In this blog, Devyani Parameshwar, co-founder of Mera Kal - an organisation bridging the gap between aspirations and achievements and making modernized investment instruments accessible to India’s blue-collar and informal workforce, talks about her personal fundraising journey which has had its fair share of hurdles, and the subtle yet impactful barriers that unconscious gender biases can present in the world of fundraising. She candidly shares her highs and lows, offering invaluable insights, tips, and inspiration to fellow women entrepreneurs.
NN: Share a brief overview of your fundraising journey and how you approached the process.
Devyani: I have been engaging with potential investors for 6 months and am now in the process of raising an angel round. The dozens of conversations helped to refine the pitch itself, as well as understand the appetite for the model and market we are building for, and identify a short list of VCs who we should target once we have more traction. It also made clear that VCs are not the best way to fund the process of building early traction and finding PMF - for us.
NN: Cite some of the most significant challenges you faced as a woman entrepreneur when seeking funding for your business.
Devyani: Thankfully, for the most part, the questions and challenges that typically come up are related to the business model and underlying market opportunity and how to de-risk it. That said, gender does play a role; everyone you pitch to has their own baggage and biases.
For example, with one fund an entry-level male I pitched to was dismissive, and the conversation led to a dead-end. A few weeks later, I was introduced to an entry-level female at the same fund and pitched to her separately which led to rapid feedback, engagement, and then an opportunity to pitch at IC.
The same fund with the same thesis should have led to the same outcome, but in reality, each individual carries their own lens and unconscious biases, for example around style of pitching, with men often having a bias for more hubris.
On another occasion, I had a potential angel investor tell me I am the OG, how is it that I haven’t raised yet? I said I took his question as a compliment and hoped to do so soon. He said, “No really, something is off… How old are you? How many kids do you have?” Answers being >30 and >0 respectively, he says, “That’s it! It takes 8-10 years to build a valuable company; investors will wonder if you can do it since you’ll be worrying about board exams etc. by then. Most people think this but won’t tell you, I’m doing you a favour.”
NN: Are there any specific resources, such as workshops, online courses, or networking events, that you found particularly valuable for honing your fundraising skills and knowledge? How was being a part of the Nüshu Network helpful to your fundraising journey?
Devyani: There’s never been a better time to be a female entrepreneur in India. There are so many resources and networks available to help you along the way. In particular, access to a mentor via the Level Up program who helped me think through the practical legal and accounting considerations and options.
In addition, the Blume Tribe boot camp hosted by Blume VC helped me a lot.
NN: What advice would you give to aspiring women entrepreneurs who are just starting their fundraising journey?
Devyani: The best way to figure out what’s right for you and your business is to speak with different types of investors. Do your research, and create a list. Track your progress in going through the list clinically. Each conversation is a data point, do not get disappointed or take one conversation personally. The hit rate could easily be <1%.
NN: How do you see the future of fundraising for women entrepreneurs, and what changes would you like to see in the entrepreneurial landscape to create a more level playing field?
Devyani: A lot of programs focus on equipping women with the networks, knowledge, and skills to raise funds, and build and grow a business well. Overall though, women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored; it would be great to see more ways to build sponsorship inculcated across programs. Looking forward to seeing the stats around how many women entrepreneurs raise money, scale, and create a massive impact in the coming years!
The one other thing that could help is training on unconscious bias for all investors, regardless of gender, so they’re more open to different types of personalities and styles.
(Are you looking to elevate your pitching skills? Sign up for Nüshu Network: bit.ly/JoinNushuNetwork and get a chance to participate in Pitch Perfect where you can get insights from seasoned investors to hone your pitching skills and fuel your entrepreneurial growth.)