Startups

“We’ve made no progress”: Silicon Valley investors are still ignoring women-led startups

Read more at restofworld.org

Claire Díaz-Ortiz will not be baited. Not that this early Twitter employee, angel investor, and venture capitalist at Magma Partners won’t answer the tough questions, she just won’t be tempted to make a bold claim without first having a rigorous understanding of the data.

Díaz-Ortiz is a big name in Latin American venture capitalism and in global tech. She is famous for being the woman who got the pope on Twitter. She’s also a prominent angel investor in the region’s startup ecosystem and a one-woman check on venture capital’s notorious machismo.

The impressive CV makes her rare understatement rarer in the age of SPACs, Bitcoin, and social media. It is rarest of all in the notoriously male domain of venture capital, where hype often trumps data to secure deals.

But Díaz-Ortiz is a woman who knows the facts are on her side. “I’m just looking at the crazy statistics that I feel that people don’t really talk about,” she tells Rest of World. “A few different things to just cry about,” like how women-only founding teams “get only 2% of venture capital dollars.”

“We say that funding has increased,” she continues, “but the reality is that that is only happening when there is a man in the room.” For solo female teams, the stats are as bad as they’ve always been. “We’ve made no progress,” she said.

Díaz-Ortiz finds it “intellectually fascinating that the world has accepted that we have entered this revolution of verticalization,” explaining how nowadays there are “banks for kids, banks for teens, banks for couples, banks for black people. … Then, when Emma [founder of Jefa, a women’s fintech] goes in to pitch, a certain percentage of people say, Why do women need a bank?” She wryly notes that, meanwhile, a “bank for couples just got funded to the tune of $2 million.” 

What’s worse, to Díaz-Ortiz, there is an evident contradiction in the fact that, while women are being prevented from obtaining capital, women-founded startups are making higher revenues, exiting faster, and getting higher valuations. “All the data is positive to push you to get more women in positions of leadership,” she says with a chuckle, but “VC is one of the most closed-door industries.” 

To Díaz-Ortiz, the evidence was resoundingly on her side, but mainstream investors were doing nothing about it, so she founded Angel Collective: “women investing in women across borders.”

It is an approach she takes very seriously: More often than not, the data Díaz-Ortiz presents comes footnoted with a citation to another leading woman in the field of investment or Latin American entrepreneurship. Hers is a voice made up of many in an inherently collaborative endeavor — the “Collective” in Angel Collective is not just a buzzword. 

It will be an uphill struggle. As the pandemic raged, women suffered the most. They were laid off at greater rates than men; they lost out on the investment gains they’d slowly seen rise over the past decade.

Despite predictions that remote work and an office culture relegated to Zoom would drive greater gender balance in the workplace, the reality has been that lockdowns have pushed people back into their existing networks, Díaz-Ortiz said. Men resorted back to their bros’ clubs, and Silicon Valley VCs relapsed to their parochialism: regressions that perfectly illustrated what Díaz-Ortiz was fighting against.

It was actually the reason she first joined the audio discussion app Clubhouse nine months ago, she says. “There was a dude from …,” she pauses, refreshingly not deigning to remember if the dude was from San Francisco or London, “an incredibly huge tech capital,” she concludes. “And he was saying that not only did he not know of anyone who’d invested via Zoom but he couldn’t imagine someone ever investing via Zoom.”

It was a particularly misguided comment that perfectly illustrated Díaz-Ortiz’s overlapping struggles. “I am a woman investor based in Buenos Aires, who invests in Latam and all over the world, and it was outrageous to me. I felt it was such a privileged take on things. … We’re still dealing with the fallout of those early ideas about the world.” Whether she meant the fallout from overlooked women or remote populations far from the Bay Area seemed neither here nor there. The issues are often mixed; it is the reason that Angel Collective exists. 

Yet, in trying to fix the fallout, Díaz-Ortiz does realize the dangerous path she is on. In remembering Twitter’s social calling in the early days, she recalls how “that whole conversation is seen in a very different light 13 years later, right? We’ve seen what social media can do. We’ve definitely seen the dark side of social media.” It was one of the few cases in which she wasn’t specific. She didn’t need to be. With news of the rise of QAnon and recent social media–fueled political upheavals, practically everyone knows a case of this new tech gone amok. 

She’d wonder, “how could we have changed this all to not mess up so badly?” It is a question she now gets to answer with Angel Collective, which, despite its worthy intentions, could always run the risk of becoming another kind of exclusive club.

“Without actively trying to bring different voices to the table, one risks anything becoming a closed club.”

Take Jefa, the consumer bank for underbanked women in Mexico. Emma Sánchez Andrade Smith, its founder, is a U.S. citizen. She grew up primarily in the U.S. but also went to high school in Central America, then went to university in the U.K. She married a Spaniard and lived in Spain, before briefly starting a fintech in Africa. “She’s basically a citizen of the world. But that company qualifies primarily as a Latin American company because it is a bank for women starting in Mexico.”

Díaz-Ortiz was herself born and raised in San Francisco before moving to Buenos Aires. These women are the sort of cosmopolitan elite critiqued for espousing a white feminism by a number of Afro-descendant and indigenous women across Latin America. “It’s a very valid critique,” acknowledges Díaz-Ortiz. For instance, “when we talk about women founders in Brazil in particular, we’re usually talking about white women founders,” she quotes Julie Ruvolo, director of venture capital at LAVCA, the Latin American Venture Capital Association, as saying.

“Without actively trying to bring different voices to the table, one risks anything becoming a closed club. … I am a white woman, so I am part of this journey also, of always trying to recognize your biases,” she says. But to her, “the only real way to make a real difference is just to have different types of investors around the table.”

Therefore, the solution to this problem comes from the source. Angel Collective’s founding team consists of “eight or nine women, half of whom identify as women of color. Statistically, we know that that means that we will be naturally, just without doing anything, investing up to three times more in women. And we don’t have stats that people of color invest in people of color, but we think they do.”

So, would a group of people who identify as both women and people of color boost investment in both communities, in a sort of multiplier effect? “I don’t know. I don’t know the answer statistically,” she replies. “One would hope, but we just simply don’t know. All we know right now in terms of data — and we don’t have that many studies showing it — is that a woman investor is up to three times more likely to invest in other women.”

Read more at restofworld.org

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button