What It’s Like To Be A Female Founder During The COVID-19 Crisis
“I feel like a wrung out dish rag,” I texted my friend last weekend, as I simultaneously ran a flash sale on IGTV and applied for grants. In that moment, I made the decision to share some of my experience navigating the COVID-19 crisis as a women entrepreneur*. Because I think you can relate. Because I think my voice matters. And because I believe in telling the real story of entrepreneurship; not the glossy one. So, here we go.
I think virtually every entrepreneur in the world experiences the pressure that comes along with this job. Whether you’re a small business owner or the founder of a Silicon Valley startup, pressure and entrepreneurship are inextricably linked. So much of our work is based on numbers, growth and performance (this needs to change, but that’s another article). Before the COVID-19 crisis, the pressure was already building. I’d been preparing for months to kick off our first round of funding in spring. But when COVID-19 hit the U.S. full force in March, it became clear we’d have to delay this round due to the widespread economic impact. However, that doesn’t mean the pressure is off. The pressure is actually *more on* than ever before. Because now we “have to” prove that not only have we gained significant traction since launch, but that we can also continue to drive growth month-over-month, during a global pandemic, without funding. While not all women entrepreneurs are actively seeking funding, we are collectively under an intense amount of pressure.
On that note, let’s talk about money. As a women entrepreneur seeking funding, I face the reality that only 2.2% of VC funding goes towards female founders. Not only that, but women have less money to begin with since we aren’t even paid the same amount as men. I italicized that to highlight how insane it is. I have personally bootstrapped my business to date, leveraging my personal savings to do so. For reference, I’m 28 years old and had a conventionally “successful” career before launching my business in 2019. Still, financing my business for the past year has been the greatest source of stress in my life. The onslaught of COVID-19 has amplified that stress significantly—for myself and every female founder I know. Fortunately, I run an eCommerce consulting business that helps dilute *some* of that stress (e.g. 10%), but it comes at a price. I have less time to focus solely on my business and I operate in a state of perpetual burnout, running on fumes from working long days with no breaks or time off. My point is, women generally have less runway when it comes to our financial position. COVID-19 has shortened or disrupted that runway for many women entrepreneurs—who were already struggling to make ends meet.
One female founder texted me yesterday and said, “I’m getting nothing done, but my brain is like - stay at your computer damnit.” That statement scores 10/10 on the Bre Cruickshank Relatability Index. To be clear, both this aforementioned friend and I are champions of productivity, but the overwhelm that results from running a business in the midst of a global pandemic is taxing and inevitable, at least to a certain extent. For me personally, I’ve been so “distracted” by managing my business and staying afloat that I feel like I barely have the time or capacity to process the emotional impact of this all. I find myself sniffling back tears while making scrambled eggs or caught off guard by a sudden rush of anxiety in the shower. Add the overwhelm of researching grants, applying for loans and trying to pivot your marketing strategy to account for this crisis and it’s...too much. Not to mention, half of all solopreneurs are women—imagine what it’s like navigating all this uncertainty and stress on your own. (I don’t have to, because this is my personal position as well.) For me, occasional overwhelm is a normal part of my entrepreneurial journey, but I think the issues arise when it’s a continuous experience; when it compounds over time. That’s the case for many women entrepreneurs working throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
I hope this sheds some light into what it’s like being a female founder at this time. I can only speak to my personal experience as a privileged white woman; it’s important to note that all of the points I raised are generally exacerbated for women of color. This essay isn’t intended to be a pity party, but to raise our collective consciousness around what entrepreneurship truly looks like. The playing field we inherit as women is unequal, so I think it’s important to provide insight into what this journey looks like in all its messy and complicated glory. This is the real story. This is my story. Unedited.
*I use "female founder" and "women entrepreneur" interchangeably, but in all usage I consider a "female founder" to be someone who self-identifies as a womxn, regardless of their sex.