Last year I wrote an article explaining my decision to hide my pregnancy while fundraising for my startup. After it was published in Fortune, I received numerous responses from other female entrepreneurs, asking for advice or sharing their feelings about being in a similar situation. It seems I touched a nerve—and that the challenges of being a pregnant founder are bigger and more widespread that I ever would have guessed.
Then, shortly after the article came out, I found myself right back where I started. A deal I was working on fell through, and it was time to go fundraise again. And again, I was pregnant.
But this time, instead of hiding my pregnancy under trench coats and worrying about what investors might think, I decided to embrace it. This round would be different. Not only was I proud of the conversation sparked by my article, but my dating startup, Three Day Rule, had made incredible strides since our last round. We were backed by IAC/Match, operating in six cities and posting 400% year-over-year growth. I was certain that investors would see that I’d remained dedicated to the business after the birth of my first child and would recognize that I would stop at nothing to build the company.
And I was dedicated. As my belly grew, I started to take more meetings. There I was, waddling up to the conference table, cracking jokes about the experience and facing investors head on. I took meetings right up until my due date. In fact, I never once canceled—except for the one sitdown that was scheduled on my actual due date (I was afraid going into labor during the meeting might not make the best first impression).
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Yet I could tell the other people in the room, who were always mostly men, felt uncomfortable. One investor invited me to a group Skype video call, and when he learned I was pregnant, made me stand up and “twirl around” in front of the camera so everyone could see my belly. He thought it was cute but I found it extremely inappropriate. Several investors said outright that they were interested in the company, but wanted to “see how it goes with the baby” before they committed. One investor jokingly called me “bad mama.” In every in-person meeting, my pregnancy was mentioned, and investors seemed to dwell on it.
While we ended up raising more money than originally planned, there is a disturbing pattern to who did—and who didn’t—invest. Not one investor who met me in person while I was pregnant ended up putting money into the company. Everyone who said yes either spoke to me over the phone, knew me from before, or met me after I had the baby. It was as if the physical sight of a pregnant woman deterred investors from joining the round.
Why do investors feel that betting on a pregnant CEO is a risk? I believe it’s due, in part, to the fact that it’s incredibly rare to see a woman fundraising while pregnant.
I recently spoke on a panel about female entrepreneurs, and during the Q&A, a woman asked me whether I would invest in a pregnant woman. My response was an emphatic,’Yes!’ I told her that that if a woman is crazy enough to fundraise while pregnant, it shows that she cares a great deal about her company and would display the tenacity that you want in a CEO.
I believe that investors have the wrong idea about female entrepreneurs who are pregnant—or are considering becoming pregnant. I suppose they think that once the woman sees her newborn child, she’s going to want to be with the baby 24/7. Or perhaps they believe that taking care of a child is so physically and emotionally draining that the company will always come second.
But I would counter that a company can also be a woman’s “baby.” Like all founders, I have sacrificed a lot to launch this venture. I spent my life savings to start Three Day Rule. I took many risks along the way, and I now have over thirty employees whose livelihoods I support. A baby doesn’t change that. I would never neglect TDR, just like I would never neglect my other children.
How can we show investors that mother and founder are not mutually exclusive terms? We need more female entrepreneurs of all ages and marital statuses. We need more women to become angel investors and venture capitalists. And, most of all, we need more female entrepreneurs to get out there and raise money while pregnant, showing their entrepreneurial mettle to the world, baby bump and all.