Vani Kola, Managing Director, Kalaari Capital, and a leading venture capitalist and entrepreneur, has spent the last 30 years observing the evolution of India’s investment landscape.
However, the one area where she wanted to make an impact was in the community, by creating a tribe of women: women who support each other, stand up for each other. Her initiative, CXXO, does just that. It promotes and supports female founder-CEO-led startups by giving them access to capital, mentorship, and a community of like-minded leaders.
Speaking at SheSparks 2023, she said: “Looking at the last three decades in the field, I would be most satisfied if there were 100 or 1,000 of us in this tribe.”
In tune with her efforts to bring women together and shed light on their challenges, Vani also unveiled the State of Women Entrepreneurship Report 2023.
Among the eye-opening figures the report includes is that the share of VC funding that women-funded startups receive is in single digits (9%), and that most women face bias when it comes to funding. About 65% of women feel their gender plays a role when raising funds, and 55% of them say they don’t have the same access to opportunities as their male counterparts.
The report also highlighted that there are just 2 unicorns led by women CEOs, and that less than 1% of active angel investors in India are women.
The report further delineated factors holding women entrepreneurs back, such as ‘underselling oneself’, ‘imposter syndrome’, and ‘lack of support and role models’.
Women and money
Post the report launch, Vani Kola had a freewheeling conversation with Neha Nagar, Finance Content Creator, on ‘Inspiring change at the top’, where she revealed her lessons, observations, and hopes for the future.
One of the most critical parts of the conversation focused on women’s relationship with money. As an investor, Vani noticed that there is a stark difference between men and women when it comes to fundraising and financial conversations. Women tend to be more tentative, muted, and timid when they approach investors for capital, whereas their male counterparts are more brash when they deal with money.
“Women’s relationship with money will have to be fixed. Someone could be a high performer but opportunities pass by because of money – be it their own compensation or fixing a budget,” she said, adding that women automatically look at reasons to justify the need when they deal with money.
The importance of a support system
While Vani looks up to many women, including her own mother, for inspiration, she believes a support system is critical for a successful woman.
“My family environment was supportive; in hindsight, that was very important. You need to encourage women in your life to try things out,” she said, adding that one must do the hard work alone but a support system makes all the difference. Instead of asking women ‘why?’ loved ones need to ask them ‘why not?’
Vani shared her own story, revealing that her daughter was playing in a nearby park when she was a year old. Her husband was constantly worried that she would hurt herself. “I told him to let her go, let her fall,” she said.
All women face stereotypes and unconscious bias. While hurtful, it has become a part of life, and even leaders like Vani Kola are no strangers to it.
“We’ve all been stereotyped. But we face it with humour and a thick skin. You cannot let it affect your focus,” she said.
But Vani added that she still worries about younger girls, her own daughters, and how they deal with such discrimination, as she knows it affects them more deeply.
The VC is hopeful about what the future holds as there now exists a vibrant community of women and their voices to turbocharge progress.
“Progress has to happen. There’s more of us; we have a voice. We need to do better. Stand up for yourself,” she signed off.