SHAZAM! Every good superhero story includes a villain or two, but this isn't going to be another one of those articles that starts and stops with how hard it is to be a female founder. If you're reading this, you know that the numbers speak for themselves in terms of the obstacles that women face when starting businesses. We'll share some salient data as we go, but the superpowers women bring to bear on these challenges are the real news.
We surveyed the members of Female Founders in Hospitality, a mastermind and support network for women who have founded travel and hospitality-related companies across real estate, tech, professional services, and more. We wanted to find out if the obstacles female founders face are different from those that women encounter in the corporate world. We had a feeling that those obstacles helped founders develop their superpowers, the same superpowers that enable women-founded companies to outperform those founded by men.
10% - The upside in cumulative revenue over five years from startups founded or cofounded by women - in spite of a significant funding gap.
63% - The outperformance of female-founded companies to male-founded companies in First Round Capital’s portfolio.
$85 million - The return-on-investment venture capital funds could have made over five years by investing equally in companies founded by women and men.
"I've already built two companies, sold one of them, and yet I'm not taken seriously as a 'fundable' founder. I'm often asked to 'prove' my exit and the size of it, instead of sharing our big hairy goals and visions," –– Grace McBride, Lucia.
Women own 40% of US businesses, but women-founded companies are given only 2% of venture capital. To put that in perspective, only about 25% of women-owned businesses seek funding, and women represent only 8.6% of all venture capitalists.
"My previous career was 3% women, so while I was used to the challenges of being a female executive, I was not accustomed to the bias in fundraising. It's incredibly frustrating." –– Annie Sloan, The Host Co.
Clearly, funding is a major issue and was one of the five most listed among the challenges of being a female founder. Here are the other supervillains women often must fight on their entrepreneurial journeys.
The Invisible Woman (Lack of Representation)
"Not having a lot of role models or even peers to discuss difficult things with, especially in the web3 industry as there are very few female founders and even fewer CEOs." –– Cynthia Huang, DTravel
"It has been hard to find women who lead in both hospitality and technology." ––Jessica Hayes, Hayespitality
The Joker (Being Taken Seriously)
"When we were just drumming up the idea, we did about 100 calls with potential users to float the idea by them, poke holes in their current solutions, and get their buy-in to be part of our beta program. I can't even tell you how many people told us that it was impossible or that we couldn't do it, or that so many people have tried this before and failed." –– Alexa Berube, Reposite
The Evil Twin (Double Standard)
"Feeling like I have to have de-risked more, have more built, show more traction and progress than my male peers." –– Nina Kleaveland, Lanyard
"Certain instances when it seems that clients embrace my ideas AFTER hearing an 'authority' legitimize what I said months ago." –– Glenda Lee, CitiLife Development & TBT Hospitality
The Sidekick (Support Outside of Work)
"Carrying the mental load of household and family responsibilities in addition to everything required of an entrepreneur. My husband is amazingly supportive and truly shares the household workload, but he doesn't hold it all in his head like I do or am expected to." –– Brooke Taylor, Personified Creative Co.
"My Co-Founder and I came up with the idea for Syllogi when I was nine months pregnant. Trying to build this company during the incredibly intense and tiring months of being a mother to a newborn was one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced." –– Erin Washington, Syllogi
While formidable, supervillains aren’t immortal, and tangling with these foes can help heroes discover and hone their superpowers. There were four major themes that stood out when we asked FFiH members when being a specifically female founder has been a superpower.
Supersonic Ears (Listening Skills and Empathy)
"People hire me because they need help in their personal growth, support with their leadership teams, or development of their business. Having empathy (and listening skills) has helped me understand the needs and perspectives of my customers. This helps me find key pain points and better understand how I can help." –– Melissa Maher, Pinnacle Enterprises Group
"I'm really great at reading through the lines since that's always something I've been forced to do as a female founder. I can navigate conversations a lot more swiftly and elegantly than my male counterparts even realize. It's a skill a lot of female founders are forced to develop." –– Grace McBride, Lucia
The Element of Surprise (Being Underestimated and Exceeding Expectations)
"It's almost always a surprise when I tell people what I do. The leadership, bravery, and intelligence it takes to be a female founder and build something new is never expected, and there is something empowering about being unpredictable and exceeding expectations." –– Sam Spring, Roomza
"When I walk in and command a space, decisively state a position, or give a firm handshake I can't tell you how many people have made comments about how unexpected it is. I can't imagine the same type of comments being made about my male counterparts. I ache for a day when these biases melt away." –– Emily Dailey, PenDailey Consulting
A Justice League of Our Own (Building Networks of Support)
"Being underestimated has its advantages but connecting with other women who deeply understand the problem we are solving is magic." –– Dominique Olowolafe, Lightly
"When I'm with other female founders, it's like there's a magnifying effect." –– Lee Gonzalez, L&L Hospitality
Elasti-Woman's Elasticity (Resilience and Determination)
"Being able to persevere and have resilience has been critical. I've faced many challenges along the way and no matter what, I find a way to solve the problem. I do the best I can with what I've got in the moment and find a way to keep moving forward." –– Michelle Boss, The Livermore Valley Wine Country Inn
"As both a female founder and mother, I can accomplish more in a day than most humans. I use my time incredibly wisely to make sure I can get everything done. Female founders have much less room for error. This creates a culture of excellence and follow-through. The way you do one thing is the way you do everything." –– Annie Sloan, The Host Co.
Being a female entrepreneur is like having a secret stash of superpowers. We possess an extraordinary resilience that allows us to bounce back from setbacks and keep moving forward, even when the odds are stacked against us. People often underestimate our abilities, which gives us the element of surprise. And our superpower of building networks of support is unmatched – we connect with others, lift each other up, and create a powerful force that propels us to success. So, watch out world, because when you combine determination with a sprinkle of wit, being a female entrepreneur is a superpower you don't want to underestimate! SHAZAM!