Hi Tanya, what do you do and what brought you to Asia?
I am the Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Her Capital, a seed fund in Singapore investing in female-founded, scalable businesses across Southeast Asia. I am originally from London and have been in Singapore three and a half years. I moved to Singapore in 2017 for nothing more than a change in lifestyle. London was not where I wanted to be with a young family and I was drawn to Singapore for the opportunity it provided as well as the climate, which was calling me! I love being in Singapore and it is great for my family – I hope to be here for many more years yet. I spent over a decade in international law firms and saw first-hand the gender issues women faced in the workplace. Whilst at one law firm, I led a project to establish where all the women were or more to the point, where they went as they became more senior because they were not staying within law firms. My findings suggested that women felt a pressure to choose a career within private practice law or be a parent. Women were leaving by the dozens and this was shocking to me and became the catalyst for my change in focus.
I founded the region’s first female-led and female-focused angel network (Ladies Investment Club (L.I.C.)) to fund and support female founders in SEA, where I learnt a great deal about female founders and the challenges they faced when raising capital. The challenges stem from conscious as well as unconscious bias towards women. With most VCs being male, they tend to invest in founders that look and sound like them, which means, other men. In addition, there is a lot of research that suggests male founders are often asked promotion-based questions that are trying to find out what the founder will do once they are successful with their objectives, launch, or revenue projections vs prevention questions for women founders. Women are asked things such as “What will you do when you don’t meet your milestones? or “how will mitigate this or that risk?” These questions set up founders for different responses and conversations as well as 5x less capital raised for female founders (according to Harvard Business Review).
There are also women who launch female-focused businesses such as femtech or female-focused consumer products, and those businesses are harder for male investors to understand. I met my Co-founder, Gail Wong whilst at L.I.C. and together with the learnings mentioned above, and with Gail as my partner, we launched Her Capital this year.
Why do you want to launch a VC fund and what is Her Capital on a mission to do?
L.I.C. was a pre-seed angel network, and we managed to source and support many female-founded businesses. After three years, we wanted to do more – to provide more capital and reach more female founders. Fundraising for female founders becomes harder and harder as they progress on through the stages. So, it did not make sense for us to purely provide pre-seed capital and end our work there. We needed and wanted to play a bigger role in their fundraising journey and for a longer period of time.
Her Capital is a $15m USD seed fund in Singapore investing in female-founded, scalable businesses across Southeast Asia. We are on a mission to tap into overlooked female founders in the region, addressing the 3% of global venture funding that currently goes to female-led companies, and capturing the potential for superior returns. BCG found that ‘For every dollar of funding, startups founded by females generated 78 cents, while male-founded startups generated less than half that—just 31 cents’.
We are driven to harness finance to create a more inclusive world, funding businesses that have people and planet at their core and capitalise on the purchasing power of women (who drive 90% of all purchasing decisions). Her Capital is well-positioned to attract and nurture a diversified portfolio of outstanding founders. We are hands-on investors, with a leadership coach at our helm. Our experience in guiding female founders to access funding and build businesses underpins this unique opportunity of creating returns.
Both Gail and I have daughters. Mine is about to turn four years old and she is fearless, sassy, and determined, much like a lot of young girls. Research suggests that this confidence and these positive traits often dwindle away before girls become teens. I think that this is because of society and the way we raise our children with gender expectations and assumptions of how a girl and boy should behave. I would like a different working environment for my daughter by the time she is ready to start her first job: one where her gender is not a severe disadvantage. I also want to model a different world for her so she witnesses this every day with me at home working at Her Capital – I am essentially prepping her for a Her Capital internship in 2032. That is succession planning!
How does Her Capital differ from traditional venture funds?
There are so many ways in which we are challenging the status quo. – Firstly, we are female-led and it is no secret that most venture funds do not have any female partners or senior decision-makers amongst them. We know and trust the stats that diverse teams work and perform well, and we have therefore worked hard to ensure we are a diverse team ourselves. We have four male advisors, one female advisor, and five female venture partners. – We are also only investing in female-led companies. With only 3% of global venture capital reaching female founders, we are putting a stake in the ground and forging a new landscape for founders that looks nothing like the one we have had before. It is clearly not enough to simply ask nicely for existing capital sources to direct that towards female founders – the incremental increase we have seen over recent years is not good enough. We have to be the decision-makers, the ones directing the capital and it is time to stand up and be accountable,creating our own fund and putting our money where our mouth is. – We are also focused on women as consumers and customers and because of this strategy, we are especially excited by businesses that are innovating for women. – Finally, we are not unicorn chasing, but we want to see our entire portfolio succeed so that means changing the success metrics. As well as looking for traditional ventures and hyper-growth companies, we look for sustainable profitability with moderate growth. A diverse portfolio through and through. Women tend to build more gender diverse teams which leads to superior financial performance. Women also focus on sustainability at the businesses core so inevitably, our portfolio will in turn, be more sustainability focused.
How will you attract the best founders?
Gail and I have been investing in female-led companies for three years now. During this time, we have learnt a lot about female founders. Before I talk about how we will reach the best founders, let’s just consider the numbers alone – Women make up 51% of the global population and own around 39% of all businesses. They also receive 3% of global vc money. That alone presents an opportunity and these businesses are our targets.
Beyond the opportunity, first and foremost, female founders are also looking for an aligned investor and we know from our experience that we are seen as exactly this. We found that female founders actively seek out female investors and during our time together at Ladies Investment Club, we had an almost entirely organic deal flow. Both Gail and I have been in the Singapore and SEA startup ecosystem for some time and we know the way it works and the names and faces within it. We also understand female founder challenges, we have heard the horror stories, the inappropriate comments to female founders.
We recognise the strengths of female-founders and can spot the parts we need to support, we know what is important to female founders and we have the tools to get that right. The way we talk is different, the way we evaluate founders is somewhat different and the way we measure success is also somewhat different from traditional VC. It is not better and this is not about men vs women and we are better or worse. It is just about focussing on what we have learnt about female founders and using that to our advantage to attract the best talent. We do however, need to do things differently, otherwise, we are just another VC fund running the fund like everyone else but just with women in charge. That is not going to shift the 3% statistic (which has been static for some 7 years) – we need a different approach and that is what we deliver. It is not often that investors present themselves to founders with the unique experience of purely investing in female founders and having such a diverse team supporting them.
Aside from Gail and I driving Her Capital, we have an amazingly diverse group of Venture Partners working with us and then a team of advisors. Ten others in our team in total. So, when you receive investment from Her Capital, you receive the support and guidance powered by the whole team. From our time at L.I.C we realised the benefit of having a diverse team of investors and so our team at Her Capital are some of our best investors from L.I.C. with the most relevant experience to support our founders – investment experts, marketing and sales leads and founders too – we aim to cover all the major areas of business support needs that our founders have.
Despite being in our infancy, we have already seen a huge number of outstanding female founders approaching us. I don’t think our challenge will be where will we find the talent but more, how do we choose from such a large number of exceptionally talented founders.
Is this a feminist issue?
Whilst we are fully committed to making the world a fairer place, to providing fairer capital and creating fairer opportunities for all, this goes beyond just equality. ‘We firmly believe this is just as much about good investing and makes financial sense to do so – or as Forbes says, ‘the math adds up’. McKinsey recently found that companies with women in leadership positions are 25% more likely to outperform on profitability than those without women. Furthermore, the International Finance Corporation found that annual valuation increases are 5.4% higher for companies with women in the founding team.
The BCG statistic I mentioned earlier is something I say a lot. I don’t think most people realise just how well female-led companies perform. Female-led companies can outperform male-led companies, they exit 1 year faster on average, they hire more females into their teams and they are more prudent with risk management and they think more about the environmental issues around them when building their business in a more sustainable way.
This is not a feminist issue, this is a business issue.
How “Dare you” to be a woman in VC?
Indeed! A piece of trivia I like to throw out there on this topic is that there are more VCs in the US called David than there are female VCs. I have a small smile on my face when I deliver this fact to people but actually, it is not at all funny. 65% of all VC funds do not have a single female partner. I am quite used to being in a man’s world from working in law firms for most of my career but interestingly, my circle of colleagues around me now are almost all female. We built it that way, but we do have men in the team too – we do believe in diversity. Instead of believing my gender to be a blocker or a hurdle, I see it as an opportunity and I am pretty good at blocking out any ‘noise’ that does not serve me. I see my gender as a positive towards achieving our mission, but I won’t be successful just because I am a woman. Her Capital will be successful within VC because we see and do things differently and we have a unique perspective when we review deals with women at the core. We are experienced, yet we have fresh eyes and a deep-rooted passion for our mission.
How do you bring more diversity?
Her Capital is run by women for women. I think we ace the diversity card! Our internal diversity comes in the form of finding male team members to balance our own team out, which we now have (but we always welcome hearing from men who share our passion). We know diverse teams are the way forward, including for us.
Tanya, thank you! If you’d like to contact her, you can find her on LinkedIn. Get in touch with us @ womenfrenchtech at gmail dot com In collaboration with Amel Rigneau & Emily Fang