#8 - Pitching While Female: An Interview with Emma Smith
Transcript from interview #8 - Pitching While Female: An Interview with Emma Smith
Welcome to the I ALSO Want Money podcast, where our mission is to democratize, demystify and demasculinize making money. I'm your host, Nicole Kyle, and I'm here with my co-host, Sophie Holm and ally, Harrison Comfort.
A big part of our mission here at the I ALSO Want Money podcast is, of course, getting more equity into the hands of women. One way to do that is to start your own business. Embracing your inner entrepreneur will help you become a better investor. But for many of us, the truth is that we need the motivation and inspiration to get started with our own ventures. Not to mention the road for female entrepreneurs is scary. It isn't always smooth. So today we're talking to entrepreneur, Emma Smith, who has successfully claimed her status as an economic agent. She's started her own company Eversend. We'll speak with Emma about her journey to entrepreneurship and the mindset she embraces not just start, but to persist with her own company. We'll talk to Emma about how starting her own venture has changed, impacted and enabled her personal wealth goals, and lastly, Emma will share with us what she's observed about who controls wealth and how wealth is being sought in today's global start up landscape. Welcome, Emma Smith. Thank you so much for being on our podcast today.
Emma Smith: 1:24
Thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.
I think for so many people, particularly women, who are considering starting their own businesses, there is the sense of imposter syndrome that goes along with identifying as an entrepreneur. The bar is really high, for us to self identify as an entrepreneur. So is there a single moment that you can point to when you first felt comfortable, finally identifying as an entrepreneur?
Emma Smith: 1:52
Yeah, I think that's a fantastic question, and I myself struggled with. I also struggled with so many of those questions and challenges before starting Eversend. I think the moment when I really felt like I could claim that I was an entrepreneur was after I gave my very first pitch about the company, which was at a small startup event in Switzerland. But when I first walked into the event, I wouldn't have expected that by the end, I would be confident calling myself an entrepreneur. I walked in and It was a room of almost 200 men, and there was maybe one woman in the back, one woman on the side and the woman who was coordinating things. And when I first walked in, one of the men who was following in behind me asked me where he could hang his coat, assuming that I was one of the coordinators. I felt so out of place, not just because I was a young woman in a room of older men, but I assumed that they all had something I didn't. They all must know what they're doing. They all must be more skilled, more qualified, more capable of building a company. And it wasn't until after I finished my pitch and we got awarded and recognized as one of the better pitches of that day that I actually felt... everyone could be an imposter. I could be. But at some certain moment, you just have to decide I can take ownership of my own confidence and call myself an entrepreneur and really recognise that I deserve to be here. Just like all these other people do.
In that moment, how did you overcome this guy asking you where to hang his coat when you're about to go on stage in front of a bunch of people to pitch your business?
Emma Smith: 3:30
Yeah. You know, I looked around to figure out where the coat rack was, and said you could hang it right over there and didn't tell him. I didn't tell him that I was actually one of the people about to go on stage to present my business opportunity. Looking back, I wish I had said, hey, uh, no, I'm not here to hang your coat. I'm here to pitch and get money for my company. But also, I recognize that people have these inbuilt biases that they might not even necessarily be aware of. For this man, he didn't have a bad intention. He just knew that, generally, the young woman in a dress might be the one to ask where to hang his coat. So I try to avoid blaming people who might not be aware of their own biases and instead just try to challenge them with my actions. Not necessarily just my words, This is something we're really aware of as a whole team. My team is myself and my two co-founders from Uganda, And at some points, we sound like the start of a bad joke. These two black Africans and a young woman walk into a room. For us, we've really become aware that people respond to us a bit differently because of our appearance. And we've just had to get used to knowing that the biases are going to be there and again, trying to disprove them with our actions. Sometimes our words, when necessary. But let the business speak for itself. Let our numbers, our traction speak for itself.
Yeah, I can imagine walking into that room with all of those biases stacked against you... it can get really tough. So what strategies, or what tools, do you guys use in those situations to keep the mood high?
Emma Smith: 5:27
You know, I think one of the most important things... Actually, I'd say there's three. One is the first impression. I have a few tricks that I use to keep the first impression positive and keep people seeing us as professional and capable, even when they're bias might be telling them otherwise. The second is using language. I'll go into this in a second, but using language to show that we're confident [and] show that we know what we're doing. The third is this idea of promotion vs prevention, and I could go into that in a second, too. But basically promoting ourselves, even in environments where we might be prevented from succeeding. So the first impression, when we first walk into a room we notice very quickly, whether it's an investor or a potential partner. Usually most meetings that we attend as an early stage startup with a diverse founding team, the other people on the other side of the table are in control. We're not very often the ones in control in most situations. So what we started doing, we started doing this kind of subconsciously, but have now started doing it more intentionally. We try to ask a lot of questions at the beginning of the meeting to show that we have authority, and we know what we're doing. So even if these questions aren't really questions we need answers to, we ask them to show, we also can assert - I don't want to say dominance - but I guess some sort of strength to show our place at the table is well earned. So, for example, in a VC meeting, the investors will usually start out by saying, introduce yourselves and very quickly, will say actually, before we do that, could you each introduce yourself? It's kind of just a way to flip the cards a little bit, and allow ourselves to show we also yeah, have a seat at the table. The second is on language. So a big part of what I try to do is to use I instead of we when talking about my own accomplishments. I think, especially as women, it's very easy to not really take credit for fear of being seen as cocky or a know-it-all, or bossy. So I think it's easy to say we, my team, rather than this was something I did, and really take ownership for that. And then on top of that, also making sure to avoid using words like: just, for a little, or only. Basically, these qualifiers that make us seem less confident in what we're saying. And then the third trick we've started doing is something called promoting answers versus preventing. And basically what this comes from is a Professor called Dana Kanze wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review that pointed out that only 2% of women get VC funding. And she said the reason behind this... what she noticed was investors were adopting what's called a promotion orientation when they quiz male founders about their businesses, which means they focus on the hopes, the achievements, the advancements, the ideals of the male person's business. But then conversely, when she was questioning female entrepreneurs, the VCs often embraced this prevention orientation, which was concerned with safety, responsibility, security, diligence, so basically a a promotion question, for example, when thinking about customer acquisition might be, how many customers are you getting?, Versus the prevention question would be how many customers per month are you losing? She noticed in this research article that among comparable companies, people who were asked promotion questions raised, on average, seven times more money than people who are asked prevention questions. And women almost always were the ones who were asked these prevention questions. So what we started doing once we realized this, and we've noticed this a ton while fundraising ....is essentially, even when we're asked prevention questions, we give promotion and to change the frame. So if someone asks, how many customers per month are you losing? Instead, we answer with, oh we're gaining this money users. And often the VCs, or the person on the other side of the table doesn't pick up that we're reframing things, but hopefully this will be another small hack to improve our odds.
I really like that promotion vs prevention principle because it's so transferrable. It's applicable, obviously in a VC setting, but it's also applicable next time, maybe you're going into a salary negotiation with your manager, right? I think it's a really important strategy.
Right, and also changing the language from we to I, to speak really unapologetically. We had that from our conversation with Amy, screenwriter of the movie Equity in one of the past episodes as well around really removing some of those qualifiers in our language. So as it relates to these three different pillars that you're talking about, Emma, at what point did you decide to very actively change your tactics?
Emma Smith: 10:37
Yes. So, you know, it came after we had had a lot of investor meetings, that to be frank, weren't going very well. I remember one meeting, specifically, where we sat down with the venture capitalists who went through the business and said your numbers look great. The company looks great. I love the mission. And that was, as I said earlier, what we wanted to do. We wanted to let the numbers speak for themselves and be so good they couldn't ignore us. But despite that, he said, you know, this all looks good, but the entrepreneurs we invest in have to be the kind of people we want to go out and grab a beer with after a long day or hang out with socially. And then kind of paused, got a little awkward and ended the meeting. And I left with my co-founder and I said, did he just basically allude to the fact that he didn't like us? And we kind of laughed it off, but realized that yes, that he was basically pointing to the fact that we looked very differently, acted very differently. We were different than the entrepreneur he is generally invested in which were mostly young men, young white men, too. And so that's when we realized... we could just kind of keep going on doing things as we knew how to do them. Or we could start trying very intentionally to change our behavior to put the odds a bit more in our favour. On the one side of things, it's unfortunate that entrepreneurs in our position have to do this. On the other side, knowing that hacks like these exist and can help us and work in our favor, I think is also very important. There's a lot we can do to make the scenarios work for our advantage, even when they're not set up to.
That type of commentary and all these biases you're talking about, Emma, what do you think the root of all of this is?
Emma Smith: 12:30
It's really interesting. I think it's a numbers game. In the UK, less than 15% of people in STEM are women. And across the board, with unicorn companies.... Last year, less than 4% of these companies that became unicorns were female founded. There's so few women in this space of entrepreneurship that I think people just aren't used to seeing women here. And they don't know why they feel uncomfortable when a woman is on the other side of the table. But they've just never seen one in that position. And so they assume they couldn't be... I'm really encouraged by the fact that in last 20 years or so, so in the U. S. Women led businesses have increased by about 74% and I think these are the kind of numbers that are gonna change the game in the end when eventually it gets to be the point where half of all unicorns are run by women. And of all VC money is going to women led teams. I unfortunately think it's going to take that sort of numbers balance for men to start quieting down on these comments because unfortunately, a lot of them just aren't aware of their own bias because they're so used to seeing men in these roles. They don't really question why it feels weird to have a woman there.
Right, so two questions I have for you one have you. One, have you seen a difference in the responses that you have been receiving after changing your approach? And secondly, have you been targeting different VC funds that look more like you and your founders?
Emma Smith: 14:09
Yeah, so we have seen a difference. We've recently been hearing we're very sharp when we pitch and that things come across very clearly. So I do think these changes have made a difference. I think it's difficult because for many male founders who are building companies... it's OK if they're sailing a ship that has a few cracks in it because the VCs and the investors will look the other way. But for us, one crack in the ship makes the investors think we will completely sink, these guys are going down. So we have to be particularly sharp by using these little hacks to make our impression come off that much stronger. But it definitely has... it has been changing the conversation since paying more attention to how we can overcome these biases... and then the second question again?
Yes. So the second question was, when you're targeting VC firms and funds and angel investors, are you more actively targeting funds where there are decision makers that look like you and your co founders?
Emma Smith: 15:23
Yeah, I think we would love to. I do believe that a diverse workforce is an innovative one, and that applies for venture capital and investment firms as well. Unfortunately, it's the case that about 4% of active VCs are women. So it is very difficult to actually come by women investors. That said, we have been joining communities like networks of female founders and female investors such as all Raise and Female Founders office hours. There are a lot of great initiatives out there to help provide a community for women with mentors, with conferences with resources and documents to help women not only build their network of VCs who might look a bit more like them, but also give them different. content and support to be able to grow. So we have. We have been working on building this community, but it is a very small one, unfortunately and we've also been working on connecting with more investors who are in Africa since we are a female founded team but also an African- led team. But the tricky part is just as there's very few women in VCs there's very few seed stage VCs in Africa. So that's also been quite difficult. But I think with the rise of communities like these female founder office hours and all raise female groups, this this problem will will get easier and easier as the years goes as founders like ourselves are able to find more like minded faces to invest in them and there's a lot of strength to be had in a diverse team as well.
And just so we're all on the same page, could you please just clarify what a unicorn is? And is it Eversend's goal to become a unicorn?
Emma Smith: 17:21
Yeah. So a unicorn is a company that has a status of being valued over $1 billion. That is certainly our goal for Eversend. Our goal is to provide a bank like service for the 70% of people in Africa who don't have a bank account. And there's upward of 1.2 billion people across the Continent, so we certainly think we could hit this unicorn status.
Yeah, in your pursuit of unicorn status, right? As you mentioned, you're going in front of VCs and making presentations... is this really interesting idea that VCs are giving funding essentially to startup founders who look and sound like them - and in a couple episodes, we are actually talking to another expert around that phenomenon of pattern matching, as she calls it. So, Emma, just as you are trying to overcome that and deal with that, what has surprised you or maybe not surprised you about these environments where you're seeking funding from VCs?
Emma Smith: 18:26
Yeah, as you said, networking is very difficult. And I think that's another problem. That female founder space. Not only are there very few women led VCss who might be looking for women founders, but even just connecting with VCs who might be willing to speak with a female founder... even that bias is real, that people might see a company is founded by a woman and not know why, but might not assume it's a serious business. Networking is very difficult. And I remember speaking with a friend who was saying that he got one of his very best job offers with an unreal amount of equity in the company and an incredible salary after he had a drunken night at a bar with the CEO. And basically in the morning, they exchanged on Whatsapp and confirmed the deal that they had agreed to the night before, after my friend had turned down the job because the offer wasn't good enough.And I remember thinking if, I had a drink at night at a bar with this CEO, it wouldn't it wouldn't end that way. In fact, I saw a statistic that about 40% of women who are raising funding report some form of sexual harassment. And I kind of draw the parallel with that story and think, it's so unfortunate because the environments where networking takes place between men if a woman were there, she would quite likely have a much more negative experience. And the outcome would really not be the same. That's further compounded by the fact that often networking events are geared toward male interests... golf events and so on. It's difficult to even get in the door in the first place nonetheless, to then actually prove you deserve to be inside, once you've gotten in the door. I think that's a big obstacle. I think one way we can start addressing that is through this idea that I really like called reverse mentoring. So the idea of getting someone who is very different from you to be your mentor. So I have a mentor, for example, who's a 16 year old boy. He's Puerto Rican. He's gay, he's the best. And he basically brings me up to speed on all these things I don't know about or I'm super out of tune with as a 27 year old straight woman. So we've had a really fruitful relationship and I think there's a lot of room for male VCs to have female mentors, younger mentors, disabled mentors, mentors of a different race, of a different religion and just kind of see how that can improve the way they look at networking and building communities. I definitely do think it's a problem in terms of building a network and actually getting in the door with investors, but I think things like building better communities for female founders and getting reverse mentors for a lot of VC men could be helpful.
That's such a great initiative. I'm definitely going to try and adopt that myself. I love the idea of being challenged and being mentored by somebody with a completely different socioeconomic, cultural, [or] religious background. I think that's a great initiative. I will challenge, that though. Do you think that men, especially men in the VC world, are willing to be mentored by, say, a young, ambitious woman seeking funding?
Emma Smith: 21:52
You know, it's hard to say. We see a lot of people who don't know their bias, don't want to talk about their bias, and are interested in having any sort of conversation around diversity and inclusion. We do see a lot of people who will recognize their bias or recognize that we're a different looking team and ask how they can support us in different ways. But I think, especially in Europe, there are a lot of people that are still blind to the fact that there's a problem and that's where we need to start, is addressing that there is a problem with diversity and inclusion for not only female founders, but founders of different ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, ability background in in tech and other kinds of start ups. And I think until we call out that there is a problem on a global level, we won't be able to really address these problems that we see.
In all of this adversity and biases that you guys face , does this just motivate you and your team that much more to succeed?
Emma Smith: 22:58
Certainly, yes. We have this quote that we like, which is they tried to bury us and they didn't know we were a seed. I'm sure you've seen this before, this cheesy little quote that my mom probably had in their house when we were little. But I I think it's really great. I think it's a moment where we can prove people wrong and not just for the sake of, maybe being spiteful or something, but proving people wrong in a way that will make them go back and change their behavior. Like these VCs that said no to us because of their biases, because of reasons that they couldn't articulate. I really hope that when Eversend succeeds, they will look back and think, Oh, maybe we should have, we should have approached this differently. And then the next time they see a female founded company team that's coming from Africa, they'll think, oh, interesting, remember those guys from Eversend that did really well? Let's change our behavior and do this right now. So I think we really need some excellent examples of diverse founders of teams that look really different, succeeding. And then that will choose ...that will make these VCs, investors, partners all start to change their behavior.
Right, it's interesting. We also had a conversation here the other day around female entrepreneurs and their choice of industry. And one of the observations that I have made recently in all of these different conversations, and really getting into the industry is it seems like a lot of female entrepreneurs choose industries that are less capital intensive and require less of an upfront investment from VC firms. So I'm wondering, was that ever a consideration that you made Emma in your choice of entrepreneurship?
Emma Smith: 24:47
Yeah, that's really interesting. I was really impressed when I saw that nearly half of the UK social enterprises are run by women, and I think it's often very common that social enterprises globally are run more by women than men. I think women have a special, maybe sense of emotional intelligence that leaves them to start social enterprise. I mean, that's a very broad generalization, nothing is proven there, but I think that's an interesting trend. But it doesn't surprise me either, that a lot of women are starting businesses that might be more suited to become lifestyle businesses, or small and medium size enterprises in the end rather than unicorns. Because this is the way unfortunately our system is kind of wired, with very few women in venture capital, with very few women in STEM, it is quite difficult for a woman to get started. And in the beginning, this wasn't something I thought very much about, the fact that we were gonna need a big capital injection if we wanted to achieve our goal of making Eversend a true unicorn one day. But I'm almost glad it's not something I overthought because if I did, I would have talked myself out of.., I think it is a challenge to raise funding. And if I had known the challenging road that had laid ahead of me when I started, there would have been a much more likely chance I would have tried to bootstrap this, and make it something maybe smaller or less scalable or less need in need of external funding. Though in some ways it's good I went into it blind. And if people are making the decision whether or not to build a business that would raise capital, I would say do it and don't think about it and just assume you'll get 100 nos before you get your first. Yes. That's generally standard and just be ready to fail a lot and fail fast. And that's kind of, in the end, be the only thing you can do to get to a point where you can eventually raise funds.
And when Eversend becomes a unicorn, what are you gonna do with all those funds? How does it map to your wealth and life goals?
Emma Smith: 26:58
Yeah, that's great. I also love your podcast here because I think we don't talk enough about personal wealth. I think in some ways it's almost stigmatized with a lot of women I speak with. It's kind of seen as if you talk about how you want to make money or become wealthier, provide for your family, it could be seen as greedy. You're perceived as you have the wrong motivations for what you're doing. But I think wealth and personal wealth is really something we should all be thinking about as women, as modern women in today's day and age. I remember my grandma once coming and showing me her investment portfolio, which is her own investments, totally separate from my grandfather. She was showing me how she invested very early on in [Jeff] Bezos because she said, you have to invest in the leader, that's what matters. And I remember thinking, this is amazing. Like she comes from a generation where wealth, with maybe wealth for women, was maybe that much more stigmatized. But she always said, a woman who controls her finances, controls her life. And that stuck with me. She told me, year after year. And I think it's a really important lesson that we should all really embody. So I save, I invest, we're a seed stage company, so I don't have much to do other of those things with. But I think once I do amass more personal wealth, I certainly plan to be very intentional about it. I think this is an area of our life we should dedicate at least 10% of our time to, is how we manage our money. There are many different ways to do so. And I'm sure your experts on other episodes cover that a lot better than I would, but I think, it deserves a lot of time and energy. And it's certainly an area of my life that I already spend time on, and plan and intend to after everything is successful, too.
Emma, is your grandmother still with us? I feel like we should interview her for the podcast.
Emma Smith: 28:56
You totally should! She goes by Sweet Mama And she is. She would love to come here to tell you her amazing wild stories of investment.
We'd love to have her, in all seriousness.
Emma Smith: 29:07
And I will certainly connect you guys.
Emma. Thank you. We will definitely fellow up with her. I do want to come back to something we touched on earlier. Emma, when you think about starting, Eversend... has starting your own business and made you more confident when it comes to economic agency and building your own personal wealth?
Emma Smith: 29:29
Yeah, I love that question. It certainly has. When I started out at Eversend, I saw myself, to be honest, as very small, very incapable. I didn't think I could do it. I didn't think I could, build this company, raise funding, pitch the company, have meetings with different executives in different parts of the world, in all sorts of industries. I really underestimated myself. And I think this is a problem that a lot of women have both when starting a company or when just starting to make their first investment. I think, whereas I actually was saying that... I read this interesting article recently that said, when men go to pitch a venture, they might have 10% done, but sell on the really big hype that it's a totally finished product, almost. But women would have 90% done in the same sort of space with their product and say, oh, but it's still a work in progress. It's still in development, not that far along and I think, as women we really do lack confidence often, in ourselves and in our own ability. So yeah, I definitely think pursuing this venture was not something I thought I could do, but now have proven to myself I can. And I think it's a matter of just getting started. Even if you start totally blind, not knowing anything, just going in with full confidence and assuming that you can face all the challenges that come, you'll be surprised. In a few months, all of a sudden we were starting to get traction, see success, get attention. And started to quickly realize we were doing it without ever realising that things were happening. They were just coming together.
Gosh, I mean, I recognize so much of what you're saying, being an entrepreneur myself and having recently started on that journey. The lows are just so low, right? And the high are just so high. I definitely still feel often very low in self confidence and just doubting a lot of my skill sets and capabilities.
Emma Smith: 31:35
Yeah, absolutely. I think this is a problem. Every female founder that I have met comes across. But the interesting thing is that there was this recent study by Google that showed that women led companies have a 35% higher return on investment and are 12% more profitable than male-led companies. And you look at the statistics and you think, hey, by the numbers... the numbers say we can do this. So we have to believe in ourselves and trust the woman ahead of us who have built successful companies. We will be like them one day.
Absolutely. I can reason and rationalize my way to that conclusion using my logical brain. It's just sometimes the doubt and uncertainty that creeps in is just so real...
Emma Smith: 32:23
Yeah, absolutely. The big part of what I think about on a day to day basis with Eversend is how to keep my own mental health good and how to take care of my team as well so that we remain optimistic and hopeful and encouraging. I think it's so important to have a culture that supports this belief that we can do anything. I think again, it's tricky because sometimes as women, we're told we're overconfident or cocky if we say, I did this and I can do this, but the truth is it's important to always keep telling ourselves that we can do things and have a culture around us that supports us being totally awesome. Even if that comes off as overconfident in certain contexts. I'd much rather have that and believe we could do anything, than believe we can't and not change the world.
Yeah, Emma and the other thing that jumps out to me there is we need to forgive ourselves for our days of low confidence. Particularly, those of us who are thinking about starting our own businesses, or even just those of us who are early in our wealth journeys and in our investment journeys. When one investment goes bad or when a pitch meeting goes bad, those feelings can sometimes compound and prevent us from taking the next step. And I think a big takeaway for me in what you're saying is we need to just let that go and forgive ourselves for those days of doubt.
Emma Smith: 33:50
You know, I think my I also statements after this conversation would be I also can start this. I also am qualified, and I also can succeed. These are I alsos that I struggled with in the beginning and I still struggle with day-to-day. But as I said, I really, truly believe I also can start this venture with Eversend, that I'm qualified to do so and that I can succeed and truly bring this to unicorn status one day. So I hope that other listeners will also realize that whatever it is that deep inside them, they're feeling called or moved or inspired to do, that they can start and that they're qualified and will be able to succeed in doing so.
Emma, you couldn't see this, but when you said hashtag, I also can start this, we were all snapping our fingers because it's such a great message. And I do want to say thank you again for your time today. You're leaving us, certainly feeling inspired. And I know our listeners will feel the same. Thank you.
Emma Smith: 34:55
Yeah. Likewise, guys, it's been so great. Thank you so much for having me on. If you have a blurb that I can forward along to Sweet Mama, I will do so!
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