As an immigrant, LGBT, and almost 50-year-old mom of three, I’m not your traditional founder success story. I founded First Boulevard in 2020 with the mission to help Black Americans fight back against systemic racism by taking control of their finances, building wealth, and reinvesting in the Black economy.
We recently raised $5 million in seed funding from the likes of Barclays, Anthemis, and angel investors such as Gabrielle Union and Jemere Jackson. Despite these successes, my experience as a female founder is an anomaly—but hopefully not for long. Here are my tips for other women founders looking to shatter the glass ceiling in Silicon Valley.
Shifting your mindset: Who do you want on your journey?
My founder journey started with the persistent feeling I wasn’t being my true productive self within existing companies. I knew if I wanted to see a company I was genuinely proud of, I needed to go out and build it on my own, in my own way.
Studies show when more women are on leadership teams and boards, companies are significantly more profitable in the long run. When you follow the data and start digging in, studies prove time and time again that representation matters. As a woman founder, you know your company is going to make someone a lot of money. Who do you want to take on your journey and benefit from your success?
Shifting into this mindset helps you think about which VCs you want to deal with every day and who you want to partner and collaborate with. As female founders, we know our ideas are great and we’re fully capable of doing anything cisgender males can do. Always recognize your self-worth and keep what you bring to the table as your central focus.
I don’t think of investors as VCs and I don’t talk about money. I think about them as capital partners and how the people I choose are going to be long-term relationships for me. Always remember, once they’re on your cap table, they’re on your cap table—be proud of that cap table.
Don’t take dummy dollars—get to the next level
Throughout our seed raise, we did a lot of research into our capital partners. When we first started going through calls, a specific demographic always showed up. When it came to representation, my cofounder, Donald, a Black man, and I were the diversity. In fact, it wasn’t until our call with Anthemis—when all women and women of color, no less, showed up—that I realized “Oh wow, this actually exists out here.”
When looking at different partner teams, we looked at their associates and principals to see whether efforts were being made for longer-term growth. We also thought about who we eventually wanted on our board. Have these people already been about the work for diversity within their organizations? If they have, you know you’re not going to get a crappy term sheet where you lose your business in a couple rounds. They’re going to support you as a founder.
When you get that meeting with your potential capital partners, research them really well. See if any of their portfolio companies conflict with the work you’re doing. Figure out what they can add to your company. A lot of VCs want to know if they can offer anything to your company beyond money. You don’t want dummy dollars. You want smart capital partners who are going to help you get to the next level.
Some things are out of our hands—control what you can
If I founded First Boulevard five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have had as much interest as I do now. The pandemic and George Floyd murder, among other racial injustices over the past year and a half, really elevated the role that systemic racism plays in our society. We ended up with an oversubscribed $5 million seed round and all of these amazing people rallying around us and showing their support.
Timing and circumstances are important to your raise, and you also have to answer the right questions: What problem are you trying to solve, why are you the one to solve it, and why is right now the right time to solve it?Timing and circumstances are important to your raise, and you also have to answer the right questions: What problem are you trying to solve, why are you the one to solve it, and why is right now the right time to solve it? Click To Tweet
A few tips for other women founders:
- Talk to everyone and take every meeting. Schedule 15-20-minute meetings—never an hour!—and get to know as many people as you can. Even if you meet with an investor who doesn’t end up investing in you, they’ll introduce you to others if you make a real connection with them.
- Don’t send out your deck in advance. But do send over a blurb that tells the investor something about you. If you have people who have already been supportive of you and are well-known in the space, include their quote or testimonial to show your support from notable people. While I hate the idea that you need warm intros, so many people reach out to VCs. You have to cut through the noise, network the crap out of yourself, and find people willing to connect you with others.
- Take that crappy term sheet (just don’t sign it). Even a bad term sheet is a good thing because you can take that term sheet and shop it around. Remember, you’re not actually raising until you have a term sheet in hand. All you’re doing is having conversations with people and getting to know different VCs and portfolio companies. Once you have a term sheet? Now you’re raising. Then the conversation becomes “Can I get a better term sheet?”
As females in this industry, recent research indicates a lot of things are simply out of our hands. You just have to get in there, do your best to reach everyone, and avoid the negative cycle of beating yourself up if you don’t nail a pitch, immediately connect with an investor, or answer the question perfectly. Remember that the people you’re talking to are just as infallible as you are—probably even more so.