Disrupting the Male-Dominated Startup Culture

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There is probably no way that this post comes off well, but I’m going to try it anyway. Credit first to the anonymous author of What It’s Like Raising Money As A Woman In Silicon Valley that was published in Forbes yesterday for inspiration.

First, let’s establish some facts. I am not a woman. I am not in Silicon Valley. I am an entrepreneur. I am a man. I am in Los Angeles. I am a father. I have two daughters. I have two sisters. I have a mother and a wife.

I am terribly saddened by what I read in Forbes. I want to try to help.

Being an entrepreneur is a lonely thing. You are on a hard journey where no one else can precisely relate to what you are doing. Even when you have a co-founder and a support team, someone is still the CEO. Someone still has to make the final decision. These decisions have profound impacts on your own life as a CEO, but also on the lives of your employees, family, friends, and supporters.  There is a crushing weight to all of this. No one can ever understand your specific situation, even when they are another CEO.

Because of this loneliness, a big part of survival is finding ways to make it less lonely. You have to find other CEOs to confide in. You have to have an investor or two that has started a company and will give you advice that serves you as the entrepreneur, not them as the investor. You need to find ways to feel safe, confident, and secure.

I know this is easier for me as a white male with a good college education, etc. In Silicon Valley, there is a lot talk a lot about pattern recognition or pattern matching, but what they might actually mean is stereotyping and profiling. It’s not true that everyone at Google or Stanford is super smart and able to build an amazing business, but many of them have, so it’s a safer bet.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to be a woman raising money in this already crazy world of venture capital. It makes my skin crawl to read the stories of sexual harassment and worse. I doubt (even hope) that my daughters don’t follow in my footsteps in 20 years and try to start their own companies. If they do, though, I don’t want this to happen to them!

It should not matter your gender, as much as your aptitude. It should not matter your employer, as much as your attitude. 

For the sake of my friends today and my daughters tomorrow, I want there to be more successful women in entrepreneurship, because there isn’t anything I can do, a woman can’t do as well (or better).  Fund raising is terrible in general; it’s likely unbearable if it is covered in sexual harassment along the way.

So I ask myself, “What can I do?”

(This is the part where this post might go wrong in your reading; please pardon me if this comes off as condescending or otherwise.)

There are three things I think that I can do to help change the situation.

1) Talk about it.

We must acknowledge there is a problem in order to solve it. Let’s acknowledge the issue and let’s fight back against the bad people who would use their position or money to attempt to take advantage of entrepreneurs solely based on their gender. Let’s not do business with people whose behavior is unacceptable, regardless of what billion-dollar startup they previously created or invested in.

2) Balance the Ecosystem

Let’s find ways to hire more women into startups. Your best bet at being successful in a startup is to have worked at one. Whether its engineering, marketing, or customer support, let’s make the environment friendly and inviting for all.

3) Support the Entrepreneurs

The anonymous author in Forbes says that it’s hard to build that support system, because you can’t be another CEO getting a beer if you’re a woman and the rest of the group is men. Let that not be the case. Let’s all grab beers or wine or coffee or whatever is non-threatening and let’s commiserate. Let’s be advisors with no intentions. Let’s open our door and introduce you to our wife and let female entrepreneurs know we’re not all assholes. I’m not sure how to provide some trust around this (airbnadvisor.com?), but let’s work to find a way.

The process is already started. The magnitude and direction of improvement in talking about and solving this problem is underway. I can feel it. It may take 20 years to fix (or more), but let’s get going. Every member of the community needs to embrace this change. Let’s take simple steps. Write a blog post. Interview and hire women. Do real outreach recruiting. Advise startups. Host a happy hour with CEOs of both genders. We can get there. We’re all about disruption. Let’s disrupt ourselves.