Shit Men Say to Women Founders

(Based on a true story.)

by Shanley Kane & Amelia Greenhall on April 7th, 2014

1. “Good luck with your project.”

It’s not a fucking project.

It’s a CORPORATION. It’s an OFFICIAL, TAX-PAYING, CERTIFIED, DELAWARE-INCORPORATED business that is employing people, producing new products, contributing to the economy, making money and getting things done. We’re working on it every day, all day, and every weekend. We quit our jobs to start it, put thousands of dollars into it, spent hundreds of hours filing paperwork to make it official. We code the app, keep the servers up, wear the pager. It is not a project. How come the hobby site you’re building with a college buddy in between beers is a “startup,” but when women start a CORPORATION, it’s a “project”?

2. “What’s your real job?”

Yes, many women start their companies on the side because quitting their other job or leaving other responsibilities to work on something full-time isn’t possible due to work, financial, family and other commitments. But the assumption is always that womens’ startups aren’t their “real jobs,” just side projects or hobbies. Even when a woman is getting her startup off the ground while working at another company, why isn’t she commended for “bootstrapping” rather than having her work minimized by constant suggestions that it isn’t “real”?

3. “Have you thought about [totally obvious idea] for your company?”

Wow, thanks for the insight. We’ve only been thinking about our business plan, model and market every second of every day for six months, or a year, or a decade, but in thirty seconds you’ve managed to come up with a brilliant idea that will revolutionize the way we run our company? Don’t think so.

4. “[Random sidebar of advice on how to start a company].” – Man who has never started a company before.

Hilariously, most white cis straight men in tech seem to think they have as much business insight as they have privilege. This is definitely not the case, as the success rate of the companies they start shows. But rather than, perhaps, looking to women who have started companies as experts or mentors, men who have no more started a company than they have walked on Mars feel the burning need to maintain their status as being more experienced and more knowledgeable… even when they are clearly outmatched in both areas.

5. “Why don’t you just go out and raise some funding?”

Seems like you might not be familiar with the fact that venture capital overwhelmingly discriminates against women founders. And since we don’t have a white male co-founder handy, raising funding probably isn’t going to be a walk in the park for us. Even if we did raise money, we’d have to cope with getting less money than male-founded companies get, risk being excluded from the so-called “value add” of the VC’s rolodex and social capital, and probably have to deal with a sexist white guy mansplaining to us in every board meeting.

6. “I really love what you’re doing, but I would like it better if you would just [completely restructure your business, its mission and everything it stands for] .”


Illustration of Alice in Wonderland standing before a huge gate in a garden.

Photo, cropped and filtered, CC-BY via Cea

7. “So are you going to apply for grants?” / “How can I donate to you?”

Turns out not every business run by a woman is a non-profit or a charity, yet men in tech start the conversation by demanding to know how they can make a charitable donation to the cause. Somehow, they never seem to ask the business model first, and sometimes have a hard time believing that women-run companies may be capitalistic, for-profit, or have a business plan that involves selling things to people in exchange for money. Yes, many women run essential non-profit and charitable organizations, but not all of us do. Now buy our product.

8. “What are your traffic numbers?”

We met 30 seconds ago and you want to know our core business metrics, when we have no idea who you are, who you work for, what your intentions are and if you’re remotely trustworthy? Ignoring the fact that unstrategically blabbing about our revenue and metrics to any random person that asks is a profound risk to the company, why do you feel entitled to know this?

9. “Who built your website?”

We did.

“Is your site in GitHub Pages?” No. Have you ever even looked at our site?

“Have you thought about getting a lawyer?” We have one, and they bill in five minute increments. Maybe so that it’s too expensive to ask irrelevant, patronizing questions like this one.

“Oh, you’re incorporated?” Yes. Yes. Turns out the government has things like laws that can, you know, make running a business a little difficult for you if you don’t make it official.

“What about [random operational requirement I learned about on Hacker News]?” Yep, we have that too.