I don’t actually want to talk about how hard it is to be a woman in tech. I realize this is an unoriginal statement. Unfortunately, with time and experience, I’ve had to face the reality that our industry is not a meritocracy. Even though I want to believe it is.
Last summer, inspired by my career in tech and the birth of my daughter, I started a company with a mission to introduce kids to entrepreneurship, so that all kids can have a more equal chance to become tomorrow’s leaders. In the process, I learned firsthand what I had only heard about before.
I thought it was hard to be a woman in technology. It pales in comparison to what you face as a female startup founder.
And while venture-scale entrepreneurship is hard on anyone, consider this: only 2.19 percent of venture capital invested in 2016 went to female-founded companies. In other words, what is already a moonshot for men is orders of magnitude harder for women.
The good news is that there is no shortage of people trying to help. I feel tremendous gratitude to all of them: mentors, investors, bankers, executives, connectors, lawyers, advisors, recruiters, event organizers, journalists, non-profits, activists, and more. I thank you all sincerely. Please, don’t stop doing what you’re doing.
But it’s hard for me to sit on the sidelines for long on an issue that affects me so personally. Like any entrepreneur, I would rather fix a problem than wallow in it. So I gave it some thought and decided to try something simple, a minimum viable idea: What if founders intentionally helped one another? What if we built an alliance that enabled our efforts to scale?
I decided to lead by example, going out of my way to help every female founder by connecting with them, amplifying their message, and referring them to people who can really move the needle for their startup. Every time I did so, I asked them to pay it forward to other female founders.
I realize these actions — connect, amplify, refer — could very well be the start of a future awesome acronym. But CAR? It’s missing something. I have some ideas on what goes next. You can add yours in the comments.
I also realize most people already do much of what I described. It’s part of what you do as a startup advisor (in return for equity and sometimes cash), and many people do it for their friends for free. But if we always charge, and only help the female founders in our immediate circle, our efforts just won’t scale. And without scale, we will never put a dent in the 2.19 percent.
So, I started a private Facebook group and added all my female startup founder friends in and around Seattle. Then they added their friends, and they added their friends, and then there weren’t many more women left to be added, because there are just not that many of us around here to begin with (see 2.19 percent). It didn’t take long for group members to take the initiative and organize ways to help each other. All of the sudden, founders who had never met in person were having a direct and positive impact on each other within days of meeting online.
We now call ourselves the Seattle Female Founders Alliance (I like to call us the 2.19 percent Alliance). As of today, we are 60 (and counting) startup founders, startup CEOs, and founders who have had an exit. The group includes every female startup founder or CEO to win a GeekWire Award and nearly every female founder or CEO to raise a major round locally in the last three years, as well as up and comers that most of you haven’t heard of… yet.
Wanna join? It’s super easy! All you have to do is identify as a woman and start a venture-scale company or social enterprise, and work on it full time (or have a successful exit by the time you join). It must be legally incorporated, have an online presence, or other solid evidence that you really took the leap. If you check all those boxes, fill in this form and we’ll be in touch. If you’re not a female founder, but you support our mission, we want to hear from you too.
Once you join, you will meet some of the most amazing women I have ever come across. You will most likely experience their active support straight away. You will get a chance to meet some in person at our private meetups. And you will benefit from the events we are collectively organizing — like our inaugural Founders Showcase in May, a private event for Seattle’s investing community to meet Seattle’s Female Founders.
But this isn’t just a networking group. Joining comes at a price: a price you have to pay forward.
You’ll have to connect with other founders, learn about their company and ask how you can help.
You’ll have to amplify all the other founders’ voices and messages. Sometimes you’ll have to share the spotlight.
You’ll have to refer other worthy founders to needle-movers, like investors, media, customers, conference organizers, and potential employees. Imagine if you walked out of every investor meeting having name-dropped three other alliance members. Now imagine we all did the same, every founder, at every meeting, with every investor.
Individually we are drops of water. Together, we’re a thunderstorm.
Seattle female founders and CEOs, and female founders of the world: We need each other. Let’s help each other succeed. Join us and pledge to connect, amplify, refer, and the other thing(s) that are missing from the future awesome acronym. Let’s break the 2.19 percent, and not just by a little.
And when we do, let our startup stories and battle scars have no more to do with our gender, and everything to do with our relentless quest for customer love, ROI, employee happiness, and positive societal impact.