71% of entrepreneurs cite lack of access to capital as their number 1 barrier to starting up businesses. At IFundWomen, we’re here to rewrite the code on how women-owned businesses get funded.
The Funding Journey is a series where we interview successful founders on the long, sometimes complicated, journey to getting their businesses funded. For this issue, we interviewed the Founder and CEO of Silk + Sonder, Meha Agrawal, on navigating the funding landscape as a woman of color.
Three years ago, I felt trapped in an emotional rut with the same disjointed, isolating, and self-navigated options most of us have today: therapy felt intimidating, coaching was expensive, anxiety medications seemed risky, and meditation apps were quite frankly…boring. While all potentially viable options for improving my mental wellness, simply finding and engaging with any of these felt onerous and insufficient. I felt this way to begin with because I lacked connection and that, along with accountability, was exactly what I was seeking. Then, however ironically, I finally discovered the therapeutic power of pen to paper and peer-driven support. Its profound impact on my own life left me no choice but to dedicate all my time and energy to bring a more approachable and impactful solution to mental wellness to others worldwide. We launched Silk + Sonder: a subscription for mental wellness that includes a guided monthly journal (yes, analog!) and access to an online community of peers who inspire and hold one another accountable.
In today’s digital world where we are bombarded with endless notifications and picture-perfect comparisons, we’ve forgotten to lean on simplicity and science. As humans, we crave intimacy and connection with ourselves and others. Journaling and writing happens to be the best medium to disconnect in order to reconnect. We are so proud to have thousands of Silk + Sonder members across every state already. Their backgrounds, values, and goals are uniquely theirs, but their commitment to themselves and to seeking and giving support to one another is ubiquitous.
The first step was to decide whether or not fundraising made sense for Silk + Sonder—in our case, I decided to fundraise when there was (1) clear product-market fit, (2) clarity on how I would use funds to carry out my vision, and (3) growing demand from our customers. Before quitting or fundraising, I focused all my effort on growing Silk + Sonder as a nights and weekends project, ultimately reaching 1000 paying members. Silk + Sonder’s early traction and the conviction I had on my vision is what gave me the confidence to fundraise.
I began with a pre-seed round. When I was nearly across the finish line, I got into 500 Startups, an accelerator based in San Francisco, CA. Given that we were growing and in the midst of a pandemic by the time I was graduating 500 Startups, I opportunistically decided that if we could raise a seed round and extend our runway, it was worth exploring. So I time-boxed those efforts and decided to raise a formal round.
Absolutely, especially during my pre-seed round. While I don’t know if it was explicitly due to being a woman of color, I do know that I had a lot more to prove. For some investors, we were “too early,” despite having clear product-market fit and compelling traction. For others, they were unable to imagine the vision we had in mind for Silk + Sonder. I think the most important thing a female founder or woman of color can do is make sure that people in seats of privilege are brought along in the journey. I remember an early investor commenting on how blatantly obvious the sexism was compared to his own entrepreneurial journey where he was able to raise pre-revenue and pre-product. That struck a chord with me. I realized that I would need to stop shying away from asking other people for help and allow my current investor to see where I was thriving as well as where I was struggling. Those transparent conversations helped me eliminate self-pity and focus on targeting the right investors and closing our round.
I also think that as a woman of color, it’s easy to assume there’s only one right away to fundraise, based on the advice you’re given. I realized quickly that I wanted to run the fundraising process my way, by focusing on the investors who were the right fit for our company; I also wanted to just feel “heard” during the demoralizing process. I surrounded myself with other female founders who could relate to my situation.
As women of color, it often feels like all the odds are stacked up against us: we have to work harder, prove ourselves every step of the way, and have fewer “successful” role models to look up to. Do not let that stop you; in fact, see how you can find the gift in that challenge. Maybe you will fail faster and therefore, learn faster; maybe you will come out a stronger business leader because the path wasn’t paved for you.
My best advice is to always stay close and remember your biggest stakeholder, every step of the way: your customer. When you feel fleeting self-doubt, Imposter Syndrome, or fear on your entrepreneurial journey, reconnect with them and your “why”.
We have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline at Silk + Sonder and we’re hiring! The best way to support us is to join us on the journey of self-discovery and self-care. Once you’re a member, you get access to an unbelievably supportive community. Silk + Sonder is offering the IFundWomen community a 15% discount by using code IFW. You can also support us by following us on Instagram and joining our newsletter.
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