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Leadership Communication
Scorecard for Female Founders 

In 2021, female founders raised $40.4 billion in investments and reached $59 billion in exits, an all-time high. That’s the good news. The bad news: Despite the unprecedented success, female founders attracted only 2% of all U.S. venture capital investments made last year. 

 

Although women founders are raising more, they have a long way to go to match their male counterparts. Founders who plan to go public, raise funding or achieve a successful exit would benefit from knowing how strong leaders communicate, raise visibility for themselves and their brands and engage with employees, customers, media, investors and other key stakeholders.

 

We used the SutherlandGold Scorecard to assess how the top 10 women leading their businesses to success by telling their stories across multiple communication channels. Here are their scores.

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WHITNEY WOLFE HEARD
SCORE: 4.75

Bumble
Founder & the youngest woman to launch an IPO at 31

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MELANIE PERKINS
SCORE: 3.75

Canva
Co-founder of the most valuable startup at $40 billion valuation 

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ANNE WOJCICKI
SCORE: 3.50

23andMe
Co-founder & first female self-made billionaire to IPO in U.S.

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FLORI MARQUEZ
SCORE: 3.25

Blockfi
Co-founder of the world’s fastest-growing fintech

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TRINA SPEAR
SCORE: 2.69

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HEATHER HASSON
SCORE: 2.60

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KATE RYDER
SCORE: 2.25

Maven Clinic
Co-founder of only U.S. unicorn in women’s & family health

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SHUO WANG
SCORE: 2.09

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ALYSON WATSON
SCORE: 1.75

Modern Health
Co-founder of female-founded healthcare company unicorn

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GALINA ANTOVA
SCORE: 1.37

Claroty
Co-founder of 2021 highest industrial cybersecurity funding

How Female Founders Led Successful Unicorns and IPOs

To examine the relationship between business growth, leadership and communication styles, we studied 10 female founders who led their companies to breakout IPO success or achieved unicorn status in 2021. The Female Founders Scorecard reveals how the leaders we studied share common characteristics, regardless of their specific communication strategies and leadership styles, including the ability to:

  • Innovate Constantly — They have market foresight and are constantly innovating products and services to serve unmet needs.

 

  • Lead with Empathy — Their leadership demonstrates their innate understanding of what employees need and they take action by offering unique benefits to support well-being, work-life challenges and mental health.

 

  • Stand for Something — Female leaders aren’t afraid to champion diversity, equality and inclusion and they take action by changing industry norms, improving company policies, and fighting for new laws.

 

  • Reject Double Standards — Regardless of the conscious and unconscious gender bias female founders encounter, they persist, pushing through countless funding rejections and media questioning by redirecting the conversation to their company’s brand and business results.

  • Embrace Modern Storytelling — Female founders integrate personal stories into their leadership journeys, blending their professional and personal lives to build their brands across channels.With these shared characteristics in mind, we used our CEO Scorecard methodology to analyze four dimensions of leadership including business performance, media visibility, leadership communication and social media engagement. Here are the highlights from the study.

 

Business

Bumble and Canva had the best performances, as measured by Crunchbase funding, valuation and revenue. The companies attracted more than $1 billion in funding respectively and earned higher valuations than any others we studied. Here are a few additional business milestones:

Pre-IPO Funding

  • Bumble and FIGS each completed four rounds of funding in eight years and launched IPOs.

  • 23andMe raised 19 rounds and operated for 15 years before going public.

 

Fastest Time to Unicorn Status

  • BlockFi achieved unicorn status in four years with 15 funding rounds.

  • Deel took three years and six funding rounds to become a unicorn.

  • Modern Health is the fastest female-founded company to hit a $1 billion valuation within six rounds of fundraising.

 

Overall Time to Unicorn Status

  • Canva grew in nine years to unicorn status and closed 16 funding rounds.

  • Maven Clinic raised eight rounds in seven years to become a unicorn.

  • Claroty took six years, three founders and five funding rounds to unicorn status.

Media

A great story is a brand’s most strategic asset. And it’s the people behind the company that makes a story inspiring and intriguing. Leaders who incorporate their personal experiences — from the lows to the highs — always connect on a deeper level with the people who matter to their business.

  • Advocating Values — Wojcicki knows how to attract people to her company and make them care. Her stories are often based on her core values and experiences advocating for a more transparent, personal, and consumer-centric healthcare system.

  • Triumph Over Adversity — Wolfe Herd was at her lowest point when she had the revelation to slay the inequality monster by engineering technology to promote equality, respect, and accountability online. Adversity inspired her to create Bumble to empower women.

  • Phoenix Rising — Perkins’ story about being rejected by over 100 investors and preserved to build Canva, one of the world’s most valuable startups at $40 billion.

  • The Immigrant Story — Marquez is a much-needed honest and authentic voice in the new world of cryptocurrency and draws literally from Argentinian roots when explaining Blockfi’s mission to make financial services “simple, transparent and trustworthy” for underserved communities.

  • Fulfilling an Unmet Need — Ryder and Watson focus their messaging on how they founded their companies by identifying an unmet need based on their own experiences.

  • Lead with Integrity — FIGS co-founders aim to establish credibility and trust by sharing stories that highlight the company’s integrity.

  • Real-World Science Fiction — Antova tells stories that illustrate the importance of keeping industrial networks safe from cyberattacks and the impact on the economy and society.

 

Leadership

Executives who want to be seen as leaders create original, challenging ideas to influence a narrative and lead the conversation in a new direction. Thought leadership can add gravitas to an executive’s position and credibility and help to build a company’s brand. But to be seen as thought leaders, leaders have to lead. The top female founders we studied do just that. They have the practices and traits that make them thought leaders in a variety of areas.

  • Respect. Wolfe Herd is an advocate for equality, transparency and respect in management, the workplace and funding women-led startups. Bumble’s board consists of eight women and three men. Bumble has moved the women empowerment app to the real world by opening a restaurant to serve as a safe space for dates. Outside of Bumble, Wolfe Herd has contributed to legislation that would make cyber flashing illegal.

  • Equality. Perkins is vocal about workplace gender equity — and puts her words into action at Canva by maintaining a workforce that’s 41% women, far in excess of the 28% industry average.

  • Representation. Antova of Claroty is a vocal champion of board positions for women in tech and supports the All Raise platform dedicated to securing funding for women founders. She frequently shares her experiences with unconscious bias and gives advice on addressing it immediately.

  • Awareness. Ryder of Maven Clinic frequently spotlights the need for better media coverage of women’s health issues, like in vitro fertilization, fertility, miscarriage and postpartum depression.

  • Knowledge. Marquez of Blockfi is a pioneering female voice in the male-dominated fintech sector and an even rarer LatinX co-founder. She recently launched Real Talk: Women x Crypto, finding that there is a real need to educate more women on cryptocurrency and investing. The study found that 94% of women surveyed have heard of cryptocurrency, but only 9% feel they understand it.

 

Digital and Social Media

For seven of 10 top female founders, speaking at webinars and virtual events is their primary form of digital leadership. The women also share their experiences, wisdom and opinions on online forums and through speaking engagements. Some highlights:

  • 90% won at least two media awards.

  • 70% contribute to webinars and virtual events.

  • 60% had at least three public speaking engagements.

  • 18% addressed women in leadership in their appearances.

 

More than a simple way to share photos, social media serves as a revolutionary storytelling tool for these female leaders. By engaging with followers and consistently keeping up with their social profiles, the founders we studied build their brands and keep in touch with stakeholders. We found:

  • 40% use social media to amplify their voice and brand story.

  • 35% use it to set the tone in an industry or niche.

  • 15% use it to market their products or services.

  • 5% use it to shape conversations and explain new thinking.

  • 5% use it to recruit talent, engage with employees or serve customers.

 

Each leader uses social media differently, but all 10 have public Twitter profiles and five are verified.

Survey: What Women Executives Say Drives Success

In addition to employing our CEO Scorecard for female founders, we complemented our research by surveying 1,000 North American women founders and business owners to connect on what values they prioritize in their own leadership. Their preferences include:

  • 25% want to prioritize increasing revenue.

  • 15% hope to improve their leadership communication.

  • 11% aim to support employees’ mental health and well-being.

  • 10% plan to increase brand awareness.

Our study shows how tenacious female leaders get ahead by prioritizing similar leadership strategies in their communication. Today, these successful female founders are powerful storytellers who create cohesive and clear communication links between themselves and their businesses.

Want to know more?
Contact Rachelle Spero at rspero@sutherlandgold.com to learn more about the live data.

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