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Is Crowdfunding Leveling The Playing Field For Entrepreneurs?

With access to a computer, creative strategy and hard work, Crowdfunding is proving to be a viable way for founders to access capital and secure early stage investment. Now more entrepreneurs who suffer from limited access to capital and VC networks, can find funding more efficiently and successfully.

This is especially true for entrepreneurs who feel they face discrimination based on who they are or where they come from. A 2014 study from NYU and Wharton reported that women-only teams had a 40% better chance of meeting fundraising goals using crowdfunding.

In a Fast Company article, Ryan Caldbeck, CEO of crowdfunding platform CircleUp, tells writer Lydia Dishman that he doesn’t believe the success of crowdfunding to be gender-specific. He believes that women “are a clearly identifiable group that is benefiting from this transformation, but there are many others, including entrepreneurs in rural areas.”

In the article Dishman speaks to how crowdfunding acts as a buffer to unconscious bias and benefits underserved entrepreneurs. Aside from Caldbeck, Dishman also talks to entrepreneur Bonnie Marcus, author of The Politics of Promotion, and serial entrepreneur Courtney Nichols Gould, cofounder of SmartyPants vitamins, about what it takes outside of a capital campaign to secure growth for your company.

Read the full article here: Is Crowdfunding Leveling the Play Field for Female Entrepreneurs?

Our Voices

Her unapologetic confidence to succeed

A female VC once told Jessica Mah that her personality was too strong – at least for a woman in the tech industry. Mah calls it unapologetic confidence and she’s not ashamed to put it to good use. After all it was strength and willingness to believe in her abilities and her company that allowed her to reinvent her financial software firm and create a stunning growth rate of 2,685.6% over a three year period.
Mah launched inDinero in 2010 with her friend and co-founder Andy Su. At the time Mah was just 19 years old and by the time she was 20 they had received $1.2 million in funding through Y Combinator.

Inspired by her entrepreneurial mother, Mah claims to have had her first taste of business in second grade selling drawings in the school playground. When she was 8 years-old Mah began learning computer programming. At age 12 she started her first company and by the age of 15 she dropped out of high school to take computer science courses at University of California at Berkeley from where she later graduated. Tech Crunch toted her as “the closest thing we have to a female Mark Zuckerberg.”

In creating inDinero, Mah was motivated by her previous small business ventures and the problems she faced with managing her books. She took something that intimidated her and decided to create a product that would make it easier for small businesses to manage their own accounting.

With her immediate PR and funding success, Mah did not project that inDinero would fail within the first year. According to her feature in Inc. magazine most of the 30,000 mom-and-pop-shop customers using inDinero were not buying into premium tools and used the software for free.

Money started to burn away. There were the basic operational costs but there were also the costs of letting your ego get the better of you. In an email to her parents she confessed to the detriment of cockiness and arrogance: “I feel like I’m Bernie Madoff – rich on the outside, but completely broken on the inside.” Flashy PR and an expensive office was not going to sustain her success. Mah had a wake up call. She was spending $80,000 a month, with only $150,000 left in the bank. The platonic co-founders laid off all their employees save for two, moved the company into their home apartment which was subsidized by their parents and started again from the ground up.

In order to survive inDinero had to pivot. Mah and Su used their personal connections and market research to create a more refined business model and product offering. Ultimately inDinero acted as a back office operations software that would handle accounting and taxes for small to medium sized businesses.

In a recent interview with Inc. Magazine on her success Mah said,

I think if anything this [experience] has made me even bigger and bolder. I am more ambitious now than I was a few months ago. A year ago I was calling my mentors and saying, wow, maybe I won’t be able to build a huge business and its not going to be great – and over the past few months that attitude has completely shifted. Now I’m like, I can really crush it. I can do really great things in the world.

Mah also noted that although she might be a little bit more paranoid after coming back from the brink of failure, she has learned not to take anything for granted.

Today, inDinero is a growing force in the small-to-medium-size-business software space. Customers now pay three to four figures monthly for use of the the proprietary software and inDinero received another $8.8 million in funding which led to a staff of 150. In 2014, inDinero hit $2.9 million in revenue with a growth rate of 2,685% and Mah is confident that their growth will double by 2016.

For more details about the trials and triumphs of Jessica Mah and her co-founder Any Su read Inc. Magazine’s feature “How Couples Therapy Helped Bring This Company Back From the Brink” by Kate Rockwood.


Why are women less likely to be entrepreneurs than men?

Wharton management professor Ethan Mollick, recently spoke in an interview on the Knowledge@Wharton show about a study he co authored with Venkat Kuppuswamy that explores the impediments to entrepreneurial success faced by women.

The study looked at more than 90,0000 Kickstarter projects – 30% of which were created by women. Researchers focused on key questions including: how likely are you to start a second venture, and were men more overconfident than women, as opposed to being optimistic?

“In fact, overconfidence is the biggest psychological predictor of whether or not you’re going to become an entrepreneur.” say’s Wharton. “Having misplaced confidence in yourself and thinking you can win when other people always lose is a strong predictor of entrepreneurship. We call this kind of overconfidence classic, Greek-style hubris — the idea of unfounded self-confidence.”

The study defined optimistic as the entrepreneur who would launch another project because the had missed their fundraising target. Comparatively, Overconfident defined those who decided to try again despite missing their first target.

On average, the results showed that women were less likely to launch another project regardless of whether their first attempt had succeeded or failed. They were also more dissuaded by big failures. These finding led researchers to believe that women had lower levels of overconfidence, and higher levels of humility.

The study concluded that men and women perceive failure and success differently. Women see failure as a sign that they are not cut out for entrepreneurship, Men see it as a stumbling block that they can overcome if they try again. Women tend to view success as sheer luck, where men will see it a s a testament to their natural skills and hard work, despite if they have previously failed or not.

“We found that — in our sample, at least — if women were as immodest and as unhumble as men, and as overconfident, there would have been 30%, roughly — about 28% — more female founding attempts in our sample,” Mollick says. “That was a huge number of people being discouraged by this psychological characteristic. It explained a lot of the gap in the founding rates between women and men in our sample.”

Mollick noted that this type of mentality hurts women as a group. Individually it saves them from not buying into doomed ventures, but with fewer women buying into the idea of the entrepreneurial “lottery ticket” you have fewer “lottery winners” as women, which means fewer role models for women entrepreneurs.

Mollick brings up the the issue of homily and the principle of “birds of a feather flock together.” The Boy’s Club is a network that has been in place for 10 – 20 years and people tend to like people like themselves. VC’s tend to be mostly male; they have friend networks that are mostly male. This results in a strong network of men who talk to each other, which can make it much more difficult for a woman to get access to the right kind of people when launching an enterprise.

This was most likely chivalric venture capitalist Sir Michael Moritz’s issue. It’s not a question of how hard you look, but what you can actually do to help support the representation and promotion of women in areas where they face the most disadvantage.

Mollick explains one experiment where researchers took a successful Kickstarter project and we created two exact versions of that project. The only difference was between the two creators — in one case, it was created by Jessica Smith, in the other case, it was created by Michael Smith. Everything from clothing, to presentation style, to natural good looks was on the same level.

Researchers wanted to figure out whether the project being created by a man or a woman made a difference, so they asked participants to judge where project quality was better.

Mollick explains their findings:

“We found out that men didn’t care whether a project was created by a man or a woman. There was no significant impact. At least in this case, it didn’t seem to move the needle. With women, it turned out to be really interesting. Two-thirds of women actually thought the project created by the man was better than the project created by the woman.

[However], we took a bunch of measures, and we realized about one-third of the women in the sample were what we called “activists.”

These were women who knew that women were underrepresented in technology. They felt that women suffered from discrimination in this field, and they thought it was important to try and fix that. They thought either the government should help or they should help or it was important to try and change this. Those women were much more likely to [fund] a project created by a woman.

So all of the success that we found — the reasons why women were doing better than men [on Kickstarter] — came from a small group of women who were helping to support other women in areas where there was the most disadvantage for them.”

So the answer to the mystery of where are the women does not lie in how do you increase the numbers of women entrepreneurs and having more participate. Instead, for real change to happen, it comes down to how involved you are willing to get in actively making change happen.

For more information on Hubris and Humility: Gender Differences in Serial Founding Rates, listen to the podcast interview on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business.

Our Voices

Meaning is the New Money


In 2014, Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO, put her thoughts down on paper and her book “SheEO: Think Like a SheEO” was soon after, published. What make this entrepreneurship book unique is its enthusiastic call to women to build businesses that reflect their values and do so on their own terms.  For our inaugural edition of Liisbeth, we are featuring the chapter “Meaning is the New Money” in the belief that you will find her words energizing and motivating!


I was in New York at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Conference after 9-11 with all of the Global Leaders for Tomorrow in a room and our keynote was Hillary Clinton. I will never forget her opening line: “I was asked to come and speak to you about leadership but my first question is: leadership for what?” I could see half of the audience wondering, “What’s she talking about? I don’t get it, I’m on a path to the top of my company” and the other half thinking, “That’s exactly what I’m struggling with. I’m number two at my Fortune 100 company and I’m 32. Is this all there is? Why am I here? What is the point of my life?”

SheEO principle two is that meaning is the new money. What I mean by this is that more than ever before, people are asking their version of Hillary Clinton’s question. They want to know that their work has meaning. That it creates a positive impact. That it moves the needle on creating the kinds of changes that are needed in the world.

There are all kinds of research to back this principle up. For instance, a study of Millennials done for the financial services sector, which typically attracts young people highly motivated by money, found that they “are looking for more in life than `just a job,’ or a steady climb through the corporate ranks. They want to do something that feels worthwhile, they take into account the values of the company when considering a job….” And a recent Millennial Branding report found that the vast majority of people in this demographic—72%–seek work with a greater purpose.

To meet this need, organizations like Escape the City have sprung up on line. Founded by two young British management consultants who found the corporate world stultifying, Escape the City is, in their own words, “a global community for people who want to ‘do something different’ with their careers. We help talented people escape or avoid corporate jobs….We believe there is more to life than doing work that doesn’t matter to you.” Similarly, Amanda Minuk’s is “founded on the belief that there is more to life than a pay check.”

But it’s not only young people who crave meaningful work. The organization NetImpact, in their What Workers Want in 2012 talent report of 1726 currently employed Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and Millennials, as well as university students about to enter the workforce, rank “having a job where I can make an impact” as more important than a prestigious career, wealth, or being a community leader. As the hundreds of millions of Baby Boomers around the world reach retirement and face an average of 20 plus years of life, they’re asking themselves where they want to devote their energy, passion, and expertise to create a better world.

It is women who are, by far, leading the way in this trend. In their study, NetImpact discovered that 60% percent of women polled, both currently employed and students, say that working for a company that prioritizes social and environmental responsibility is very important to them, compared to approximately 40% of men. And 30% of working women said they would be willing to take a 15% pay cut for a job with impact, compared to only 19% of men. “Women think about the future, and what sort of world is being created for future generations,” remarks Theresa May, British Home Secretary and former UK Minister for Women and Equalities. In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle on the organization TechWomen, which brings women from third world countries to the Silicon Valley for networking and mentorship, LinkedIn executive Florina Xhabija commented on this female focus on making a difference: “The projects these women suggest—they’re not like Instagram for dogs, they are trying to solve real issues.” Rather than focusing on profit-making and exit strategies, as many male entrepreneurs do, women tend to focus on finding meaningful solutions to real problems.

There are so many SheEOs out there doing amazing things. As just one example, I think of Debbie Sterling, the creator of GoldieBlox, a company that builds games for girls to inspire future engineers. Debbie didn’t even know there was such a career as engineering until a high school math teacher suggested she might want to major in it in college. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering and product design, she looked at the fact that 89% of all engineers worldwide are men and was determined to close that gender gap. “We believe,” she writes on her website, “there are a million girls out there who are engineers. They just might not know it yet. We think GoldieBlox can show them the way.”

The success of this two-year-old company shows how powerful meaning-based organizations can be. Started through a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, GoldieBlox now has products in Target, Toys R Us, and over 1000 mom and pop toy stores. Recently the company beat out 20,000 companies in a fan-voting contest sponsored by Intuit to score a free 30-second ad in the Superbowl, where half-minute spots typically go for $4 million.

While Debbie Sterling clearly found her calling, it’s not as easy for many young women. In a recent conversation with a group of amazing young university women, I asked them what they were worried about. One young woman said, “I want to do something that the six-year old me would be proud of.” I was floored. What a beautiful desire. It was a brilliant insight. And yet, just in her second year, she felt like she was being pushed away from that desire and pressured to pick the right, the accepted, the chosen path according to her peers and professors.

Fortunately, the desire for meaningful work, combined with the recognition of SheEO principle one that everything is broken, has resulted in an upsurge of social entrepreneurs, women and men who are creating organizations with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change through innovative solutions. Social entrepreneurship has exploded in the last ten years, going from an undefined phrase to a variety of programs offered at more than 35 business schools around the world. There are on-going arguments over who exactly should be classified as a social entrepreneur, but typically they draw upon models from both the business and nonprofit world, measure performance in not only profit and return, but positive return to society, and operate in all kinds of large and small organization as nonprofits, for-profits, and hybrids.

For me, what the definition of a social enterprise is, whether the term is already passé, or whether you formally consider yourself a social entrepreneur or not, is not the point. Upon reflection, you may indeed decide to structure your organization around the principles and practices of social entrepreneurship. Whether you do or not, I believe it is absolutely crucial that you get in touch with what gives meaning to your life and figure out how to build a business around that. Or if you already have a business, to make sure that it is aligned with what matters to you most. Meaning gives you the “why” of what you are doing, and in order to build a powerful “what,” you need to first be in touch with your powerful “why.”


–Excerpt from:  Think Like a SheEO: Succeeding in the Age of Creators, Makers, and Entrepreneurs – Jun 2 2014 by Vicki Saunders (Author), M.J. Ryan (Author)