The winner of our 2013 Las Vegas PITCH Competition thought she “got” the whole 500 startups thing… then realized the “bro-tastic cliquey crap” stereotype was not at all the truth.
By Cynthia Schames (CEO & Co-Founder, AbbeyPost)
If we’re friends, Facebook friends, follow each other on Twitter, or if you’ve ever been within earshot of me (like, ever), it’s a pretty good bet that you have heard me say lots and lots of things about 500 Startups over the past few years. Pretty much all of it has been good.
One of the things I absolutely love about 500 is the fact that they are unabashedly all about the underdog. And, frankly, I’m down with that. For one thing, I’m not your typical startup founder. I’m 43 years old, I’m female, I’m not technical, and oh yeah: I’m not a stereotypical startup hottie either. Well, unless you like a little (or a lot of) extra cushion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!). So the fact that this organization — which is the real deal, I might add, having something north of $73M of invested/investable dollars — is so blatant in their embrace of the “unsexy”? That’s fucking awesome.
Another thing I love about 500 is that in the course of building a shockingly contrarian, anti-Valley-bro brand and ecosystem, they have not only embraced but sought out female founders. 500 Startups has been in existence for only 4 years, but in that time they have funded over 100 women-led companies, including such successes as Twilio, The Real Real, Slideshare and TaskRabbit among others. Let me just put this another way: while regular VCs typically fund about 10-12 companies of any sort in a 12 month period, 500 has funded and accelerated an average of 25 female-founded companies PER YEAR in their lifespan so far. And they’re just getting started. They’ve recently announced a syndicate focused entirely on funding women. That’s really fucking awesome.
Last but not least, I gotta say it. A lot of people make “that face” when they hear the name Dave McClure. Dave can be a polarizing guy, that’s not a secret. He’s brash, he’s ballsy, he’s loud and he’s profane. Sure, he makes mistakes. Just like all of us, he says things he wishes he hadn’t, every now and then. But what a lot of people may not realize is that he’s also brilliant, generous, and tirelessly driven to help those unsexy underdogs succeed. 500 is an extension of him in so many ways. He’s also really funny and a kinda sweet guy, if you’re not pitching him. That? Is fucking awesome.
So it is with some degree of excitement that I announce that AbbeyPost is now officially part of Batch 9 of 500 Startups. WOOT! My cofounder Lex and I will be spending the next few months in gorgeous Mountain View, Calif., and so far it is amazing. We’re learning tons, making new friends, and we’re well and truly accelerator-ing. Case in point: right this moment, it’s 11:52 p.m. on a warm, spring Saturday night in beautiful Mountain View. I’ve been in the office for 12 hours, and there’s really no end in sight. And I’m not alone here. And you know what I think? That’s fucking awesome.
So what is it really like, being a female founder at 500 Startups? First and foremost, I want to say that I came into this experience with some firsthand knowledge of the 500 team, but by no means was I prepared for what I walked into. Before we got here, I thought I “got” the whole 500 startups thing…”Dave’s crazy, we’re going to yell AARRR a lot, we’ll probably be subjected to some bro-tastic cliquey crap, but I can handle it. Besides, it will be a good opportunity to get connected in the Valley.”
I was dead wrong.
Yes, Dave’s crazy. Yes, we talk about AARRR (a lot).
But it was instantly and irrevocably obvious from the first moment that we stepped through the grey door that this is a FAMILY. You know the saying, it takes a village? Well, 500 has built a huge village, and it’s packed full of incredibly talented, amazing people who are so generous with their time and expertise that I actually occasionally have to shake myself to believe it. The 500 team isn’t just Dave, by the way: there are a huge number of awesome people who make this machine go, who are just as fantastic and add just as much value to the startups every single day. Some of them are the 500 team, many of them are the mentors, and of course the founders of previous #500Strong companies.
Special shouts out to Sean Percival, the fearless leader of Batch 9, whose expertise in digital marketing and ecommerce are somewhat belied by his gentle manner, soft voice and surprisingly astute fashion sense. Melissa Grody, who stays way in the shadows but who functions as the glue helping hold this big organization together and making it run smoothly. Tim Chae, one of our awesome EIRs. Mark Saldana, our fabulous with a capital F PR and marketing maven. I could go on and on, naming names like Pankaj (miss you, buddy!), George, Tanya, and of course partners Christine (who’s out on maternity leave at the moment) and Parker and Christen. You get the idea. I love these people already.
But what about all the other startups we’re tossed into the fire with? Aren’t at least a couple of them kinda bro-y or sexist or kinda gross to the ladies? In short, no.
In just a few weeks, we’ve bonded tightly with a number of our fellow founders. Of course it helps that I’m a crack sharpshooter with a salt gun, I may actually have a worse vocabulary than Dave’s, and I drink beer like a boss. But aside from the fact that I can hang, the truth is that these guys are smart, they’re cool, they’re evolved, and they truly respect the women with whom they’re working side by side. And when I say guys: I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder but I do want to say that this Batch has a phenomenal percentage of (amazing) female founders. I’m very proud to be working with female founders from Share Some Style, Teaman & Co, PopUpArchive, ZootRock, Giveit100, ArtCorgi, Dolightlful and Tapestry. That’s a lot of estrogen. And that? Is seriously fucking awesome.
This truly isn’t meant to be an ode to 500, and if you know me at all, you’ll know I’m not a kiss-ass. I have no problem standing up to even the most powerful person who may have influence over the success of my business. I’m being genuine when I relate my experiences here at 500 so far. And that? Really, really is… fucking awesome.
This piece originally appeared on Medium on April 27.
What other insider insight would you like to know about 500 Startups?
About the guest blogger: Cynthia Schames (@cynthiaschames) is a second-time founder. Her background includes 10+ years of enterprise software sales experience at VC-backed startups. Previously, she was the founder of La Boite Orange. She is also a startup advisor and mentor, a 2014 Startup Leadership Program Fellow, and the Founders Network Peer Accountability Leader for the NYC Chapter.