On May 31st, 2019, Women 2.0 and Seneca VC hosted their first Founders + Funders event, a “one-day conference in San Francisco that dives into the world of startups, fundraising, and investing for women and underrepresented founders.”
The conference featured a great lineup of speakers and sessions for both sides of the table – investors and founders – one of the key reasons the event stood out for me. It’s not often that you, as a founder, think of investors or high-flying founders as people with challenges, dilemmas and more, just like you. While there were great sessions for investors, here are my five takeaways, as a founder, from the conference.
“Lean” startup doesn’t mean a cheap shortcut, fast
As a founder, terms like “growth hacking” or “lean thinking” get thrown at you way more than you would think. But often, the idea behind these concepts are taken out of context or worse, result in inefficiencies or strategies that might not work for your business. Janice Fraser of Seneca VC kicked off the day by breaking down the idea of a lean startup in a fascinating session filled with cupcakes, insights, and humor.
- Lean startup is not cheap shortcuts.
- Lean startup is not cheap shortcuts done fast (also loved the point about how important work happens during the flat portion.)
- Effort without proof builds a mountain of risk. As a young startup, this particularly resonated with me because we are less able to make risky mistakes, yet, there is a constant perceived need for speed.
- Most importantly, the lean startup is about using iterative learning cycles to reveal flaws in your strategy. A good reminder to take a breath and see if there are any flaws in our assumptions and strategies.
And much as there is talk about “Fake it till you make it!” in the startup world, Janice’s session shared why lean = no faking it!
Technical co-founders and T-shaped people
You might not always need a technical co-founder. This surprising insight came from Chantal Emmanuel, Co-founder of LimeLoop. Any amount of time spent in Silicon Valley will tell you that the question about a technical co-founder comes up pretty quickly at investor meetings.
Chantal’s presentation talked about the alternative structures to having a technical co-founder, but the favorite takeaway for me? Chantal’s point that nobody ever says Marketing co-founder, even though it is equally important when you build a company. Makes one thinking a “Marketing Co-founder” is just as valuable a title, no?
On the other side, Asra Nadeem of Draper University shared interesting hacks for that high-velocity growth: The idea of hiring T-shaped people, who are neither specialists nor generalists but can straddle the two together by specializing in one thing and being capable in others.
Lessons from fundraising: Court Buddy
Even if you knew that grit, determination, and hustle are necessary to build a startup, hearing Kristina Jones share her story was both encouraging and insightful. Kristina talked about how her team that raised $6 million came into the world of startups with zero knowledge on fundraising. Even though the earlier plan was to bootstrap forever, CourtBuddy went on to actively raise money ($7.3m in total, through two rounds), and Kristina gives due credit to researching their investors and working on storytelling the company story and numbers.
Take away: Kristina took the time to work on (lengthy!) monthly emails to her investor network, both potential or not, an effort that resulted in connections and better awareness about her company.
Creating FOMO for your investors
Fundraising is one of the areas where you never seem to learn enough, and conversations often render at least one useful point to tuck away in your mind. Elizabeth Yin from HustleFund came in to talk about how to create FOMO for your investors. Because, as she says, investors don’t always have an incentive to invest in you today. Besides her experience raising funds for her startup, Elizabeth had two pieces of insights that I will be filing away myself:
- Be clear on why you are raising the money and know the one thing that always interests investors, growth!
- Use actual proof of unit economics to make your case. Sharing what a Facebook ad could fetch you as a possible return rate is much more valuable to an investor than survey findings.
Winnie fan club
I’ve been a fan of Sara Mauskopf ever since I followed her tweets filled with sharp commentary on the world of fundraising and startups. Sara’s 1:1 session with Hannah Levy was filled with personal stories about the origin, methodical growth, and the steady trot at Winnie, her parenting startup. My favorite takeaways? When Sara shared her mistakes, and to know that even well-positioned startups can make mistakes with things like product priorities to investors. Also, her advice on focusing on what works with your audience, and keeping at it is an important one. Founders who’ve raised money, they are just like us!
Additionally, the conversation between Shaherose Charania and Eric Ries stood out for its raw honesty and the power in acknowledging the challenges women founders often face. Even with hard, soul-searching questions from attendees, the session ended up cheering on strong women founders across the room.
Finally, the showcase of startups in the pitch session gave both investors and founders like me some great insights into what goes through a VC’s mind when they are evaluating a pitch (hot tip: sometimes, it could be as simple as letting the introduction run for too long or that the slides look like they are from the 90s and could use a refresh!)
Any founder will tell you that building a startup is not easy. But with the hard work comes the need to be able to hear different perspectives and learn from stories. So here is to more opportunities for founders and funders to meet, collaborate and work together to grow awesome startups.