I was moderating a panel with 10 female venture capitalists on how to raise capital when Julie Sandler, managing director at Pioneer Square Labs’ Venture Capital arm, told the mostly female founder audience that we need to be bombastic when asking investors for money. She said most female founders weren’t even close to being as bombastic as their male counterparts.
That was a wake-up call for many, myself included.
What Does It Mean to 'Be Bombastic'?
To be bombastic is to be overtly and vocally confident, almost to the point of bragging. As an entrepreneur who failed to raise enough money to scale my first startup, I can attest to the importance of projecting confidence and the downside of pitching small. But, like many women, “bombastic” doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s not who I am, it’s not my culture, and it’s not how I was brought up.
Why is it so hard for women to be bombastic? It might play against a more pragmatic personality. And it might trigger imposter syndrome — the bigger we talk, the smaller we feel. Talking about a business as if it were going to change the world is uncomfortable for many women. But guess what? You have to! If you don’t sell your story, no one else will.
That’s why Sandler’s point is so critical. According to Pitchbook, only 2 percent of venture capital went to women in 2017. The other 98 percent went to men — bombastic men. While there are many reasons why that statistic is today’s reality, being bombastic will absolutely help women in a capital raise.
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Tips for Landing Investors
As I’ve gained more confidence and learned deeper insights from investors, here are some takeaways that will help you land the financing you need to start, run and scale your company.
Don’t talk about the good. Talk about the great
Investors aren’t privy to the day-to-day minutia of your business; they only hear what you tell them. While it’s important to be honest, always showcase your strong points. Give them confidence that you’re making progress against the goals you’ve set out to achieve.
Investors need returns. Show them your potential
Investors look for returns, and venture capital investors look for huge returns. You might be solving the world’s biggest problems — and yet most investors still want to know how your business is going to get them monetary returns. So you can’t hold back when you talk about your market potential and how you plan to get there. Do you think men are bashful about making money for themselves or anyone else? No. Bashful is not in their vocabulary, and it shouldn’t be in ours either.
Make a killer deck. And then, let it go
Earlier in my career I spent a couple of years in strategy consulting. I learned that the most bombastic of consultants (i.e. the best ones), didn’t rely on a deck when presenting to clients. They spoke from their gut and from their market knowledge. That’s what founders need to do when pitching their business. Make a killer deck, memorize it backwards and forwards and then, let it go. Be prepared to chart out your business on a whiteboard at a moment’s notice. And do it with such confidence and poise that investors won’t think twice about your awesomeness.
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I grew up in Latin America, where women are caretakers. If something goes wrong, we apologize. If nothing goes wrong, we still apologize. I know a lot of my non-Latina friends apologize a lot, too. We have to stop. Investors don’t want to fund companies with an overly apologetic founder. They want a founder with a strong, unwavering character; a confident founder; a founder who can message their way out of a rabbit hole and look like gold. So the next time you find yourself apologizing for being late, try saying, “thank you for waiting for me,” and move on.
If we want to change the gender gap in venture capital, we must also own our approach and behavior. Even if it means doing what’s uncomfortable and going beyond the boundaries of what we thought was possible. Only then will we see great results.