Over the past year alone, Viola has invested in 6 companies that have female founders. In honor of International Women’s Day 2020, they share their insights on what it takes to be a woman in tech.
Female-founded startups remain vastly underrepresented in tech. But over the past decade, deal activity of female-founded startups has quadrupled, reaching 11.2% of the total number of VC backed investments in 2019, according to Pitchbook.
VC deal activity in companies with at least one female founder
Although it’s difficult to produce accurate statistics on the Israeli tech scene, extrapolations from our own deal flow indicate that the local situation is in line with the international trend.
Over the past year, we at Viola have had the honor of investing in 6 companies led by exceptional female founders and across a variety of domains – from semiconductors to insurTech and Cyber Security. Some came from senior corporate positions and decided to build their own companies, while others had the “entrepreneurial itch” that led them to this challenge. But they all share interesting insights on the entrepreneurial journey taken by women.
So to celebrate this International Women’s Day, we decided to give them the spotlight.
In interview after interview, we heard a clear and bold message of empowerment, as our portfolio of female founders encouraged the next generation of young women to take up the entrepreneurial mantle.
“What women need to understand is that it’s possible,” said Gal Helemski, co-founder of PlainID.
“Don’t think there’s an issue. Just do it. Pretend there’s no issue,” said Ruti Zisser, founder of RUTI.
“Overcome the challenges,” said Snejina Zacharia, founder of Insurify.
“Absolutely, take that leap,” said Jeeta Bandopadhyay, co-founder of Tookitaki.
“The only one stopping you is yourself,” said Evelyn Landman, co-founder of proteanTecs.
“Just go out there and do it,” said Lihi Pinto Fryman, co-founder of Syte.
What challenges have you faced as a female entrepreneur that you think males don’t face?
GAL: I believe that not just being a woman, but specifically being a mother, presents additional challenges. You have to compromise; you have to have your family understand what you’re doing. Before founding PlainID, for example, I had a conversation with my 2 oldest kids – at that time 12 and 14 – and said “look, I’m choosing to do this. I want to do it because I think I can do it well and I think it will make me feel good about myself. And I need your understanding and support, because I won’t be there sometimes when you come back from school.”
I don’t know if they fully understood, but they were supportive. And even today, 5 years later, they are very supportive. Of course, there are complaints, and they want more “me” time, but there are also benefits. And my daughter keeps telling me how proud she is of me, her mother.
RUTI: My philosophy is that I don’t see a challenge. I have a daughter and 2 sons. I’m always telling my daughter that I refuse to see it as a challenge. I’m just as capable as a man, and this is how I behave. So I try not to make a big deal about it, I just try to make it work. There was one time I went to scout a location for a store, and I came with my husband, and the guy who was renting the place out asked my husband “when are you going to open the store for her?” So in his eyes I’m a woman who wanted some entertainment and my husband is giving me toys to play with.
But I viewed it as that guy’s problem. I behave like there’s no issue. And that mentality, for me, works well. This is how I want to educate my daughter too.
EVELYN: When I had small kids and I was working at Intel, I had to run around, take them home, work from home, come back. And I’d see men stay every day until 9pm. I had to juggle more, work harder. I didn’t have time to sit at the cafeteria. I had to sacrifice myself a little more.
JEETA: As a female founder of a high-tech play – I often get asked a lot of questions aimed at testing my fundamental knowledge of my industry. They’re trying to figure out if I know my domain. These are questions that my male counterpart doesn’t get asked. But once they understand that I know what I’m talking about, things smoothen out. People start respecting me and valuing my opinions.
Are there any advantages of being a female founder?
SNEJINA: Research shows that female-founded companies outperform male-founded companies. Female founders tend to be more conservative and more focused on execution and profitability. The numbers are in our favor. It’s just about educating the market. Other studies show that female founders hire more female employees and build more diverse teams. Teams with more diversity, studies show, allow for internal development, better collaboration and sharing of ideas and also reach consensus faster.
Our company is almost 50/50 in terms of male/female employees. We look to hire the best talent we can hire, and that’s helped us create a cohesive and balanced team.
JEETA: We’re very approachable. And we have an emotional advantage – we know how to show empathy for a team member and a customer. So being a female founder definitely helps from that point of view. There are also unique avenues available to women – partnerships, programs, grants, etc. that are specifically geared towards female founders.
LIHI: We live in an era in which men can be very feminine and women can be very masculine. Gender doesn’t say anything about your capabilities, the way you think, etc. I see men around me that are much softer than me, which society might call feminine. And I see super strong women around me. Having to deal with challenges, which I did because I was a woman, made me stronger. I thank the people, from the bottom of my heart, for challenging me in that way. Because it made me stronger and unbeatable.
GAL: In general, I believe that women tend to be more organized. This might be because we just have more on the table – we have home, kids, etc. So we need to be more precise about everything. For example, if I have to go on a trip to the US, I need to think about what to cook for my kids all that week, what events they should go to while I’m away. So this forces us to be more organized, which is a huge advantage. Efficiency is the key word here, and it’s born out of necessity.
Do you think things are changing for the better for women in high tech?
EVELYN: Things are changing. Men take more responsibility for raising kids. Laws in Israel are improving; women can take maternity leave, but men can too. So things are changing. And you see more women now entering high tech, but still it’s very slow.
LIHI: I started out in finance, where there was a different gender split across geographies. In Israel, the finance industry is dominated by women. You have female bank CEOs and many female startup founders. But in London, where I started in finance in 2006, it was very different. I was the only woman, everywhere I went. When I joined the high tech community in Israel, I was naively expecting to see the gender parity I saw here in the finance industry, but that didn’t materialize. Again, I became the only woman, everywhere I went.
But I’m optimistic. The world is changing, and more women are moving into senior positions in high tech. Our daughters see us, and they see it’s possible. For the younger generation gender a non-issue. For my girls, there is no glass ceiling.
Do you have any advice for women trying to fundraise money for their company?
RUTI: Some women try to behave like the guys. They think that men sometimes are more aggressive, less sensitive, and they try to be like that because they believe that will help them. I think the opposite. Be who you are and go with it 100%. We’re a company that has 90% women and I love to work with women. Be who you are, be authentic with who you are.
SNEJINA: Back in the day, I had a major VC ask me how young my kids are, and then tell me “oh they’re too young, you still need to spend time with them.” But you have to believe in yourself, and that you can overcome these challenges. Always execute. Raise money not based on promises but actual successes and execution.