Dear African female founder:
We know that at a time like this, with all the women’s month campaigns, panels and events coming at you from all directions, it’s easy to feel, well, flattered. These moments matter. You should take a beat to celebrate your potential and your hard work.
But, the fact is, you are in one of the most overlooked groups in startups & tech globally. The numbers are there for everyone to see: $5 billion of capital funded startups in Africa last year. Just 1% went to companies without a male founder and most of that to women who are either not African or not based on the continent. Taken over the last 10 years, the share has averaged about 3%, which means the trend isn’t improving even as record amounts of capital are flowing. It’s also true that all-female (~10%) and mixed-gender (~20%) co-founding teams consistently attract significantly less capital than their all-male peers. As one study found, by as much as 50%.
Whether you’re building solo or in a co-founding team, you’re part of a community that’s been systematically under-funded by investors that can and should do better. The dynamics may be different, but the situation is as underwhelming in Africa as in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the United States.
Africa is in the spotlight right now. But as our continent basks in the attention of being the fastest-growing region for venture capital in the world, the truth is that few people expect much from you. They don’t think you know how to be part of the story.
The biases female founders face are everywhere. They think that you’re an excellent manager, but not an inspirational leader; that you’re an efficient operator, but not a bold visionary; that you’re a safe pair of hands, but not the relentless executor that a tech startup needs.
But at FirstCheck Africa, we know what you’re capable of, and that’s why we’re building a returns-focused VC fund to invest in startups founded or co-founded by African women.
We already celebrate you every day. So on International Women’s Day, we’re not just going to do more of the same. Instead, we want to remind you of what’s at stake.
The African startup ecosystem is growing, but outcomes are incredibly uneven. Tech is creating wealth and influence at an unprecedented rate, in ways that our parents could only dream of. Barely a decade since the launches of the first consumer internet startups like Takealot, Kalahari, Konga and Jumia, there are now six unicorns, each having scaled faster than the last. But the products women want aren’t getting funded, so they’re not being built. Women’s names are not on the hottest cap tables, and women’s voices are not around the most important decision-making tables. Yet.
We’ll get there, but as a founder, a dreamer and a builder, you must lead us. It’s true that you’ll have to be ten times better to get half as far. You’ll face prejudice and unconscious bias. You’ll be under-estimated by colleagues, investors, clients and partners. It will be an uphill journey, but we’re confident that you’ll make it because the next generation of visionaries will stand on your shoulders.
Along the way, many people, including some that mean well, will distract you. They’ll tell you to dream big, but not too big; to be bold, but not too bold; to take risks, but not too many. They’ll say they believe in you, but they’ll also tell you that you’re not quite ready. They’ll “support” you with token gestures and trickle amounts of capital, and they won’t push you.
So today, on #InternationalWomensDay2022, here’s what we’re telling you:
Take up space. Be selfish. Put your ambition and your legacy first. Do hard things. Build a great company, hire hundreds of people. Bring products that people love to life, in sectors that the best global investors will fund. Ask for the help you need, but don’t be afraid to refuse help that you don’t. Create life-changing wealth for yourself and your family. And make room for other excellent women on your cap table, board and leadership team. Build the future that the world needs and be the inspiration that the next generation of female founders in Africa needs to see.We’re counting on you. And we’re excited to journey with you.
Happy Women’s Day!
Now, let’s get back to building.
Eloho & Odun
Co-Founders & General Partners, FirstCheck Africa