VC McClure to Women: Stop Whining & Start Funding
Women in the tech world are abuzz today about a TechCrunch post by VC (and self-proclaimed loudmouth) David McClure. He exhorts those women who complain about the lack of high-profile women in the tech world to quit whining and start putting their money into female-led start-ups. Or as he puts it, "Seriously ladies: WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? If you're a believer, then be an investor."
The whole thing is intended to gain attention, which it has: As of publishing this post, there were 93 comments plus separate discussions on both Facebook and Twitter, not to mention among Inc.com's female editors. But mostly it's a very thinly disguised promotional piece for McClure's newest project, Women Investors NOW, which challenges women to publicly commit to invest a total of $15,000 in three start-ups over the next year, presumably through his company 500 Startups.
So, kudos, Dave, on a highly effective bit of marketing. Now let's look at a couple of questions your post brings to mind:
1. Should there be a special effort to specifically fund women-led start-ups?
McClure refers to complaints that there aren't enough women on panels at conferences, and to me that sounds like a no-brainer: Conference panels that "look like America" should if nothing else be good for attendance because a wider range of people may be inspired to come. (Incidentally, female tech writers make great panelists. Just saying.)
But when it comes to funding start-ups specifically because they're headed by women... oh boy, do I have mixed feelings about that. Partly it feels like being damned with faint praise, as when people say Sylvia Plath was a "great woman poet." Why not just a great poet? And, does it invite start-ups to fake it, using wives or girlfriends as the illusory heads of a companies that are actually run by their husbands or boyfriends?
Then there's this comment by a female tech executive McClure quotes: "There's a special place in Hell for women who 'make it,' but aren't willing to turn around and help their peers who haven't." The implicit idea is that we women--more than half the earth's population--are all in one giant sisterhood club together. Any club that has Michele Bachmann in it, I don't want to be part of.
2. Can just anyone be an angel investor?
To me, this is a much more appealing aspect of McClure's post. I love the idea that it's possible for more or less anyone to be an angel investor and it had never occurred to me before I read that post. An angel, I always figured, needed not only extreme wealth, but also inner knowledge of the mysterious and magical workings of Silicon Valley. McClure's challenge is forcing me to reconsider that assumption.
As he puts it: "I'd like to CHALLENGE every woman in tech who's a) got a nice care, b) owns a nice house, or c) is making over $125K a year to start thinking of themselves as the next Ron Conway or Esther Dyson in the making and commit to investing in startups..." I'll forgive him for the poor grammar, ditto for the wisecrack a couple of paragraphs later about how some of us might have spent $5,000 to $10,000 on our MBAs... or our wardrobes.
He adds, "If your excuse for not getting started as an angel is you don't think you know what you're doing--congratulations, you're in good company. Even experienced VCs will tell you they have to make educated guesses, and sometimes rookies are as good as veterans at picking winners."
Well, since you put it that way Dave, this angel investing for dummies sounds like an intriguing idea. I ain't wealthy, but I may just try to pull a few of my female friends together and pool our resources to give it a try. But if I do, I'll make sure to upload a photo of at least one of us. Otherwise, your website will automatically represent us with a generic outline--of a man.
MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap
Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.