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Dong, who launched the Female Founders
Fund in 2014 to back women-led companies,
consults entrepreneurs’ Instagram accounts
to vet them and see how they might engage
with their customers. “On Instagram, you
can create community, which, historically,
women have been better at doing,” she says.
Jen Rubio, cofounder and chief brand
officer of luggage startup Away, began
documenting her travels on Instagram long
before she started her company. Today, she is
both a travel tastemaker and an aspirational
female entrepreneur, with 36,000 people
watching her hustle to meetings around
the globe. She’s become so influential that
Nike recently sponsored a post on her ac-
count. “We’re all influencers at this point,”
says Katherine Power, cofounder and CEO
of Clique Brands, which includes the Who
What Wear fashion site. “An Instagram ac-
count is like a homepage—I think of it as the
first point of entry for my brand.”
For women, however, this kind of ex-
posure raises a host of complicating, gen-
dered considerations. “People sometimes
[don’t realize] the affability that women
have to have in this world,” says Jessica O.
Matthews, founder and CEO of Uncharted
Power, which provides renewable-energy
infrastructure to developing communities.
Matthews’s social presence is nascent, but
she’s aware of how she presents herself
online. “I know a lot of guys who are seen
to be tech geniuses, and they don’t shower.
I don’t think any woman could get away
with it,” she says. In a medium that often
gown with musician boyfriend Mark Wystrach. “I’ve made an effort to make
[followers] feel better about themselves so they keep coming back,” she says.
Many of today’s young female entrepreneurs are as comfortable narrating
their morning routines on Instagram Stories as they are leading financial negotiations in boardrooms. Some have mastered the art of social media to the point
of amassing tens—and even hundreds—of thousands of followers, becoming
the sort of brand ambassadors that companies have traditionally paid to align
with. Though these founders may not fully embrace the much-loathed designation “influencer,” they are plenty influential.
Only 2.2% of the overall $130 billion of venture capital raised by companies
last year went to female founders. And yet, or perhaps, because of this scarcity, it
is female entrepreneurship that is drawing disproportionate attention, especially
in today’s era of post-#Me Too reckoning in the workplace and wider culture. If a
decade ago the media was fixated on male startup founders in hoodies and flip-flops, today it’s reveling in images of GirlBoss Rallies, Bumble Bizz networking
events, and female coworking spaces such as the Wing, where the photo ops
are abundant. As a result, female entrepreneurs—even those with just a few
thousand followers—are finding their voices amplified.
The female-founder-as-influencer phenomenon didn’t emerge overnight.
Investors have long sought out entrepreneurs who embody a certain kind of
“magnetism,” says Kirsten Green, founding partner at nine-year-old venture
capital firm Forerunner Ventures, which has invested in a number of high-profile, female-for ward brands over the years. “As a founder, you’re going to have
to move mountains,” she says. “You’re going to have to compel so many people to
get on that journey with you,” including investors, employees, and customers.
When Forerunner offered seed funding to Emily Weiss, in 2013, a year before
she launched her Glossier cosmetics brand, Weiss had already developed a following through her highbrow beauty blog, Into the Gloss. “Emily’s social media
presence was the biggest asset she had,” Green says. “It gave me a sense of her
aesthetic and her ability to capture her customers.” Today, Weiss has nearly half
a million followers on her personal Instagram account, where she posts product-launch announcements along with vacation selfies and astrology memes. Under
her direction, Glossier has cultivated an outsize social following of its own, which
helped the direct-to-consumer brand surpass $100 million in revenue last year.
It has become fairly standard for investors to look for early signs of a founder’s charisma on social media, especially when the founder is a woman. Sutian
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