Best-Selling Author | Speaker | Coach | CTO
While it should come as a shock to absolutely no one, there’s something I need to share with you:Women and men are different.
Whether it is biological, through cultural conditioning— or as a byproduct of near-constant scrutiny — there are general differences in how women and men process and react to information. In turn, this results in behavior that is common enough to form patterns across gender lines.
Take, for instance, the report that Michelle Williams received merely a daily $80 per diem for her reshoots during the movie All the Money in the World,compared to Mark Walberg’s $1.5 millionfor the same amount of work. Her reasoning was “It never would have occurred to me to ask to be paid for that.” (When Walberg found out, he donated the entire paycheck in her name to TimesUp, a fund established as part of the #MeToo movement.) While the outcome was positive, Williams also said the attention “made a private pain public.
For female founders, the disparity can be especially painful. A recent Quartzreport showed that we’ve raised only 22.12 percentof the amount that men have in similar companies. Our company valuations are only 16.38 percentthat of men’s. Worse, our companies don’t increase in value over time in the same way that male-founded companies do.
As a co-founder and CTO of multiple female-led companies that have successfully raised significant capital, I have a few ideas as to why this is the case. Yes, these are generalizations–but I’ve yet to personally encounter many male entrepreneurs with these same traits:
As a female founder, I willdevelop new features and products only after I have a business case for them. I’ll spend more time with prototypes (Typeform anyone?) and client surveys making sure I have enough of a reason to expend development resources.
This runs counter to the Agile “fail fast” methodology that the traditionally male-oriented Techstars and YCombinator-type startups have, where they are urged to develop their MVP feature set and release it as quickly as possible — then move on to the next thing.
For the majority of female founders I’ve spoken to, it’s a familiar refrain: “We need to save money” and “decrease our burn rate.”I’ve seen my female colleagues time and again hire people at alarmingly low rates, even demanding free work — or insisting they will simply take care of “it” themselves. Unsurprisingly, 63% of female foundersin a recent Inc survey said they funded their startup through personal savings.
Research by FingerPrint For Success shows that successful male founders are more willing to burn through investment capital quickly in order to determine if a product is viable or not–which speaks further to that “fail fast” mindset.
Most female founders I know are acutely aware of each name on their term sheets and how much money was given to them. Almost unanimously, these investments are seen as a sign of trust and a great honor. I have seen more than one woman break down at the thought of not being able to pay back her investors should her business fail.
Quartz’s findings purport that the reason for such a disparity in valuations is that women simply aren’t asking for as much money as men — because they don’t spend as much.
This logic reminds me of my time working in the government.
At the end of each year, we’d have to work out our departmental budgets for the following year. Usually, we’d simply choose the same number that we had the previous year — and as long as we spent exactly that amount each year (or more), we’d be fine. If we spent less, then we’d have less the following year.
This meant that we had a lot of extraneous purchases toward the end of the year — including a supply closet filled to the brim with expired highlighters — simply to make sure we spent every dollar. It certainly prepared me for the startup world, where startups raise $1.5 million,spend it all on kombucha and beanbag chairs, and go bust in a year.
I suspect, as with most things, the right answer is somewhere in the middle. Perhaps, if men and women joined together in business more frequently — like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg — you’d have the best of both worlds.
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