Having spent the past 20 years working in sales for some of Silicon Valley’s biggest power players, Karen Cahn knew all too well that a gender bias existed when it came to venture funding. But neither Google, YouTube nor AOL could have prepared her for the brutal first-hand experience of trying to raise finance as a female when she launched VProudLabs, a video company, in 2014.
Together with three other women – Sarah Sommers, Shilpa Raut and Kate Anderson – Karen wanted to produce a video series, so they launched the project on Kickstarter and waited for the capital to roll in. Except it didn’t. While they managed to raise the funds by personally tapping up their own contacts, the experience prompted Karen to launch iFundWomen, the first ever female only crowdfunding site.
“We get a paltry 2-6% of venture funding, which is an extreme problem,” says Karen. “Our mission is to close the funding gap for female entrepreneurs. It turns out that women are excellent crowd funders, so it made sense to create a platform designed exclusively for us.”
Within their first month alone, iFundWomen raised (US) $170,000 for 20 female founders and entrepreneurs. “That’s real money,” raves Karen. “When people look at our site and realise how inclusive and progressive we are, they get even more excited. We are a platform for everyday women with brilliant ideas, and that really seems to resonate with people.”
Yet iFundWomen’s point of difference isn’t just that it is specifically available for women. They address what Karen refers to as the “confidence gap” women entrepreneurs face by offering free crowdfunding coaching to anyone who needs it. Plus, thanks to VProudLabs, they also help women tell the story of their business through a professionally shot video. What’s more, iFundWomen has a pay-it-forward model where they directly reinvest 20% of their fees into live campaigns on the site, which creates a virtuous cycle of funding for everyone, which is something that the Kickstarter model lacks.
For Karen, the most challenging part of the process is vetting each company. iFundWomen receive approximately 200 applications per month for just 20 spots on the site. “We want legitimate businesses on the site, but we also want iFundWomen to be a place for women to launch their dreams, so on some of the startups, we are making a bet on their future potential,” says Karen. “Like in any venture funding, some bets will pan out and some won’t. We want our success rate to be as high as possible.”
For anyone who might be sitting on a brilliant idea for a business but is perhaps lacking the confidence to take it any further, Karen has a simple message.
“Do it. Don’t wait. Life is short, and if this is your dream, go after it,” she concludes. “You literally have nothing to lose. iFundWomen coaching staff will help you through the process. We’ve been through it, and can guide you. You will not find a more supportive group of women to get involved with. Do it!” What are you waiting for?