This summer, Erin and I were preparing to pitch LashBee as part of an accelerator program. We had spent the better half of our Wharton second year working on LashBee, a semi-permanent eyelash extension service that uses product engineering and salon partnerships to make extensions safer, faster and more accessible.
While not our first pitch, this was our first one after a highly successful pilot. We were thrilled to share the validation of our market research and concept testing.
As we got up to pitch, we realized that the panel was composed of all males. We quietly made a note to ourselves to spend extra time explaining the market size and the growing beauty industry. Still, towards the end of the pitch, the panelists met us with significant skepticism. They asked numerous questions, many beginning with statements such as, “I’m not convinced women will want to use this service…” As we would begin to respond, prepared to back up our answers with data and research, we were interrupted with another question or statement.
After a few minutes of this, a woman in the back of the audience stood up. She stopped the panelists and said, “I need to say something here. I would absolutely use this service, as would most of my friends. These founders are onto something. I would invest in this idea and am happy to support LashBee in any way I can.”
That moment changed the tide of the event. The panelists conceded that they did not truly understand the service or the market but were looking forward to our progress with LashBee. Afterwards, both males and females came up to us to congratulate us on the pitch. We met many of our mentors that day, and have even heard the story repeated a few times to others.
Moments of support can make all the difference for entrepreneurs, particularly female founders. Research, such as that of Wharton professor, Laura Huang, shows that investors have a strong bias towards men. Other research has found that women have to work harder to be perceived as “entrepreneurial” or as “leaders” when pitching their concept. Many of my female classmates had experiences where they pitched and investors told them to be more “bubbly” or “focus less on numbers” when they used the same format as the males pitching. These unconscious biases are unfounded; evidence shows that female founders outperform their male counter parts, as seen in a recent report released by First Round Capital.
Wharton Women in Business is an incredible network and helps to level the playing field in an entrepreneurial environment that is already stacked against women. Whether you are standing up to voice your views at a pitch competition, speaking to investors on unconscious biases, signing up for a pilot, or liking every single Facebook post, we encourage you to support female founders.
We applaud the Wharton Entrepreneurship Club in creating a new board role focused on women entrepreneurs. Any ladies thinking of working on a startup, please know that you can always reach out to either Erin or me to chat more! Good luck to the next crop of Wharton Entrepreneurs!
Anjali Bhatia and Erin Soletski are two Wharton MBA grads from 2015. They are the co-founders of a beauty startup called LashBee, which has used design thinking, product engineering, and analytics to improve semi-permanent eyelash extensions. Their services are available at partner salons in Philadelphia and they are launching in other cities this year.