Fundraising as the Female Founder of a Startup

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Fundraising as the Female Founder of a Startup

Lynn Perkins of UrbanSitter sees signs of change as she works with the next generation of women heading new ventures.

In Silicon Valley, female-founded companies face a significant funding gap. Companies with only female founders accounted for only 3% of the total dollars raised by startups in 2016, according to data from venture-capital tracker PitchBook Data Inc. One reason may be that women, according to PitchBook, make up just 6.3% of investment professionals with board seats at U.S. venture-capital firms.

UrbanSitter founder and Chief Executive Lynn Perkins is no stranger to fundraising. In the past six years, she has raised $23 million for her site, which helps parents find babysitters and nannies, and she’s currently gearing up to raise more money. Ms. Perkins has raised capital at three different startups. She raised funding for a startup for the first time in 1998 at age 24, when she was the first outside hire at the company. Then after she left, she co-founded the shopping site Xuny.com.

Now that she has been through several funding cycles, Ms. Perkins works with younger female founders to help them develop strategies to raise funds for their companies.

In a conversation with The Wall Street Journal, she recalls the first time she and her female co-founder at Xuny.com pitched the women’s retail site to a room of male investors who she knew would never use the site. Edited excerpts of that interview follow.

A bigger challenge

WSJ: Tell me a little bit about what was going through your head when you walked into the room full of male investors.

MS. PERKINS: It’s always a little intimidating to go in. You’re sitting there and everyone is looking at you. It’s probably how actors feel when they do a show. Because the last two companies I’ve raised for are really focused on female consumers, it makes it even feel a little bit more challenging. The end consumers are most likely female, and you’re a female. I always try to find an icebreaker to connect the investors to the business, because they’re probably not our end consumer for the most part.

WSJ: Did you ever feel you were treated differently as a female CEO when you were pitching in Silicon Valley?

MS. PERKINS: They’ve felt a need to bring women into the meetings. I would suspect there are more female associates who attend our meetings than attend some of the other meetings. I would also say there have been a few firms where they have also pulled someone in from their operational side, like someone from their accounting team, especially if it’s someone who has young kids and would use the service. They’ve tried to compensate for the fact that they don’t have females on the investment side. It feels forced.

WSJ:As a mom yourself with three children, did investors ever ask how you were going to balance being a parent and a CEO?

MS, PERKINS: Surprisingly, no. Nobody ever asked me.