allowed to fail, but women are not allowed to fail.
It ties into the widespread and perverted notion that the problem is simply that women lack self-confidence. This has become a clever way of constructing a narrative that the problem is not a lack of access to resources, but a lack of women's willingness to ask questions. This narrative causes organizations to fail to take any meaningful action and, instead of actually promoting or funding women, instead of paying for (often male) motivational speakers to figure out how to do better. You can have them lecture you on how to do it well.
In rooms full of female founders, I hear this voice consistently. Women are trying to start their own businesses. They are trying to figure out how to grow without a system. As someone who has done just that, I support it, but I also understand the limitations that come with bootstrapping. Business is a cash-guzzling machine. Restricting cash flow to cover cash flow stunts growth.
With the proposed changes to who qualifies as a sophisticated investor (the new rules would exclude the vast majority of women who currently qualify), women would now (depending on women), we will be headed for a catastrophic disaster. . It’s not just women leading startups. But also for the business ecosystem and, by extension, society as a whole.
A few years ago, I spoke to someone at the top of an Australian venture capital firm who implied that the reason women weren't getting funding was because they weren't applying.
While it’s impossible to know exact numbers for the industry as a whole, estimates suggest that around 34% of pitches have female-led teams. When she adjusts her 2.8% funding ratio to account for the split in applications, a woman's chances of getting funding are literally halved, even though she has a 1:1 ratio. It took me about 5 minutes to work out these numbers using Google and a calculator. Of course the industry recognizes them. Again, it's just more convenient to blame everything on women's lack of confidence than to actually make any changes.
Venture capitalists may gloat about how many women their companies employ, but the truth is in the numbers, and the numbers don't lie. Either the needle doesn't move, or if it does, it moves backwards.
The choice I made, as many other female founders are making, is to leave a system that is hostile to me. I have a rule in life that I only stay in places where my presence is celebrated rather than acknowledged. And of course you won't be fired.
Bootstrapping is part of that, as is women coming together to support each other, whether financially or through partnerships. For example, I refuse to participate in a system that requires a man to ask for her 2.8% chance to grow her business. Because fundraising shouldn't come at the expense of your self-respect.
This certainly doesn't apply to men.
Leela Cosgrove is the founder and CEO of the training and education company Strategic Anarchy and the sales technology company Iron Cage.