Two flourishing, female, tech founders share their entrepreneurial experiences of operating in the UK with Gauri Kangai
Whether you’re in Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires or London, it’s no secret that there’s a fundamental issue with gender parity in the world of technology start-ups . So how can female founders currently working through the world of entrepreneurialism – or prospective founders aspiring for such pursuits in future – overcome this and find the confidence to succeed?
Jenna Brown, co-founder and CEO of Shipamax, and a latest Forbes 30Under30 recipient in 2018 European Technology, started up business in 2016. Having recognised an opportunity to solve a problem in the shipping logistics industry, she and co-founder, Fabian Blaicher, began Shipamax – a SaaS platform for global commodity movement. Brown, being the one going out to talk to investors, claims gaining funding as one of their hardest milestones. She recognised it was a sexist ordeal but found it difficult to make an issue of because the sexism was so covert.
Despite the sorry state of affairs within start-up investment, studies identify that female entrepreneurs bring in 20% more revenue despite typically having 50% less money invested. “When fundraising, you can feel insecure and demoralised all the time”, says Brown”, “but a ‘no’ is never a ‘no’ forever; take what you’ve learnt to improve for next time.”
Richa Bhalla (pictured), co-founder of Pedals, has a similar story. She came from a finance background working on a trading floor in Canary Wharf; a place that has horrors of its own. Comments such as “we have clients coming in tomorrow so you should wear a tighter dress” didn’t exactly make her feel valued in her role. Every night, for six months during her banking job, Richa relentlessly applied for opportunities which would enable her to learn about startups. She was greeted with relentless rejections, claiming she had no relevant experience, not even enough to intern. Eventually, a founder in Silicon Valley offered her to join his venture for three months just as he was about to embark on the world-famous accelerator, Y Combinator. “It wasn’t glamourous, but I learnt a huge amount”, she says.
Bhalla discovered virtue in the novelty of being “a girl, and British” in this part of the world. People gravitated towards her unique presence and she used this to her advantage. “I found my voice and wasn’t afraid to ask for help,” she says, which enabled her to “accumulated mentors from everywhere”. After a couple years, she returned to London, noticing more cyclists in the city. Opportunistically, she set up Petal & Cycle, and subsequently Pedals – a cycle-driven deliveries company, with co-founder, Ian Stride. Richa keeps her ask-for-help, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ mentality with her.
“Always have the confidence to make a change – especially if you’re stuck in a job and wanting to get out. Even if something isn’t your dream job – at least teach yourself something to help you step closer in your right direction. If it’s better than your current situation, do it!” she says.
Brown and Bhalla are not the only founders who have experienced difficulties and disappointed due to the lack of diversity when seeking investment partners. In response to the growing number of people who want to accelerate diversity in the tech ecosystem overall, Founders for Change was born. Launched in San Francisco, it has attracted more than 900 founders and CEOs who have each made a public commitment to support the Founders for Change initiative: I believe in a more diverse and inclusive tech industry. I am dedicated to having a diverse team and board, and when I have a choice of investment partners in the future, the diversity of their firms will be an important consideration.
If you are a venture-backed founder, you could find support here too. Visit Founders For Change for more.
Gauri Kangai is Geovation Programme manager