Brad Feld, Foundry Group: Solving Venture Bias

Transcript follows & video below.  This is Part I of the interview.  You can view Part II and Part III here.

What percentage of women startups do you get pitches for?  And what percentage have you funded?

I don’t know the exact percentage because I don’t track it.  But my guess its probably in the 5 to 10% range.  My guess the percentage of startups that we fund by women is roughly the same.  We’ve never looked at it from the standpoint gender evaluation perspective.  So we don’t look at it we’re trying to have a certain percentage of the company’s that we fund be women led or certain percentage not be.  It’s just kind of the data that happens.

Brad Feld

Have you noted differences with women entrepreneurs in how they pitch & build businesses?

I don’t know.  I spent a lot of time thinking about it in the context of the work we’ve done for NCWIT which is an organization I’m Chairman of.  Women & men have different characteristics but men have different characteristics between each other & women do too.  So to segregate purely by gender is a little simplistic. If you just look at a particular entrepreneur independent of gender, you have some entrepreneurs who are very extroverted & very customer & sales focused.  You have some entrepreneurs who are very introverted & very product focused.  They’re just different characteristics & different strengths & weaknesses & we fund them both. I don’t know that they are specific characteristics that matter that much?  I would say that a lot of the entrepreneurial teams that have a good blend of gender tend to be more effective than entrepreneurial teams that are male dominated. I think this is true across all technology & product is that there are different perspectives that different people bring to the table. Having a completely homogeneous gender bias introduces a bias whether you want to or not. It doesn’t mean that you have to have a completely heterogeneous base where its 50% male & 50% female.  But having a mixture often brings out lots of different ideas & different behavior & personality styles that are quite useful.

Brad Feld

I recently interviewed Cindy Gallop, IfWeRanTheWorld, where she said:  ‘So many, many people are realizing that as Paco Underhill said recently to Ad Age ‘If you want business success then you have to find mass acceptance with women.’   More & more people are realizing what a powerful economic force women are as purchasers. Also the things that women bring to the table in terms of business & different approaches & perspectives on business are increasingly valuable & increasingly valued.’  Do you think that within the vc community that the awareness of these opportunities through women both as purchasers & founders is there?  How can we enlighten the vc community about this opportunity?

I don’t have a good answer to that from a generalized perspective.  I think that one of the things that I’ve really struggled with, in the context of the research we’ve done with NCWIT, is that an awful lot of assertions around women in technology & women in computer science & entrepreneurial women are anecdotal generalizations rather than data driven conclusions. I actually think in any socio-economic gender functional dynamic if you’re building off pure anecdotes you get into some trouble.  I think the anecdotes that you build on top of other anecdotes just reinforce the bad ones.  This is one of those places, I think that most reasonably well educated, somewhat enlightened humans recognize that gender bias is not a productive thing. That women for example in the economy, in business & the world have equal stature & equal impact as men do.  Whether or not there’s an actual understanding of that put into practice of that by the venture community, I have no idea to respond to that as a generalization. I would tell you that people who are focused on or negatively biased towards a particular gender, specifically in the context of technology being male gender biased, those people are fools! It’s not helpful, it doesn’t add anything!

Brad Feld

It’s not good business!

It’s dumb!

Brad Feld

Cindy also spoke about being an ‘older woman’ entrepreneur: “So separate from the general belief in the tech sector, like many other sectors, that older means set in your ways, incapable of learning new things, less forward thinking, more worried about things to do with family & lifestyle than younger or more unencumbered people. All of that I would argue is tripled when you combine older with female. Older women being the sector that society particularly discounts & so that’s just an additional obstacle. And a misguided one!”  Do you think that older women are particularly sidelined in the venture game?  What would support the venture industry becoming more aware of the strengths & possibilities that ‘older women’ founders could offer?

I want to be thoughtful here, because there’s an ageism dynamic, not just a gender based one, but between young entrepreneurs that are male & older entrepreneurs.  The fresh & new versus the inexperience compared to someone who’s been through the drill a while but then have a routinized or a certain way of viewing things. I think these are generational.  I’m in my mid 40’s & I think that somebody who is today 5 years old, when they’re 20 will never know a world without always being connected to the internet & to the web.  So their view of how the world works is very different than my view of how the world works from when I was 5 to when I was 20 & how that propelled me forward. And you see that in multiple generations &  I don’t care how you segment it but that’s gender indifferent.  So then you get to the second order of fact ‘Is it harder for a particular age or gender of entrepreneur, to either first get successful, get attention & then secondarily be successful?  I think that there’s lots of things that cause lots of problems across the whole spectrum.  So there are certain characteristics of biases against women entrepreneurs, theres a particular set of biases against women entrepreneurs that are older but then there are plenty of examples of very successful women entrepreneurs at all ages. I think what I’ve kinda cycled back to & I use this example quite often I challenge people especially in the software industry is to have more visible female heroes that are successful female entrepreneurs.  The more visible those female entrepreneurs are the more new entrepreneurs of any age, whether younger or older, will have more role models to be able to follow after.

Brad Feld

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