Media has to step up. The picture of who launches successfully won’t change if the same old stories about the same companies keep dominating the tech and startup news cycle. If we bring more press to smaller stories, the businesses and their stories will get bigger too.
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Giorgi is the co-founder and CEO of soona, the world’s first fast casual content studio. soona helps brands get same-day professional photo and video for less than the price of stock. A second time founder, she is an Emmy-Award winning director, Tory Burch Foundation Fellow and alumni of the Techstars Boulder 2019 class. In her Series Seed fundraise for soona, she launched the Candor Clause, an open-source legal disclosure to promote gender equity between founders and investors.
Thank you so much for joining us, let’s jump right in. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what you or your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?
As a female founding team, it was important to us to acknowledge early in our fundraise that in addition to the challenge of raising money, we would face these statistics. It’s also an opportunity. We wanted to not just use the raise to build our business, but to push our investors to speak to exactly HOW they have supported women-owned companies in the past.
Critically, we did not look to have conversations with any funds that did not have at least one female-founded company in the portfolio. By being clear on that up front, it rewarded investors who have been proactive in their approach long before they met our company.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap, and explain?
Every great change in society requires more than talk — it requires action.
1. We need to continue to promote women’s success stories. Buy their products. Buy their companies. Buy their stock.
2. VCs need to expand their network. Simply relying on your portfolio will just result in more companies that look like the portfolio. There are networks of women doing this work out there, from Women Who Startup to the Female Founders Collective.
3. Our Legal Networks need to be stronger. Our attorneys need to be our advocates. Having relationships with counsel that allow us to have honest dialogue is key. And men MUST be part of the conversation. This is not a women’s issue. This is a startup community issue.
4. Media has to step up. The picture of who launches successfully won’t change if the same old stories about the same companies keep dominating the tech and startup news cycle. If we bring more press to smaller stories, the businesses and their stories will get bigger too.
5. Change the policies and the way we approach fundraising. One of the things that we have pioneered as a founding team at soona is something we call the Candor Clause. The Candor Clause is an open-source legal disclosure for inclusion in fundraising documents to foster conversations between founders and investors about gender equality.
This is just one thing that founders and VCs can do to change the industry. The Clause is available to download at candorclause.com
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)’
We hope that the Candor Clause can be a movement that helps the entire startup community have different dialogues about gender equality in entrepreneurship. While the Candor Clause serves as a legal disclosure that lives in paperwork, it also gets right to the core of CHANGE in the industry.
With the Candor Clause, we seek to do 2 things:
1. Create Radical Conversations Between Founders and Investors: With this disclosure requirement, we are able to have open, candid dialogue as founders and investors about how we want to do business at the very earliest stage of the relationship. In introducing the clause to our lead investors, we were able to share very clearly what we value as founders and our shared expectations about diversity, equality and general fairness. It also provides a clear opportunity to create advocates and champions of investors, the vast majority of whom are men. Each of these conversations is an invitation to do better, be better and treat each other better.
2. Make it Clear to Bad Actors that there will be Consequences: When someone is a victim in these types of situations, the onus is often on the victim to take on the legal, financial and personal strain of resolving it. By requiring a disclosure at the very earliest part of a business relationship, we are creating a clear standard. This is critical for removing barriers to a resolution in the future. By including the Candor Clause, it also sets a tone for how we will approach for any future issues.
The Clause is available to download at candorclause.com
Who’s a female entrepreneur/ VC you respect and why?
As a leader, there are few more fearless and honest in the VC world than Kate Shillo Beardsley at Upslope Ventures. She is not just an advocate for women, but works hard to promote women in business to ensure that they are successful, even if the fund doesn’t invest in them.
What do you think is the purpose and real impact of VC funds who focalize their work in women and minorities?
Every fund should be seeking the best businesses it can find that can deliver returns. Right now, that may mean that some funds are hyper focused on startups in a certain vein or category. It may also mean focusing on certain type of founder demographics. But at heart, funds should seek to first build a dynamic portfolio of brilliant businesses. And there is no ONE type of person who has a firm ownership of innovation in business.
The truth is that if the net is wide enough and the funds search hard enough, they will find a diverse set of founders that help their portfolio succeed. It’s work. But it’s important work.
Can you share with us an anecdote about the real impact you’ve had in this field?
As a female founder, I am all too aware of the types of awkward situations that can occur for us while fundraising. In meetings, I’ve been asked about my marriage, my plans for my future family, my dating history. These things should be off the table.
As I have grown in my confidence and experience, I have been more and more willing to voice my opinion and stop inappropriate conversations in their tracks.
It starts small: telling one investor that it is not appropriate to ask women certain questions.
And it can grow bigger: telling your team what you will and will not stand for from customers, vendors or partners.
And with even more support, I have been able to do even more with the help of our investors, legal advisors and customers. The Candor Clause is not just a solo effort. It’s a communal effort around an idea and core belief system.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There are many women we admire, but the ones we talk about often internally are Ali Webb, the founder of DryBar and Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler of SoulCycle. They have taken retail concepts and grown them into powerful, international brands.
Thank you for these great insights!
About The Author:
Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and Dubai focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.