Why is it important that more women become venture capitalists?

I thought it was so that more women entrepreneurs, and more innovations relevant to women, would get funded. But it turns out we need more women VCs so they can teach male VCs, and others in the startup community, how to better work with women.

That's what I took away from a recent conversation with Carla Valdes. Valdes launched her own company, Handpressions, in February. But before that she was a partner at DC seed-stage investing firm Fortify, where she learned just how many pitfalls there are for women in the VC community. Here's what Valdes had to say:

Did you see a difference between the way men pitched you at Fortify and the way the women pitched?

Men pitch potential. Women pitch facts. Women are much more data-driven. They need to help VCs see the potential in their businesses.

But there's more to it, and we struggled with this. We actually had a partner meeting about this. When women show excitement and emotion, sometimes that comes in the form of tears. We had a Skype call with a woman entrepreneur, and at the end we said, 'We want to invite you in,' and she started to cry. After the call, one of the partners said, "Ah, she's kind of nuts." I had to explain to him that it's the same as a guy jumping up and saying, "F--- yes!" Once everyone understood that, the pitches seemed to be more the same.

Did you get the same number of pitches from men and women?

It was more men. Maybe 10 times more. If I had another woman pitch me a fashion app, I was going to hang myself.

But one of those women is going to make a billion bucks.

I know. We invested in one, and I love her dearly.

Did you have to change your behavior because you were working with mostly men?

No, but they did. We'd be in really heated discussions, and I'd interrupt them, and they would say, "Don't interrupt me!" But they would interrupt each other all the time. I said, "Fine. We are having a talking stick."

Did you feel like you had to act differently with outsiders?

Not at first. But if you come to my office, I will always offer you coffee or water. I would do that whether it was a company coming in to pitch or another investor. Then Paul [Singh, of 500 Startups] said to me, "I know that's sweet, but you look like a secretary. Every time you do it, you lose respect." So Jonathon [Perrelli] took over that role. We would bring people in, and Jonathon would say, "Would anybody like any water?"

If you offer people water when they come to your office--as I do--this probably makes you cringe. Hopefully, if we get more women in positions of power, we'll be able to make a simple hospitable gesture without being mistaken for secretaries. You know, just like men do.

 

Published on: Nov 12, 2014