Tanya Rolfe, Co-founder of Her Capital, says lack of support for female-led companies not a feminist issue, but a business one

Tanya Rolfe, Co-founder of Her Capital

Interview conducted by Amel Rigneau, Founder of DigitalMind Media.

Hi Tanya, What do you do?

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 spent over a decade in international law firms and saw first-hand the gender issues women faced in the workplace. At one law firm, I led a project to understand where all the female lawyers were going as they became more senior, because they were not staying within law firms. My findings suggested that women felt a pressure to enter private practice law or be a parent. Women were leaving by the dozens. 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 (what the founder will do once he is successful) 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, we launched Her Capital this year.

Tanya founded Ladies Investment Club (L.I.C) to fund and support female founders in the SEA region. Image courtesy of author.

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. We managed to source and support many female-founded businesses. However, fundraising for female founders becomes harder and harder as they progress on through the stages. In order to play a bigger role in their fundraising journey, we started Her Capital. 

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. 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. We want to support female founders, with the knowledge that they can do great things. 

How does Her Capital differ from traditional venture funds?

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.  Nonetheless, we maintain a good level of diversity within our own team with the knowledge that diverse teams perform well. We have four male advisors, one female advisor, and five female venture partners.

Second, we are also only investing in female-led companies. With only 3% of global venture capital reaching female founders, we are forging a new landscape for founders that looks nothing like the existing one. 

Third, We are also focused on women as consumers and customers. With 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. Beyond traditional ventures and hyper-growth companies, we look for sustainable profitability with moderate growth. A diverse portfolio through and through. 

How will you attract the best founders?

First and foremost, female founders are also looking for an aligned investor and we know we are seen as exactly this. During our time together at Ladies Investment Club, we had an almost entirely organic deal flow with many female founders. 

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 identify weaknesses to work on. We know what is important to them and can help them get there. 

Aside from Gail and I driving Her Capital, we have an amazingly diverse group of venture partners and advisors. Our team at Her Capital are some of our best investors from L.I.C. with the most relevant experience to support 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 lies in finding talent but rather how to choose from all the exceptionally talented founders. 

Tanya Rolfe speaking at an event. Image courtesy of author.

Do you think this is 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.

I don’t think most people realise just how well female-led companies perform. This is not a feminist issue, this is a business issue.

How do you feel being a woman in VC?

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 is quite the opposite. 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.

Ultimately, I won’t be successful just because I am a woman. Her Capital will be successful because we see and do things differently and we have a unique perspective when we review deals with women at the core. 

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.

Disclaimer: This article was written by a community contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the interviewee herself. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here

French Tech Singapore is a nonprofit organization gathering French entrepreneurs and locals working in Singapore in the tech industry. La French Tech encompasses all startups, i.e. all growth companies that share a global ambition, at every stage in their development, from embryonic firms to growing startups with several hundred employees and their sights set on the international market. As is the case all over the world, digital technology is a major catalyst for its development, and French Tech represents digital pure players as well as startups in medtech, biotech, cleantech, and other fields.

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