Can we stop with all the events and sessions for women and minority – especially minority female – founders on “Empowerment” and “Finding Your Voice”? Every day, I get email invites to or see social media posts on how women and minority entrepreneurs can “build their businesses.”
The other day, an organizer of one of these events, who is super nice and organizes tech events as a labor of love, asked me why they didn’t seem to be getting higher level founders. We’re not talking about Mark Zuckerburg-level founders, but like past-the-I-made-business-cards-that-say-“founder” stage.
“Do you want to know what I really think?” I asked.
But here’s the thing…
I don’t need to be empowered. I am empowered “up to here.”
I don’t need to find my voice. I don’t need to learn to speak up, be heard, lean in or whatever else female and/or founders apparently “need to do.”
I’m totally good on all of those things. If you can’t hear me, it’s because you’re not listening.
What I do need is cash. Not in a panicked “Oh my God, we need money or we’re going under!” kind of way. I’m also good on that front. Our 10th full-time employee started today! I’m, in fact, currently feeling “empowered” because we’re in that lovely window of raising money when you don’t desperately need money. (Don’t get me wrong, raising money – even when you have some in the bank – is still an seemingly never-ending, largely rejection-filled grind.)
But since I have an offer out to Employee 11 and a 5-year timeline that could be condensed down to two years with a “little” more cash, we’re fundraising. (If you don’t have a couple hundred thousand to throw my way, you could just buy our games, because they’re awesome and we get money that way too.)
For those who are “thinking about taking the leap” or who “have an idea but not a team, product or money,” then sure, maybe sitting around in a room hearing someone tell you that you just need to ask for what you want or some other feel-good-isms is what you need. Maybe it is the push you need to go out and dream your big dream. Great.
However, I think it’s a disservice to actual founders to spend so much time on this topic.
Not only is it a disservice, but if these are your “minority and woman”-centered programming efforts, you’re not going to get founder turnout reflective of the amazing things that female and minority entrepreneurs are doing and making.
That only serves to further contribute to this idea that there are “no” female and minority founders – because actual founders who are in the middle of product development and dealing with investors who are asking things about when you’ll break even are not going to come to your sessions on being “empowered.”
And yes, if you don’t have an MVP and you’re not actively working to gain customers, then, you’re not a founder. Sure, you might be doing some “entrepreneurial thinking,” but you’re not an entrepreneur – no matter how many panels sessions you go to where they say, “You are an entrepreneur if you think you are.”
Case in point, I am an author. I am an author because I wrote a book that was published and available for people to buy. Back when we had the idea to write a book, I wasn’t an author. And before that, when we were “thinking” of writing a book, I certainly wasn’t an author. It’s the same with being a founders.
You do not get credit for the things that you are capable of doing, but do not do. Part of being an entrepreneur is taking the leap.
Once you take that leap, the kind of sessions or networking that you really need are about how to build those companies, how to refine your sales strategy, etc. I am also totally on board with the movement around less “how to perfect your investor pitch ” programming and more “how to perfect your customer pitch” – because honestly, while I love our investors, what I – and they – want is more customers.
Why does this matter? And I don’t mean this as a way to hate on “founders” of products and teams that exist only in their minds, but the truth is real founders have real needs that usually cost real dollars or, at the very least, they’d benefit from real insights that could be applicable to their work, and no amount of empowerment talk is going to change that.
This is especially true – and important – for minority and female founders because they are far less likely to come from backgrounds with access to extensive networks to tap for insight and expertise on these topics.
Those are the kind of things I’d make an effort to show up to attend.