To find success as a woman founder, embrace your scrappy side

The startup founder journey can be lonely. Getting a startup off the ground requires countless hours of hard work, planning, and action. This is even more so the case for female founders.

Becoming a founder has a steep learning curve, and you have to master many things to be successful. As a female founder, I understand these struggles intimately. As an adviser to female founders, I see this every day.

Six years ago, while building my first business, I kept running into the same woman at fundraising events, noticing her among the crowds of men. We had a lot in common when I introduced myself, including our professional backgrounds and attending the same business school. Similarly, we needed help to raise funding for our businesses.

Fundraising is an isolating experience. If we banded together, we could make it less lonely and more effective. So, we decided to create a space for like-minded, driven women. This marked the beginning of Hive Founders, a global network and startup accelerator built by women entrepreneurs to help other women entrepreneurs succeed.

It started with the two of us, slowly expanding. We would share tips, contacts, and strategies we learned as we navigated founding a startup. We brought in experts, and we shared our startup mistakes and lessons. Together, we bonded — building a network of women with a shared mindset for success.

Two different playbooks

There is a wealth of information on the internet about fundraising for startups, but the existing playbooks need to be updated for women. The process is entirely different: It requires much more preparation, adaptability, and well-roundedness. With the proper guidance and support, it’s easier to succeed.

Women founders experience different behavioral patterns from investors — including what questions are asked and how pitch decks are reviewed. Data from DocSend (study available upon request) revealed that investors spent 50% more time on the traction sections for all-female teams and 41% more time on the market size section.

There is a wealth of information on the internet about fundraising for startups, but the existing playbooks need to be updated for women.

Investors invest in problems they can understand, and many (though not all) female founders set out to solve uniquely female problems. This gender gap creates a disconnect between the investor demographic and female founders seeking investment. While these businesses may be solving problems that affect a vast demographic, a male investor might not recognize (or be convinced of) this. Strategic placement of information in the deck can be a vital way to combat this.

Outside the deck, I often advise women founders to lean into their scrappiness — be determined, focused, and collaborative. With fewer resources, female founders must be disciplined in using them, especially when interacting with investors. Efficient problem-solving, early revenue generation, agility, and resilience play a role in the extra effort to show VCs exactly why their business is valuable.

Beyond the page: Pitch decks don’t tell the whole story

Fundraising goes beyond pitch decks and capital; it begins with relationships. Create relationships with investors before starting to fundraise. I found this is critical for long-term success. Genuine relationships require finding mutual ground — and this is often harder for a female founder to do with a male investor than a male founder may experience.

Just as fewer female founders get funded, there are fewer female investors. It can take time to find investors who resonate with women-run businesses. Female founders must know how to drive the conversation and explain things comprehensively to any audience. Anticipating investors’ questions and emphasizing your path to profitability can lead to more successful conversations.

The questions asked of women veer more toward how they will handle risk management or prepare for challenges as opposed to the opportunities their businesses can harness. Most investors use pitch decks to understand if businesses are worth the risk and if the women running these startups are qualified to do so. VCs spent 125% more time (study available upon request) scrutinizing the team slide for all female teams. Women must work extra hard to show that their expertise is sufficient and exceptional.

Women helping women

Fundraising can be frustrating and challenging, and many founders are seeking guidance from those who have been through it before. According to the Embroker Risk Index (study available upon request), founders’ desire for mentorship skyrocketed from 5% to 21% from 2022 to 2023. This is why we founded Hive Founders. No one can understand a female founder’s journey more than another female founder.

Initially, Hive Founders was a labor of love. My co-founder and I were passionate about advancing women, and we wanted other women to have a better experience than we had. Soon, there were 10 women, then 300 — now Hive has skyrocketed to over 900 members worldwide. We create a space that is inclusive and supportive but also extremely practical. The accelerator focuses on results-driven advice that can be immediately implemented. Women need not only theory and feedback, but also money to build their businesses.

My co-founders and I beat the odds and successfully raised millions. But this took work. We made many mistakes and learned a lot. We want to inspire other women to write their personal playbooks. Now, as an investor focused on women-led companies, I am constantly on the lookout for founders who are open, curious, determined, and focused enough to navigate the murky and tumultuous path of business building.

I am incredibly energized every day by the exceptional women I work with. I love being surrounded by ambitious women solving complex and significant problems. Their passion, commitment, and determination nurture and inspire me. The world needs these businesses. But to make these a reality, women need more funding. My mission is to help more women do just that.