Why Men (and Women) Bail on Female Founders

I started to write this post last Fall and didn’t because I was worried how my peers would respond in a post-non-Hillary world. But on International Women’s Day, I’m going to take a chance…

Recently, I was at the First Round CEO Summit talking to an amazing group of female founders.  I joined the group as they were discussing a vc who backed out of a term sheet.  We all gasped a little inside.  We know it happens, but deep down you hope that in your next round, you’ll saddle up with investors who would never do that.  And we all wondered aloud, if this happens more to female founders than to our male counterparts.  
The conversation turned to talking about a certain woman vc who is notorious for abandoning her companies at the first sign of difficulty.  I don’t know her personally, but I started to defend her.  

My argument was that there are so few women involved in big deals and there’s so much internal and external pressure for them to perform that they’re likely uncomfortable spending too much time on a company that might reflect poorly on the vc in a Monday morning partner meeting. 

We all agreed we wouldn’t want her as an investor.  

But having had a few months to reflect, I’m realizing how fundamentally flawed this whole system is.  And when you break down why people don’t back or bail on female founders, I think it all stems from this miserable intersection of fear of failure and the subconscious need to be right…even when right means “I knew I couldn’t do it.”

At one point when I was running GiveForward, I got into an argument with a senior team member.  In front of a room of people, we disagreed about something and he “reminded” me that he was “in charge of growing this company.” I asserted loudly enough for everyone to hear that he was wrong.  As CEO, I was responsible for growing this business.  

That moment was a turning point for me in a lot of ways.  It was the first time my team saw my frustration at what was a growing problem on the senior team.  But it was also a loud announcement of my fear that our failure to hit numbers was an indictment on my ability to lead the company…and deep down that evil imposter syndrome reared its ugly head.

What followed was a tailspin of self doubt.  I questioned myself as a founder and as a leader.  And thanks to a call to my board by said senior team member, my board now questioned me too. Ultimately we decided to look for a new CEO.  

But to be perfectly honest, that wasn’t the part I’m embarrassed or ashamed of. What happened inside my head was the most embarrassing part.  I’ve always considered myself an early supporter of women founders, but the reality was that there was an internal monologue that sounded nothing like support.  It went something like this:

You knew you couldn’t really do this. They knew you couldn’t do this. This was always going to be the way it worked out. Very few women get to take a company as far as you have. You should be grateful. Now maybe you can spend more time with Griffin and John…or have another baby?  You’re just a better starter than executer.  That’s okay. You’ll probably love running strategy and biz dev. You are lucky you got this far. Just don’t lose your company.  Play along.  What are you if you’re not the CEO of GiveForward? Founder is good enough. Isn’t it?”

I wish I could shake that person and scream at her “You’re wrong!” Everything about that message was flawed because every piece of it was filled with self doubt and convincing myself that I was right all along…that few women can build massive companies. 

Because that’s all we’ve known as women…especially in Chicago.  There are so few of us that have actually started and carried a business to scale.  And the brain likes pattern recognition.  If there’s no pattern of women killing it, how do we know we can? 

It’s like the 4-minute mile.  No one thought it was possible until someone did it…and since hundreds of people have done it. 

Women need our 4-minute mile successes–ones not led by celebrities. We need to turn off the subconscious bias that rings in the minds of both male and female board members that says we are less likely to succeed. 

Performance is what’s going to change this system…that and more women in the room.  It’s not protesting or taking today off work, although those actions are powerful for separate reasons.  It’s performance. Killing it at our jobs, finding new and better opportunities that only we can see, and supporting each other on the journey up. 

Feel free to disagree, but I believe that the day we IPO our own companies and fill our own teams with women leaders is the day that we will see equality.

And for what it’s worth, I didn’t tell the group of women founders that day that I had just had a firm back out of a term sheet–that a name brand investor with an all male team gave me terrible terms that I accepted for the wrong reasons. They talked down to me, called me diminutive names like sweetheart, and ultimately passed because our 160 day old company hadn’t hit explosive growth. At the time I was embarrassed it happened.  

But time (and hitting numbers) gives you so much perspective.  I realize now that the only disappointment I should feel is that I ever considered the deal in the first place. Lessons like that aren’t a sign that I can’t do this…they’re a sign that I’m learning…like every male founder is too.

And I’m so glad they passed. It made room for the valuable male and female investors who truly believe in me and this business.  
Thank you: 

Sam Yagan, Paul Lee, David Cohen, Stuart Larkins, Ezra Galston, Kevin Willer, Matt McCall, Guy Turner, Stopher Bartol, Russ Fradin, Genevieve Thiers, Cyan Banister, Brittany Graunke, Sam Shank, Ethan Austin, Chrissie Pariso, Joe Roos, Justin Alden, Tord Alden, Heather and Sean Harper, the leaders at FireStarter, and everyone who has invested through our Republic campaign. And of course, thank you to my husband, my biggest “investor.”

Mac & Cheese recipe


Because people have asked, I figured I’d share the recipe from the Mac & Cheese recipe that won last weekend 🙂 

It was inspired by this one

1 lb thick cut bacon

1 1b box medium shells

1 stick of butter

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3  1/2 cups milk

1 egg

8 oz cream cheese

1/2 lb American cheese

1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar 

1/2 cup pepper jack

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan 

Panko breadcrumbs

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350. 

Chop and cook bacon into crumbles.

Boil pasta in salted water, drain and set aside in a large bowl to cool.

In a large pot, whisk butter, flour, salt, cayenne, and nutmeg until smooth. 

Add milk and bring to a boil.  Stir in cubed cream cheese and then the other cheeses.  Remove from heat. 

Stir beaten egg into the cooled noodles.  Then pour cheese sauce over the noodles, stir in bacon, and place in greased 9×13 inch pan.  There will be a lot of sauce. 

Cook 30 minutes and then add seasoned panko breadcrumbs to the top for 15 more minutes. 

This recipe is awesome because it stays creamy hours after you remove it from the oven. 

Why Dallas?

in-the-city

We keep getting this question when we tell people about Pearachute’s next home.  The typical start-up city expansion usually includes New York and San Francisco, so choosing a less dense, less urban location for our second city seems foreign to some.  But at Pearachute, we’re making a different bet.

Pearachute is a monthly membership club that makes it easy for parents and caregivers to discover, book, and drop into the best kids’ activities in your city.  We create opportunities to bring families together in a way they never could before. Now dads can drop into basketball classes with their kids and moms can book parent/child coding classes–all at the touch of a button, all for one affordable monthly rate.

This business is about connecting families with local businesses, and where better to do that than in the major metro areas of cities known for being family-friendly.

We chose Dallas for several reasons.  First, there is a great population of families with young children looking for fun things to do. Second, North Dallas is exploding with major companies like Toyota bringing employees from all over the country to the Plano area.  Third, there are hundreds of activity centers in the DFW area that offer so many cool classes and events that my staff keeps joking about moving our home office there.

But perhaps most important, we chose Dallas because we think it’s a great culture fit for our brand.  Texans, and Dallasites in particular, have a focus on family and empowering local business.  We share the same values of hard work, friendly people, and a desire to build our communities.

We’re launching Pearachute in Dallas this morning and couldn’t be more thrilled to call it our second home.

Wednesday Parent Hack


When Griffin was born, I decided I wanted to do something to with all of the photos and videos I was taking.  At the time I was wary of posting too much to Facebook, and a baby book seemed like an impossible task.

I decided to create a private blog on a site called Posterous, which at the time was awesome and was one of the only free sites that let you post videos and photos within a blog for free. 

A couple of years in, they were acquired by Twitter who shut down the service, and I found myself frantically trying to find a new home for these files. 

I decided not to risk it again and go with a site that didn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, WordPress.  I’m so glad I did.  I know there are a ton of great apps out there trying to solve this problem for parents. But at the end of the day, I love the simplicity of being able to pop open the WordPress app while lying in bed with the boys and privately document the little magical moments happening in their lives. I am grateful I learned the Posterous lesson before I had a decade of files, and I’m crossing my fingers in the hopes that WordPress makes it long enough for my boys to enjoy well into adulthood. 

 

Wednesday Mom Hack


Now that sunrise is later, I can’t get myself to run outside in the morning.  Once as a teenager I was followed by a van during an early morning run, and ever since I’ve been keenly aware of the vulnerability I present. 

Finding time to get to the gym with a two and four year old is tough, but last month my stylist, Jorie, told me about Skyfit, and I’m so in love with it. 

Basically, you have a trainer in your ear with pumped up music motivating and pushing you through workouts that don’t require equipment.  It’s a great way to start the day with a 20 min high intensity workout before anyone even wakes up. 

But what I really love about Skyfit is the fact that it’s part of this macro trend that doesn’t force us to make sweeping changes in our lives.  This app like so many others is about finding 20 minutes to be present, take care of ourselves, boost our confidence, and continue on with the things that matter. 

The hardest thing about loving…


Is that one day you have to say goodbye forever.  We practice little goodbyes everyday in small interactions with people we may never see again.  

Our heart learns how to do it throughout our lives, we say goodbye to friends, jobs, homes, and places we love.  But if we’re lucky, we only have to say sob out loud goodbyes a handful of times. 

Today was one of mine.  This afternoon I put to rest my sweet, hyper, eleven year-old golden retriever Ellie.  

When we were 23, my best friend from home and I bought a house together. The morning after our housewarming party, another friend brought 3 golden retriever puppies to cure our hangovers. 10 minutes later I had a new love of my life. 


Her puppy breath and little sharp teeth won me over after her sisters fell asleep.  I knew immediately that she was smart.  She needed a sophisticated name, so I named her Eleanor Charlotte and we called her Ellie. 

She was destructive and hilarious and loud and perfect.  She made my life full of joy and frustration and so much love.


I’m grieving her more than I thought I would.  I think because saying goodbye to her is saying goodbye to a happy being that represents so many firsts in my life.  

Ellie was the first to show me what it is to be a mother–to put someone else’s needs ahead of my wants.  She taught me what it feels like to be unconditionally loved by someone besides my mother.  

When I moved to Chicago, she was in the car seated next to me staring up at the huge buildings for the first time.  And when I left my ex, she slept beside me on the tiny couch that was the only piece of furniture I owned. 


She was there as I started GiveForward, met my husband, and welcomed my two boys home.  She was the first face I saw every day coming home from work and the last face peering out the window to say goodbye each morning as I left.

Ellie, when I found out that cancer would be the reason I had to say goodbye, I knew it would be hard.  But thank you for showing me for the first time how to celebrate life until the very last minute.  I will miss you, more than I can write.