Female founder and funders explored how female founders and investors are navigating the landscape during dot.LA's recent strategy session. Watch the full video, and read our takeaways here:
Watch: Fundraising for Female Founders
Five Tips for Women Entrepreneurs Raising Money
Female founders are gaining ground in venture capital, but the funding gap between genders remains broad. ILIA founder Sasha Plavsic, Rael CEO and co-founder Yanghee Paik, Bank of America Senior Vice President and Market Manager Grace Kangdani and Upfront Ventures Partner Aditi Maliwal explored how female founders and investors are navigating the landscape during dot.LA's recent strategy session.
One of the biggest initial challenges for women entrepreneurs with female-focused products is convincing investors of their value.
Yanghee Paik, founder of Rael, said that because her company's products are centered around feminine care and feminine health, it could be difficult to explain to male investors why Rael was so necessary.
"There have been a lot of big companies who have been pushing some new innovations, but none of them has been really focused on the need or the natural aspect of feminine care products," said Paik. "That took a lot of effort for us — to really do a lot of pitching with a lot of education about the products' industry itself."
But when founders — not just female founders — know their markets, their value proposition and build their network, they have the tools for success.
Grace Kangdani, senior vice president at Bank of America shared key characteristics of successful presentations, products and companies.
"A lot of the people with the checkbook, let's be honest, it's still male dominated," said Kangdani. "Have (a) network of people and different kinds of people. If you're selling a women-specific targeted product, have men in the mix to bounce off ideas, [to see if] it's resonating with them too. Know your product. Know your value proposition ... build your network and build your tribe."
Relationships are key when building a team.
Rael's founding team is a group of three women, including Paik, and she shared how they support each other through the ups and downs of running a company.
"Being an entrepreneur is a very lonely journey, and sometimes you need the support from your team or co-founders or investors. It's always the easiest [when you] have co-founders to talk about the challenges," said Paik.
Sasha Plavsic, founder of the makeup brand ILIA shared that because she started very grassroots, surrounding herself with a strong network was key to expanding her company.
"In business, it's ultimately about relationships and building that trust, and it doesn't matter what stage you're at," Plavsic said. "But definitely in the earlier stages it is more of a challenge, and [if] you do need some people skills and if you don't have it, you need a partner that will need to bring it."
Access, successfully presenting your company and your value and confidence are key for female founders to break into male-dominated spaces.
Upfront Ventures partner Aditi Maliwal has an extensive background in fintech, a space that is still extremely male dominated, and finds value in seeking out other women in the industry.
"There aren't enough opportunities for female founders to get in front of a whole variety of other people," Maliwal said. "I relate very well with [female founders] and so I want to be able to help my demographic. That being said, that's not to say that I don't want to spend time with other demographics — I absolutely do. I just want to find ways to have alignment in my values and hopefully their values."
Genuinely listening to groups outside your own demographic is key to promoting gender parity and supporting minority entrepreneurs.
That goes beyond just finding individuals from other backgrounds — it means truly listening to people and their motivations, even when it doesn't directly benefit you.
"It's pretty important to ensure that you're sort of giving space to these people, giving space to female founders giving them space to speak, to come in and be able to pitch, even if it's not necessarily a space that you would invest in," Maliwal said. "Ensure that you're spending time actually, getting to know the founder and not just … because you're a woman or you're such and such demographic, but [asking] 'what's your story?'"
About the Speakers:
Sasha Plavsic, founder of ILIA Beauty
Sasha Plavsic, Founder of ILIA Beauty
Born in Vancouver and raised in a rural, ocean-side setting just outside the city. Sasha's interests fell into design, studying typography in London and New York. She found herself in Los Angeles in 2006 and spent several years working as a branding executive within the fashion and beauty industries. After moving home to Vancouver for a brief sabbatical, her mother encouraged her to read the ingredient list on her favorite lip balm. Sasha was shocked to discover many of the ingredients were not safe, and it's something she used daily. The challenge was set: re-create her favorite lip balm so that it would be safe, effective and natural. And so the story of ILIA began. Sasha currently resides near ILIA's headquarters in Laguna Beach, CA with her husband and two young daughters.
Yanghee Paik, ceo and co-founder of Rael
Yanghee Paik, CEO and Co-Founder of Rael
Yanghee Paik is the co-founder and CEO of Rael, an L.A.-based clean feminine care and skincare startup founded by three female entrepreneurs in 2017. As a seasoned professional with nearly 15 years of experience in corporate strategy, sales and marketing, and global expansion, Yanghee has been the driving force in growing Rael as a trusted organic feminine care brand, expanding its reach beyond digital platforms and the U.S. market. She is deeply passionate about making positive impact on women's lives and growing Rael as a holistic personal care brand for women that provides innovative, clean, and effective solutions around their hormonal cycle and life. A native of Seoul, Korea, Yanghee earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and received a B.A. degree in business from Seoul National University. Now she considers L.A. her home and loves its sunny weather, diverse culture and excellent Korean food.
Aditi Maliwal, partner at Upfront Ventures
Aditi Maliwal, Partner at Upfront Ventures
Aditi leverages her operating experience and global perspective to invest in and support the highest-potential founders and teams. Before joining Upfront, Aditi was a product manager on the Next Billion Users team at Google, in a hybrid role leading investments in and building product for companies in emerging markets. Previously she worked on the corporate development team at Google, leading acquisitions across various sectors including AI, messaging and media. Prior to Google she worked in early-stage venture at Crosslink Capital leading investments in BetterUp, Chime and PowerToFly, and before that in investment banking at Deutsche Bank, in the technology banking group. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Stanford University and has lived between India, Hong Kong, Singapore and San Francisco.
Grace Kangdani, senior vice president, market manager at Bank of America
Grace Kangdani, Senior Vice President, Market Manager at Bank of America
Grace Kangdani is Market Manager of the L.A. Metro Business Banking team, leading a team of relationship managers who work with clients to proactively provide strategic advice and integrated financial solutions. Core capabilities include credit and financing solutions, treasury management, long-term fixed rate commercial mortgage (conventional and SBA 504), equipment finance and merchant processing.
In January 2019, Grace was recognized by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of the Top Women in Banking. In December 2020, she was named in 2020 Thriving in Their 40s, a list of Top Professionals in Los Angeles, as recognized by Los Angeles Business Journal. She currently attends Pacific Coast Banking School, at University of Washington.
Active in the community, Grace serves on the Board of Trustees of P.S. Arts, a nonprofit organization that provides high-quality arts education programs in underserved public schools and communities. She is also Board Member for Women's Leadership Council, a women networking organization built around the spirit of both professional and personal accomplishment through collaboration, inspiration and support.
Kelly O'Grady, chief host and correspondent at dot.LA
Kelly O'Grady, Chief Host & Correspondent at dot.LA
Kelly O'Grady is dot.LA's chief host & correspondent. Kelly serves as dot.LA's on-air talent, and is responsible for designing and executing all video efforts. A former management consultant for McKinsey, and TV reporter for NESN, she also served on Disney's Corporate Strategy team, focusing on M&A and the company's direct-to-consumer streaming efforts. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. A Boston native, Kelly spent a year as Miss Massachusetts USA, and can be found supporting her beloved Patriots every Sunday come football season.
Sam Adams, co-founder and ceo of dot.LA
Sam Adams, Co-Founder and CEO of dot.LA
Sam Adams serves as chief executive of dot.LA. A former financial journalist for Bloomberg and Reuters, Adams moved to the business side of media as a strategy consultant at Activate, helping legacy companies develop new digital strategies. Adams holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from the University of Southern California. A Santa Monica native, he can most often be found at Bay Cities deli with a Godmother sub or at McCabe's with a 12-string guitar. His favorite colors are Dodger blue and Lakers gold.
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Funding for Southern California startups has stalled as some of the region's biggest investors spread money outside the region.
In 2010, roughly one in every 10 startup dollars deployed nationally funded tech companies in Southern California. A decade later, that share has remained stubbornly static, even as the total sum invested in local startups ballooned from $4 billion in 2010 to $14 billion in 2019. That's according to a new report commissioned by Alliance for SoCal Innovation, a nonprofit advocating for the local tech scene.
"The good news is the pie has gotten bigger, but our slice of it has stayed more or less the same," said Andy Wilson, the executive director of the Alliance.
A major reason why the share has not budged is that most local startups are still in their infancy, raising smaller rounds. That brings down total investment dollars. Southern California startups raising Series B or later funding accounts for 64% of total investment, compared to 68% for New York and 80% for the Bay Area.
"We really haven't done particularly well in late-stage funding," Wilson said.
The data — which encompasses San Diego, Orange County and L.A. — was compiled late last year by Boston Consulting Group and is now being made public.
It also found fewer venture dollars are staying local. In 2013, about 30% of dollars stayed in Southern California versus fewer than 10% last year, a direct consequence of firms like B Capital, Fifth Wall, and Sinai Ventures raising larger funds that are geographically agnostic.
"These bigger guys don't really seem to be focused on taking advantage of the local market opportunity," Wilson said.
Upfront Ventures has invested in the most local companies in the last three years with 58, followed by Greycroft, which has backed 45 startups. Of VCs not based here, NEA and Sequoia Capital led the way with 24 and 23 startups, respectively.
The report counted 3,750 startups in Southern California, which is about half the number in the Bay Area, and fewer than New York's 5,100 startups.
Despite a reputation for consumer tech, Southern California is the most well-diversified across industries among the country's top three innovation hubs, with an even split with software and tech, health and media companies.
"Most of the world thinks of us as king of the consumer Internet and media – Netflix and Snapchat – but SpaceX is here and Relativity Space and all the electric car companies are here," said Wilson.
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On this week's episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, hear from Kerry Bennett, who leads marketing and branding for Upfront Ventures. I loved talking with Kerry about how startups should think about their marketing, and how that has changed over the years. Also, super fun to hear about Upfront's brand and the brand of the individual partners at Upfront.
- Startups are usually good at explaining what they do. But the ability to relate the company's story, purpose and the problem they're solving is a critical and often-overlooked ingredient in their success.
- Companies should focus on what the consumer wants and how to give it to them, as opposed to focusing on how to get the consumer to do what the company wants them to do.
- Marketing teams have to be on the various platforms everyday and deeply understand how they function.
"I think marketers now, as they're coming up in the world...need to be at least versed in the technical side of the business. You need to understand where your data is. You need to understand how you're tracking things. That can't just be handed off." — Kerry Bennett
Kerry Bennett leads marketing and branding at Upfront Ventures. Before joining Upfront, Kerry held leadership positions in several tech startups, most recently as SVP of marketing at DogVacay (acquired by Rover). Prior to DogVacay, Kerry was the SVP of marketing at HauteLook, a leader in flash-sale ecommerce, that was acquired by Nordstrom in 2011.
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