The female entrepreneur behind London-based startup Twizoo has revealed that an alarming number of male tech investors underestimate her technical ability, and sometimes ask what could be interpreted as sexist questions.
Madeline Parra - the CEO and cofounder of the Twizoo mobile app which helps people find the best places to eat and drink around them based on what people are saying on Twitter - said she has pitched over 25 venture capitalists in a bid to raise money for her company but not one of them has been female.
Speaking at the Super Women in Tech event held at Twitter UK’s head office, in Piccadilly Circus, London, Parra said: “I’ve probably met with now 25 VCs. I’ve never met one woman in that whole process and when you look back at it, I think it’s kind of crazy."
She added: “There have been scenarios where the first thing the VC will ask me is why are my nails painted pink? I don’t know. Is it relevant to you investing in Twizoo? Do they ask why a male founder has a green tie on? Probably not.”
Many of the VCs that Parra has met automatically assume that she doesn’t fully understand the technology behind her app because she is a woman.
“There are some where you make your pitch and they automatically say things like 'so you do the marketing….who does the tech?'” she told Techworld after taking part on a panel led by the BBC's Philippa Thomas alongside Alice Bentinck from Entrepreneur First, Wendy Orr from the Guardian, and Robyn Exton from Dattch.
The panel agreed that most of the investors in London are white, male and middle-aged. A a quick scroll through the LinkedIn pages for firms such as Index Ventures and Balderton Capital reveals that they're also privately-educated, Oxbridge types.
“They almost just assume that you aren’t technical and you don’t know much about the business," said Parra. "They want to talk to me about how to market Twizoo but I need to speak with your CTO to assess the investment opportunity. I’m just as qualified to speak about the technology.”
But Parra, who was the only woman on her maths course at university and previously worked as an IT demand analyst at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, said she wrote the algorithms behind Twizoo so she can answer anything her CTO can.
Determined not to be intimidated in these situations, Parra said: “My advice is put your head down and just deliver. What else are you going to do? If you act annoyed or passive aggressive then that’s counter productive. I either make a joke of it or make it go away.”
Catherine Buttery, founder of an online publishing company called Constellation Digital, Tweeted: “Totally agree [with Parra]. I've come across similar situations with early stage investors. Including questions regarding relationship status.”
Parra has so far raised £250,000 for her app, which she plans to expand to four US cities later this year.
She said VC attitudes are unlikely to change until a technical female cofounder successfully IPOs or exits a company like Facebook or Twitter, adding that it shouldn't be too long before this happens.
Twitter, which is hold its first UK mobile developer conference in London today, said it is keen to promote and support women who want to break into the technology sectory.
Techworld contacted the British Venture Capital Association for comment but it is yet to respond.