Dear Mr. John Doerr and Dr. Beth Seidenberg,
I am writing in response to the coverage of the Ellen Pao trial and to your recent letter, published here, and your recent blog post, published here.
As a female founder, I am writing to share three recommendations with you which, if implemented, may dramatically and immediately start to improve diversity for the technology startup world. I respectfully recommend that you consider the following:
First, expect that talented women and other disfavored minorities will know no one who can introduce them to you. Therefore, dedicate at least 20 percent of your deal flow (i.e., in-person pitches) to women and other such minorities who cold pitch your firm.
When venture capital firms require an entrepreneur to have someone they know make an introduction to a partner in a venture capital firm, this can create an insurmountable barrier to even getting one’s foot in the door to be heard on the merits of their idea. To reinforce the barrier of this glass door, venture capitalists blog about how reasonable it is to expect any entrepreneur who wants to meet with them to find someone who knows them, then secure that person’s blessing to make an introduction to the venture capitalist. This is mere subterfuge. And, Mr. Doerr, please stop viewing cold pitches, which you expressly invite to your email address, as “unsolicited junk.”
Second, eliminate your adherence to “pattern recognition.” Mr. Doerr, exclaiming that “very clearly male nerds who had no social or sex lives and who were dropouts of Harvard or Stanford … were likely to succeed as some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. … When I see that pattern coming in … it’s very easy to decide to invest,” precludes advancing diversity. The insidious nature of pattern recognition by venture capital firms effectively guards against women and other disfavored minorities ever having a chance to shine on your radar screen. A seasoned female founder, quite simply, can never be a young male nerd dropout.
How do you move past your pattern recognition? As Dr. Beth Seidenberg notes, at least some discrimination is “unconscious bias.” So what are you to do? Perhaps at least initially, white-out the age, gender and race of the team members as your firm decides which teams are worthy of an in-person pitch, so that you can fulfill your worthy goal of meritocracy. Meritocracy is, after all, about skills, experience and achievement, not about age, gender and race, right?
Or perhaps allow startups to, at least initially, massage the age, gender and race of the bios of the team members to gain equal footing, then submit a disclaimer of sorts with impunity so as to come clean about the team’s actual demographic makeup so that the team can avoid this “unconscious bias,” and the firm can simultaneously achieve its goal of meritocracy. Or, alternatively, the firm could affirmatively select at least 20 percent of your teams to be funded as teams that notably fall outside of your exclaimed pattern-recognition preference.
Third, put subject-matter experts and inventors on equal footing with engineers for founder and co-founder status. Today, venture capitalists revere engineers as founders and co-founders, and there are no close seconds. Yet we are moving toward Web 2.0. Many of the great problems we are solving for tomorrow are not in the hard-core technology itself, but rather what we build on top of the stack of those layers of technology.
In part, we are searching for game-changing solutions in health care, education and the Internet of Things. As such, subject matter experts in health care, education and so forth may possess much greater capacity to solve the problems of tomorrow than engineers. Narrowly defining “technical genius” as engineers or software coders and developers may perpetuate misogynistic decisions around venture capital funding, since so few women and other disfavored minorities currently pursue and persist as engineers or software coders and developers.
Moreover, much has been written about how female founding members are more capital efficient, create diversity that improves teamwork and design products that purchasers want. It is well known that women make upward of 80 percent of the purchasing decisions for families. Therefore, it makes good sense to involve more women from the earliest stages in product design and development.
Just imagine if more women were involved in the development of the Internet of Things for smart-household technology. It’s strange that women aren’t, since we still run the household most of the time. Also, it’s clear that women make most purchasing decisions for education and health care, yet women have not participated on equal footing in the design and development of the newest education and health-care technologies. What innovative leaps would we make for humanity if more women were involved in the earliest stages of product design and development?
Engineers, who at times lack deep subject-matter expertise, can only dance at the periphery of solving these complex problems and therefore only implement incremental improvement. Creating truly transformative technologies in deeply troubled industries like health care and education require a very talented team of subject-matter experts, paired with the best engineers. As such, venture capitalists should see these founding members on equal footing.
In today’s world, as a female founder, I have about a 3 percent chance of receiving venture capital funding. So, I must become a member of “The 3 Percent Club.”
As a bootstrapped entrepreneur and inventor, I roll lint balls in my pocket because I don’t have two dimes to rub together. And as I do, I tell everyone I get the chance to that I have this big idea to make the world better. Yes, I’ve got a bad case of “Pitcher’s Disease”!
Have you ever met anyone who went to school and acquired a bunch of book knowledge, then went out into the real world and had difficulty applying what they had learned to their everyday life?
This is the problem Opusomni is designed to solve.
Opusomni translates book knowledge into lived experience so people can perform education, work and health-management tasks better.
Did you know that 75 percent of all health-care costs go to manage chronic diseases? Yet today, we have no effective way to manage chronic diseases where people live their everyday lives. A-teko, the health-care vertical of Opusomni, is designed to effectively manage chronic diseases where people live their everyday lives. It’s designed to make life better.
I have an incredible sense of resolve to do whatever it takes to share Opusomni with humanity on a grand scale. When I meet with people who need this solution, they totally get it in 60 seconds or less. Doctors, research scientists, therapists, teachers, lawyers, engineers, nurses, students, patients and caregivers — they get it. Fast. They ask, “Where can I buy it?” “Can I start using it?” This wakes me up at 3 am.
Every day that goes by that my team is not funded means another day that someone may sustain an unnecessary fall which may result in a life-threatening or life-ending injury, or that a caregiver will not receive the information and support he or she needs to effectively care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, or that someone with diabetes will not receive the best evidence on how to prevent complications which cause secondary organ damage and leg amputations. I live with that.
Still, I have an incredible sense of resolve that I must become a member of The 3 Percent Club. My team is moving forward on multiple fronts to secure a round of funding so we can make people’s lives better.
The questions are, “How long will it take?” “How many people will suffer?”
Mr. Doerr, you have the power to accelerate diversity in the technology startup world for the benefit of humanity. Will you exercise it?
Beth Ann Wright,
Founder and CEO, Translational Education LLC
Beth Ann Wright is the founder and CEO of Translational Education LLC, and inventor of the Opusomni ecosystem.
She has 24 years of combined experience in clinical practice, health-care delivery and management. Reach her @opusomni.