Women in Investment

Hosted By Lauren Conaway

InnovateHER KC

See All Episodes With Lauren Conaway

Sarah Dusek

Today's Guest: Sarah Dusek

Investor & Co-Founder - Enygma Ventures

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Ep. #1142 - Women in Investment

In this episode of Startup Hustle, Lauren Conaway speaks with Sarah Dusek, investor and co-founder of Enygma Ventures about women in investment. Hear their take on why we need more women entrepreneurs and how women founders can have a more significant impact. Lauren and Sarah also highlight the importance of democratizing access to funding and why we must invest in the best ideas.

Covered In This Episode

Lauren and Sarah delve into the challenges facing women founders in raising money and the need to democratize the funding process. Sarah points out that women are conditioned to play it small and safe, especially in Africa, but they can be vital in the entrepreneurial space. She recounts experiencing failure in business, her journey to social entrepreneurship, and more.

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  • Sarah’s journey (1:24)
  • Why it’s so hard for women to found companies and raise money in our current climate (2:51)
  • Women are conditioned by the world to play small and to stay safe. (9:29)
  • Why women in Africa? (13:52)
  • Why we need more women entrepreneurs (15:55)
  • Sarah Dusek’s journey toward social entrepreneurship (21:00)
  • Experiencing failure in business (24:04) Under Canvas (25:38)
  • Why do we need to democratize the funding process? (27:45)
  • Funding the best ideas will benefit everyone (34:39)
  • The craziest investment you’ve heard of recently (35:29)
  • Advice to female founders (40:07)
  • Sarah’s favorite smell (43:44)

Key Quotes

I started my journey as an entrepreneur myself. So I built a company in the United States called Under Canvas, which I grew and scaled for about a decade before finally selling it in 2018. And one of the things that I realized as a female founder was it’s really hard to grow and scale a company. It’s even harder to raise capital, as a female founder so my own journey with trying to raise capital made me realize if I ever sold my company, if we ever, you know, came out of the long journey and hardship of trying to build something great that I would pay it forward and invest in other women. And so that’s what I do today, from investing in other women to helping other women grow and scale their businesses.

Sarah Dusek

The majority of female founders tend to put more focus on human-centered initiatives, community-based assistance, or things like that. And so when we lift women up, and I live by I lived my life, my whole life by this one empirical fact, when we support women, our world is better supported.

Lauren Conaway

The specific pain of growing and scaling and being responsible for growing a business yourself is a very unique journey. And so I happen to think, you know, the best investors are people who really understand that journey in themselves.

Sarah Dusek

I maintain, and this is something that I talked about very often with the InnovateHer community, like going back to that best ideas thing. The fact is, if we funded the best ideas, we all benefit, every male, female, white, black, Hindu, Christian, like, whatever it is, we all benefit. It has good solutions that we see better.

Lauren Conaway

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Rough Transcript

Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!

Lauren Conaway  00:01

And we’re back. Thank you for joining us for yet another episode of the Startup Hustle podcast. I’m your host Lauren Conaway, founder and CEO of InnovateHerKC. And I gotta tell you, friends, today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by FullScale.io. Hiring software developers can be really difficult. I think we all know that. But Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably. And they have the platform to help you manage that team. Visit full scale.io to learn more.


Lauren Conaway  00:29

Now, friends, I don’t think it’s any great secret that I enjoy talking about women’s issues, I love talking to female founders. It’s kind of the bread and butter of my day. And I’m really, really, really excited to bring today’s guest on we have with us today, Sarah Dusek, and she is the Co-Founder of Enygma Ventures. And we’re gonna be talking about a lot of really interesting stuff. So I’m just gonna hop right into it. First things first, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Sarah.


Sarah Dusek  00:58

It’s my absolute pleasure, what a delight and a joy, thank you for having me.


Lauren Conaway  01:05

And you have a lovely accent. By the way, I did not mention that in prep. But my goodness, I feel like we’re going to have a very refined, lovely conversation. So we’re gonna go ahead and kick right into it. And I’m going to ask you to tell us about your journey. Let’s hear it.


Sarah Dusek  01:22

So I could take your way back when but I’m not going to be in context with what I do now. I’m an investor in Enygma ventures. And Enygma Ventures is a venture capital fund that invests in female entrepreneurs in Africa. And before you ask me the question, how on earth did you end up being an investor in female women and women in Africa? That the answer to that question is, I started my journey as an entrepreneur myself. So I built a company in the United States called under canvas, which I grew and scaled for about a decade before finally selling it in 2018. And one of the things that I realized as a female founder was, it’s really hard to grow and scale a company. It’s even harder to raise capital, as a female founder to so my own journey with trying to raise capital made me realize, if I ever sold my company, if we ever, you know, came out of the, the long journey and hardship of trying to build something great that I would pay it forward and invest in other women. And so that’s what I do today, from investing in other women, helping other women grow and scale their businesses.


Lauren Conaway  02:51

That absolutely incredible. And I’m sure you can imagine that I know at least some of the answers to the question that I’m about to ask you. But I want to ask for the benefit of the audience. And I’m going to ask, Why do you think it’s so hard for women to found companies and raise money in our current, current climate?


Sarah Dusek  03:14

I think they were two reasons, actually. One we could be cynical about and the other one, I think we can do something about the cynical answer to that question is that 95% of the people who are doing investing are men. And, you know, we can be cynical about this as well, really, in the sense that all of us have bias. Everyone, everyone has bias. And so investors in particularly are looking to invest in things that they understand that they can connect with, they can connect with you, the founder, it’s a whole lot harder for a male investor to connect with female entrepreneurs, particularly if they don’t resonate with the product or service or the business that you’re trying to build. So I think that’s definitely one factor. We’ve not got enough women writing checks.


Lauren Conaway  04:08

Well, so before before you, you’re never too I’m gonna, I’m gonna drill down on this just a teeny tiny bit, and I’m gonna say, you know, not too long ago, I watched a TED talk and I do not remember the name of the speaker. But she talked about the fact that in investment rooms, she would hear they actually use an AI tool to to record investor pitches. And then they pulled language when they were pulling the language they found that most found or most VCs most investors, were asking very growth oriented questions to their male pitchers and founders and then they were asking very defensive safety related questions around to their to their female founders and the reasoning is exactly what you’re saying like There is an unconscious bias. And it changes everything about the way that we invest in women, but certainly not the least of which is how we talk about women who need investment. Right. So I just wanted to mention that. And then really quickly, the other thing that I want to mention is, you know, I talk to female founders all day. And I can’t tell you, the number of times I’ve been talking to a female founder, who had a product that was designed for females, because often, we both know that founders, they’re often solving a problem that they’ve experienced in their own life, right. So when you’re talking to panels of men, as a woman who has a product that is designed for and by women, it’s they don’t understand. And so I’ve talked to so many female founders who are like, they didn’t get the product, they didn’t understand the market potential, they didn’t understand the crux of the problem that we’re solving. And so those are just two ways. That bias shows up in the way that we the way that female founders approach the world and know the way that the world approaches female founders. So I just wanted to get a little bit specific there with number one.


Sarah Dusek  06:10

Number one, is the reason I became an investor, because the reality is, I think, is if more women are not doing investing, more women are not going to get funded, right. Cisely for the reasons that that you just mentioned, and you know, women are perceived differently, we understand men understand products and services that women build differently, or don’t read it, though, connect with it. So it’s, it’s a challenging phenomenon, because it’s a world dominated by men.


Lauren Conaway  06:43

Right? Yeah, I mean, it’s a big problem with many, many facets and a lot of nuance. And, you know, it’s really, really difficult to control human instinct and behavior. So absolutely.


Sarah Dusek  06:59

And you know, in lots of sorts of reasons, that human instinct is what it is, and we’re not going to change that. So you know, less more women get in the ring. That’s right. And what I’ve encountered being an investor looking to invest in women, only 2% of all women founded businesses ever do more than a million dollars of revenue. Now, what that says is that women are not thinking big enough. Women are not thinking about building the kind of businesses that are investable, in. And by that I mean, you to receive venture capital to receive backing from institutional investors, you have to be thinking huge, you have to be thinking 100 million dollar plus huge. And so the, it’s not that women can’t do that. It’s almost like nobody told women, that that’s what’s required. And so I think women have, have stayed in a safety zone of playing in lifestyle businesses, or, or playing in a product and service area that they know and understand and feel comfortable in. They’ve kind of got, we’ve kind of got stuck in small business world. And no one has shared information that says, This is what we’re looking for. This is what it takes. This is what you need to be communicating. This is how you need to be projecting this is how you need to be thinking to build that kind of business. And I think for many women, we’ve not really understood why we should build big businesses, I think that’s a problem because we’re trying to juggle our lives and our homes and our families and our kids. And, you know, trying to have careers but like, no one has said, actually, it’s really important that you think bigger than you are today that you build a big business. And here’s why. And here’s why it matters that you do that. And you stop thinking small and you stop thinking about having a little lifestyle business and you start thinking about taking your seat at the table. And I think so. So there’s all sorts of gaps there which I think contribute to the to the lack of funding going to women not thinking big enough and not necessarily necessarily understanding the rules around what being investable looks like.


Lauren Conaway  09:29

Yeah, well and I just want to be very, very clear, because the second problem it feels like women are the answer like we but again, we’re faced with like a very nuanced very seriously the second is actually the second issue is actually informed by the first you know, for so many women. Yeah, for so many women for all of our lives. We are told that you know you are you are responsible for the Families and that’s where your focus needs to be. And you know, as we come up through school as we matriculate, maybe our teachers, and maybe the folks who were charged with kind of instilling that sort of entrepreneurial belief, like maybe they’re more focused on the boys in the class, and, and so you know, you have this, this world surrounding you that is filled with bias and is fit. And I can’t tell you even to this day, I am still you know, I’m a CEO and founder, for the longest time, I had really, I had difficulty introducing myself as a CEO, because I felt like I was bragging. And it felt like I was being ego way when in fact, it was just a fact. Like, that was my title. You know, and I feel as though the second piece, you know, women are conditioned by the world around them to play small and to stay safe, because that that’s what our role, you know, we’re the nurturers were the collaborators. We’re not, we don’t tend to be you know, hashtag not, not always, but you know, we we are, we tend to be safer, we tend to be smaller. And, and so it’s this mishmash of problems, and the areas of opportunity that we need to address, right, is that your feeling on the on the subject?


Sarah Dusek  11:18

Because, and that’s part of the reason why we need more women to break out right and show what’s possible, because we also haven’t seen yet largely haven’t had a lot of role models, we haven’t seen what’s possible, you know, this this year, I think that the crazy stat came out that for the first time, there were more female CEOs running fortune 500 companies than there were men named John. Squat. So there, there’s a shortage of women doing obvious, visible, high profile things in the world. And we are surrounded by glass ceilings that we don’t even necessarily see. And which changes our perceptions, it changes about our belief about what’s possible, but what we shouldn’t be doing what we shouldn’t be doing. And of course, we still have the challenges of women are predominantly bearing all the responsibility for homemaking and child rearing. Yeah, that’s a burden that isn’t gonna go away very quickly or very easily.


Lauren Conaway  12:30

Right. And we, you know, that that equal partnership thing, and to be perfectly frank, like, I believe that we need to put more social support and infrastructure in place to support our parents. And I’m not just saying women, I think that all parents need to be better supported through education systems, child care, you know, societal understanding of the of what is required, you know, but there really is a deep gap. If we talk about we talk about these gaps, and they compound each other, right, you know, you start very young, and all of a sudden, the girls aren’t necessarily, we’re not as good at math and science in the STEM related fields. And so we get less attention there. And then as we grow up, you know, those gaps widen, and they become even wider. You know, as we go, when we decide on our majors, like maybe we were told that we couldn’t get into tech, or we shouldn’t get into tech fields, because they’re unforgiving as a parents, and we’re trying to arrange our lives around it. So compounding issues, you know, they build on each other, and then the gaps grow. So you are doing some really, really fantastic important work in, in this space. I’m curious, I You mentioned women in Africa. Can I ask why Africa? I would love to Yes,


Sarah Dusek  13:52

yes, the the white of Africa piece is, I started my career. As an early 20, something year old in Africa working for an NGO, I fell in love with the continent, I fell in love with the people and and the experience of the African bush, which is ultimately what inspired the business I built in the States. And when we started thinking about this idea of of investing, and and using our time and our energy, to help other women go on the journey that I had been on, we realized our capital could go a lot further. we potentially could drive more change more impact faster. And so thinking about, you know, a developing context made us think maybe we could really move the needle, and you know, with our little bit of capital, maybe it could be even more impactful than if we did that in United same thing and United States. So that was really


Lauren Conaway  14:59

cool. Not only does your dollar I feel like your dollar probably stretches a lot further, like a $500 investment in a small woman owned business in Africa. That is, that’s a game changer. And then


Sarah Dusek  15:13

I write $500,000 checks. So we write, we write big checks, from capable, extraordinary women wanting to build multimillion dollar businesses, because I believe and you know, and this is part of the reason why I think women should build big companies, is that the more women have access to wealth, and more women who have created wealth, the better our world will be, I think, women.


Lauren Conaway  15:46

You know, I’m gonna want to drill down on that, sir. So what I think I know, but why do you think that is?


Sarah Dusek  15:55

I? Well, if we go back to equality for a second, and we just think about, you know, who is building our world right now, the people who are building our world, the entrepreneurs that are building our world, and we’re inventing things and creating things, and creating products and services, and technology, and all these things, those people are people who are getting funded, right? The people who are getting funded are building our world for all of us. So if we don’t also have women at the table, building the world, the future of what the world is going to look alike, is going to continue to increase inequalities, and is only going to be designed for a certain subset of people. And that sub certain subset of people, if not the majority, and that’s a problem. That’s a problem on almost every level. So if we don’t start increasing the diversity, and not just gender, but also geography and race, we’re going to build a world that is not for everyone. And that’s why we need all sorts of people at the table, building the future, building the technologies of tomorrow, building the solutions to problems that exists today that, you know, we don’t want to exist tomorrow. And that’s why that’s why we’ve got to have some diversity in the mix.


Lauren Conaway  17:19

For sure. Well, and I’ll add that when women are funded when women are well capitalized when they have access to the resources and the support that they need. Women, also, the data shows us time and time again, that women have this really great tendency to put a large focus on things like health care, and education and putting money back into the communities that they serve. And so at the macro level, like we’re, you’re talking about the macro level, but at the micro level, you’re seeing small communities, going from strength to strength, and finally having access to the resources and tools that they need in order to thrive. And it’s because of how women tend to conduct business. Now, when when I make these general statements, I just want to be really clear friends, like, generalized everybody. But the data like I think in terms of data, and I think in terms of majority, like the majority of female founders tends to put more focus on human centered initiatives, community based assistance in or things like that. And so when we lift women up, and I live by I lived my life, my whole life by this this one empirical fact, when we support women, our world is better supported.


Sarah Dusek  18:44

Absolutely. Yeah. 110% and you’re, you’re absolutely right, and the data is there to prove it. Women generally are much more focused. And maybe this is, you know, a societal preconditioning, to building communities and building wealth and building solutions for everyone. Right, not not just for themselves. And so the impact, the impact women can drive seems to be infinitely greater than the average comparable male,


Lauren Conaway  19:21

may actually create exponential impact. And that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for those ripples that reach outward. Well, so speaking of supporting people, I’m going to break into here really quick, and I’m just going to tell you that, you know, Startup Hustle, we deal with a lot of tech founders and we know that software development can be really difficult. A lot of that is related to talent, you know, making sure that you’re you’re finding the right people to help build your build your tech products, and it can be really, really hard. Finding experts software developers doesn’t have to be difficult though, especially when you visit full scale.io freaking build a software team quickly and affordably. You can use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs, and then see what available developers, testers and leaders are ready to join your team. Visit full scale.io To learn more friends, just a reminder, we are here with Sarah Dusek. She is the co-founder of Enygma ventures. And we’re talking about some pretty pretty heavy stuff. You know, the fact is we Sarah and I share a deep desire to help and support female founders. And there are a lot of reasons for that. So I’m curious, you know, you’re you’re helping entrepreneurs in Africa. And and I love that because I can’t even imagine the the impact that you are having in that space. Talk to us a little bit more about your journey, though, from what I understand. I mean, you’ve been a longtime advocate, you’ve, you’ve even won some awards for the support that you offer to women. And I’d love to hear a little bit more about that. Can you tell us a little bit more about Sarah?


Sarah Dusek  21:00

Of course, yes. So I started my entrepreneurial journey by accident, and didn’t really intend to be an entrepreneur. But I started my career as an aid worker, as I, as I mentioned, after seven or eight years of tirelessly working away in the field was burned out, disillusioned and pretty darn exhausted. And that’s when it sort of hit me really this idea that saving the world, or solving some of the world’s biggest problems, was not necessarily going to be achieved through the vehicle that I was attached to, then the nonprofit vehicle is not very good at solving problems, not very good at innovating. But businesses, the whole essence of businesses, it’s designed to solve a problem. And that’s when I started to get really curious about this idea of entrepreneurship, which was really troubling in my head at the time, because I had come from the nonprofit world that said, you know, that making money was evil, effectively, you know, it’s the dark side of the universe.


Lauren Conaway  22:12

It’s right there in nonprofits.


Sarah Dusek  22:16

So it was like, Do not go to the dark side. But the dark side was calling me and I was like, oh, no, I’m gonna be corrupted by the evil forces of capitalism.


Lauren Conaway  22:30

Incidentally, I hear that too, either. So so I’m interviewing her Casey worry, we’re a social, we’re not we’re not a nonprofit. We’re a social entrepreneurship mechanism. And one of the reasons that I give a lot of thought to like, Should we be a nonprofit, it would open up a lot of grant opportunities for us, but at the same time, like I enjoy running a social impact focused for profit organization,


Sarah Dusek  22:56

when I when we had that realization that actually a sustainable vehicle that is designed to solve a problem and be sustainable, yes, is effectively a business. And this whole idea that a business could do good at the same time, was kind of when I was starting to think about this sort of 10 or 15 years ago, now, it was kind of a revolutionary thought not so revolutionary these days, thank goodness,


Lauren Conaway  23:24

it is starting to seep into becoming much.


Sarah Dusek  23:27

Much, you know, the idea of social entrepreneurship, much more mainstream idea, impact investing, much more mainstream idea, driving change to capital, much more, much more normal idea. But, you know, for me, that was the realization which kind of led my, my, my own journey into an entrepreneurship, which was like, Well, if I think now, that business is a better vehicle for driving change and doing good in the world, but to learn something about going into business.


Lauren Conaway  24:01

Yeah. So first step, for sure. Yeah.


Sarah Dusek  24:04

We, my husband and I went into business together. Our first business was a complete and utter failure. We launched just before the great financial crash in 2007. And we started with a social entrepreneurship idea. That was a brilliant social idea. And a great business idea, just the financial housing market crash was a disaster for this particular business. So we had a failure right out of the gate, which actually, folks, is kind of how it goes.


Lauren Conaway  24:35

That’s okay.


Sarah Dusek  24:39

Yeah, it’s pretty, pretty normal to experience not everything going, going right. And that was certainly my journey. And then we stumbled on this idea of recreating the safari experience. The African safari experience in the US because I’m married to an American I’m married and a Montana I am. And as you can probably tell from my accent, I am not from Montana.


Lauren Conaway  25:05

I feel like yeah, I probably got that


Sarah Dusek  25:09

is where I ended up in the United States after marrying my husband out on the wild prairie of Montana, with this crazy sort of deja vu feeling of like, wow, this is actually very similar to this the vast savannahs of Africa and I have lived and worked in, which sparked a crazy idea. Which was cool.


Lauren Conaway  25:36

Or is it brilliant?


Sarah Dusek  25:38

Well, I think it was brilliant, because he created an amazing company that that many millions people across the country have come to love and know. We found it under canvas in 2009. And today, under canvas has large scale glamping resorts outside of most of America’s national parks with 1212 national parks across the country, either I


Lauren Conaway  26:01

definitely saw that. And I got really excited because I have never gone glamping I’ve gone camping many, many, many times. But I love the concept of glamping


Sarah Dusek  26:11

Can I ask you find so much less work?


Lauren Conaway  26:15

Well, and I was actually looking into doing an iHK risk retreat on glamping. I came across this company that they they have their their glamping grounds. But they also had a service where for like an additional X amount of dollars a day they would bring you nighttime smore service. Fun does that sound? That sounds amazing. Well, that is very, very cool. And then you were able to take this this newfound understanding of entrepreneurship and building a business and then apply it in your current work. Because I imagine that as you are talking to founders, it probably makes them feel pretty good that you, you have a deep understanding of building a business what that looks like, it feels like,


Sarah Dusek  26:59

Well, that was one of the frustrations with meeting VCs and investors is most investors have only ever written checks, necessarily operated and grown and scaled and really understand the pain, I might understand the pain from being the investor and you know, an investment working out.


Lauren Conaway  27:17

I’m sure there are many pains.


Sarah Dusek  27:21

Many, many pains will will they’ll just say that across the board, there’s pains for everyone. But the specific pain of growing and scaling and being responsible for growing a business yourself is a very unique journey. And so I happen to think, you know, the best investors are people who really understand that journey in themselves.


Lauren Conaway  27:45

Well, and so so I love to use examples, because examples are very helpful to me. And so I always try to like provide a little bit of context around the conversation at hand. And so just as a, for instance, and I’m actually going to be speaking about, you know, venture capital in terms of intersectional investment, like, you know, invest in women, but also invest in women of color. There’s that stat out there that says, you know, 2.2% of venture capital funding goes to female founded businesses. But when you look at businesses that are funded by women of color, you’ll see point 0000 6%, which is alarmingly small. And so so I’m going to talk about this in the context of intersectionality. But one of the things that investors often ask is, did you do a friends and family round? That is one of the first bits of criteria that that VCs often like, because in their minds, and correct me if I’m wrong, but in their mind, I think they’re asking the question to make sure that the founder has dotted, all the i’s crossed, all the T’s done everything that they can to build the business before they seek venture capital funding. And that’s, that’s a very valid thought. But then at the same time, when you’re talking to people who come from communities where their family and their friends, they don’t have a spare $1,000, that or even 20,000, they don’t have that spare cash to throw at your business. And so again,


Sarah Dusek  29:17

which thing to ask, it is a privilege statement that expects founders to have put a lot of their own skin in the game. Exactly, or have raised money from friends and family.


Lauren Conaway  29:30

And so when we’re talking about, you know, like, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect. And it’s what Sarah is, you know, referencing there’s a bit of a disconnect between what is actionable and possible on the founder side, and what is expected by the VC side, particularly when we’re talking about historically marginalized and excluded communities like women and people of color. So I just wanted to take a beat to kind of highlight that a little bit, but I think that you’re absolutely right.


Sarah Dusek  30:01

The reasons, we decided we’ll move first, so investing that we would hold open applications for funding rather than most VCs accept an introduction by someone else, right? If you get to pitch to a VC, it’s usually because someone you knew someone who knew someone who made an introduction for you that you were well networked, in the right kind of kind of space. For this, for the exact same group of people that you were just mentioning. And I put myself in this category, I was not well networked, I was not moving in Ivy League circles, I was not moving in circles with people who had money to either invest in me, or who could make introductions to people who could invest in me, it was I felt completely outside of that particular social set. And so one of the things that was important for us to do was try and democratize that process, and try and make it open and free to All right, so that you’re competing against other ideas, or execution of people doing things, you know, better, better than you rather than just did they happen to know the right person that may give them more opportunity. So we hold open applications three times a year, effectively. So here’s the cheat sheet, here’s exactly what we need to see. Yeah. And, and if you’re not doing it, right now, here’s a course and mentorship over here that will help you work on your business to help you get here. And here are the steps. So, you know, here’s what we’re looking for, submit your application. And we’ll meet with you without necessarily having to have had a warm introduction.


Lauren Conaway  31:53

Well, and I love that so much. And I actually use the phrase democratize access, like really, really frequently, because I don’t You don’t know this, but innovate her Casey, like, that is our reason to exist. How do we help women build out their networks. And here’s the thing, like, I know, a lot of VCs, just by nature of what I do, and I have V, I’ve invited like, the female VCs that I know, I’m like, Hey, join the innovator community. And they’ve told me, that will never happen, because and I think that the fear is that I join this community, and all of a sudden, I have all of these female founders and entrepreneurs, who all of a sudden have access to me, and they’re gonna be beating down my door and sending me the DMS. And it’s like, in my head, I’m like, good. That’s exactly what we want. Because as it stands, we are not found as a country as a world, we are not fat, we’re not funding the best ideas when you are best positioned founders. Yes. And yes, founders usually are, they are usually not women or people of color, they’re not


Sarah Dusek  33:00

usually come from a particular, they’ve gone to a particular school come from a particular geography or had a certain social network already, or have built their own social network already because of the school that they went to. And that, therefore is exclusionary. And it doesn’t create a world where we’re where funding and seeing the best ideas come to life, it’s just He who has the most money already wins, because he can effectively get in front of other people with more money. And that’s how we, that’s how we keep the poor poor. That’s how we keep certain genders down. It’s how we how we oppress people. I mean, that’s, that’s what we’ve been doing for hundreds of 1000s of years. Right?


Lauren Conaway  33:43

We’re very good at it. We’re very


Sarah Dusek  33:48

excellent at it. I mean, that’s How the West Was Won. And so there’s no snow real imperative to change the status quo, right? Unless people like you and me stand up and say, This is not right. And we’re going to do things differently. And this is, you know, this is a small change that I can make, you know, imagine if just, you know, 10, VC funds, did that instead and said out, we’ll take open applications, we’ll give you feedback, we’ll show you what, what our criteria is what we want you to be doing, what we’re specifically looking for what you could do better. I mean, imagine how how just impactful, tiny little change could be


Lauren Conaway  34:29

just just a little bit more a little bit more access, we’ll


Sarah Dusek  34:34

just have to open the front gate, just maybe open the window just a little bit.


Lauren Conaway  34:39

But it’s so crucial, and I maintain and this is something that I talked about very often with the innovator community, like going back to that best ideas thing. The fact is, if we funded the best ideas, we all benefit every male, female, white, black, Hindu, Christian, like whatever it is, we all benefit It has good solutions that we see better.


Sarah Dusek  35:05

And that’s my big macro argument. If if a diverse group of people are bringing their best solutions for solving the world’s biggest problems that affect everybody, that’s a better world for everyone. And actually, we’re all safer. We’re all healthier. Our world is in better shape, when everyone is being attended to and has a seat.


Lauren Conaway  35:29

Yeah. So a while back, and I don’t know if you saw this, Sara, I’ve talked about it on the show before because it just it blew my mind when it happens. But these two founders, and they were, they were guys, gentleman, they went on to I want to say it was Shark Tank, but they went on to like some pitch competition or something like that. And they got they got funded. And the product that they had been selling was it was a glove, it was a pink glove. It was designed for women, this is two male founders, designing a product for women, which is fine, like, I have no problem with that. But that being said, they had designed this glove, too, you put it on and you use it to take out your feminine hygiene item out of your. And the thing is, every single woman watching the show and watching this unfold was like, This is not a problem. This has never been a problem for us like this was not needed. And in my head, I immediately jumped to it seriously, hey knows, we don’t have a problem taking care of our feminine hygiene stuff promise, like we were used to it at this point. But, you know, in my head, I was just I was so blown away, because I was like that funding could have gone anywhere else. Rather than going to the most useless product design in the world. Like not only clearly these founders had no did not have a woman on their product design team. Like I can’t or I can’t imagine that they did. Maybe they did. But I don’t understand


Sarah Dusek  37:01

what was needed. Let’s just say that, it would have


Lauren Conaway  37:04

been surprising because I every single woman that I talked to you about the situation was like, yeah, that’s not a problem. And, and so and I would never buy a product designed to solve a problem that I don’t have. So, but the seeds


Sarah Dusek  37:18

usually you’re looking for, right? Yeah, it’s more about the problem that you’re solving that this is a problem that you connect with. Yeah, you believe in founder, when you’re not connected to your problem. I mean, it’s odd. It’s really disconnected. It’s really,


Lauren Conaway  37:33

you should totally google it. I can’t remember what the product was called. But I just, and I was just stunned because I was like, think about how I don’t remember who it was a significant dollar amount that they ended up raising. And they they gave away an equity stake, which is fine. But I was just in my head, I’m like, there’s so many women’s issues, particularly related to menstrual health that are so underfunded as to be disheartening and laughable, like that money could have been so much better placed, where it could have made a real difference.


Sarah Dusek  38:10

I have a group of female investor friends, we often play the game that’s called, which was the craziest investment you’ve heard of recently. And, you know, some of the things that are getting funded, are not just showing not just embarrassing, but shame shameful, like, you know, that the thing that we would think it would be fine to spend $200 million on an app that tells you which watch you should wear, you know, for those of us who are working in the developing world, and spending money in, in markets, that we could really save lives, by investing in companies and services that would make you know, you know, $200 million, for example, could you know, what we could we could do we could do with that is extraordinary. And so so some of what we see getting invested in is just it is insulting, it is shameful, that we still think in this day and age that certain things are acceptable, and that we are prioritizing the idea of, of making money at all costs, just because something sounds like a good idea. Right? Is is mind blowing. And, you know, the moment in hell, some of that is coming back to bite VCs because we’re in a difficult economic climate. So valuations of companies drop and you know, cash is more expensive, and it’s tougher times out there. But still, I’m not seeing a massive shift. I’m not seeing a conversation that’s being driven around. How can we invest our money smarter and better and drive the most change and do the most good and when we start having those conversations shins, that’s when we’re gonna start to see the whole VC, VC space start to really change.


Lauren Conaway  40:07

Well, I cannot wait for that day and I’m honored and privileged to be talking about my life. We’re in the in the fight together. I mean, I just know that there’s some incredible actors out there who are doing really great work. And certainly you’re one of them. So I’m going to ask you, I’m going to ask you to give our listeners some actionable advice. And I’m going to go back to what you love, which is helping women not just build business, but build big business, you know, big revenue, big impact, big visibility, like let’s so to the female founders out there who are looking to do that, to accomplish that to build a highly scalable, investable, bankable company. What advice would you give them


Sarah Dusek  40:57

work backwards? Okay. By that, I mean, start at the end, and practically work it back step by step. So I often see women who can’t build financial models, and I couldn’t build a financial model to be honest. But I can build the back of the envelope plan, which starts the end number. So if you think, okay, I’d like to build a company, that’s worth $100 million, one day. Alright, so there’s your end goal. All right. So maybe in your industry, companies are valued three or four times their revenue, or their 10 times their EBITA, for example, so so get some understanding about how companies in your space get valued. Usually, it’s a multiple of EBIT, or multiple revenue, just really simple, basic stuff, right?


Lauren Conaway  41:50

EBITDA. If you’re not aware, its earnings, you’re gonna have to help me with this earnings before interest, taxes, amortization. What is amortization, I’m missing depreciation, appreciation, thank you


Sarah Dusek  42:05

You don’t even really need to understand that we can just understand it as our profit, right? As our as our bottom line, just, people don’t even have to, like, understand the crazy financial metric. But if you if you think, Okay, I’m looking for, say, I’ve got to do $30 million of revenue to have a company that’s worth $100 million. All right, what is it going to take to do $30 million of revenue? How many customers do I have to serve? How many? How many people do I need to see every day? Or products do I need to sell and break it down? Break it down into simple steps. So if you know, this is the number of customers, like, okay, work backwards over three or four years, start and then say, okay, we could get there in year five, or year six, or seven, or whatever, and work backwards, so that you start to know, okay, this year, I’ve got to deserve this many customers next year, I’ve got to serve that many customers. The year after that, I’ve got to get that many customers or however you however, it makes sense to break it down, break it down into bite sized chunks. And you start to do that by working backwards.


Lauren Conaway  43:17

How do you eat an elephant folks? One bite at a time? That’s right. Yeah. All right. So we have now come up to the human question. We actually went a little bit over time, but it’s because I’ve loved this conversation so much. But I’m going to ask you, I’m going to ask you. Alright, this is kind of a weird question, but it just popped into my head. What is your favorite smell?


Sarah Dusek  43:43

Favorite smell. Jasmine? Yes, the smell of jasmine or when it rains in Africa and the smell of red dirt.


Lauren Conaway  43:56

Okay, do you notice that that is my favorite smell? But it is also my favorite words. Do you know what that is called?


Sarah Dusek  44:02



Lauren Conaway  44:03

It’s called Petrichor. There is a word where it is the the smell that releases from Earth after a rain. It’s called petrichor. And it’s my favorite word. And it’s I don’t know if it’s my favorite scents, but it’s one of my favorite scents.


Sarah Dusek  44:18

It’s one of mine too. It’s a really amazing thing and I never knew there was word for it.


Lauren Conaway  44:22

I know the word for it. And I just I love that I just thought that I was like it kind of sounds like a mythological creature like a manticore, but like cooler.


Sarah Dusek  44:22

Way cooler.


Lauren Conaway  44:36

Alright, so fun fact for you.


Lauren Conaway  44:38

And fun fact for you, friends. We’ve also got we’ve got something else pretty fun here. We have Startup Hustle. I don’t even know if you know this, but Startup Hustle is executive produced by Full Scale. And I gotta tell you friends, I’ve talked to a lot of Full Scale clients and customers and they’re really really satisfied because the fact is, it is really really hard to build a technology company or to build a technology product. So if you need to hire engineers, testers or leaders, Full Scale can definitely help. They have the people in the platform to help you build and manage a team of experts. When you visit full scale.io. All you need to do is answer a few questions and then let the platform match you up with fully vetted, highly experienced software engineers, testers and leaders. At Full Scale, they specialize in building long term teams that work only for you learn more when you visit FullScale.io.


Lauren Conaway  45:26

And I do want to point you to one of my fabulous co hosts I’ve been thinking about him a lot. This particular episode because Andrew Morgans was raised for a large portion of his life in Africa. And he talks about that on his episodes of the show. Now he is also our resident ecommerce guru. So I point you to him if you are interested in selling products online, particularly Amazon, he is just–his company Marknology is amazing at Amazon. But definitely give his episodes a listen. Smart guy, one of them actually one of the smartest guys I know and does a really fantastic job of pointing out ways that people can sell online better. So definitely do that.


Lauren Conaway  46:10

Friends, we are extraordinarily grateful that you come back and you listen to us week after week. We want to hear from you tell us how we’re doing tell us what you want to hear about. But above all, don’t hesitate to reach out we are here for you. And we’re going to continue to do so we will catch you next time.