Five female founders, five early lessons: It’s a must read for startup owners

Sairee Chahal

Women in the startup world are redefining boundaries. Many of them are claiming top positions and challenging the traditional discourse that men alone lead. At Startup India, a panel curated by SheThePeople help beat some key stereotypes women face. While most female founders admitted gender matters had subsided over the years, there was little doubt that investors needed to take women more seriously. The good news remains that there is progress along the way. Here are excerpts from a conversation between SheThePeople founder & award winning broadcast journalist Shaili Chopra and five kickass women entrepreneurs in India.

On dealing with investors and their uncomfortable questions to women entrepreneurs on subjects like marriage, commitment and drive.

Pranshu Patni, Culture Alley: Things have changed dramatically over the years. Today, they look at me as just another co-founder. What is very important for women to understand while raising funds is to detach their gender from their conversations and show the investors that they are committed to the idea, and let the product speak for itself. If you do that, I don’t think you being a woman would stop somebody from putting in money. The only time that we were actually questioned over being a husband-wife team, and me being a woman, was actually by a woman. So, I think women should be the first ones to stop undermining other women.

Shanti Mohan, LetsVenture: To be fair to the ecosystem, I have never heard such questions come up when a good startup founder pitches to an investor.

I think, the first important point is for women themselves to think that they are not under-powered. But if somebody is asking you those questions, you shouldn’t even get them as your investor because, besides being a man or a woman, you could have various challenges in your business. So, if they don’t believe in the team and the vision of the company they are not the right investors. Now there are women funds too. You could leverage those.

On the change in environment for women entrepreneurs from 2009, when Anisha Singh started out.

In 2009, I was one of the few women entrepreneurs. I really had to challenge the investors’ imagination because I started raising funds when I was about seven months pregnant. So, it was a special kind of stupid to go out and do that. But if you look at the statistics, they do show that, globally, women-led businesses don’t have adequate funding.

So yes, the environment is changing. There is a lot more awareness. I am seeing a lot more women entrepreneurs. But the fact is that not many women-led businesses have series-B or series-C funding. Things need to change.

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Sairee Chahal- Sheroes On Focussong on An Under-served job market for women

We had a very interesting problem because we are a product centered around urban, educated women, which is the invisible middle—it’s a large number, but it’s almost unseen. The flavour of “women conversation” in this country has been either about the grassroots or women in boardrooms & leadership—which is great. But what happens to the large urban middle-class women? It took us a while to say that we are not an NGO, we are not going to work for free, it is a business model. I think, we overcame that. As we got more and more users, our message got clearer.

Nidhi Agarwal on the unique advantages that women are bringing to the table.

I believe women consumers in India are far under-served. Since you are a consumer yourself, the articulation of a business idea and the product behind that is perhaps easier for women to understand and make. So, just by virtue of having this huge under-served consumer segment, women-owned businesses that cater to this segment form a very large space to catch up.

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