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[Event] DEMO Asia: Is Being Female A Handicap?

by Elisha Tan, founder of Learnemy Seeing all the pitches at the recent DEMO Asia, it’s not difficult to see there were only a handful of female founders around. We this question to three female founders from Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore - it is difficult to start up being a woman? No, all three founders echoed. “Although there are more male than female founders in Indonesia, I receive the same amount of trust and respect in the workplace as my male counterparts,” says Indonesia-based Shieny Aprilia, founder of mobile gaming startup Agate Studio. Aprilia participated in DEMO Asia's Alpha Pitch segment. This was similar to what female founders from the Philippines and Singapore experienced. Although these countries may seem somewhat patriarchal as compared to Western cultures, these founders don’t feel any societal or family pressures to conform to the patriarchal expectations of a woman. In fact, Aprilia’s entrepreneur father is her main pillar of support and she looks to him for inspiration when the going gets tough. Instead of being a handicap, a female founder probably enjoys more advantages than not.  “Mentors tend to speak more casually and be more lenient to me than with guys,” says Charmain Tan, founder of Singapore-based Fiett. Her startup manufactures eco-friendly touch-sensitive snow gloves that allow the usage of iPhone, iPad, and touchscreens in the biting cold. Aprilia also notices such differences, that mentors and investors tend to be more interested in what she has to say. But this does not happen all the time. “Sometimes I receive more questions, from venture capitalists, than male founders. It seems that the VCs needed to know more before they can be sure of me”, shares Liezl Buenaventura, founder of Philippines-based HobbyMashHobbyMash is a social network that connects people according to hobby and location, allowing them to interact, collaborate, and meet up to do things they love.

Being Female Helps

Despite that, all three founders agree that being female has helped them stand out, giving them more media attention. “I’ve been asked to speak at events just because I’m a female,”, says Aprilia. Seeing that being female is not a handicap, it is interesting to see why the rates of female founders remain low. However, Buenaventura highlights that it does not mean that we should push women into starting up. “There is no need to push or encourage women to start a business, but women should be given opportunities to do so if they want to.”   Elisha Tan is the founder of Learnemy, an online marketplace that connects you with instructors for anything you want to learn. She believes that people should be able to make a living by doing what they like to do. Hence, she hopes to provide a platform for people to monetize their skill sets by teaching.  

This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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  • Maria

    I’ve never heard anything more wrong than describing the Philippines as seeming more patriarchal than its Western counterparts. Have you ever actually spoken to Filipino

    I don’t intend to denigrate HobbyMash- in fact I think it serves a need and therefore could provide significant value. Ms Buenaventura exposes her bias in two cringe-inducing ways so that as a female myself, I almost begin to think women should have a harder time.

    First she states definitively that VCs question her more “sometimes”. Yes that’s right “sometimes” one person will get questioned more than another. Actually I would think almost always but I suppose that without the quantifiable data she is obviously holding back from us, I really can’t make an educated conclusion.

    Second, unless these investors are coming straight out and saying “why are you doing this if you’re a girl? Wouldn’t you rather knit or are you actually secretly a man?” Then there seems to be very little evidence to draw upon to have “more questions” automatically translate to “because you are not a man”. There are so many other possibilities, such as HobbyMash’s lack of innovation, its comparative product unsophistication when placed beside other demos, and the limited size of her market currently, that it’s impossible to ascribe any number of investor questions, unless they’re actually outright rude or sexist, to any one particular reason. No one can do it, sometimes not even the VC, nor the founder and definitely not me.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Maria,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m sure like you some people feel differently from Ms Beunaventura, simply because your experiences have been different from hers.

      That said, you may want to state your full name and an eligible email address when posting your comments in the future. You wouldn’t want to be accused of taking potshots at others while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, do you?

    • http://www.learnemy.com/ Elisha Tan

      Hi Maria,

      Although I must say that I have not met a lot of Filipinos, a quick check with Google (try “patriarchy in the Philippines”) shows some interesting results that you may want to consider referring to.

      I have two hypotheses on why female founder rates are so low. Perhaps there’s something about being female that doesn’t go with starting up; or there are some societal pressures on girls starting up, that existing female founders don’t face (or have successfully overcome it). I’m putting my bet on the latter hypothesis.

      Regarding Beunaventura, you and her don’t share the same life. So you don’t have any grounds to argue about her life experiences.

      Oh, I’ve heard that female bosses are stricter on females. If there’s any truth in it, let’s not bring it into the startup ecosystem, shall we?