When I met Aliza Pulver a few weeks ago, I felt like I’d just met an alien. A woman. Over 30. With two young kids. Who founded a startup!?
Yet there she was, in the flesh, sharing her story and insights
on a panel of startup founders and funders at the excellent Mesh conference here in Toronto.
To say that Pulver, founder of Toronto-based home décor e-tailer
HomeSav.com, is a rarity in the tech startup world is a massive understatement.
Are startups just a young, single guy’s game?
It looks that way. I usually see few women (of any age) in the crowd at startup events who are founders or other key players within fledgling tech firms. But young dudes in their twenties and thirties? Plenty of those.
How come? Well, I put it down to three possible culprits: confidence, cash and kids.
Confidence: As two female founders (Heather Payne of Ladies Learning Code and Alyssa Richard of RateHub) pointed out to me, selling your ideas in the startup world takes a lot of confidence. For whatever reason, many women still don’t feel confident putting their ideas forward, especially
if it’s in the technology realm or a competitive ring like a pitch contest.
Cash: According to a study done last November by the National Venture Capital Association and
Dow Jones VentureSource, 89 per cent of U.S. venture capital investors are men. If there are already few women founders pitching startup ideas, and hardly any women investors on the receiving end of those pitches, is it rocket science to figure out why there are hardly any female-run tech startups?
Kids: The tech startup scene is ‘crazy’ demanding. It’s not a 9 to 5 world where anything is
structured, predictable, easy or quick. That’s why bootstrapping is tough. The hours are long. And you don’t make any money at the beginning.
Long hours, exhaustion and little or no pay? Hey, it’s exactly like being a mother! It’s easy to see why few women with kids (or planning to have kids) would opt for a startup situation where they must spend long hours away from their children and place their families in a financially precarious position as well.
Can women with kids really do the startup thing successfully?
“The short answer is yes, but only if you work out the proper support system around you. That’s the key to being able to do it,” says Pulver, mother of two girls aged four years and seven months, respectively.
“Without the support I have around me from parents and grandparents …I think I’d have major challenges doing what I’m doing,” she adds.
Still, she says today’s aspiring female entrepreneurs have way more tools available to help them juggle kids and commerce than earlier generations of women did, such as daycare, nannies, business support groups (she’s a fan of Women In Tech) and mobile technologies that make working from home a breeze.
“Women are very accomplished at figuring out how to achieve certain goals,” Pulver says. “You somehow get an extra two arms when you don’t actually have them!”
Why do we need more women (and people old enough to have lived through the Mulroney era – as in Brian, not Ben) in startups?
Because it works. As a study by Illuminate Ventures found, female-run tech startups in the U.S. are more likely to survive the leap from startup to established company, use capital more efficiently, and are growing five times faster than average tech startups.
There’s a case to be made for older experience in the startup realm too. As The Economist noted, although Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire by 30, Arianna Huffington launched the Huffington Post at 54 and Marc Pincus created Zynga at 41.
A study by non-profit Singularity University of 500 U.S. tech and engineering firms with over $1 million in sales found that the average age of founders was 39. And get this: there were twice as many successful founders over 50 as under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20.
We may not see members of Generation X flocking to apply to Y Combinator but I hope they aren’t discouraged from pursuing their startup dreams.