Fundraising 101: My Experience As A Female Founder

Sep 29, 2020

Katie Castillo-Wilson

Katie Castillo-Wilson

TapOnIt Founder + CEO

Female Founded

As the founder and CEO of TapOnIt, I’ve been pitching investors in fundraising efforts over the past few months. It’s been going very well and I’ve been fortunate to secure a group of investors who truly believe in me, my team, my tech and our brand. 

Perhaps fortunate isn’t the right word. I’ve worked my ass off to build a business, and it hasn’t been without its hardships. Including dealing with sexism in the landscape of the business world. But it’s come a long way, thanks to the strength of women leaders and to the tireless work of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

As a female founder of a small business—or any size business—here is what you’re up against:

  • Often, you’re pitching to a room full of men. 
  • In the past few years, female-founded companies have won only 2-3% of venture funding.
  • As recently as 1988, women entrepreneurs needed a male relative to cosign loans.
  • A study published in Harvard Business Review found venture capitalists (VCs) tended to ask men and women different types of questions. Men were asked about growth potential; women were asked about mitigating losses. 

When I was first getting TapOnIt off the ground, we applied for every type of traditional loan there was, including a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Just getting through the application was a lot of work. And even though we had bad-ass technology, we employ people and we have data (which is said to be worth more than oil), we couldn’t get a traditional loan because the business didn’t have any assets. Eventually we got on the phone with a man who told us: “Look, if you were a bakery selling cupcakes, you’d be fine. But we don’t understand the data side of (your business).”

My heart sank. I would have felt much more supported if he had used selling computers or selling phones—even selling chickens!— to make his point. He likely didn’t intend to sound condescending, but it was one of my first true glimpses at gender disparity in business. 

It certainly wasn’t the last. 

There was one time I was in New York to garner interest in preparation for fundraising. I was out talking to people, explaining our technology. I was speaking with a man who was on his own, but working for a larger firm. We talked for a while about what TapOnIt does, and introduced myself and my background. 

He said, “Let me get this right. You’re a female founder of a tech company, you’re hispanic, you’re a single mom and you’re building this in Iowa? Man, if you were gay, you’d have it all.” 

Now, he was joking. But at the same time, he called out every difference and challenge that I’m up against. Would he have done that if I was a man? How often do men have meetings when they are asking—in a pitch—about their family? And how do/should I respond? 

In my own experience, pitching investors now looks a little bit different than it did when I first started fundraising five years ago. I’ve changed the way I dressed, the tone of my voice and I weigh my responses carefully.

Most importantly, I make sure I know who is in that room with me. Five years ago there was never another woman in the room. Ever. Over the past two years, that has definitely changed, but I’m not sure if that’s because women have fought their way to a seat at the table, or because I’m seeking out VCs that have female investors. I now look for VCs that prioritize investing in female-founded companies. This is how I support a cause that is important to me—I don’t want to agree to terms with VCs whose values don’t align with mine.

Strides in the right direction have been made. More than 11.6 million firms are owned by women, employing more than 9 million people and generating about $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017. But there is still so much work to be done. But if there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s that we can be nimble and we can pivot. We can also put up a united front. 

Women need to support each other and build each other up. Find your tribe and stand by each other. When one of us shines, all of us shine. I can’t wait until the day I get a seat at the table and can invest in the companies of my fellow women.