Anh-Tho Chuong Degroote


June 26, 2023

'She's not ambitious enough': Lessons from fundraising as a female founder

Fundraising is difficult enough — but for female founders, there are extra barriers to face

Anh-Tho Chuong

4 min read

Fundraising is a painful experience for any founder — whether you end up with 15 term sheets or just one. 

But be prepared to multiply the pain of fundraising by a million if you’re a female founder. With more VCs getting savvy to the discrimination female founders face, maybe things are changing. 

But it’s certainly not changing fast enough. So here is how you can arm yourself as a female founder in the fundraising race. 


Prepare yourself to be treated differently

Men will never hear these things when they fundraise, but you, brave female founder, very likely might. Be prepared: 

  • “You should talk to this partner, she’s the partner in charge of women-led ventures.” (Thanks for not letting me pitch to the partner who is actually most relevant for the business.) 
  • “You’ll be able to raise easily, every VC is trying to invest in female-led companies today, because of quotas.” (Thank you for insinuating I’m just a diversity investment.) 
  • “You aren’t aiming high enough. You’re not ambitious enough, focus on the vision you’re selling, more than current data, in the early days…”, or “You’re too aggressive, there’s a disconnect from reality, maybe tone it down and approach it with an analytical lens”. (Are you telling male founders that they aren’t being ambitious enough?) 

Fundraising is a funnel

When raising, it’s very common to take a "no" as a personal failure. I’m pretty sure even founders of publicly traded companies still remember the "no"s they received in the early days; each one of them still hurts. 

Visualising fundraising like a marketing funnel really helped with taking a step back and taking the personal out of it. At each step of the funnel, I learnt to expect a drop-off in interested investors, rather than interpreting this phenomenon as a personal failure. 100 VCs will be in touch, maybe you’ll meet 50, only 25 will follow up once, then 10 will deep dive, five will go in due diligence and then a few will hopefully make an offer. Having this kind of mental framework can keep you grounded and give you perspective even when the going is tough. 

When you’re on the field, play the game

Just like fundraising for the first time, a lot of things — playing the guitar, running a marathon, getting your first job — feel unnatural at first. So do your homework before you even decide to take the plunge or not. What would the process look like for you? What kind of narrative would you have to present about your company? What are the rules of fundraising? 

You might decide you want to change the rules but not play by them, or you don’t want to have anything to do with them. And that’s perfectly fine. But if you do decide to put yourself out there, the better you know the rules before stepping on the pitch, the higher your chances of winning will be. 

Be wary of VCs who want to preempt. Are you getting the best deal?

Given how much of a distraction fundraising can be, lots of founders try to minimise the fundraising period. Some VCs will play into this desire by dangling the idea of preempting a round — or offering investment before a company is even officially fundraising. That’s great for the investor because they can analyse the deal with no competition. 

If the VC is excited and wants to invest on great terms, great. If they aren’t, the founders will have lost a precious period of time during which they could have pitched other firms in parallel. So even if you want to keep fundraising time to a minimum, be wary of VCs who come with shiny preemptive deals. 

Leverage is the golden snitch

Maximising your leverage — in other words, your ability to negotiate the best deal — can be done by maximising your options. You’re in Europe. But can you also pitch US funds? If you’re thinking of pitching 10 funds, could you pitch 50? You only need one term sheet, but if you have five, you can negotiate your terms better. The best leverage might be — if you have the luxury — not being desperate for capital. Fundraise before you’re dangerously low on cash so you can negotiate from a position of strength. 

Decode the VC talk

The job of a VC is to meet founders all the time, look curious, intrigued, and offer “help”. Another part of their job is to maintain their reputation among founders, even when they pass on investments (which happens more times than not). As a result, they might rarely give the real reasons why they say no to your company. They don’t want to upset you, and they want to keep the option of investing later open. 

Their motivations can make their communication pretty confusing. If you’re unsure of how to “decode” the VC talk, ask a VC close to you, a friendly founder or an existing investor to debrief after another VC meeting. 


The recipe for success

I’m not sure I have the recipe for a perfect fundraise, but these are just a few of the learnings that I found helpful in my own journey. And with so few women as role models for founders, I hope this extra preparation will give you the confidence to succeed.

Anh-Tho Chuong

Anh-Tho Chuong is the cofounder of Lago.