Guest Post from Kelly Keenan Trumpbour, Founder of See Jane Invest and Moderator, Speak Up for Financing Panel at the Speak Up Women Conference
I’m an angel investor, which means companies directly ask for my money. Because I work with angel investing groups, I choose among entrepreneurs who have made it through a tough selection process. They present their ideas to me and my colleagues at monthly pitch meetings hoping to secure sizable checks.
Frequently, I am the only female investor in the room. The majority of companies pitching us have zero women founders in the mix. That’s changing, and I’m happy to report seeing more and more women at the helm of great ideas. I’ve been privileged to see suburb pitches from women founders who are on fire, and I am left with the unenviable task of choosing among them.
And yet, more often than I would like, when other female-founded companies are in front of me, the person telling me about it isn’t always the woman who created it. It’s often a guy.
Can I tell you how often I see a woman founder’s picture in a company’s slideshow, but the woman herself is not in the room with me? Do you know how many times women co-founders take a seat in the back of the room, ready and available for our follow-up questions, but they are not running the presentation?
It makes me want to rewrite the Tammy Wynette classic and belt from the top of my lungs, “STAND BY YOUR IDEA!! (twang twang twang) . . . . And show the world you love it!”
Ladies . . . LADIES!!! Just give me one other example, anywhere in your life, where you hand the microphone to a guy so he can explain your thought process about something you care so very deeply about.
Because I don’t hear random guys saying things like, “Well Bob, Ella went vegan in college because she believes in a cruelty free, sustainable food model, which is why she’s hoping you will offer her tofu from now on!” Or, “You know what Ron, that’s a great question. Does Tanya want to get married someday? I think the important question here is does she want to get married to you. And while we are so delighted by your interest, I think you can see that her brand will need to hold out for more.”
I know what you put into these companies. Many of you have maxed out credit cards, taken out another mortgage on a house, skipped sleep, ignored friends and exasperated family members. And then your team comes to pitch me and I don’t see you at the front of the room telling me why it is all (still) worth it.
And I think I know why. It’s not necessarily a lack of confidence or self-esteem. I think it’s because you care so very much about your idea that you want to entrust its communication to the very best possible messenger. If you are going to walk into a room full of mostly male investors, why not offer them your male co-founder? It’s smart. Like can attract like. But it’s also safe, and it bets against you being the best possible messenger.
If you have made it far enough as an entrepreneur to pitch me, you have found a way to live with risk. Maybe it’s never become what you might call comfy (and it never will), but like a decent roommate, you’re familiar enough with its rhythms to sleep a few hours most nights.
If you have enough of the gambler in you to put tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars behind your concept, risk a steady paycheck somewhere else, and cash in every favor for one shot at the gold ring, why not bet on your voice being the best voice?
Your job as the startup founder will always be far more difficult than my job as an investor. I don’t envy the strain you volunteer for, even if I admire your tenacity. But when I invest, I invest only in women-owned companies. I’m quite public about that. It’s on my websites, my social media pages, and my business cards. Two minutes into a conversation with me, and you will know I invest in women-led startups. Why? Because it matters to me that other people see and hear about an angel investor who expects women to be as present as men in the startup industry.
In putting my money where my mouth is, I’m hoping to model the change you need to get more investment. To get my investment, I need you to speak up and stand by your idea.
I look forward to meeting you at the Speak Up Women Conference on March 5th at the United Nations and hearing about your experience!