Entrepreneurialism is a challenging path. Building a successful business requires the right kismet of financing, market opportunity and just dumb luck. Statistically most entrepreneurs will fail; however, of the percentage who succeed, most are men. This is because women are lousy in business.
True, most start-ups will fail. True, those founded by men are more likely to succeed. False, women are lousy in business.
So why is it that most female-lead businesses fail or never get off the ground?
(1) The qualities identified as being critical for entrepreneurs are the same qualities that are often shamed in women;
(2) Women have less access to capital;
(3) Women don’t mentor women or create the same network structures as men do.
The ancient Greeks were right: Birds of a feather flock together. Men like men in business and right now men guard the gates. We know this to be true because last year, according to PitchBook, men raised $58.2 billion in financing for their companies while women raised $1.46 billion. Only 3 percent of fundraising proceeds were secured by women vs. 97 percent by men.
When I started my company, I didn’t know any of this. This was my second company after leaving a successful educational agency I founded for homeless young adults. At the head of my nonprofit, I was a rock star. A woman pitching to save homeless kids through arts-based education was a donor’s dream — particularly in the creative mecca of Los Angeles.
I stepped down after four years, needing to take on something lighter. On a lark, I decided to sell these fun footed bowls I made in my ceramics studio years earlier. I needed start-up capital so out I went to raise money. Easy.
My first angel investor put in $15,000 with which I was able to manufacture 600 ceramic feet on bowls. He was so eager to give me the money that our promissory note was two lines handwritten on a piece of typing paper. It said: “I’m loaning you this money.” I quickly realized that it really said: “I want to sleep with you for $15,000.” When I gracefully rejected his requests to spend time with him, he sent me a demand letter for ownership of my business.
Five thousand dollars (out of his $15,000) and one attorney later, I saved those 600 ceramic-footed bowls. I also saved my integrity and learned quickly that my experiences raising money for a private business were not going to be the same as raising money for homeless kids. Charity work is women’s work. Want to play in the world of start-ups and manufacturing? Fasten your seat belt.
A quick sketch of seven years running my business: There have been good years. Great years. And I’ve taken hits. All entrepreneurs have. I manufacture overseas in China. Manufacturing has a lot of risk. Bad containers. Cheating auditors. Like every entrepreneur I’ve spun yarn into gold when it is really just yarn to keep my company going. But the difference between a male entrepreneur and myself is that I’m a woman.
In 2011, I created my first male employee, which was easy, thanks to the Internet. Let’s call him Joe to protect the identity of the real fake employee who many have done real business with. If someone called for Joe, he was always out. Once my photographer played him on the phone. Why did I “hire” Joe? Because I quickly saw that I needed a bird to flock with the other birds.
Plus, I loved Joe. Joe got stuff done. Joe could write emails that were more direct and didn’t require exclamation marks or smiley faces. Joe never received an email that started with “Honey or Sweetie.” Joe didn’t have to always thank everyone for reading his emails (thanks!). Joe was the man. Or rather I was, as him.
I learned that it wasn’t just a fake male employee who could be helpful, but that it was also a good idea to always bring a man with me to meetings. Whether I was talking to a freight company, a factory or a bank; even though my name was on the door, it was my male chaperone who validated me as a business.
Like all startups, my business struggled with cash flow. Raising money can create success or failure for the startup, and angel funding in the startup world is based on relationships, not revenue. It’s about vision, not traction. For women, getting to be part of that $1.46 billion raised last year is more than a pitch deck. Closing deals means first getting the meeting then navigating what we wear, how we sit, the tone of our voice, and how we handle solicitations.
Earlier this year my company took a hit. We lost $50,000 in bad products and months of projected income. My stress levels hit the roof. I was frustrated, depressed. Then I regrouped. I lost a lot but not everything. All entrepreneurs face setbacks. Be prepared, they are unavoidable.
When men fail it’s considered an opportunity to learn. When women hit a roadblock, it’s a failure that involves a lot of “I’m sorry” story telling. Lesson one – know you’re going to take hits but tell a different story. You control your narrative.
Know that right out of the gate most qualities found in the entrepreneurial personality type are the same traits discouraged in women. If that’s just how you are then embrace your qualities of strength rather than hide them.
We are part of the new army of women rejecting the double standard around character. We challenge the idea that perseverance for a man is called pushy in a woman; that energetic and dynamic for a man is called aggressive in a woman; that recognizing your own accomplishments positions you as a negatively boastful woman while it’s applauded as confidence in a man.
I, or you, a female entrepreneur reading this, will not change the culture around women in business over night. But the more we support women by investing in women, sharing our stories – both the good and the bad — and doing the work to be at the table, the culture will change. We, as the generations of women before us who paved the way for women’s equality, will continue to move the dial forward.
Recently I raised start (back) up capital from a woman and we are entering a new phase. Our vision is to disrupt the kitchen market as a female-led, female-staffed company because we believe that a woman’s place is not just in the kitchen, but at the head of a company designing products we can trust for our kitchens.
Author’s Bio: Dylan Kendall is the owner of Dylan Kendall Home: a company disrupting the kitchen space with fun, sustainably-made and value-driven products. She also founded Hollywood Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless young people become self-sufficient through arts-based education. She is a foster mom, environmentalist and cat rescuer.