Female founders have responded to the news of a male-run 'corporate girlies club' and they aren't happy
Last week, news dropped that a male-run VC-backed subletting startup had pivoted to establishing a 'corporate girlies' club. To put it lightly, female founders both in Australia and world-wide weren't too pleased.
In case you missed it, a venture-capital funded startup called Kiki, which started with the idea to make subletting easier by making it invite only, has pivoted to establishing a NYC-based "girls club." The catch? Kiki consists of a predominantly male founding team, with only one female employee who was hired ahead of their new venture’s launch.
“We’re not doing subletting any more,” co-founder Toby Thomas-Smith said in an Instagram post. “Ever since Caitlin joined the team, she’s really enlightened me to this problem I never even knew existed where so many girls in the city have moved here thinking that they’ll live their best possible life, but they’re just living not thriving,” Mr Thomas-Smith posted.
What may well be a recent revelation for Mr Thomas-Smith has in fact been ingrained in the collective consciousness of everyone from idealistic writers to entrepreneurs for decades. New York City, a difficult place for outsiders to crack? You don’t say. Joan Didion, as early as 1967, in an essay entitled Goodbye To All That wryly observed that “New York is for the young, and “it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair.” It was ever thus.
Be that as it may, you never know what stories are going to strike a chord - and among the female business community in particular, revelations of Blackbird’s unwavering financial support of Kiki’s founding team despite some pretty big due diligence red flags lit a fire to the algorithm. While perhaps an outlier case, one reason is that the Kiki flashpoint points to systemic issues in the venture capital and startup landscape. How were three male founders, whose initial subletting idea gained some traction in New Zealand and Australia, but was ultimately not enough to become a viable business, able to get the backing of investors to pivot to a 'girls club' - a space they wouldn't even be able to attend?
Over the course of last week, we saw female founders respond to the news, mostly via professional social networking platform LinkedIn - and most pointed to how Kiki and its story is indicative of the broader blindspots in the startup landscape. Here's a snapshot.
Doone Roisin, Founder of Female Startup Club, posted on LinkedIn:
“Like ... What’s the unique insight you bring? Why are you (5 x 20 something boys) uniquely positioned to solve women's problems? What even is the problem you’re solving for exactly? And why not on home turf in a market you already know? Where’s your deep customer research? Where’s the market validation?
Who are your advisers? How do you get to IPO in 7 years when you’re back to pre rev, no clear product or business model and 2 multiple (arguably failed) attempts already ... I mean, isn't this what VCs are asking? I know they're asking this of every female founder that eventually gets through the door.
Women get told repeatedly to come back with more traction. More progress. More rev. Be deeply connected to the problem. Be the “right” founding team to solve it. And we know this is true bc for all the performative numbers being splashed around in the media - the stats aren't changing. Especially for an all women founded team.
However well intended this new "pivot" is, it only further highlights the systemic issues female founders face against the privilege of white men. It’s another very loud and clear example of how the startup ecosystem fails women when it comes to the gender gap and funding.”
Lucy Wark, Founder of Normal, posted on LinkedIn:
Honestly, best of luck to Kiki.nyc and I never want to wish failure on a startup, I know it's hard. BUT the sheer volume of "things the average female founder could never do, let alone be rewarded for" in this piece is staggering - from flying international in their underwear and being applauded for it, to being given funding to try a model that failed in two other markets in a third market, to pivoting on a dime to a new business with no revenue plan after demonstrating an appalling disrespect for their early users.
I rarely get truly angry about funding imbalances and who gets the 'benefit of the doubt' these days because I really prefer to channel my energy into building businesses and doing pragmatic things to improve the situation, but yikes, this one got me. Also - it's "women". Not "girls". If you want to launch a business for us, do us the courtesy of referring to us as not-children.
Jessica Wilson, Co-Founder of Women Making Waves, told Missing Perspectives:
Female founders receive less than 3% of VC funding in Australia. We are often when raising quizzed on having a deep understanding of the target market, the problem that needs solving and why we as founders are the best possible people to solve the problem the startup is centered around.
To see five male founders raise what is one of the largest investment rounds in Australian history for a startup centered around community building for women, the only catch is the founders are men is shocking … but also not really. face palm we have a long way to go, and even more powerhouse female founders worthy of a cheque.
Rebecca Veksler, Co-Founder of Frooms, told Missing Perspectives:
As a female founder in health tech - I am literally at the start of my first raise, we already know the statistics of female founders being funded, let alone in tech. I've also just completed 6 months as EIR at a local VC fund, which only validated my feelings of frustration of the industry. Women are not being funded.
Kiki is a perfect and most realistic example of the kind of bullshit that is going on. I read along and think; is this really where the money is going...meanwhile im trying to revolutionise healthcare.... So does that mean I need to make my employees get drunk with me and draw dicks on instagram posts? Will someone invest in me then? Is that how i get taken seriously?
Camille Goldstone-Henry, CEO and Co-Founder of Xylo Systems, posted on LinkedIn:
I often feel like I'm constantly chasing changing goals posts as a female founder (i.e. achieving revenue goals requested by potential investors, only to be asked for more). The Kiki news was incredibly discouraging, to say the least.
Lydia O'Donnell, CEO and Co-Founder of Femmi, posted on LinkedIn:
Being a female founder can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. Only about 2% of VC money is currently invested into female founders - even with the stats showing that women founders are more likely to be successful.
No one will truly understand the sting from the Kiki news like a female founder building a community app for women. For those who aren’t aware, Kiki is a rental platform turned ‘Girls Club’. An app to bring ‘Corporate Girlies’ together in the city. They have raised $7mil NZD. The issue? They have an all male founding team. Essentially Kiki are building a community for women led by men.
What has become so incredibly obvious building Femmi is that women are craving for safe spaces to feel empowered within themselves and gain confidence in who they are. We know these communities are so needed, but they cannot and should not be built by men.
We need more VCs to open their eyes to the opportunity to create change in the world by supporting female founders who are in the trenches doing the work with little support.