In the rollercoaster world of startups and entrepreneurship, innovation and inclusivity should be the guiding lights, but as most female founders will tell you: They definitely are not. Following the recent what-the-hell-is-happening-here news surrounding Kiki, a bright spotlight is being shone on the persistent challenges faced by female founders in our startup ecosystem, and it’s a real stinker.
The unfolding story of five twenty-something men on their third attempt, in a third location with $6M USD in the bank who are now building a girls' club in NYC, is raising eyebrows and echoes the frustrations felt by countless women struggling to secure funding for their own startup ventures.
And as someone who speaks to female founders daily [on the Female Startup Club podcast] about their struggles in this industry, we’re all following a similar train of thought – what unique insight do these young men bring to the table, and why do they find themselves uniquely positioned to solve the nuanced challenges faced by women? What is the precise problem they aim to address, and why embark on this journey in unfamiliar territory rather than on their home turf? Where is the robust customer research, the market validation, and experienced advisers?
These are all baseline questions routinely asked by venture capitalists to female founders, who are often required to prove their worth a hundred times over through tangible progress, deep problem understanding, and unwavering commitment. The very hurdles that entrepreneurs – who happen to be women – are consistently asked to overcome seem oddly absent in the public narrative surrounding Kiki.
The frustration intensifies when considering the opportunity for venture capitalists to champion a women-led initiative, instead of perpetuating the all-too-familiar story of backing an all-male team.
And while these standards may be arduous, they persist because despite the performative numbers we see splashed in the media, the statistics remain stagnant, especially for all-women-founded teams. But if you’re a female founder reading this – I’m likely not telling you anything you don’t know already.
In a space where we struggle for recognition, these five male founders are on their third attempt in their third location, pivoting to a new idea they "never even knew existed" until the the end of last year. Their journey raises questions about the fairness of the startup ecosystem, shedding light on the gender gap and funding disparities that are deeply entrenched, despite good intentions.
Earlier this month, a spokesperson for Blackbird – the major investor of Kiki – said in an email to SmartCompany: “Both Blackbird and the Kiki team recognise that Kiki’s recent social media post announcing its intention to build Girls Club NYC has regrettably caused frustration and in some cases, offence. The team understands the reaction this has caused and has taken on board all feedback."
However well-intended, Kiki pivot only exacerbates the systemic challenges women face daily, and reinforces the privilege that is enjoyed by white men to amass significant and meaningful wealth.
As I reflect on the borderline outrage heard from many brilliant founders in the ecosystem in the last few weeks; I’m left wondering why the funds backing them aren’t speaking up? And why so many in our industry who claim to be doing a great job aren’t taking radical steps needed to change the narrative - and the stats?
Our startup ecosystem is failing us. Let’s not just talk about change but actively work towards it, acknowledging the disparities and striving for a more inclusive future for us all.