Everyone is talking about First Round’s Ten Year project. If you haven’t seen it, take a look.
First Round looked back at their last 10 years of investments and showed that founding teams that included a woman outperformed all-male teams by 63%. As a female CEO, this data makes me extremely hopeful. I’ve been working in the technology industry for 15 years, and for the first time, it seems that women’s unique skills are being validated and recognized. Maybe this is a sign of true progress around gender equality.
But I am not ready to pop the bubbly just yet. First Round’s data references teams that include at least ONE woman in any position vs. an all male founding team. If we’re seeing these results with just one woman on the team, what would the results look like with a critical mass of women in key leadership roles like LEAD founder or CEO? That number is currently only 3%. What if women were making the investment decisions? That number is only 5%.
We must keep going.
Investors strive for portfolio diversification across industries according to their investment criteria. Diversification of any portfolio gives more opportunities to win while minimizing exposure. If we want REAL gender diversity, and I believe we do, gender-responsiveness must be a measurable goal within the firm’s diversification strategy.
Women make up more than 50% of the U.S. population so it just makes sense to fund companies that respond to their unmet needs. Spanx is a perfect example of what happens when male investors are the only ones evaluating products designed for women. Anyone who has given birth to multiple children would have known that funding Spanx was a no-brainer. But male investors didn’t understand Spanx because they did not know women were wearing uncomfortable girdles. Result: PASS. My company, Dibs, operates in the $6B boutique group fitness market where women dominate. We make it easy for consumers to get into any class they want by paying the TRUE price of the class (sometimes it’s a bit less and sometimes it’s a bit more) all while increasing the studio’s revenues by up to 57% so far. When I talk to women investors (there have been 2), they get it right away. With male investors, I spend at least half of the allotted time explaining how the group fitness industry works. Key learning: It helps if they’re married to a woman who works out.
As a female CEO & Founder with a tech background and Ivy education, this data is in my favor. But this isn’t about me. Everyone gains when VCs diversify the teams that make investment decisions and in turn, their portfolios. VCs will make more money, we can learn more about how women are making such a difference in tech companies’ performance, and the world will have more life-changing products like Spanx.
Here are some concrete steps the industry can take right now to capitalize on First Round’s data:
Support female founders in the lead role. Lead Founder/CEO, not just a woman on the team. This seems obvious, but really, make it a point to support female CEOs. Not as charity, but as a portfolio diversification strategy.
Diversify the team that makes investment decisions. Make sure that deal teams include people from different backgrounds. They bring different experiences and perspectives that help them identify huge opportunities in underserved markets. First mover advantage is actually attainable in these markets, making it a real competitive advantage. #PutASheetOnIt.
Diversify based on the addressable market and the problem that the company is solving. Set a diversification strategy that strives for a certain percentage of companies that address the unmet needs of specific groups (women, communities of color, etc.).
First Round’s Ten Year project recognizes the skills that women bring to the start-up world. But it would be a terrible disservice to everyone if VCs ONLY use this data to make sure every founding team has one woman, regardless of her position in the company. Let’s use it as a catalyst for REAL diversity and gender equality—where women are fully included and represented in ALL sectors of the tech industry.
Alicia Thomas, CEO & Founder, Dibs