At Fireside Ventures, we’ve been fortunate to work closely with some of the country’s finest women entrepreneurs, with ambitions in India and beyond. Nine of our twenty investments – that’s almost every second brand in our portfolio – has a woman founder, or co-founder, and they’ve been quick to dispel the commonly-held myths about women-owned firms. Here’s our take:
- They’re not niche. In 2019, 25% of the companies on the IAB 250 Direct Brands to Watch list had women founders and CEOs. BCG data suggests that in some geographies like Vietnam, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Philippines, more women than men are launching startups. Female Founders Forum reports that women founders are more likely than men to attract later-stage venture capital funding. And closer home, Bangalore and Delhi feature on the Crunchbase-Dell WE Cities index of top 50 cities for women entrepreneurs.
- They’re not restricted to “home” brands. Across the globe, women have founded brands across industries, from education to beauty, from healthcare to food, and from wellness to robotics. From our portfolio alone, the brands range from interior design services to baby products, from custom workwear to homestyle cuisine, and from fashion jewellery to health food.
- They’re not an international trend. While brands like Emily Weiss’ Glossier and Jen Rubio’s Away have led the way to DTC success, several leading Indian brands are following a similar path. Samosa Singh has reinvented the most ubiquitous of Indian snacks, the samosa. Yoga Bars has successfully introduced protein bars and energy bars to the Indian palate. Fable Street promises – and delivers – tailored workwear for women in India and around the world.
- They’re influential. The founders of these brands are also influencers in their own right, wielding Instagram and podcasts alike to build a distinctive appeal. For a crash course, take a look at brands like Outdoor Voices and Drybar.
They’re innovative. The Into the Gloss blog built Glossier’s street cred even as it built a network of engaged followers. This continued to fuel Glossier’s success with products developed to answer specific consumer concerns, and customisations that kept the relationship true. Closer home, Mamaearth built its reputation among millennial moms by blogging and participating in conversations about being new parents. This allowed them to address questions like sustainability or the responsible sourcing of ingredients, and build a unique brand.
Rachana Gupta, co-founder, Gynoveda, explains, “At Gynoveda, 'What Women Want' is at the core of everything we do as the woman is the decision maker and our value proposition needs to be in line with her expectations. I tend to heavily rely on my instinct and emotional connect with our women community to decode VOC and even their unspoken needs and asks. This along with quantitative data points makes a solid ground for key business decisions such as new product innovation, product design and our communication thesis.”
They’re insightful. While an analyst can spot a need gap, it takes an entrepreneur to design and build a brand that addresses it. That’s just what Fable Street did, by researching and developing an online system for tailored workwear.
“We understand that our consumer looks for convenience, so we deliver a great fit using a minimum of measurements. Had I been a designer originally, perhaps I would have focused on collecting more measurements,” says Ayushi Gudwani, Founder and CEO, Fable Street. “As a former consultant, I bring a holistic view to my brand - one that encompasses vision, strategy, and execution. I’m in the unique position of being able to guide every aspect of the business, whether branding, strategy, product development, or a clean, efficient supply chain.”
They’re profitable. Investing in women-led teams has always made financial sense to us. For consumer brands to succeed, they need to be distinctive, and built on deep insight and understanding. In the market, they need to tell their stories memorably, and engage with their consumers across several touch points. Many of these entrepreneurial skills come more naturally to women, and there’s plenty of research to support the fact that women understand nuance and emotion better than men.
As Nidhi Singh, co-founder, Samosa Singh, says, “The fact of the matter is consumers and business statistics don't care about your gender. As long as you understand the market, the consumer need-gap you are trying to address and you don't give up, you will succeed in the long term. Women form a huge chunk of consumers and as a female founder, you obviously bring a unique perspective that is more relatable and insightful for those women.”
Citing an ever-increasing list of women founder myths that simply don’t hold true, Gita Ramanan, co-founder, Design Café, comments, “While I will rank higher on soft skills, I'm still the primary negotiator for the company and the technical head. I have a very healthy appetite for risks, higher than my male co-founder. And while I support other women leaders and women employees, I believe primarily in selecting the best person for the job.” Ghazal Alagh, co-founder, Mamaearth, adds, “I think it would be a disservice to equality and liberty if we carry any ‘better’ or ‘worse’ jaundice based on gender. To be a great founder you require grit, dedication, hustle and strong leadership skills which can be found and honed across individuals irrespective of gender.”
We’re not alone in recognising the strength of women-founded businesses. There is a slew of brands made for – and like – today’s women, and it’s no coincidence that they’re being shaped by other women – look at Gynoveda, Pipa + Bella, or Fable Street. So, whether you see them as a trillion-dollar opportunity, or stars of the decade of the female unicorns, the one thing you cannot afford to do is ignore the rise of women founders and co-founders… and the brands they are building.
Oh, and did we mention that VC funding in startups with at least one female founder more than doubled to $46 billion globally?