Why women are good for startups

A new survey finds that the more women executives that are involved in a startup, the more likely it is to succeed - and I have a theory why

women_startups-600x450_0.jpgREUTERS/Stephen Lam
Leah Busque of TaskRabbit and Brit Morin of Brit & Co., two women who've had startup success

I’ve always, it seems, been surrounded by women. My house is filled with them (wife and two daughters, mother-in-law is here frequently, as are my mom and sister) and I’ve worked with and for many over the years. As a result, nobody needs to tell me just how good the more populous sex is at running a business or a household or negotiating financial deals - or, for that matter, pointing out clothes I shouldn’t wear after Labor Day.

I certainly wasn’t surprised, then, by the results of a recent Dow Jones survey of startup companies that found that having women in executive positions at startups is more likely to lead to success. The survey found that, while women only made up 7% of the executives at the startup companies surveyed, the median share of female executives at companies that were “successful” (i.e., ones that were acquired, went public or turned a profit) was 7.1%, compared to 3.1% at “unsuccessful” startups. In other words, the more females executives at a startup, the more likely it is to be successful.

The obvious question, then, is why do women help startups succeed? I think I got a hint as to why when I attended the 4th annual Startup Bootcamp at MIT yesterday.

The bootcamp was a one day event featuring 10 startup founders, five men and five women. It was an impressive array of tech startup talent, including Kevin Rose of Digg, Lee Hower of PayPal and LinkedIn and Kathryn Minshew of The Daily Muse. They each got up and took 30 minutes to tell their story and answer questions.

The men’s stories were interesting and had common themes: don’t start a company for money, work with people you trust, always be in fundraising mode, etc. They all seemed passionate about what they were doing and had useful nuggets to share with the many would-be startupers (upstarts?) in attendance.

The women also repeated many of the same themes and had good advice to offer. However, most of the female speakers related their choice to start a company based on more personal reasons than the fellas. 

Kathryn Minshew talked about starting the Daily Muse as a way to help (at first) women achieve their goals and find the company that’s right for them. She related it to her own process of finding a job and thinking about what she really wanted to do after college. 

Leah Busque talked about the genesis of the idea for her company, TaskRabbit, a site that connects people needing small tasks done with people nearby available for hire. It was born on a cold winter night when she needed to go out and get food for her dog. She also spoke of the importance of ensuring that her customers (many, at the start, moms) had, above all, a safe experience.

Then there was Christine Corbett, one of the developers of Circle of 6, an app devoted to preventing domestic violence before it can happen. She told her story of being stalked in college, including waking up one night to find her stalker in her bedroom, and how she still locks her bedroom door every night. Hers was the most personal of stories and also the most compelling. 

As passionate as someone can be about, say, developing infrastructure for previewing a variety of document formats, it can’t possibly be on the same level as the passion someone can have for something that’s got a much more personal connection. Frankly, that came through in the presentations I heard yesterday, and maybe it’s part of the reason for the findings in the Dow Jones survey.

My theory: women, in general, are drawn to starting companies or getting involved in startups based on issues or problem with which they have a personal connection. This makes them more connected to the mission and more passionate about what they’re doing and hence, they really help drive a startup to success.

They’re also much better at telling me that my fly is down before I leave the house. Not sure if that trait also helps startups.

Why do you think women are beneficial to startups?

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