Vivi Friedgut, CEO and founder Blackbullion , Shares her thoughts on how attitudes towards female-led startups are changing why we should be investing in female founders and their businesses.

Last year I raised a pre-seed funding round for my startup Blackbullion. I founded the fintech business – whose mission is to help get students money smart – in 2014 and, coming from a career in finance, I was confident about the world of finance. But raising in the world of startups is very different from the wealth management world I left behind. Not the money, the attitude.

According to Beauhurst, female-founded businesses in the UK secured just 13% of VC deals. The figure’s bleaker in the US: funding for female founders actually dipped to 2.2% of VC dollars in 2018.

These stats are of no surprise to me – when I was preparing to meet with investors, I was encouraged to bring my male CTO to the meetings. Not because of anything financially based or logical but simply because this is still how it is.

As an entrepreneur, I’m naturally optimistic. And despite the prevailing culture, we’re seeing more female-led companies than ever before; and they’re creating impact and success because ultimately people who feel they simply must build and grow their business, make their dent in the world, fix the problem they’ve identified are going to do all they can to succeed, even in less than favourable circumstances.

Here’s why the tide is shifting – and I’m excited to ride the wave with the community of brilliant women around me.

Female founders perform better…often because we have to

Research is starting to come through on how female-run startups outperform their male counterparts despite raising less money.  For example, First Round Capital found that its female founding team portfolio of companies performed 63% better than their all-male equivalents.  A recent study from Boston Consulting Group evaluated the startups taking part in its MassChallenge programme, finding that, for every dollar of investment raised, female-led startups generated 78 cents in revenue. By comparison, male-run startups generated only 31 cents.

Of course, this probably has a lot to do with the business model too – if women are raising less money then it is reasonable to expect they are more focussed on generating it. At Blackbullion we were revenue first, partly because raising as a woman is more difficult, but also because we believe that clients paying for your service is the ultimate way to determine whether they consider that service to be of value.

As the groundswell around female-founded businesses rises I’m sure we’ll see these statistics narrow – if only because more people are watching and naming names!

Female founders can lead by example

For too long, the narrative around startup culture has been led by the “brotopia” of Silicon Valley, rock star status founder mythologies and the always-on competitiveness of hustle, hustle, and hustle some more.

A study from Illuminate Ventures found that male founders are nearly eight times more likely to be motivated by financial gain than women; 15% of male entrepreneurs are motivated to start companies for financial gain compared to just 2% of female entrepreneurs.

There is definitely a perception that women are more inclusive and care more deeply about creating lasting impact and legacy than men do and that may be true, but driven more by purpose than money? I’m not sure I buy into that narrative.

The overwhelming majority of female founders I know want to do good but are very driven by doing well and to be fair that is equally true of the overwhelming majority of male founders I know.

I have been wanting to build Blackbullion since I was a kid (I also wanted to be a fighter pilot!) but no one cared enough to pay for it so I went into finance. Only post the 2008 financial crisis when the world woke up to the fact that catastrophic debt might be a problem, and was willing to pay to solve it, did I get going. Purpose? For sure, Money? Yes. After all what is more empowering as a woman than financial independence?

All this shapes the kind of businesses we build and the culture we create within and around them. And the ripple effect of this filters out and drives change, as more female founders shape the startup community and set the tone.  Looking at my business, we have a strong family first culture, which allows working mums (and dads!) to arrange their work time around our business needs or for our talented international colleagues to travel and work from home as they need to – even if that home happens to be in Barcelona.

As leaders, female entrepreneurs can reframe workplace culture in startups, encouraging a more diverse, inclusive and flexible environment where our teams, partners and selves can thrive.

We’re leading innovation…. and disruption

Perhaps because of this, we’re seeing female founders lead the way across a whole raft of emerging sectors. The rise of femtech is just one example, with companies like Elvie, the connected breastfeeding pump and pelvic trainer and wearable tech fertility bracelet, Ava, solving the problems we as women can face, and disrupting the space as they go. Earlier this year, Elvie completed its $42 million Series B fundraise, at once bucking the trend and showing what’s possible for female founders.

The eco-system’s changing

With more female entrepreneurs getting out there, making their ideas happen, the ecosystem around us is changing, with ever more networks and organisations creating a supportive infrastructure.  You have organisations such as Found & Flourish, a female founders network, community, and events company, the Allbright Collective, focused on creating networking opportunities for women in business, Lu Li’s Blooming Founders and The Wing, the work and community space designed for women launching its first London space this autumn.

Importantly, we’re also seeing more female led VC firms and investment bodies, like female focussed angel network Angel Academe and VC firm Voulez Capital. One of our own investors, Melody Lang, at MPA Education, is building success from a predominantly female portfolio. And, inevitably, as female-run funds grown and more women become investors, inevitably, the networks of female founders will deepen and strengthen, creating that true ecosystem that is truly a meritocracy.      

There’s a long way to go to level the investment playing field but we are definitely heading in the right direction, in many ways. It is becoming more normal to scroll down a list of LPs and see some female faces, and I know many men who refuse to speak on manels (and there are fewer manels!).

Cultures take time to change but small steps in the right direction are still preferable to standing still.

I’m looking forward to the day we no longer have this conversation, much like Brexit, I’m over it and just want to get back to the business of making the world better. But until then I will keep holding two opposing ideas at the same time – that the world is waiting, hoping and willing female founders on to succeed and that there are people actively hindering our ability to do that. This battle has to be won but men are not the enemy and if I was a betting person I’d bet on the fact that we will all be better, more successful and more impactful when we can finally redirect the energy expounded on this battle to making the world a place we can all be proud to call home.

Want to learn more?

I will be speaking at an investment masterclass with Found & Flourish on the 13th September where I will be discussing money related topics including fundraising, investing and more!

You will learn:

  • What do I need to know before I start investing money?
  • Why are you investing money: goals vs. investment choices?
  • Why is it important to invest: inflation and interest compounding?
  • Understand your tolerance for risk and diversification
  • How to develop a new mindset and understand money is power for you and your worth
  • And loads more

Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

About the author

Vivi is founder of Blackbullion, the award-winning edtech start-up founded in 2014. Prior to founding Blackbullion, Vivi was a financial management expert, spending almost a decade managing the wealth of high net worth families and individuals. This inspired her mission of making financial education accessible for all. She’s on a mission to empower young people by helping them build financial capability, open up the conversation around money and cultivate a healthy, money smart mindset.

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