What The Startup World is Really Like For Underrepresented People

May I have your attention please welcome Sheena Allen CEO and founder cap away Metta Agarwal partner red Point Tomas Campos CEO and co-founder of spinwheel And Roxanne Petraeus CEO and co-founder Athena Hi everyone Um thanks for being here today we're Going to spend some time talking about Diversity in startups Um so maybe to just start off with I'll Introduce myself and then let everyone Else here introduce themselves I'm maid Agarwal I'm a partner at Red Point Um I focus on early stage investing Primarily in fintech and consumer red Point more broadly where multi-stage Fund investing at the early and growth Stages across Fintech Healthcare consumer Enterprise Etc So and I've been at inventoring at Red Point for six years and before Venture I Was actually a Founder I started two Companies both based in New York so um Sheena maybe I'll turn it over to you Yes hello I'm Sheena Allen founder and CEO of capway we are a fintech startup We focus on building a financial Hub of Products and services all around Creating Financial access and Opportunities I'm Tomas Campos I'm the co-founder and CEO of spinwheel it's been where we're

Focused on improving Financial outcomes Through Consumer Debt so we provide all The apis and the no code drop-in modules To make it easy to be able to connect Optimize pay and finance Consumer Debt Helping people save and make money And I'm Roxanne Petraeus co-founder and CEO of Athena and we're a modern Compliance training platform I was Explaining it explaining it to these Folks and they both their eyes rolled Over when I said compliance and we Explained it to Founders as compliance Training that doesn't suck Um so yeah that's what we do awesome Well maybe to start off with a question That I've had that I'm really curious to Get everyone's take on and Roxanne maybe We'll start with you is is how have you Thought about Investors in constructing Your cap table to reflect kind of you Know broader Society in Tech yeah Totally Um I think that from our like earliest Days as myself and my co-founder and we Really Um were all woman founded team and every Year that really depressing stat comes Out that it's between like two and three Percent of venture capital goes to teams That look like us and so we thought it Was really important for us to try to Get a cap table that at least reflected Ourselves and our the team that we were

Building and I think that the like key Takeaway that we had is if you're Intentional about it and in the the same Way that you build your business with Metrics and goals and kind of follow Through with them your cap table can Look more diverse while still reflecting The reality that like it's just not a Terribly diverse place so for example I'm an army veteran and so it's Important for me to have some veterans On the calf table just because there's Not a ton of us in Tech and we worked With some great organizations like Everything from like operator Collectives I think they do an Incredible job with people of color and Women bringing them into Venture and Just brought in Angel Investors and I Think maybe one other kind of learning I Had is that if you really open up your Cap table to a broader group using angel Investors and like a roll-up vehicle It's much more possible to get that Diversity I think we had something like 40 percent of our investors in our Series B were people of color and women And the way we were able to do that was Just really try to look for Angel Investors great operators who maybe Aren't like you know Um uh this this might be their first or Second uh Trek but trust that was really Exciting

Awesome can I ask you a follow-up Question did those folks come to you or Did you have to make a concerted effort To oh man this is such a good one this Woman tell me she's like all my mediocre Male MBA friends get asked to Angel Invest and no one asked me to Angel Invest and I was like that's so Interesting and I realized even myself I Had this Um like kind of unconscious bias that I Would feel a little bit uncomfortable Asking women to invest because I felt Like I was taking money from them and I Had to like kind of flip it and be like I'm giving them an opportunity to make a Lot of money and so to your point I had To be intentional about it and actually Go ask folks because I did find that Well not universally true I would say That like Um women for example were not forcing Their way onto our cap table they Weren't doing some of the things that Again and I'm speaking in really broad Terms but they weren't doing some of the Things that men investors would do of Like let me talk to you about how much Value I'm going to add and you really Need me like that wasn't the dynamic and So we needed to be a little bit more Um persistent and say like we would love For you to join we got rid of like a Minimum check size things like that to

Just um to just kind of flip that Narrative a little bit Um Sheena Tomas do do you did you guys Have a similar experience I'm Carrie Here yeah I was gonna say I think um I Totally agree on the being intentional When you approach like Angel Investors The the other thing I would add to that Is when we were Um you know targeting our Outreach for Our first you know term sheets and our First money and from professional money We were really focused on kind of Creating a matrix of hey here's the top VCS we would love to invest in our Company and as part of that it was hey What are the ones that actually have Values that are important to us Including you know diversity and Inclusion because we we really value That as part of our our company Um and so I think taking that Intentionality all the way from like Your angels all the way through like the Professional VC money that's going to Come in was really important for us as Well and how did you evaluate that it Was tough I think some of it was uh one How do they present themselves but then When we talk to them really Understanding I remember asking One of our our first VCS I said how Important are these values to you and uh His answer was like it's everything it's

Everything that this is about and to me That's what really mattered and so it Was a combination of hey what are they Putting out there but then when you Engage with them and really talk to them Does that come through is that something That's really important for them Awesome Raising super early we definitely look For diverse investors and people who When I said I was in investing in Diversity or especially like black women They were doing it because I was Actually passionate about it not because They want to check a box so that was Super super important so one of our very First Investments was Arla Hamilton from Backstage capital And Arlen she her portfolio reflects What she says so she was one of our First Investors but we have a everybody On our camp table for the most part They're on our cap table because they Either understand what we're doing which Is making an impact but also making Money and or they were actually serious About the diversity efforts and it Wasn't check a box I was going to say The thing that came out for me of Hearing each of you speak is the Authenticity behind it I personally Think that's so important being on the Other side I've heard people say things Like oh we only want a female board

Member and so that's why we're talking To you or do you want to meet this Company they do femtech and so you know My reaction is well you should want the Best board member and Like the best board member could be like A woman or someone of color or whatever But filtering for only that feels like You're checking a box Um potentially so I I think that's what Really shown through in your answers Um maybe we can uh move on and to a Slightly different topic and Sheena Maybe I'll start with you which is um I Think there's been a lot of conversation About hiring a diverse team and the Impacts that a diverse team has on Positive outcomes and success I think Something that we haven't spent as much Talking time talking about is how do you Create a very open and equal culture Where everyone has an equal seat at the Table feels comfortable and maybe where You kind of Work work towards counteracting biases That people maybe aren't as conscious About I'd love to hear a little bit About how you've thought about the what You're doing internally at your company Yeah I want to build a team that we all Understood the mission and we were all Focus on like getting to the the goal That we're working towards but everybody Had could bring a different experience

To the table so an example like even From my Engineers there's we have one Engineer who's been he before he came to Cafe 20 25 years at Bank of America but Then we also have Engineers who have Never been in fintech but they have they Might be a senior developer so it was Some white black young old people who Have come from low-income backgrounds Who people have come from you know more Middle class I wanted to build a team Where everybody could bring experience To the table because the whole point of Capway is once again building Financial Access opportunities for everyone and The reason we did that because a lot of Times in finance you might go somewhere Else and you don't get the same Opportunity that maybe somebody else who Doesn't look like you will get for Whatever reason may be It's like to build a diverse team where We brought all those different Experiences to one table with one Mission that's what I look for when I'm Looking to build my team I was going to say I hear you say that Makes complete sense and for us it was Very similar when um You know we when we built a company uh It was so important for us to hire People who understood the problem we're Trying to solve and Consumer Debt cuts Across so many different types of people

And have different experiences with it And so so important for us to make sure That we could have people in the company That really understood it and lived it And the only way to do that was to have That sort of diversity across Various backgrounds and experiences and We were very deliberate about when we First hired the first two people three People it was all about that and making Sure that we could really drive those Types of perspectives in the company That would help us succeed What about from a um like culture Setting meetings Norms like are there Certain things you do in kind of uh the Operating of the company to try and Ensure people of different ages or Backgrounds Um or have kind of an equal set at the Seat at the table I mean we do we like we do like floating Holidays or things like that so that we Make sure that just because everybody Doesn't celebrate Christmas and it Respectfully it's okay if you don't Celebrate Christmas every so you know we Do the things like floating holidays we Have like mental health days so we just Try to make sure that everybody is Comfortable and they will respecting Everybody's belief you know we've we Have people in our team where their Pronouns are they them and we educate

Everybody on the team to say hey Respectfully it's not he's not she is They them and then we have a Conversation about why is there a way Made respectful to address you know that Person However they would like to be for Whatever reason so we all we talk to Each other we're very open communication Is really big for us but it's also being Once again very respectful of people's Choice I love that example of floating holidays That's something that our head of people Kind of uh implemented and I think it's Like one of a bunch of little things That companies can do to not just kind Of say like Um we really want you here but sort of Walk the walk and be incredibly Intentional about it I think another Thing that we found is just um asking For feedback and having a bunch of Different ways that employees can tell Us kind of where we're getting it right And where we're messing up because Inevitably like you're going to mess up It's actually something we one of the Trainings we offer is sexual harassment Prevention training and the point is or The point is that often people will make Unintentional Um you know comments or things like that In meetings perhaps speak over people

And so a lot of our training focuses on Accept that as an inevitability and Instead build mechanisms where people Can provide feedback explain why that Wasn't okay Etc so we've really tried to Do that with in the company and it looks Like asking employees in a million Different ways how they feel about Something whether that's surveys whether That's like open Office hours for a head Of people to just hear like hey did we Look over something I was the first Employee on my team to take maternity Leave for example so like not Surprisingly we didn't have a great Policy we didn't have a bunch of Processes and so we just kind of learn As we go and are really okay about Making mistakes because it's just Inevitable but the point is to to learn From them Have you guys found any tools to be like Particularly helpful in kind of Furthering these goals I feel like I've met a wide variety of Tools everything from people who track The amount of time people are spent Talking in a meeting to Like survey tools and pulse checks and Like are there any that stand out for You guys I mean this is a Shameless plug but we Our company literally does Dei and Harassment prevention training and so we

Certainly and we do it digestible over Time so we've certainly done those and Then had conversations about them and Really trained managers I think that's Another like our company is now 70 I'm Not sure how largely Distributors are But at that stage no matter how much for Example senior leadership is bought in We're not in every meeting we're not Everywhere and so we've rolled out like Internal manager trainings just making Sure there's a bunch of different ways People can kind of understand what do The right thing looks like at our Company but yeah not sure if any of that Resonates I was gonna say we really Basic tools but you know we we use slack We're a completely remote team but Things like pole Bots or other things Like that that just sort of drive that Engagement ask questions keep keep folks Engaged on specific topics including Like our culture we found that to be Pretty useful Awesome maybe we can start talking about We've kind of hit this topic of Diversity can take many different forms Um maybe we can spend some time about Like breaking into Tech or or even Becoming a founder and how you thought About Um and any any advice or learnings that You've had about Um you know breaking into Tech or

Becoming a founder and addressing some Of the different points of diversity That each of you maybe have or that You've seen other people do successfully Um Tomas maybe we can start with you Yeah so I I I'll tell an interesting story I think That'll that'll help shape this so uh I Actually early in my career had a Manager and he probably needs to take Your training but I had a manager who uh He he asked me to take a um personality Test And based on the personality test he was Like oh you know what you're never gonna Make it to like upper management you're Never gonna get your you know you're You're sort of slated for middle Management I was like that's weird I Remember and and this is the same person He actually asked me one time to like Mow his lawn which is really like far Off field but Um the reason why I say this is because I think in order to break in and do that You really have to believe in yourself And you can't take any of those things That come your way that people are going To tell you you're not going to make the Number of times you're gonna be told That your business is not going to seed Or you have a bad idea or you're not Going to be able to go and and and Achieve your vision you're gonna hear

That a lot and so I think being able to Have that belief in yourself but also Having that perspective and that Aperture to say like hey what's the Bigger thing I'm trying to solve here How do I get to that goal Um and so for me I think that was one of The key things uh in my experience I'd Also say the other thing is we Our our second hire in the company was For an engineer and he had never been an Engineer before and it was one of those Things where we talked to people about It they said how could we how could the Second high in your company for an Engineering role never have had any Engineering experience but what we Valued was that he had the drive he had Invested uh you know 18 months of his Life studying and taking classes on Engineering he had a perspective he was Passionate about what we were trying to Do and we said listen we can invest in Someone like that and as long as you Have the ability to grow and as long as You have that desire to really uh get Into the space we're willing to give That opportunity because I was given Those opportunities a lot coming up in My career and those are things that are Are super valuable so we want to give That back and I think that's when I Think about people who want to break in Or be a Founder you know create your own

Opportunities but then also take them When they're given to you and really try And go after them That's a wild story yeah well definitely Needs some training yeah Um yeah I think Um we talked on the kind of prep like There's a bunch of uh I think there's This concept in Tech of like a known Quantity um and so that is going to tend To look like someone who's has a really Tech pedigree background Um you know just like uh checks a bunch Of boxes and I definitely learned as I Was for example fundraising that like uh Things that I didn't understand would um Sort of break that mold or those in a Paradigm for example like I was uh spent Most of my career in the Army and that Has nothing to do with tech and so I Kind of started to realize that some Investors were maybe like not Understanding why I would be good at Certain skills and so now when I advise Founders who are coming who are trying To break into Tech the advice I give Might sound a little depressing but I Advise them to actually understand where They don't fit the mold and then just Like think about how they're going to Counter that in pitches or things like That so for example like again I was a Mom as a veteran like all of these Things and so I just found that I had to

Be really clear about explaining my Ambition explaining how hard I worked Things that I don't feel like I should Have had to explain but I would have Investors sometimes say why do you want To do a venture-backed business you're Just you could make this a great Lifestyle business and explain like when I do something if I'm in the Army I'm in Special Operations if I'm going to do This I'm going to do it intensely and I Don't know why you're asking me why you Know whether I'm ambitious but now I've Just realized I need to really connect The dots for them in a way that perhaps A Founder who just was X stripe and X This and X that wouldn't have to do but I do advise Founders to do it because I Think otherwise it just does work Against you Yeah Um I thought my first tech company Actually in college so born and raised In Mississippi nothing to do with tech In any way I started my first tech company in College when I graduated told my parents I want to be a tech entrepreneur which Did not go over too well to be quite Honest And Um I went I came into this space talking To break into taking diversity I brought I broke into this the world of

Technology completely green I had no Clue what shoulders shouldn't be done What was right what was wrong what was Going against me because I had nothing About tech prior to any of this Um So I actually moved out to San Jose Fresh from college and fresh against my Parents wishes and I realized that no One looked like me for the most part so I came in completely green and then once I you know got more into Tech and Especially once I got to my second Startup my first startup was bootstrap My second startup was Venture backed Um I realized for the most part I had Three strikes against me I was Southern So my country accent that does not leave Me no matter where I moved to Um I was a black and I was female and of Course black females you know raised Less than one percent of BC funding so I went in green I learned my lessons you Know as as time went on but Similar to that I actually I had this Thing that you know Everything you're not makes you Everything you are so that's kind of how I I broke into it and that's kind of my Motto of going through it all I mean all three of your stories are Really inspiring Um I'm curious and I can think of some Examples

Um in my life but I think yours are Probably more interesting of good advice You got That you either took to heart or didn't Maybe it will be helpful to some people In the audience Um I'll start my mentor my very first Real mentors I call them Um Austin Texas my Moodle Austin he told Me to stop pitching like a girl and and It wasn't in a negative and derogatory Way it was just saying he was a white Male and he said when white men come and Pitch to me they pitched me like I need Them not they not not that I need they Pitched to me like I need them not they Need me he said when you pitched me you Pitched to me like you need me like Pitch to me like you have the best thing Out there and that I'm lucky to invest In your company but that's probably one Of the best things I learned Yeah Um You know the one thing that stands out To me in this moment is I had a CEO I Had a chance to to work for and he um He really instilled that you know having That personal accountability was super Important and I take that sort of uh Accountability to hold myself Accountable to like the objectives and The visions and things I want to do and It's just a great way to just motivate

Myself and keep myself sort of going When you have a lot of things that are Not going your way Um but I think that's one of the things That really is inspired me stuck with me Um I got quite similar advice about kind Of pitching and one of our investors Said like you guys do what you're say You're going to do and we're like yeah You're like that's bad you're like under Promising and over delivering and the Problem is like the pitch is where you Need to paint the really big vision and Instead of being incredibly methodical My co-founder is an engineer she kind of Thinks very linear and as as do I and so I sort of got this advice from Hunter Walk and um and others about like really Pitch the vision not just your like Laser focused uh operational abilities Because those make me a great operator But they don't actually make me a great Fundraiser because I'm not doing the Like I'm Gonna Change the World and like Tech revoice and you know like that kind Of thing and and that that can be Disadvantageous in fundraising yeah Um awesome well I think we might be out Of time but uh I feel like I could talk To you guys all day about this so thank You so much for your time and for Sharing your story


Coinbase is a popular cryptocurrency exchange. It makes it easy to buy, sell, and exchange cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Coinbase also has a brokerage service that makes it easy to buy Bitcoin as easily as buying stocks through an online broker. However, Coinbase can be expensive due to the fees it charges and its poor customer service.

Leave a Comment

    • bitcoinBitcoin (BTC) $ 37,172.00 0.68%
    • ethereumEthereum (ETH) $ 2,022.41 0.42%
    • tetherTether (USDT) $ 1.00 0.05%
    • bnbBNB (BNB) $ 228.47 0.82%
    • xrpXRP (XRP) $ 0.605359 0.4%
    • usd-coinUSDC (USDC) $ 1.00 0.21%
    • solanaSolana (SOL) $ 55.71 1.88%
    • staked-etherLido Staked Ether (STETH) $ 2,021.58 0.39%
    • cardanoCardano (ADA) $ 0.375914 0.77%
    • dogecoinDogecoin (DOGE) $ 0.077655 1.42%