Why is only 2% of funding going to female founders?

February 8, 2024

Despite research showing that female founders outperform their male peers, startups with a solo female founder or an all-female founding team raised a mere 2% of all the funding in Africa last year. There is a huge gender funding gap. How do we close it?

This episode is the first of a five-episode series on gender lens investing, co-hosted by Eloho Omame, Founding Partner of First Check Africa, an early-stage fund backing female-led startups. Each episode of this series will explore a different level of the fundraising value chain.

In this episode, we're joined by the founders: Yanmo Omarogbe, the Co-founder and COO of the Nigerian investment platform Bamboo, and Sneha Mehta, the Co-founder and CEO of Uncover, a direct-to-consumer skincare brand in Kenya.

00:00 - Intro
02:00 - Yanmo & Sneha's fundraising experiences
13:19 - If tech companies raise more money, should more women start tech companies?
19:55 - What does "the ecosystem" need to be doing more of to help female founders?
25:26 - The added burdens for female founders
32:18 - What does success look like?
38:15 - Is money raised the right metric?
41:36 - The 2% Ceiling
47:30 - A retrospective conversation with Eloho & Justin

This series is created under the ScaleX project: Co-designing Solutions to close the early stage gender-financing gap in Africa, an initiative of Make-IT in Africa.

Make-IT in Africa promotes entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems across Africa for green and inclusive development. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH implements this project on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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Yanmo Omorogbe: It's always shocking to me at just how few female founders there are. There's might be five, at least in Nigeria, female founders who've raised this Series A. 

Sneha Mehta: A lot of the traditional funds or even just investors that are male didn't understand the market size, weren't excited by it, they couldn't even relate to the problem.

Justin Norman: That's Yanmo Omorogbe, the Co-founder and COO of Bambo, and Sneha Mehta, the Co-founder and CEO of Uncover. 

Justin Norman: It sounds like there's a lot of different objectives and ways to measure success. 

Sneha Mehta: If there aren't enough deals to do, then that is the problem. When you're giving somebody a no, how do you coach them to get to a yes?

Yanmo Omorogbe: I do think money raised is the right metric to use. I also think it's important that we don't move away from that.

Justin Norman: Despite research showing that female founders outperform their male peers, startups with a solo female founder, or an all-female founding team, raised a mere 2% of all the funding in Africa last year. There is a huge gender funding gap. How do we close it? 

This episode is the first of a five episode series on gender-lens investing, co-hosted by Eloho Omame, Founding Partner of FirstCheck Africa, an early-stage fund backing female-led startups. Each episode of this series will explore a different level of the fundraising value chain. 

In this episode, we're joined by the founders Yanmo Omarogba, the Co-founder and COO of the Nigerian investment platform Bamboo, and Sneha Mehta, the Co-founder and CEO of Uncover, a direct-to-consumer skincare brand in Kenya. 

This series is created under the Scalex Project Co-designing solutions to close the early-stage gender financing gap in Africa, an initiative of Make-IT in Africa. Make-IT in Africa promotes entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems across Africa for green and inclusive development.

The program is implemented by the German Development Agency, GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

Before we start, we have one small favor to ask. If you enjoy the show and want to support the content that we create, please hit that subscribe button. It only takes a second, but it will mean a lot to us if you do, 

Eloho Omame: For Justin and I as we've approached this series a little bit, we've really been thinking about this idea of gender-lens investing into high-growth companies. But these two different experiences, that I've learned emerge, which is, on the one hand, I'm not building an obviously technology a technology business like, for example, Bamboo would be a software driven business in a much more obvious way. Versus, Sneha with Uncover, where you are dealing with a business that is serving a female-dominated consumer base, high growth potential, etc. It's not really ultimately a software play. 

And so you have this ecosystem that has effectively talks about a gender funding gap, you have a fairly active, vocal noisy venture capital ecosystem that wants to try and address that. But of course you also have women who are building businesses that are not necessarily traditionally venture who are building great businesses and also need support to build those high-growth businesses. 

So a couple of questions in there and I'd love to hear from each of you. Maybe we'll start with you Yamno. What are your thoughts, perceptions around this gender-lens ecosystem as a whole that aims to support and invest in female founders in Africa? Notably, you are a female founder, you’re a co-founder of Bamboo, I don't think your cap table necessarily has any specifically gender-lens funds in it. Just to talk to us about, as somebody who is a female founder in this ecosystem, what your impressions are of the work that is being done needs to be done to support female founders. 

Yanmo Omorogbe: You're right to say that for us at Bamboo, we haven't, we don't have a specific gender focus across any part of our business. So we don't go out looking like for gender focus anything, be it, investing etc. But I think there's no doubt that there's work to be done. So for example, every year I try and put out a call for female founders who are applying to Y Combinator and say, Hey, if you need help with your application and I'll help you with your application, help you review it.

And it's always shocking to me just how few female founders there are across the board. If you check the Africa stats, there's less, there's maybe five, at least in Nigeria, female founders who've raised a Series A. And we're not even talking about sole female founders, just literally companies with a female co-founder.

So I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done, and I think even from the investor lens, there's probably a lot of work even on the investor lens and some of investors raising capital as well from LPs in terms of for gender-focused investing. But I think there's still a lot of work that needs to be done in actually getting the cash in the hands of women, either from the lens of getting more female founders on the table and getting more women starting companies or getting these female founders funded.

There's a whole, what's the word? I guess trope around female founders are over advised and underfunded, which I think is true. But then I think there's also work to be done on that end as well around a lot of the startup world is about like just being like ridiculously, almost bizarrely confident. And I think there's stuff we can do in helping women get to this place where you think you're like the best thing is sliced bread, even though you just have this idea and you think is cool.

Eloho Omame: So Sneha, before I get you to answer the same question as sort of general impressions, let me quickly follow up on that point Yanmo made with a specific question. Do you feel as a female founder, technology-driven business, Y Combinator, a cap table that doesn't necessarily have any gender-lens funds in it. I don't know if that's incidental or it's by construction, but do you feel like the ecosystem that is trying to address this gender funding gap is talking to you, includes you? I'm curious the extent to which you, you feel that? 

Yanmo Omorogbe: That's an interesting question. I'm not sure. So far the conversation is very like, if we think about investing, it's very “We want give money to female founders”. So I'm like aware that it applies to me 'cause I'm a female founder. I think for me specifically, I don't necessarily wake up and think like I'm a female founder today, and what does being a woman doing this look like? And so that sort of feeds into how I think about everything when it comes to the gender-based lens. Like when we're fundraising and want to raise money from the best investors as quickly as possible.

So generally, we found, in my own experience, it's been harder to raise money from gender-based investors. So that's probably why we, when we think about it, we don't have as many on our cap table. There's few as we've spoken to, but the processes are much longer. The only investors I've had asked me for audited financial statements or five-year financial models have been gender-focused investors. And that's probably a coincidence. I'm not saying anything and it is what it is though. I just think it is one of those things. 

I think, they speak to women. I recognize that, I can read, I know that they're talking to female founders, obviously they're talking to me every day and think about my experiences through the lens of I am a female founder and is this because I'm a female founder? Should I be doing X, Y, Z. I have always been a woman, and have always existed in this body, and I happen to also run a company and those two things just happen to exist at the same time. 

Eloho Omame: So Sneha on your side, I guess the company is very different. The story, the narrative from an investor perspective is very different.The cap table looks very different, and the journey is a little bit earlier. You haven't raised a Series A, but I think your one round before. What are your impressions, your perspective on the ecosystem as a whole and the extent to which it is talking to you as a female founder addressing your needs as a female founder, et cetera.?

Sneha Mehta: I'm happy to share my thoughts and actually really interesting to hear yours Yanmo, because our story is actually quite different and we're a little bit of a different animal. And at the time we were raising initially right after we were incubated by Antler, we were definitely one of the first of our kind sitting, incubated by a VC firm with physical products business, but a digital kind of strategy and a direct to consumer platform. People couldn't place us. 

We also started raising at a time when it was the peak of the fintech excitement and bubble. So if you didn't say you were a fintech or one of the other hot sectors, and the fact that we said that we were a physical, we had a physical products component, almost cut the conversation with a lot of investors and we really felt like we weren't able to break that initial barrier of oh, you're not pure play tech and software, so I'm just not gonna listen. And I think initially we were quite disheartened, to be honest. When we started fundraising, we'd grown really rapidly. We'd shown, decent sort of first traction but we weren't able to get past that barrier where a lot of the excitement in the industry was for very specific sectors and we looked different.

And so for us, I think, a couple of things. Gender-lens investment actually did come into play as the people who actually did listen. And I won't say it's the entirety. I'd say about 30, 40 % around that came from gender-lens investors of our seed round, right? So it wasn't everything, but I do believe that first check that we got from FirstCheck, actually, which was one of the first checks that we did get, opened the conversation up for a lot of other people to be like, oh, okay, wait a minute, let's look at this a little bit more. 

And so we found that in our journey, a lot of the traditional funds or even just investors that are male, didn't either understand the problem, didn't understand the market size, weren't excited by it, they couldn't even relate to the problem, which by definition, because our primary consumer is female, the conversations were getting shut down pretty fast. Whereas with gender-based investors that typically had a female investor as part of their team, were able to relate to that market opportunity, the market size. And then once they opened their perspective to listen, we were able to then walk them through the digital strategy, the tech component, the tech vision for the business.

But it took breaking through those initial barriers to get there. I also just want to mention, one of the things you suggested, which was quite valuable to us, is creating an experiential deck for male investors to understand the problem that we were solving. Because essentially we kept getting people being like, but how big could the market size be? How big could the market size be? And we then ended up compiling like Google searches for the word skincare, just creating this deck that brought people along the journey with us. 

Eloho Omame: Which leads me to my next question. So as each of you found that you were pitching your, maybe, let's say seed rounds, right? So you we're talking about the same relative com, comparable stages. Curious Sneha, where did you find that when you were selling to a new investor? Where did you find that you had to do the most work? Was it on the market as you've described? Was it on the business model itself? Was it on team? Product, scalability? Something else perhaps that was notable in your experience and your journey, fundraising? 

Perhaps Sneha, when you articulate your response then Yanmo, I'd love to hear the analog from you. 

Sneha Mehta: So for us, I would categorize the investors in two broad buckets. There were those who didn't even need an explanation on the market opportunity or the market size.They just, they had seen consumer explode in Asia. They'd seen it in the U.S. The sector or because they were a woman or for whatever reason, they experienced the problem themselves and they almost immediately understood the market opportunity. So I almost didn't have to do that much work on the market opportunity for those that heard the problem and understood it.

And then there were those that just didn't believe it and the conversation ended. So I would say market opportunity. Interestingly was the area where we did the least work because we either had people who believed it or they didn't believe it. For us, I would say there was a lot of work that we had to do around tech, for obvious reasons like we've described in explaining the digital strategy because we have a physical products component. So really taking people through our direct-to-consumer platform, our acquisition and retention strategies, our skin quiz, our teleconsultations, our content and articulating that digital strategy, that plan and vision for digital and tech.That would be the number one section. 

And I would say the second part was just the working capital side of the business, as well. Our business does have a working capital component to it. So a lot of the questions came up on how are you gonna target this? How are you gonna tackle this? And so we did a lot around cash flow and understanding the cash needs of the business as we'd grow and what they would be. 

Yanmo Omorogbe: I guess for us it'll be market, right? Because we do fintech and Africa fintech, so the number one investor question always boils down to do Africans have money to invest, for us anyway. And it's just being able to prove the market, prove the pieces, prove that revenue opportunity. That's been it. 

Justin Norman: Just zooming out a little bit, looking at the sort of goals and objectives of gender-lens investing more broadly, I think the way in which success is typically measured, is by looking at how much funding is raised by women founders. Yamo, I think you said that maybe you're contributing to the total number for the ecosystem, but it's a bit incidental in that don't view yourself explicitly as like a, I'm trying to raise gender-lens.

And so I guess if the goal is more money for women founders, there's a question about should more women start software businesses or more women start fintechs because typically those are the businesses that have raised more venture capital. How do you think about that question?

Especially you talked about trying to mentor and support some women founders to get into YC. Do you think that there should be more women founders starting tech companies?

Yanmo Omorogbe: So for me, that's a trick question because as someone who runs a tech company, I wouldn't advise anyone to start a tech company unless it was your dream.

So I'm a big believer in paths, right? My whole career philosophy is find a problem that like really bothers you and try to solve it. And so for some people the solution is a tech company or whatever, but for other people it's not. But I always say a lot of things are tech, right? A lot of stuff is tech-enabled. Sneha is doing its skincare business that is tech-enabled. Tech just helps you scale whatever it is. 

What I do tell women in general is that whatever dream you have, whatever goal you have there is room to scale it. Like women, we want to encourage women to dream of scale more. So it's not so much as doing a type of business, but it's like dream of scaling dream that your business that you're currently doing for a hundred people on Instagram can go to a million people and then a billion people. Dream of scaling.

And if you dream of scaling, the only way to scale is tech, right? Also since we want more women to get funded, and that means across the value chain, we need more female VC companies getting funded because it is a fact that people give money to people that look like them. And so we need, more women to think about scale. We need more women across, not necessarily being founders, being product managers and being customer experience. We need just more women across the entire value chain so that there's no more news that like you're a woman founder. There's no term like male founder. They're just founders and then they're female founders and there's VCs and female VCs, and we need enough women that's ubiquitous enough that there's just people doing stuff and we're giving money to the best businesses. And I think when we see that happening and being really focused on that, then you'll find that they're also hopefully getting more money, if there are more funds, there's more Elohos doing FirstChecks. There's just going to be more money coming, going into the hands of women. 

And the stats already show us that the returns that women give speak for themselves. So I think it's also not charity investing. I think that's like a lens that I'm always mentioning that investing women is in charity, but currently a lot of the discourse sounds like this diversity and inclusion effort would, we're doing everyone a favor.It's not, women are getting the returns. 

So it's just more highlighting that and speaking on it more. And making a lot more noise. I do try and tell women, and I'm guilty of that as well. Women need to do a better job of making noise because men do a really great job at that. And one thing about fundraising, I think that you see is that noise gets you a lot of clicks, which gets you more money. And Sneha, 

Justin Norman: And Sneha, how do you think about this question? Maybe from your perspective it's a little bit different because you're also trying to convince people that a physical product company and also one that's targeting women consumers has perhaps just as much upside commercially as a fintech does. So how do you think about this question in the context of the goal being more money raised for women founders? 

Sneha Mehta: I went through a whole cycle when we started getting our initial, rejections or nose, when we first started I was like, oh, I wish I was a tech company, pure play tech company, just 'cause it's so easy when you say some of these word. And not that it's easy, of course, but it seemed like that when we were when we were raising. But very interestingly, as this VC funding winter has come and as we have stayed true to what we are doing without kind of pivoting just because of feedback or what was hot at the time, I think what we have found is that businesses like ours hav a clear path to profitability, which has become the new buzzword. It's become the new term of the day, right? It's become a business that still has actually quite high growth potential, extremely high growth potential. But at the same time, once you find product-market fit, you're seeing more reliable structured growth with that kind of product-market fit within the expansion opportunities regionally or within product. 

And so I think what has been interesting for me is I've gone full circle of like just feeling a little envious of the businesses when we first started and being like, oh my God, what if we had some of these initial buzzwords to actually valuing the fact that we have the growth opportunities, we have the growth potential, we actually are in a place where we've broken even in the last quarter, we've grown faster than a lot of the businesses in our cohorts. And I think just valuing that businesses that are tech-enabled, and not only pure play tech actually have strong opportunities. 

The other thing that we've done is we've worked with the likes of Eloho, but also a lot of our other investors, to refine communication around our tech strategy. So we realized a little bit during our journey that for a business like ours, if you're not using some of the right terminology or the right words, even though you're doing the same thing, you might be shutting doors. So I think there is something around communication that we improved.

The second thing is we just suddenly became hot and now non-gender-lens funds are looking at us because they're like, oh wait, you have traction and you're profitable? And wait a minute, like you didn't burn that much cash? So suddenly the same business two years later looks exciting. 

And then I think the last thing is just really learning around I completely agree with Yanmo around just making noise storytelling and ensuring that regardless of the sector that you're in, not focusing too much of that, just focusing on business fundamentals and then making a lot of noise on all your achievements and saying, yeah these are my gross margins, this is my growth rate, this are my plans. When you strip sector out of it and you just look at market opportunity and business fundamentals and growth opportunity, then I don't really know if it matters whether you are pure play tech or tech enabled. 

Eloho Omame: This is really interesting. I think you both have touched on we've spoken to quite a few people as we've recorded this series investors, LPs, ecosystem enablers, yourselves as founders. I'm really thinking about this question of, we'll come to it in a bit more detail, but this question of what success looks like for the ecosystem. But as you both were responding to that question around if it's more money and lots of capital is going into tech companies, should we be starting more tech companies, you've both said no, not necessarily, which I think is perfect. Of course the right answer. 

One thing that did come through in both of your responses for me was, you both touched on, for example, communication and storytelling. You both touched on, tooting our own horns a little bit more as women. Yanmo, you said a bizarre level of confidence and aspiring to that. You also both talked a bit about scalability and level of ambition. And that's something that also came through on some of our investor side conversations, where I think one term that an investor used was raising our aspirations as female founders. 

So I think this is an ecosystem that talks, is well-meaning, wants to help female founders, talks a lot to female founders about what they could be doing better differently and supports them very often to do those things. But if we look at the other side of it, so there are multiple sides to an ecosystem,so look at the other side, look at the investors, look at the people allocating capital, what do you think that very well-meaning female-focused startup ecosystem that is speaking to you, addressing us female founders, needs to be doing more of or less of in this journey to helping more female founders emerge?

Sneha Mehta: I'm gonna start with something that Yanmo said in the beginning, but I do think it's, I do think it's worth resurfacing here as part of the answer to this question, which is that, Yanmo mentioned something around like the only people that asked her for the five-year financial model and something else happened to be gender-lens funds. And for us, it's not equal across gender-lens funds, but if I did have to group together the non-gender-lens funds and then the gender-lens funds and just take an average, I would say that does hold true in terms of the deeper due diligence is, or some of the requests whic, again, having been on the investor side, I do understand the need to do DD, but when you start comparing the two sectors, there's a difference there that we need to start understanding and addressing.

And to what extent, we all know that women get asked more risk-based questions, right, we all know that when women are raisem statistically, at least that's what the research says, but are they also coming from gender-lens investors versus the traditional investors? So I think there's something around the investment process, the due diligence, the types of questions that are being asked across both sectors.

And so I would say that for gender-lens investors, there's something around figuring out that investment process to make sure that it is like for  likearound the questions being asked, the kind of documentation being askedm and how quickly female investors are backed and supported, if we look at the same investor in the same process across different spaces.

I do think that outside of that, like again, Yanmo you mentioned, I don't wake up thinking I'm a female founder, but I feel like there just needs to be a higher supply. So what can the investor side do to increase the number of female founders? So to an extent, I think the investors are there, and I know we're looking at it from the gender-lens investment side, but then if there aren't enough deals to do, then that is the problem. So what can that community do to maybe when you're giving somebody a no, how do you coach them to get them to a yes? If you say you're too early, or you need to develop your digital strategy, or actually your market is too small, you need to think about this. How do you then not just say a no, but say, Hey, I'd like to ride this wave with you and then get you to a point of investment. 

So I think there is an element of just trying to make sure we work with the no's and work with them to make them into yeses. Whether that's through coaching, whether that's through support or raising aspirations like we've said, as well, and increasing that overall supply of female founders that are investible.

Eloho Omame: And Yanmo, what would you say is the things that we should do more of or less of on the investor side? 

Yanmo Omorogbe: I'm gonna echo Sneha's last point, even though I don't have any solutions, is we all recognize that we need more female founders. I don’t know what the answer is, but more of something that gets us more female founders because the number is small and not just female founders starting the journey with female founders across the value chain. Because like I mentioned, when you look at least, I've only actually looked at Nigeria. In Nigeria, there's less than five female founded companies that raised a Series A across the board. I'm sure you know the numbers maybe, and we get to 10 across Africa, I haven't checked.

But how do we get, female founders across the line, I think i extremely important and how do we get capital? We've said maybe women aren't in a lot of the sectors that are currently getting a lot of capital a day, and so it's how do we get capital into those sectors that women are usually involved in? 

Justin Norman: Sneha, you said something earlier that stuck out to me a little bit, just juxtaposing the experience between a traditionalventure investor and the gender-lens investors. And my impression throughout this series has been a little bit of it feels like it's a very heavy lift and a lot of work that's happening outside of the investment itself, right? Research, impact metrics, all of these different things. 

Perhaps that's a requisite part of the process because the reality on the ground is that less funding is going towards women, so there needs to be this justification, there needs to be this extra work, but it also feels like it might be an unintended burden on the entrepreneurs, right? Whereas men can just raise in whatever way pitch deck and they don't necessarily have to do all of this extra work. 

So I'm curious to know what you think about that and the impression of the extent to which closing the gender-lens gap is inevitably creating more work for women founders, whether they identify as female founders or not.

Eloho Omame: Can I jump in with a quick, direct question before you answer the question around the measurement, which is, do you have to do impact reporting? I know that we're one of your investors. We don't ask you for impact reporting, but I think that's because we actually like to position ourselves as, frankly, a mainstream venture capital fund that just happens to be investing in women, right?

So I don't actually know the extent to which, and what the level of, the burden that you have around some of the metrics that you have to submit are. So maybe give us a sense of what that looks like and then the extent to which it may or may not feel burdensome to you as you navigate your journey vis-a-vis your non-female peers.

Sneha Mehta: Yeah, exactly that. Eloho with FirstCheck, of course, we literally just do our quarterly reporting and jump on calls. And so it can vary from that as a gender-lens fund to those that actually do have the metrics and percentage of women employed, percentage of women in leadership positions, percentage of gender wage equity and things like that.Three to five metrics to report on. And then if you do add climate or any other additional aspect of the fund onto gender-lens, so if they're gender-lens plus climates or something like that, then there are additional metrics. 

But I think to your question, one story keeps ringing to me. I was out for dinner with a founder friend at the end of last year, and I was discussing something around reporting and a question that I was getting from an investor, and he was like. Whoa, like my investors would never ask me that. And that was literally the tone of the reaction that I got. And I was like, really? And he's they asked you that? I was like, yeah. 

And so I don't think I ever realized, beause again, like Yanmo says, and like we've said, I don't wake up thinking about myself as a female founder or that I've got a gender-lens investor. I'm running a business and I have investors and they happen to be who they happen to be. And it just ended up the way it ended up. And I've only had this one experience, so I can't compare it to anything until I had this dinner and I was like. Oh, is it not normal for me to be asked some of these things?

So I do think there's something in that reaction. And Justin, what you've been uncovering as part of this series, and Eloho, there definitely is something there. Like the types of questions, the types of requests that are coming through are probably more onerous and that I can only benchmark by speaking to a founder that is not me. 

In terms of the actual reporting requirements, I think for Uncover, they haven't actually been out of hand for now. There are five to seven additional metrics that we do have to report on. Does it take an extra 20 minutes a quarter? Yes. It's a bit more onerous, but it doesn't change our day-to-day life majorly.

I'd say the only other thing is if we ever do have an investor reply to us for a follow-on request, it probably will be one of the funds that did the deeper DDs or did have those requirements. So most of our other investors will probably read it and not reply or reply with a one question or something like that. But rarely we'll ask for more data. 

Justin Norman: Yanmo, how do you think about that? Or maybe more pointed question, as Eloho asked before, do you have to track any metrics or is it that you have the benefit of more strictly commercial investors who are not asking for anything above and beyond the financial?

Yanmo Omorogbe: Yeah, we never have to do that. Sorry. Like I was just going, huh? Yeah, we don't have to do that. We track percent of company as women because it's always fun and interesting to know. And because we've been fifty-fifty, we've been like hovering our fifty-fifty for a long time, so we always just watch it and it's a fun like interoffice thing. But that's also just happened in terms of our company being fifty-fifty, including engineers. 

So we haven't had to, but like you, we had the same points around the fact that when we were trying to raise our Series A, we probably spoke to two gender-focused funds and we literally closed the round before they could finish doing DD. We were sending out emails saying, sorry, the round has closed and they were still sending document requests. So that is, I obviously get why that happens or I can like rationalize how that ends up happening. If women are getting less capital, even from like the VC level, they're probably having to also be careful with capital and probably having to answer a lot more questions about said capital. So I definitely see how it happens and how it's a knock-on thing. But we haven't had to do extra reporting work just because we don't have any gender-focused investors. 

But for what it's worth, I know it might be a little extra work, and this might be speaking from the lens of someone who doesn't have to do it like every month, but I think it's work that's necessary. If you think about the ecosystem and the space and the fact that we're all talking about we need more women, and we talk about gender equity, I think one thing that's just fact that matter is no one ever gives you anything for free, right? And you also don't want to be in this space where people feel like it's charity to hire women or like invest in women or whatever, the different impact and ESG metrics. 

And we're still at the early stages that mean that you can't change anything you're not tracking. And so I do think it's work that's necessary for companies to, which is why we track on our own for companies to have a handle of this and measure it. And not be in those situations where you're like, oh my God, I didn't realize this was going on. I do think it's very necessary so that it's in people's consciousness. If you have a 10% women, n your company, it should be something that slaps you in the face every month that you realize and think, shit, I need to change that. So again, place of privilege of not having to do the reporting every month and tracking it internally, but I do think it's something that is necessary and I would encourage people to keep a handle on it. 

Eloho Omame: Yeah. I love what you've just said about you can't improve what you don't measure type thing. The tracking and the reporting and the requesting being necessary work on this journey. I'm gonna ask you both a bit of a provocative question, which is, we're all investing in building businesses in Africa, a massive continent that has massive deficits, massive consumption gaps, and both of your businesses in different sectors are fundamentally addressing that in some way across the different conversations, including even this one today, we've referenced impact metrics, we've referenced tracking, we've referenced in some conversations with investors thinking about financial return as a necessary condition for how they think about their investing, but not necessarily sufficient one, and social impact or social returns and social impact measurement being a critical piece of how they also think about their investment frameworks, etc.

To what extent do you think about, not to oversimplify, but the mere fact of your existence in this sort of difficult ecosystem which doesn't have that much capital to begin with, ad like I said, has these massive opportunities and these massive deficits, to what extent do you think about the mere fact of your existence as a female founder building a large company in Africa or aspiring towards building a large company in Africa impact enough? 

Or do you feel an added responsibility or impetus as a female founder to think about some of the things that Yanmo you were just describing. So what does my team look like? What does my, I don't know, my product strategy look like? What does my acquisition look like? How do I get more of my product into the hands of women? Is that something that you feel burdened by on a day-to-day basis? Or do you think actually me being here, me being a role model for other women, me inspiring other women to build these large companies is actually a wonderful impact, and that's potentially enough. 

Yanmo Omorogbe: It's a mixed bag because I like to help female founders the extent that I can, but I don't think I think about it generally. So I don't hire thinking like I need to hire a woman in this role. But then we also happens to have to be like fifty-fifty, and this is like including engineering. That's like across the company, Bamboo, fifty-fifty, women, there's more women on the board of Bamboo than men, and our management team has fifty-fifty actually.

Or there might be one more woman. It's very close, fifty-fifty across the company, but it's just happened. There hasn't been like an intentional thing, and it might just be like a fluke, but I do believe that if you actually just focus on hiring the best people, half the world is women you probably end up hiring more women if you don't focus on it.

It's something that's important to do. I do think, as women who generally have made it, whatever that means, we generally have a responsibility to help other, help other women. I think it's something that happens with black people or people of color in like specific spaces where you feel the responsibility, it's a each one, lift one. I don't think I do enough. I guess that's my hesitation. I don't think I do enough. I think there's still so much to do. I do think there is something to be said around just like the fact that we've been able to build businesses as women and do things as women should encourage other women to realize that the world is yours, then there's not a lot you can't do.

But I generally shy away from the general concept of being anyone's role model, but to the extent that, you look at the me running a business and it makes you want to run a business too, then yes. And I think that is true and by virtue of the work we do as well at Bamboo, I also feel like the work we do is a lot of where my ESG goes to trying to help Africans build wealth and give them access to investment options. And for us, it’s an important mission. That's probably what we spend a lot of time thinking about. How do we make it easier and faster, more secure and get more people to invest? So that's my part I'm trying to play. If you get more people that have money, then they can decide what they want to do with that money and take more charge of their lives.

Sneha Mehta: Yeah, for me I think that the financial return and the business fundamentals come at the core of everything that we do. So building a good, quality, successful, sustainable business, I think with that comes a lot of things. And if you achieve that at scale, I think comes a lot of things, which is around creating employment, having impact on suppliers. And of course I'm stating the obvious, but I do believe that there is something in focusing on building a good quality, high quality, sustainable business. And that goal of saying I'm supporting the livelihood of these many people and creating jobs and sourcing from these many supplier organizations. And I do feel that within that something in and of itself to be proud of.

But I think at the core of Uncover's mission which is something true to both myself and Jade as founders every single day is something around this empowerment of women. That is what, we're selling products that our core mission is around empowering women to be more confident. Now that could be in becoming entrepreneurs or being confident in the way they look, so they show up better for an interview. Or it could be in inspiring them to believe that if they're a mom, they can be an entrepreneur. And that's almost core to our product offering and what we are building as a company. 

And so for us, I'd say we just put a lot of emphasis on culture and at a early stage, as a company, we actually engaged an HR consultant. We're being really intentional around the kind of workplace that we are creating and how that enables women who are young moms or otherwise, because both founders are actually young moms in our company, to come to work and to be able to be part of a high-pressure, high-performance requirement start up, but then still also manage their personal life.

Justin Norman: In the context of this conversation and really the conversations that we've been having throughout this series, it sounds like there's a lot of different objectives and ways to measure success. Hearing both of you talk and talk about Sneha in your case, creating businesses targeted towards women, in both of your cases as well, having more gender parity at the board level or at the company level at large, at the management level. It sounds like there's a lot of different ways that success can be measured through a gender-lens perspective. And I'm wondering how you think about what success actually looks like.

What is the actual goal in the context of gender-lens investing? If money raised is even the right metric to use, or if there are some other things, maybe a little bit more intangible for how we should measure success? Yamno, what do you think? 

Yanmo Omorogbe: I do think money raised like by women founded companies is the right metric to use. But I think what you're just mentioned is the fact that it feeds into a lot of things that a lot of things go into an investor deciding to give your company money. There's the fact that just generally culturally, mentally, people are more likely to give money to people that look like them. That's just fact. 

And so having more women at the board level, having more women as LPs, having more women at VCs, having more women at all the various stages of the value chain increase the odds of more women getting capital, either as VCs or as funded companies. More women starting companies that seem to have good returns on investors in investments mean that more of those companies will get funded. More women returning money to investors means that more women will get funded. 

So I do think that the right to, overall metric to use will be, how much are women getting, what percentage of women are getting money compared to men? And what we're just seeing is all the things that go into moving that metric. 

Sneha Mehta: Yeah, I'd agree with that. I think that money raises the enabler to do a lot of the other things like hire and create culture and have a board and all of that. So I think money raise seems like the top of the funnel, the key metric to then create more businesses to scale businesses.

And of course then once you have those businesses, there's multiple other things that we've just mentioned that you can track. But I actually do agree, like I feel that is the top level metric that just number of female businesses and the number of female businesses that are funded.

I didn't know that only five businesses in Nigeria had raised a Series A, but that's a pretty scary statistic. So I feel it is the enabling kind of capital is what you need to then scale your business and that Enables you to achieve all the other metrics that we've discussed that then need to be tracked.

Yanmo Omorogbe: I also think it's important that we don't move away from that. The conversation needs to stay stuck on getting more money in the hands of women and maybe works out, maybe it doesn't. But then we figure it out after more women have money. Because I think what you then start happening is we don't get money in hands up women and then we start having these discussions around maybe there's a more effective way maybe, it becomes like this mental exercise and then we don't solve any of the problems. And I think you see that with a lot of stuff that development. 

Eloho Omame: I wanted to comment in on this point around moving away or not moving away from the capital raised by women metric. So I always call it the 2% ceiling because I challenge anybody to show me an ecosystem where that number has consistently breached that 2% number. It kind of hovers, but it's always there. And in some of our conversations it's been really interesting, this tension whereby you'll talk to the capital allocators, whether it's at the fund level or the LP level, and you will hear we think about gender-lens and we think about how we invest into female-focused businesses across a couple of dimensions. And we evaluate things like ownership and we evaluate things like who the founders are, their leadership, but sometimes we also look at what the product is, who it's serving, what the staff component looks like.

And so whilst the company may not necessarily be led by women or even pwned by women, a business like that may meet our investment criteria, right, to deploy capital as a gender-lens fund. And it's very interesting, at FirstCheck Africa, for us it's two things. Who are the founders? And really ultimately within that how is the equity shared between the founders?

And so for us it's about ownership and equity. It's about leadership. And to your point, Yanmo, to the extent that you said that, acknowledging that you said, I don't want be anyone's role model, we think of people like you and Sneha as role models. And we think about the multiplier effects that happen when other we talk about inspiring women to and helping women aspire to build larger companies.

But we also think about sometimes you need to see another woman doing it, and that's probably 70% of your ability to be inspired vis-a-vis being told by a VC that this company could be 10 times bigger. So I guess all of this to say that there's an ecosystem emerging around female founders and on the one hand says, yes, more capital into the hands of women, but also, there's a bunch of different ways to think about how to allocate capital across companies that may not necessarily, and often doesn't necessarily, mean that the founders and the owners need to be women. 

But I actually personally think that we need to think more about the fact that we need more women to own their companies. We need more women to be in the leadership of these businesses. And when we say female-led businesses, and we say it's 2%, we need that 2% very explicitly to be companies that are led by women or co-founded by women to be some number that is significantly higher than 2%. For me personally, I think other things are potentially a distraction.

I’m curious the extent to which you disagree with me or also think about that, that capital raise metric as fundamentally, that, an indicator of that. 

Yanmo Omorogbe: I definitely agree. We're still at 2%. There's so much room between 2 and 50. I don't think we need to be at the point where we're trying to compromise on what it means to be a female-founded company and getting money in the hands of companies run by women. And we need to be a lot more like forceful because fundamentally, if you look at the difference stuff you said, it just sounds like more ways to get money in the hands of companies run by men, but let everyone still feel good that they're doing a gender thing.

And which would be fine if we were like 49, 51, but we’re at 2and 98. So there's still so much work to do and we haven't even, like you mentioned, breached 2% with anything resembling consistency. I think this was conversation we were saying earlier, that these are all conversations for later in the game and for a much further down the road.

Eloho Omame: So it's super frustrating and it comes back to, we talk about as investors, about supporting our portfolio companies. And so for example, at FirstCheck Africa, we've had to think very carefully about what that means. It's, again, one of these, I keep coming back to this necessary but sufficient type dynamic, where of course we should be helping our companies and our founders in all the ways that some of the other pre-seed funds are helping them. But I don't think that's enough. I think there's an additional piece that is, acknowledging the fact that because there's a very public stated open mission around supporting female founders and acknowledging the fact that unfortunately, we exist in ecosystems where these biases exist.

When we think about supporting our founders, we also think what is then the additional 20% of effort that we can do? That means that they believe concretely that by taking their first checks from us, rather than closing doors, that opens doors. And what is the work that we can do to mean that the next rounds are available? And even beyond that because it's a small amount of capital, we can't do too many successive rounds. At some point, regardless of the size of your fund, you will exhaust the amount of capital that you can allocate to a company, but you go on a journey with them for seven years or 10 years.

And I think it's really interesting when we think about portfolio support as an ecosystem. I think there needs to be a dimension that says, how do I, as a female investor or a gender-lens investor, help the companies in my portfolio continue to raise capital so that they don't fall victim to that negative signal?

And if that means pounding the pavements and going on trips with them to meet new investors. If it means being the one to cold call investors or cold email investors, I think that is part of the work as a female-focused investor, because we have to get beyond this only five women have raised a Series A in Nigeria. It has to be 10, it has to be 20, it has to be 40. And the way to get there is just, as far as I'm concerned, to pound the pavement. I think it is all the stuff that is already happening. But I actually think it's a little bit more to help more women into the mainstream of funds.

Justin Norman: For each episode of this series, my co-host Eloho Omame and I sat down for a retrospective conversation to reflect on the insights shared by our episode guests. 

Justin Norman: I want to take us through our reflections of the conversations that we had across the variety of perspectives. We looked across the value chain, from entrepreneurs, angels, fund managers, LPs and ecosystem builders. And I thought that was an interesting approach to take as it related to where the interventions needed to happen. So our first episode was entrepreneurs and I left that conversation thinking that is the most important place to focus. Everything we're talking about in the context of gender-lens investing is in service of the entrepreneurs. So I wanna start there. 

Eloho Omame: I share a similar view in that to me that conversation almost felt purest, cleanest. It was very clear what we were talking about and we were talking about the entrepreneurs, and we were talking of course about the companies and the value that they're creating. It didn't struggle to land at what is the most important place to intervene. 

And for both Sneha and Yanmo, I think they were pretty clear that they were comfortable that you've gotta stay with the capital because this sort of trickle down type dynamic. In some ways, I suppose it's unsurprising that the entrepreneurs think that ultimately it's about capital.

It's unsurprising that I'm sitting there as a venture capitalist who tends to think very comfortable in a sort of a venture world that it should be the capital. But there's lots of really interesting, and I would say worthy work as people think about the different dimensions of kind of gender-lens and impact and female representation and things like that. 

Justin Norman: Yeah. I'm curious to get your perspective on the different experiences that they have as founders. So Sneha talking about some of the impact metrics that she has to provide versus Yanmo and Bamboo being a pretty pure venture play and not necessarily having some of the impact investors and gender-lens investors. That at least stood out to me as maybe the most representative example of the differences in their experiences, I think. What did you think about that part of it? 

Eloho Omame: In some ways, I wasn't surprised by the feedback from Sneha. I was interested and where I was surprised was in the level of surprise that Yanmo had that Sneha had to do this stuff. She literally said, I'm just sitting here gawking at you because I don’t know what this is. I think it was also interesting that Sneha also talked about how my cap table yes has different kinds of investors, which I guess is making the same point a little bit, but in a more nuanced way, expressed how even within her cap table, different investors then had different information needs and placed a different burden on their requirement to report certain things. And of course she wasn't complaining, she was just saying this was her experience. 

What I also thought was really interesting from that conversation though, was that Yanmo, it was pretty interesting that she was saying this is interesting. I've never heard this before nut actually it makes perfect sense to me, in a world in which we are trying to improve outcomes for female entrepreneurs, it makes perfect sense to me that someone should measure it, measure this stuff, and someone should benchmark it and someone should be tracking it. And the call it burden of having to do that feels inconsequential in the context out the impact or the outcome. I loved that she acknowledged, I think she acknowledged that, maybe it's easy for me to saybeecause I don't have to do it, but I can see completely with a straight line how that matters. 

Justin Norman: There's something to be said also about Yanmo telling her story of there being interest amongst gender-lens investors who move too slowly for the round. I listened to that with a little bit of disappointment, thinking we're trying to change outcomes generally, and in particular for gender-lens investors, the ability to not move fast enough for a very clearly, like in-demand opportunity to back a woman co-founder. I don't know how we should think about that.

Eloho Omame: And I also felt a certain level of disappointment. Interestingly, I don't think that necessarily is by virtue of being gender-lens. I think it's a little bit maybe by virtue of when you look at some of the funds, they have these kind of multi-strategies, right? So number one and number two, when you look at the capital basis of those funds, those LPs and those capital providers perhaps have a burden on the funds themselves in terms of the information that they're gathering as part of DD, things like that. But I don't have know the specific funds that are on Bamboo's cap table, but I would imagine that it's very sort of US-centric, US-focused. I think Greycroft is on there… 

Justin Norman: I think Tiger led there…

Eloho Omame: First of all, Tiger... But beyond that also I would imagine that. There's also something culturally that happens when you have that and a round that's been led by a US a global fund, for example, versus a round that's been led by an Africa-focused one. As much as we don't like to admit that there's also maybe something in the multi-strategy of the, and when I say multi-strategy, gender-lens venture, SME, impact, right? And what does that mean in terms of how quickly you move, how quickly you are able to move? 

It also raises an interesting question around, to circle back to your original framing, if we do want to support more female founders, we do want to have more capital going to them, we want a lot of that capital to come from, and I don’t know, should we, I think we should, want more of that capital to come from Africa-focused funds, Africa-based LPs, etc. There almost is also a burden to when you're in a VC round, even if you are a multi-strategy fund, if it's a VC-potential company is a VC-led round, et cetera, then you need to move and behave a little bit more that way.

Justin Norman: The one other thing I want to ask you about as it relates to the entrepreneurs is reflecting on this question that we asked everyone about what success looks like. And Yanmo actually for me crystalized, she said yes, money raised is success, that's the metric to measure in the context of this entire conversation that we're having. What did you think about that? 

Eloho Omame: I agreed with her, but to be honest, it was a point of view that I had coming into the conversations and it was one that I was quite open to have my mind changed on, but it was something I'd reflected on for a long time. I wasn't surprised necessarily that she landed there.

Justin Norman: Why? 

Eloho Omame: Because I think that I believe, and I agree with this idea of there build being some sort of a trickle down to the capital piece. Because let's remember that this capital is going into, in theory, building interesting companies, building good companies that can create a lot of value, serve a lot of people, etc. And I think sometimes we forget that is impactful by itself. If Bamboo and or Uncover, both of them are successful, what's happened is they found a market need, they served it successfully. They've built large companies, they've employed lots of people, they've created founder role models, et cetera.

And you can't decouple that from the capital piece. And I think Yanmo made this point, and I'm probably gonna fluff it up, but she made this point I thought really elegantly, which she said at the end of the day iot's still 1% or 2% of capital, right? So we can have a conversation about whether or not we should talk about other things when it's 49% and 51%, but it's 2% and that's work enough. And shifting around and measuring many things as important as the capital piece was something that didn't make sense for her, and I, to be honest, I agreed with it. 

Justin Norman: Yeah, I shared with you just earlier, Maxime Bayen and the Africa: The Big Deal, they put out a post recently just looking at gender-lens in the African context.

Eloho Omame: So they were looking at the funding allocations this year. Yeah. 

Justin Norman: Yeah, so looking at all of the rounds, 11% went to gender diverse teams. 1% went to solo female founders and 1% went to all female founding teams. So 2% total went to a female founding, either multiple founders or solo female founder.

Eloho Omame: Yeah. 

Justin Norman: In Africa.

Eloho Omame: Yeah. 

Justin Norman: And so that is in line with global…

Eloho Omame: Those are numbers. It's in line with the global… So I always say to people and in some ways, that 2% in the context of the absolute size, which is 3 billion, is actually also pretty shocking, but in some ways we're not different from many other ecosystems.I think that 11% number is a little bit lower than it was in the last couple of years. I think it was roughly at about 17%, i.e., the amount that goes into all female, into mixed gender teams. 

But that 2%, what I always call it, the 2% ceiling, it's sticky, it's pervasive,  it's not unique. It's unfortunate. 2% in a world in which I think I was looking at the number, the 2%, if I'm not mistaken in the US is equivalent to roughly about $5 billion of capital. Whereas Africa as an entire ecosystem, 2023 was roughly, if I'm not mistaken, $3 billion of capital. So 2% or 3 billion is a pretty scary number. Two years ago, 2% of 5 billion was $50 million. So that was also, I remember just. Shivering when I heard that number and we're 30 now.

Justin Norman: So the takeaway really is we're at 2%. 2% is so far away from 50 that why are you even talking about anything else? 

Eloho Omame: Yeah.