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Penny Herscher

Penny Herscher

Posted: June 9, 2010 06:14 PM

Entrepreneurs -- Manage Yourselves!

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It's a fact that women entrepreneurs only get 4.2% of the venture funding in the U.S., but the reasons why are more murky -- and some would say women hurt themselves with the venture capitalist community by being emotional.

I sat on a panel yesterday at the Astia We Own It conference discussing the role of networking in the venture funding process, especially for women. We reviewed academic research on why women get so little of the investment (conclusion: women need to have technical degrees to be viewed as equal -- otherwise they are viewed as significantly lower in value -- and strong networks are critical for success raising money), we discussed our own experiences (I was the token CEO on the panel, accompanied by an academic, a VC and a senior exec), and then we discussed the intangibles contributing to the shortage of women running high tech, high growth businesses.

One of the messages the panel communicated with the audience was that women need to manage themselves -- to manage their behavior. As an example, the VC on the panel had four of 31 investments that had been originally funded with women leaders, but in all four cases the female CEO had been removed ultimately for not having the EQ (emotional intelligence) to handle the pressure, the board, and their own behavior in difficult circumstances.

The key advice was "Manage Yourself." In my own world I have been known to say "Get over yourself" to members of my team when they are wrapped around the axle of an emotional issue. I think this message needs to be heard by all entrepreneurs and executives, especially when interfacing with the VC community.

Venture capitalists are driven by financial returns. Especially in these tough times when the VC industry is going through major transformation and reduced funds. When you are running a company of any size, there is no room for emotional behavior. Boards look for grace under pressure, confidence when times are tough, and CEOs who know what to do and how to do it. They look for executives who know how to manage themselves.

How many times have you sat in a meeting and watched childish behavior unfold? Blaming, emotion, temper or fear take hold of a person at the table -- it happens all too often and at all levels of management. And boards have no time for it. I had to learn this lesson myself. I'm a passionate, strong-willed person who had to figure out (often the hard way) how to manage myself. How to be in control, be calm, be confident, be professional no matter how much the critical voice in my head is screaming (and I am still working on it...).

As women entrepreneurs, we have to work overtime to beat the stereotype image of being too emotional. Whether fair or not, the perception is out there and not unfounded. The story of the female CEO who was fired and went into the parking lot and keyed the board's cars is extreme -- but true! The VC who told me his firm didn't fund women CEOs because when they get fired they'll sue for sexual discrimination is extreme -- but true!

To get funded as a high-tech entrepreneur, you have to have the fundamentals... a technical degree, a great network who knows your performance and a great idea. But to stay in the job and stay funded, you have to manage yourself all the time and build the confidence in your board and your investors that you are not only running your business well, but also managing the pressure, yourself under pressure, your board, your team and all the intangible relationships that influence how people see you. So it's all about results... but results are not always enough.

 

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