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As A Female Founder, I Don’t Have 108 Years for Gender Parity

Following the release of our recent report “A Decade in Review: Funding to the Female Founders” Crunchbase is highlighting female founders who are paving the way for the next generation of glass-ceiling-smashers. The “Female Founder Series” is comprised of stories, Q&As and thought-leadership pieces from female founders who overcame the odds, raised funding and are now leading successful companies.


Last year, Geosite arrived at an exciting inflection point in our growth and I was meeting regularly with current and potential investors. One morning I was walking to my office in Palo Alto when I saw my reflection in a storefront window. A light breeze had caught the hem of my floral sundress and it fluttered in the spring sunlight. A sinking feeling stopped me in my tracks and I had the sudden, unexpected thought: I don’t look like a CEO. 

I brushed the feeling off. I decided I didn’t have time to be slowed down worrying about others’ perceptions. I had work to do and a company to grow. But the thought stuck with me over the past few years as I built Geosite. 

Sometimes I am still struck by the realization that I have a firm idea of what a CEO “should” look like, and I have to challenge myself to not buy into that or any preconceived notion of how I might be perceived. Maybe I don’t look the way people expect a CEO to look, but I am lucky to feel very comfortable with who I am. Ultimately, it reminds me to keep my own preconceptions in check as well. 

I founded Geosite two years ago and have built the team to 15 people with $1.7 million in investment and $1.8 million in revenue. With clients in defense and energy, I spend a lot of time in rooms where I am the only woman. Like all founders, I invest considerable time–more than I had originally anticipated–talking to investors, the overwhelming majority of whom are men. It doesn’t matter what we wear or how we look, women will always stand out in these rooms; there just aren’t enough women empowered in leadership, tech, or finance. 

After years of scrolling through “Meet Our Team” pages on VC websites, the homogeneity of the teams wears on female founders (and founders from any minority group). That’s bad for all of us. It is hard for the underrepresented founders leading their companies and it’s not good for white male VC’s either. They begin to blur together, robbing them of deserved individuality. “I don’t know, maybe I’ve met this guy before…? I’m not sure, they all look the same.”

I see signs that diversity is increasing, but far too slowly. As a woman running a company now, I don’t have 108 years for gender parity, so here are the things I choose to lean on in the meantime: 

 

1. Get a strong tribe of advisers, mentors and friends

I am extraordinarily lucky that the very first check came from the team that, to this day, is the solid foundation of advice, access, and cheerleading I need to run Geosite. The team at Bee Partners provides incredible support to not only me, but is blazing a clear path in the venture community with 50 percent of their portfolio companies in 2019 founded by women. 

Beyond having great investors, peers are vital. I cannot imagine running Geosite without my CEO besties. The camaraderie of entrepreneurship is unbelievable and breathtaking: From the highest highs to the lowest lows, peers who can empathize with and challenge you are a critical component to sustain yourself. Practically, it is also important. We expand each others’ networks and refine each others’ decks and pitches to be the best possible reflection of our companies.

 

2. Practice introducing yourself

Heuristics and pattern matching are important in the risky, intuition-filled world of early-stage investing. We have little control over how others perceive us at first glance, and first impressions are lasting. This makes a strong introduction one of the most important, and often overlooked, skills for founders. I learned this the hard way. 

After a pitch to a few highly regarded partners on Sand Hill Road, a friend from grad school who had become an investor at the firm told me I had done a wonderful job explaining my company … but I had fallen short when it came to my personal introduction. 

Sadly, many people in VC aren’t going to assume you, a woman, have the credentials to run your company. You have to tell them your credentials explicitly. Make sure you prepare an introduction and practice it, just like you would a pitch. 

 

3. Never be ashamed of your ambition

It is important to have the humility to identify what you do and do not know. Don’t make the mistake of conflating this with a need to hide ambition. If you have the data and insight to back up what you’re doing, do not shy away from stating that you will change the world (or an industry, or lives, or the state of technology). Others will revise down your optimism, so you should not. 

Building a fledgling startup into a unicorn takes a vision and a superhuman amount of optimism. Share that vision and dream with the people (investors) who have the resources to help you make that dream a reality and with the team who will join you on the journey to make that dream a reality.

You’ll be surprised how supportive people are when you aren’t shy about your ambition to change the world.

 


Rachel Olney is a Stanford University Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate and the Founder and CEO of Geosite Inc. She has taught innovation frameworks and built standard operating procedures for the most elite US military special operations teams. She has also helped create and scale an international program in national security innovation and conducted research for the US Air Force on the Strategic Implications of Ultra Low-Cost Access to Space.

As the CEO of Geosite she leads a YCombinator backed startup disrupting the geospatial data industry, making it easier for logistically intensive industries, such as Oil and Gas and the Department of Defense and Intelligence Communities, to easily leverage spatial data (satellites, drones, IOT, and cloud-enables SCADA) to increase operational efficiency. Geosite is the first enterprise software to imbed cutting-edge geospatial data into business intelligence tools.

Rachel was featured on this year’s Forbes Enterprise Technology 30 Under 30 list.

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