Women, Get Off the Sidelines and Invest

Opinion

In my travels across the country, I meet successful women with the means and motivation to make a difference in our communities—and in our world.

We don’t think twice about writing a check to a worthy foundation, buying a table at a charity gala, or volunteering on a committee. We know the “rubber chicken” circuit by heart, having bid on every silent auction from coast to coast. But all too often, we never even consider the world of early-stage investing.

Why?

It may seem complicated, mysterious, or too risky. We may tell ourselves that we don’t have the training or background to make wise choices. I can understand that line of thinking. I’m a lawyer by training, not a finance expert. And I’m part of a generation that grew up being advised to be conservative with our investments and sock away savings in our 401(k)s. But the world has been turned on its head.

I remember the day I had my “head snap” moment. I was in New York listening to a successful early-stage investor. Perhaps many of us came hoping for some magic formula for success. Instead, he looked at the audience and said, “At the end of the day, I just trust my gut.”

For me, that was a revelation. I thought, “My gut is just as good as his.” I just hadn’t exercised it yet.

That shift in thinking got me into early-stage investing. Yes, there’s risk. But this is also where the real economic opportunity is. And my message to anyone reading this today, or planning to attend my keynote address during the CED Tech Venture Conference, Sept. 15-16 in Raleigh, NC, is this: “If I can do it, you can, too.”

I want to encourage accredited investors, particularly women, to take some portion of the investments you make in the community each year and direct them toward entrepreneurs. I know you care deeply about your neighborhood, your community, your city. Think about early-stage investing as part of your civic duty.

Ask yourself, Who’s going to create the next Silicon Valley? The answer is you.

Consider this: Women are 51 percent of the U.S. general population and 52 percent of the U.S. voting population. We’re earning more money and living longer, and have become a deciding factor in presidential elections. We make 85 percent of all brand purchases. And in the next decade, women are expected to control two-thirds of America’s consumer wealth and see perhaps the largest wealth transfer in U.S. history move into our hands.

So what are we doing with it? If women continue to sit on the sidelines instead of becoming highly purposeful about our investments, all we’ll be able to do in the future is look at the world and say it still doesn’t look the way we want it to.

Instead, I’m encouraging you to consider the power of your bank account and do something more with it. My take on a familiar saying: “Invest in the change that you want to see in the world.”

I also want to encourage young women at the start of their careers to take more calculated and strategic risks. Don’t just think about a secure corporate gig. Think about starting your own venture, or joining a promising one. Don’t just think salary. Think equity. If you know your stuff, if you’re building your network, what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll have to get another job!

Finally, a word about diversity to anyone who is building a founding team. Studies of the tech industry show that if you’re just trying to create the minimum viable product, having a founding team that thinks alike and works as one brain may be fine for a narrow moment in time. But if you want to grow and scale, you need a diverse team of problem solvers at the table.

We’ve all heard the stories of tech products almost getting to market before the founders realize, “Oops, we never tested this with a woman or an African-American.”

It’s not just about gender, race, and sexual orientation, though. I once worked at a prestigious law firm that boasted a great deal of diversity on those metrics. When we took personality tests, however, it was clear that we all fit a certain mold.

You need people who have different perspectives on the world. I like to say that if someone doesn’t bug you a little, or make you a little uncomfortable in a hiring interview, they may not enhance the team because they won’t problem solve differently than you do.

It’s great to start up. But if you’re looking to scale up, if you’re looking for long-term growth, if you’re looking to identify the future jobs and the future of the economy, you have to create it in an inclusive way. Otherwise, you’ll be patting yourself on the back for creating jobs that start in your state, but move to Silicon Valley.

Communities that get inclusion right are the ones that are going to succeed.

Speaker, strategist, and investor Kelly Hoey will be a keynote speaker at the CED Tech Venture Conference 2015, to be held in Raleigh, NC, Sept. 15-16. Hoey previously co-founded a New York City-based startup accelerator investing exclusively in mobile ventures founded by women. Follow @jkhoey

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