‘She’s the business’: stepping up support for female entrepreneurs
by Victoria Peppiatt, Co-founder & COO
6 minutes read time | 1 October 2019
Victoria with her co-founders, Dr Neil Yager (left) and Parry Malm (center)
Image credit – Lucy Williams Photography
HSBC Private Banking launched a powerful report about entrepreneurship today and I am delighted to have contributed to the research, sharing insights about my own experience as a female entrepreneur. The report suggests that one of the main challenges that female entrepreneurs face is the investment pitching process. According to the report ‘She’s the business: supporting entrepreneurial spirit’, 58% of female entrepreneurs say they are concerned about bias when raising capital and they report securing 5% less capital than their male counterparts.
The report covers a breadth of issues female entrepreneurs face including gender bias. Fortunately, bias is not one of the challenges I have personally experienced. I am lucky to work with two incredible co-founders. Together we have built a successful technology business that is committed to empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs – both men and women – and showing them what’s possible.
That said, many other issues addressed in HSBC’s report resonate with me, notably improvements that could be made around the investment process. There is still a lot of work to do to support, empower, and give confidence to female entrepreneurs at every stage of the business journey.
Image provided by HSBC Private Banking
Here are my top pieces of advice on how women may feel better supported and confident throughout their business journeys.
1. Get yourself a mentor
I would strongly advise getting a mentor who can guide you through various stages of being an entrepreneur, as it can be scary and overwhelming at times. This will help you know what to expect at every step of the journey – not just when seeking investment. Before working at Phrasee, I ran a creative agency, and I had an awesome mentor called Felicity Kelly, with whom I worked for years. She really helped build my business confidence and supported me throughout my initial journey as a female entrepreneur. There are some great initiatives out there to help, encourage, and match young women with more experienced women in business. I’ve recently started working as a mentor with a fantastic association called BelEve, working on its Pathway to Success scheme, which matches young women (16-21) with mentors to support and guide them through the next stage of their educational or career journey. I hope that by sharing my own experiences – both good and bad – I too can help and support aspiring female entrepreneurs.
2. Find your tribe - invest in building your network
A sense of community is empowering. It’s been a life saver for me at times. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and sharing experiences and ideas on how to overcome challenges gives you the confidence and reassurance you often need at the time when you need it most.
I think we need to be better at celebrating achievements and instilling confidence about what’s possible. The emergence of more female-focused communities and networks is a huge step in the right direction to empowering female entrepreneurs to follow their business dreams. Nothing beats women supporting women and feeling like you’re part of a tribe that’s making a difference!
My advice would be not to over-commit but choose wisely and join 2-3 networking groups and then invest time in them. It’s very black and white when it comes to networking – you get out what you put in. I’d suggest choosing a network that reflects your own industry, and one or two that support you as an entrepreneur.
I have forged fantastic relationships through my key networks – Sister Snog and Women of Email – and the people in each network bring different skills and experiences, offering unique support depending on what I need or am working on at the time. They have proven to be invaluable communities to me in different ways. I can’t recommend either of them highly enough.
Victoria with some of the Sister Snog members
3. Your business idea should be a solution that solves a problem and that people will buy
Investors don’t buy concepts, they buy commercial success. On that basis, it is important to empower female entrepreneurs about moving their idea into a solution that meets a real need and that makes money. If you have the confidence to build your business and start to make money, the investment process will be so much smoother.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and share investment knowledge
Challenges during the pitching process are not just due to bias, but also the lack of knowledge, experience and insight on what to expect. When we decided to raise investment for Phrasee in 2015, I had to learn so much along the way very quickly, but I know that I was really fortunate to have co-founders to share the experience with. Parry and I have always done all the pitching together. With someone else by your side, I have no doubt that it makes it easier to build rapport with the people you’re pitching to. It was a challenge, and for the initial pitches we both felt out of our depth. You soon start to learn the lingo and understand that there is a format that you’re expected to follow.
I truly believe that more education about the investment process would make a difference to setting female entrepreneurs up for success. We need more transparency – there is too much jargon and the process can be shrouded in mystery. We need a guide on the basics of what happens and when, what needs to go into the investor deck, investment terminology, and what types of investment exist in order to ensure that entrepreneurs are as prepared as possible.
A balanced board for a better business
There’s evidence that businesses with a balanced board generate a 40% greater return on sales. I personally believe this has been good for our business, both culturally and commercially. And I’m really proud that 57% of Phrasee’s employees are women, which is pretty much unheard of for a technology business.
The Phrasee team at Phrasee’s 4th birthday party
The situation regarding gender–specific obstacles in business is shifting. HSBC’s report highlights the challenges in this area, but also the movements to improving the situation. I would advise other entrepreneurs to think about the balance of their business as their companies grow.
However, I do think that more work needs to be done. What we will hopefully see is more female investors in the future. I believe that having greater female representation on the other side of the table will make a big difference, both to the confidence of the entrepreneur and the response of the investor. One of our early investors was Galvanise, which had a founding female investor, Devina Paul, who remains on our board today. It’s all about balance.
I really appreciate HSBC Private Banking shining a light on the experiences of female entrepreneurs and unearthing some uncomfortable truths. I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations in the report about how to improve the current landscape and pave a more positive way forward.
Here’s to supporting many more initiatives like this!
Image provided by HSBC Private Banking