After many investors doubted her, one founder had to search for a group of potential investors who believed in her and her idea.
By Sheri Atwood (Founder and CEO, SupportPay)
Walk into any Silicon Valley tech startup event, and you’ll see right away that I’m not your typical tech founder. I’m an over-30 single mom without an Ivy League degree. When it came to funding, I found myself competing with mostly 20-something males who had just graduated Stanford University with the next “big idea” for an app.
What I did have: 15 years in the tech industry, leadership experience at a major global company and an app with a market, helping millions of divorced parents exchange child support payments and other expenses every year. And no competitors.
With millions being poured into younger startups still at the idea stage, I thought I’d be a shoo-in for funding. Yet my road to raising capital was anything but easy. I found that as an “older” woman, my meetings with major angel investors and VC firms seemed to raise more questions about my personal life rather than my actual business or product. Some doubted that a single mom could effectively run a business. When asked where my developer was, I pointed to myself yet most did not believe that I had actually coded my own product; one even suggested I dye my blond hair darker in order to be taken more seriously.
I heard “no”, or even harder “maybe later” over a hundred times, but at the core I believed in what I was doing and what I wanted to bring to the market. As a child of divorce, I learned first-hand how detrimental conflict between parents was to the children. I knew we needed to help parents eliminate financial conflicts so that they could focus on what matters most, their children. This was a problem that impacted hundreds of millions of children globally. The solution was something people were willing to pay for. Not to mention, I invested years of my life and most of my savings while I searched for investors who would see past my hair color, marital status, age and gender. The search was a long one, but I found a group of backers who saw the potential for my product and business and considered my age and gender to be an asset.
I’ve heard similar stories from other female founders in the tech space, and my advice to them is always the same. The right investors are out there; don’t quit, just keep pushing through.
After all, the definition of founder is someone who believes in something, when no one else does. And if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Before approaching a venture capitalist, you should familiarize yourself with the process. I found Brad Feld’s book, ”Venture Deal,” to be incredibly insightful, and gave me the ammo I needed to proceed. Then I started collecting names of angel investors off of Angelslist, looking specifically for those investing in consumer software, SaaS software, or financial services. I used my professional network to get a personal introduction and sent on my pitch.
You’ll also need to have a solid business plan to attract the right investor. My main objectives were to build something that would help people; create something that people were willing to pay for; and create a recurring revenue model that created more revenue as we added value. I read Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup” which helped me put my plan together.
My dream is that when my daughter becomes an adult, founders like me are not the exception but the norm. The only way we are going to achieve this goal is to have more people like me willing to take the risk, persevere and start more technology companies. We are seeing leaders such as Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and other influential women starting to make waves in corporate America; we need to help carry these changes over into the startup and investment arena.
The best advice I can offer is to get out and get involved in any way possible. There are some great Women 2.0 conferences that have a lot to offer female tech founders, but don’t be afraid to go to the big industry events normally dominated by men. As you immerse yourself into the industry, people will see past your gender and know that you belong.
This post originally appeared on The Wall Street Journal Accelerator's Blog.
What advice can you offer for women who are having trouble immersing themselves in the tech industry?
About the guest blogger: Sheri Atwood is the founder and CEO of SupportPay by Ittavi, an automated payment platform to help parents who live apart manage child support and share child expenses.