This Founder Stuck Through More Than 700 Investor Meetings to Achieve Her Dream
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In this series, Open Every Door, Entrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin shares her conversations with leaders about understanding what you have to offer, navigating the obstacles that will block your path, identifying opportunity and creating it for yourself and for others.
In 2014, Anu Duggal was at a crossroads. She had founded and sold an ecommerce company called Exclusively.in and was ready for her next challenge.
She wanted to take her experience as a first-time tech founder and help other people through the process. As an advisor and angel investor, she met a number of entrepreneurs, and was particularly impressed by the women working to launch businesses.
Familiar with the dire statistics around female entrepreneurs and their ability to raise the funds that they need, Duggal wanted to do something about it. She didn’t just want to support them with money, but with a community that would help them through the rough patches.
“Many of them were looking to get advice from other female operators,” Duggal recalls. "That's what led to the opportunity where I thought I could build a brand that was not just about one person's capital but developing an ecosystem.”
Duggal held more than 700 meetings to bring in like-minded investors into the fold, and her persistence resulted in the creation of the Female Founders Fund. Nearly four years later, Duggal brought on a partner and the firm is investing out of a second fund. The pair oversee a portfolio of more than 30 companies, including Shine, Zola, Rent the Runway, Peanut and Thrive Global.
Duggal shared the traits that help her overcome setbacks and why shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me about a time in your career when you needed to create an opportunity for yourself or others?
As an entrepreneur you're always creating opportunity for yourself versus being in a corporate job where typically your boss is giving you deadlines or projects. Being an entrepreneur means that every day you're either setting your own short-term goals or thinking through on a longer term basis what you're looking to achieve. When I was first thinking about starting Female Founders Fund, I knew nothing about venture capital -- I was coming at it as a tech entrepreneur. I was seeing more and more interesting companies being started by women and felt like there was the opportunity to build a brand where the firm was not just about capital but also about providing access to a larger network of other women who were on similar path or who had already been successful.
In order to create that opportunity, I had to surround myself with people who were industry experts. My biggest piece of advice is when you're thinking about creating an opportunity, don't be dissuaded by having a lack of industry knowledge. Reach out to the people in the industry who can help fill those gaps.
What was at stake for you in this moment?
I was a first-time investor and learning the ropes as I went along. The biggest thing that was at stake was that I ended up having hundreds of fundraising meetings. Luckily I was able to get some fantastic investors. Folks like the founders of Gilt and Birchbox, Katrina Lake from StitchFix, Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital. I had in many cases met these people once or twice and [I was asking them to invest]. I was aiming to prove a thesis, which is you can invest in a portfolio of female founders and generate great returns.
What personal traits or strategies do you rely on to create opportunities for yourself and others?
Persistence. As an entrepreneur you're constantly being rejected. You have to believe in yourself and the vision and not be afraid of rejection -- that's part of the journey. Tied to that obviously is resilience. Waking up every day and finding the energy and the strength to keep going and deal with the setbacks that come with starting something from scratch. The last thing is just the ability to take risks.
When you experience a setback, what do you do to keep going? How do you get unstuck?
I have a close group of friends that are also entrepreneurs and that support system is really helpful. Also, finding ways to disconnect and remind myself that there are other great things in life that are fulfilling. Yoga is my favorite kind of workout activity and [I enjoy] cooking and socializing with friends.
People who want to advocate for themselves don’t know always know how. What are actionable steps they can take to make themselves heard? What steps do you take?
If you're in a more corporate or larger company context then it's taking initiative, suggesting new projects or ideas that go beyond your scope of work. That's recognized and appreciated by the people that you're reporting to. As a fund one of the things that we really focused on is building a brand. So we're constantly thinking about ways to be top of mind for our communities, whether it's email marketing, creating content -- we produce a report every year on the state of female founders getting funding.
Has there been a counterintuitive or surprising way you've opened doors for yourself?
Being an outsider to the venture industry has been a positive thing because when you're in an industry you assume that everything is done a certain way. Coming at it as a founder versus an investor has enabled me to develop very close relationships with our founders and be able to empathize with what they're going through.
Was there a blindspot that you had about leadership and opportunity you worked to change within yourself?
Learning how to manage people and egos and how to manage ups and downs has been something that has evolved. When you're starting out in your career you're typically just thinking about your team. Then over time you're thinking about your leadership style. I've definitely seen that evolve in terms of taking the best of what I've learned from other leaders I've worked with and adapting it to my own personal style.