Shaherose Charania, Women2.0: Gender Not an Obstacle for Funding

Video Interview with Shaherose Charania, CEO Women 2.0

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Video Interview with Shaherose Charania, CEO & Co-Founder Women 2.0.  Shaherose is currently at Opinno a global network of incubator spaces, entrepreneurs and investors. At heart she is a mobile and telephony junkie. She’s led new consumer products at Ribbit (BT). Previously, she was Director of Product Management at JAJAH (sold to Telefonica/O2). Prior to that, she was at TiE overseeing governance and operations of 40+ entrepreneurship centers. She aspires to pour her entrepreneurial spirit into launching mobile solutions for emerging economies. Shaherose holds a B.A. in Business Admin from The University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business. You can find Shaherose on Twitter @shaherose & Women 2.0 @women2.0

  • Could you briefly explain what Women 2.0 does to serve women entrepreneurs?

Sure we’ve developed over the years. As of now we’re a pre-incubator & what we do is we bring together people with ideas who are looking to start a company together. So it’s both men & women & it’s a 5 week pre-incubator workshop that we do to validate ideas & build founding teams.  Essentially we are what we call a social venture for future founders.

It’s great to know you are here & I have followed you even from Europe.

  • How many female startups are funded through your Women 2.0 competitions?

We do a couple of things & one thing we do is the pre-incubator which is our core offering. Every year for 4 years we’ve held an annual global startup competition called ‘Pitch’. Every year we’ve seen about a 100 plus startups that are in beta stage, so further along not the ones that we’re helping in the incubator, ones that have developed on their own with at least one female founder. We could do a better job of tracking, but the anecdote would be about 10% we’ve seen not necessarily get funding, not necessarily in the valley but anywhere through family or wherever they’re from. More than 80% of people in the competition are from the valley but the rest come from all over the world, other parts of the US, Canada, parts of Europe, the Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore. We’ve seen a lot of startups in tech, so web, mobile & clean tech that have at least one female founder. From what we’ve tried (it’s hard to track) we’ve seen about 10% of them go on to get funding.

That’s encouraging.

‘Pitch’ is great exposure to investors, but 40 investors are involved every year. It’s a great opportunity to get feedback & exposure.

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

A lot of people ask me that question. On the whole, it’s actually more or less the same. In our pre-incubator, it’s actually called ‘Founder Labs’. In Founder Labs it’s half male, half female & every week in Founder Labs, you pitch, share your learnings for the idea you’re working on.  You get in front of the room & you share ‘This is what we learned by doing some customer development interviews.’ ‘This is what we learned by doing some AB tests on our website.’ It’s a pitching process, more or less, it’s more a sharing of information but it’s the same,right. Smart people do a real good job of anything.  There’s no real difference in how they pitch or what they pitch. I’d say the same for the startup competition called ‘Pitch’ as well, it’s more or less the same. The only difference that I would make note of is the problems that women want to solve with their startups. So they tackle markets that they’re familar with or that they have a better resonance with. A really strong product that came out of one of our Founder Labs is called ‘House of Mikko’ & it’s essentially a matching algorithm for people who have in the city but they’re looking for beauty products that match their needs. You & I would probably not use the same hair care products? You have curly hair, I have straight hair. I have darker complexion, I would use something different in terms of my skin. There’s nothing out there & for a guy to dream that up, it would be a little more difficult. Whereas a woman herself feels that pain.

Yes, she identifies the problem because she’s involved in it.

Absolutely & it’s a huge billion dollar market, multi billion dollar market, the beauty industry. It’s interesting that we see different problems.  Often the investors that come to our events or our Founder Labs, they say this is the kind of stuff I don’t always see, you provide us with a very unique deal flow.

Brilliant, that’s such great feedback too, isn’t it.

Well you know, 51% women as consumers now in the world, it’s about time for us to start companies that are targeted at that.

Exactly there is money there.

Absolutely & at the same time that is only one segment of our community. Some of the ideas that do come through Women2.0 are what you would see in any other Silicon Valley incubator essentially. Mobile sms payment system or a GEO location video tool or whatever it is. So it’s a good mix across the board.

  • Many say that it helps a woman entrepreneur’s position if she is technical when sourcing venture capital. Do you know any percentages on that compared to non technical women entrepreneurs & would you agree with that proposition?

Absolutely if you’re starting a tech company & the founder is technical, men or women, it would be great if they had a technical background & expertise.  I wouldn’t say it’s different for men or women. I think it’s just that any technical founder would be farther ahead & be able to gain that credibility more quickly than a non-technical founder. However it’s not impossible. In our community we see half technical & half non-technical. In fact our incubator is built of 20 people, and of that 20 people half of them are technical & half of them are non-technical. Half of them are male & half of them are female, it’s a very unique mix. We’re all about diversity. The strengths that a non-technical person brings to the table is one thing & the strengths that a non-technical person brings to the table is a complement. In our opinion it’s initially more exciting to see a technical founder. But in the end when it comes to actually solving the market problem or actually executing on the startup, it doesn’t matter as long as they understand the market, they’re brilliant, they want to work hard then they’ll launch their startup.

Fantastic, that’s a really different perspective.

  • What do you see as the challenges for women entrepreneurs generally in sourcing venture capital, obviously you’re right in the heart of it with this organization?

I don’t think there are any explicit roadblocks or challenges. I think it’s up to the woman. I think it’s up to the individual, a male or a female, to actually get up & say I want to start a company. I’m going to build a team, I’m going to validate my idea & I’m going to go pitch it. It’s as simple as just doing. There’s stories, there’s stories of women who have gone to pitch the vc & inappropriate things were said.

Yes & there’s been a few stories in the press this year.

Absolutely but there’s stories of any aspect of meeting a venture capitalist. For example, I could meet a vc tomorrow & he would laugh at my business model as much as he would laugh at any other aspect of my life. I didn’t go & make that news did I? I just realized ok I need to change my business model. In relation if you meet someone who doesn’t necessarily give you the right vibe, & maybe does something related to gender bias, you just realize that’s not someone you want funding from. There’s always sour apples everywhere but on the whole we’ve had great experiences with so many investors, from angels up to vcs who do nothing but support us. And do nothing but support the startups we’re starting because they don’t want to fund a woman for the sake of funding a woman. They want to fund a really good idea because they need a return. It’s all dependent on how amazing the founders are, how amazing the ideas are & executing on it. So people get caught up in the news & they want to tell stories because it’s sexy & it’s drama & it creates hits. Well good on them, because they’re great at marketing.

So like that Michael Arrington post recently? It was just to stir the water really I think?

And how many people tweeted it out? How many people sent it out? How many comments there were? And you know what’s funny 3 weeks later we had a guest post that I wrote on TechCrunch all about the amazing startups that we saw at our competition. There were 10 comments on it. It was all positive news, it was not sexy news.

Yes it’s a bit like the work I’ve been doing. I don’t actually want any drama, I just want the person to be honest.

Yeah in the end, drama sells.

But it’s only superficial, don’t you think?

Yes & it’s a small drop in the huge ocean of entrepreneurship that one person had an experience so they’re going to blow it up & tell it 10 times over. But like I said, I could be sitting in a room with you & you could poke fun at any part of my business & that doesn’t make the news.

  • Have you noted bias or lack of openness from many venture capitalists as regards women entrepreneurs?

We’ve been giving them some great teams coming forward, so so far they’ve been welcoming us with open arms. So far we’ve not had any issues at all. I think it’s just about putting smart entrepreneurs in front of investors. Not just venture capitalists, I’m talking about angel investors, individual investors as well who are looking for an alternative market right now. They want to enable people. That’s what funding a founder really does, it enables change in the world through a company. If you put great ideas in front of somebody who has the ability to give, they’ll fund the best idea.

  • Have you found that some successful women deny that there are any challenges or obstacles for women entrepreneurs? If they have achieved success they don’t want to note that there is anything broken in the system or that there ever was a glass ceiling. Obviously you’ve got a bit of a bubble, because you’ve got investors who are open to people that you’re presenting. I ask this question because I have heard that both some women CEO’s & women venture capitalists take this position & aren’t willing to contribute to the community because of that.

That’s a really tough question. Yes I know women who say that, in fact I said it. I said there are no obstacles.

For Women2.0?

Absolutely no & I’m saying the same thing for any woman out there. I think any entrepreneur faces a closed door more than they face an open door. I think the number of times that you get that closed door is higher in general for any founder, male or female. If you make gender an issue, then you’ll get more doors closed in your face, I think.

Of course, you’ll attract it.

I think so & it just becomes a perpetual cycle. I think it’s more important that you just push forward & realize that hearing no is part of being an entrepreneur. I hear no all the time. I’ve had other ideas that I’ve worked on myself & not only did the investors say no, the market said no. That’s even worse. That’s like thousands of people saying no to you in your face. Rather than one person no I won’t fund you, but a thousand people saying you’re product sucks! I’ve done that, I worked on an idea that was essentially a sms version of FourSquare, before FourSquare existed, before the iphone existed. We thought it was cool. We were saying we’re going to check in with sms into Union Square & we told people to do that. And they said that’s dumb!

So it wasn’t the right time?

Absolutely the wrong time! Absolutely the wrong medium, sms was not the way to go! But my point is that I got a lot of nos when I was doing that. So you’ve got to know what to do with the nos. Are you going to continue on & move forward which is a way to go. Or are you going to take that into consideration & maybe change what you’re doing? So when women say well I never had a problem, maybe it’s how they synthesize the no, maybe it’s how they process the no, to say ok I’m going to improve? I think that’s more important. If you get a no what are you going to do with it?

  • What is your advice for women entrepreneurs sourcing venture capital from your experience?

Just go do it! Just go do it! If you really believe in the idea that you’re working on, if you have an excellent team, if you have some validation from the market? Start building your prototype & go. We’ve seen a lot of women who are currently in any sort of startup job, then on the weekend or evenings start building something, validate it through the market, do some customer development, start to build the prototype, get a little bit of a following, use a little bit of their own money & then raise money on their own. Go, just go for it!

  • Often advice for sourcing venture is equated with dating, implying that there is a matching that needs to happen with entrepreneur & investor. Have you noticed a general psychological profile of venture capitalists and also of entrepreneurs that promotes the attraction & synergy between them to develop a great startup?

I can’t say that there is a general profile. I think that every founder has a certain profile, whether they have certain characteristics about them that they have & that they look for in their investors. Ideally it’s something that is a symbiotic relationship or complementary relationship. For example there is a founder from Founder Labs who’s very strong businesswise & another founder who is very strong on algorithims but what they’re missing is product expertise. I’ve told them go find an investor who’s done online ecommerce products to guide you & coach you, not only to give you money but to guide you & coach you.  There’s no profile particularly that you’re looking for but there’s something that complements your business. You find people that can invest in your business that can also add additional value.

Generally I hear that you would be attracted to the same sort of people & I’ve said from the matching perspective, opposites often bring together a lot more wholeness.

It could be that’s what people do? It could be you find someone you’re comfortable with which maybe not the best thing to do?  The founder & the investor have to make that clear decision if we’re putting money into this company what does it really look like in terms of the value that I add. At the early stage it’s not just about money, it has to be beyond that. You know how they say that raising a child is best done through a village, that’s what a startup is, it’s a baby, if you want to actually succeed, you need to pull together all the parts that are complementary that you don’t embody because you’re one person, or you’re two people or you’re three people & you don’t know everything. If you complement it with someone who had different expertise, you’re more likely to succeed.

Thank you so much./a>

Written by
Pemo Theodore

Pemo Theodore is a Media Publisher and a great people connector. She was Founder Silicon Valley TV which served the San Francisco Bay Area for 10 years! She has produced Silicon Valley Events for Investors & Startups for 10 years. Pemo loves to video interview venture capitalists & founders to engage the human behind the success stories.. She has been Executive Producer of FinTech Silicon Valley for 6 years, organizing twice monthly FinTech talks & panels in San Francisco & Palo Alto and audio podcasts. She believes in learning through a great discussion with experts in the domains. Pemo has a talent to bring the right people together and is an incredible networker. Pemo's events have been seen as supporting Venture Capitalists & Angels in sourcing great deal flow from startups who attend her events. Many founders have received funding through meeting investors at her events. Her favored medium is audio & visual media and she has built up a great body of work of videos of panels & interviews and podcasts in Silicon Valley startup ecosystem. She has lived & worked in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, London, Northern Ireland & Silicon Valley. Bio

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Written by Pemo Theodore