Gender and Startup Culture

Let’s be very clear about this. Raising capital for female entrepreneurs is more difficult than it is for male entrepreneurs.
Yet, women are survivors and even with the odds stacked against them, they simply keep going.  Women are fearless. Let’s also not underestimate the impact of network effects of the businesses that women start. Or, should we say the negative network effects. Most venture capitalists are men (by far!) and that means that the network effects for women are much less effective than they are for me…who drive most of the capital raising and investment decisions.

Both network effects and access to capital are some of the most important factors that drive business success.  According to a study by Boston Consulting Group (as noted in the Harvard Business Review –, “investments in companies founded or cofounded by women averaged $935,000, which is less than half the average of $2.1 million invested in companies founded by male entrepreneurs. This disparity exists despite the fact that startups founded and co-founded by women actually performed better over time, generating 10% higher cumulative revenue over a five-year period: $730,000 for women compared with $662,000 for men.”

Having said all of that, as I noted above, female founders are heroically persistent.  They never give up or give in and their journeys through the entrepreneurial landscape are so different than a man’s and this makes those stories so much more interesting as a result.

In that context, last year, I had an incredible conversation with Priyanka Jain, the Founder of Roaming Clan.  The origin of this conversation was actually quite interesting, and maybe even a proof of concept.  Earlier in the year, I had a conversation with Vikram Bharati that started off as two friends catching up and ended up having a long discussion about his new and rapidly growing business called Tribe Theory. This, in and of itself, was a fascinating conversation.

It turned out that I had to go to Singapore last year for some business and I decided to try staying at the flagship Tribe Theory hostel in Singapore.  I was more than pleasantly surprised. It was a pretty awesome place. It was there that I had the chance to meet Priyanka’s sister Prerna Jain. She and I had a great conversation and after telling her what I did, she said that I had to talk to her sister.  The loop was closed.

Priyanka tells a great story about how Roaming Clan was started.  She had been working corporate jobs, doing well and just decided that she wanted to take a 3-month trip to recharge. That trip turned into a year-long adventure and the things that she learned and experienced during that year inspired her to start and build Roaming Clan.

Priyanka breaks many stereotypes of female founders.  First, she is a software developer and did that as her profession for quite a few years.  Priyanka, like every successful entrepreneur, likes to do things the hard way. The more challenging the situation is, the more she wants to do it.  This is thematic for her life. Frankly, she better embrace the challenge. As we mentioned above, as a woman operating in a space dominated by men, the challenges are multiplied and everywhere.  Yet she said to me, “It’s no fun to have something which just comes to you…”

She also spoke to me frankly about the startup world from her perspective. It all looks super flashy from the outside, but until you try to build your own company, you can not imagine the struggle.  The only bits that most people see are guys and gals working out of a café, setting their own hours and wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. But, it is so much harder than that.

After that, I could not help commiserating with her. She was so right.  The struggle…the emotional, physical, all-consuming struggle was something that I thought I understood while I was working at Goldman Sachs, but I could not have been more wrong.  My conversation with Priyanka really drove that home. I was in a franchise business, full stop. Building that from scratch is almost impossible and yet, that is the journey that Priyanka has chosen.

Priyanka and I had what ended up being a truly personal conversation.  She asked me if during my travels I had ever run into a solo Indian female traveler…and I had to admit that I had not.  That was part of her point. There are plenty of individuals who would benefit from having others with whom to travel. Essentially, Roaming Clan is a community of trustworthy travelers. ‘Roamers’ can join group trips, post their plans in travel clubs & look for like-minded travel-mates.

To be fair, this seemed to me to be a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of a female entrepreneur.  Plenty of the women that start businesses would benefit from having like-minded others with whom they could build (Statistically, startups with females as part of the original team are more successful than those without.).

You can listen to our entire conversation here and learn more about what one learns when she physically travels outside her comfort zone-à