Why Women Don’t Get Venture Capital: The Bruised Nose Theory
BY Eileen P. Gunn
My daughter fell on her nose at camp this summer.
This, in a nutshell is why I’m reluctant to seek venture capital or to build my business, FamiliesGo!, in a way that necessitates it.
It’s not that I couldn’t make good use of outside investment money. The deeper into this venture I go the more I appreciate what I could do with an infusion of capital. I could hire or outsource more technical knw-how, and marketing, sales, and public relations help. I could hire freelance writers and bring in an intern or two. All of this would allow me to build the content, tools, and revenue streams I have in mind much faster and improve my odds of developing FamiliesGo! into the Learnvest.com or TheKnot.com of family travel, which it has the potential to be.
But my daughter fell from a very small height flat on her nose. There was a lot of blood and tears and the camp called to have me come get her. After lunch, a story, and much cuddling and reassurance she napped. And I made up for lost time.
I’ve lost half and full days of work before due to viruses and snow days and school art shows. And I will continue to. In the short run it’s frustrating to have a long to-do list I know I won’t get to. But I’ve learned that I’ll finish whatever I was supposed to work on a day or two later than planned and in the long run the lost time doesn’t matter very much. I also know it doesn’t mean I’m not dedicated to my venture. If FamiliesGo! ultimately doesn’t succeed, the odd emergency call from school won’t be the reason.
But there has been a lot of chatter in the blogosphere, on Twitter, and at tech community events lately about why women receive only a small portion of venture money despite starting a large portion of new businesses. One oft-cited reason is that they don’t ask for it. I think my daughter and her nose have a lot to do with why.
As a reporter I’ve talked to a lot of VCs and venture-backed entrepreneurs for publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Knowledge@Wharton. So I understand that should you be lucky enough to attract venture money these days, your backers will expect you to work 20 hours a day to accomplish in eight months what might be doable in ten if nothing goes wrong. If you fail to hit their goals on their schedule, they’ll quickly lose interest and move on to the next founder.
This approach has something to do with the pressure VCs are under to perform for their investors in an environment that hasn’t favored them for a few years. But it’s also indicative of a deep-held belief many VCs have always had: The way to prove you are dedicated to your business is to do absolutely nothing but work on your business. It’s a variation on an unwritten rule that women (and some men) bump up against in corporate jobs. You know, the one that says the last person out the door every night is the one who gets the promotion.
Women have been fleeing corporate jobs and pursuing entrepreneurial ventures for years because this narrow definition of dedication and productivity doesn’t work for them. It’s not that I won’t work long hours—I’ve been at my desk past 10 p.m. every night this week. But I absolutely need to be able to wrap those hours around family dinner and nightly readings of Fancy Nancy. I think that, like me, a lot of women who start businesses want an environment where flexibility and ambition are not mutually exclusive. After fleeing (largely male) bosses who couldn’t offer this, you can understand my reluctance to take on (largely male) investors who seem no more progressive.
We all know that a goal that should reasonably take ten months to achieve will probably take 12 in a start-up because things do go wrong. And it might take someone who’s a parent a little longer than that because flu season comes every year and always at the worst possible moment.
If you know any patient investors who understand that kids hurt their noses and are willing to let me take 13 months to accomplish something another founder could do in 12, I have some ideas I’d love to discuss with them. Until I meet them I’ll just be another woman entrepreneur who isn’t asking for venture money—and isn’t getting it.