Money

How I overcame "Women don't want to invest" to raise $34.6M for Ellevest

'The Fearless Girl' statues stands across from the iconic Wall Street charging bull statue, March 8, 2017 in New York City.
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'The Fearless Girl' statues stands across from the iconic Wall Street charging bull statue, March 8, 2017 in New York City.

"Women won't invest. They're too risk averse."

"An investing platform for women sounds like a great idea ... but it's not."

"Others have tried and failed, so you will too."

"That's interesting, but the real issue for women is the gender pay gap."

"Women won't invest online."

"But don't their husbands do it for them?"

This is what I heard when I founded Ellevest, from potential funders, from the press and from industry experts. Again and again.

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Fast forward a few years. Today, we've announced that Ellevest has raised $34.6 million in our latest financing round. And, today, the Ellevest community is tens of thousands strong, and thousands of women are investing tens of millions of dollars with us.

We are, of course, far from claiming victory — there is so much more work to be done — but we are also far from the face-plant the nay-sayers expected. I believe that our early success is in part because we are doing our damnedest to build Ellevest as a modern company, which reflects everything I've learned in my decades in business and on Wall Street.

That means relentlessly focusing on our clients; building a business not just for women, but with women: putting in thousands of hours with our user, "Elle," to rethink the investing and planning products for her from the ground up.

That means building a team that reflects the modern world and our clients: our combined engineering and product teams are 47 percent women, our company is 2/3s women and 36 percent of our team are people of color.

That means having VC investors who recognize the importance of our mission: closing the gender money gap is not just good for women (though it absolutely is good for women), but is also good for our economy, our society and our children. This in turn means having investors who recognize that, because of our mission, we're building this business for the long-term. And that, in return, this mission is key to our attracting talented individuals, who have plenty of other opportunities, to work at Ellevest.

Our new investors include Rethink Impact, Penny Pritzker's PSP Growth, Salesforce Ventures, CreditEase Fintech Investment Fund, LH Holdings and SK Impact Fund. Why each of these? Because most of them have taken demonstrated action on the part of women.

For example, Rethink Impact is a newer fund and is the largest venture capital fund in the U.S. that invests both for impact and with a gender lens; they were thus a natural fit for us. I approached Penny Pritzker because of the work she did for women as U.S. Secretary of Commerce – and because of her long-term orientation in building businesses. And I contacted Salesforce Ventures because of Marc Benioff's no-bs, no-excuses stance on closing the gender pay gap at his company.

It may be notable that we have raised this money at the same time that the traditional Silicon Valley / "fintech" model is showing some signs of fraying, with the CEO of SoFi stepping down last week after sexual harassment allegations. (This drove Fast Company to note how inhospitable fintech is for women. Um, ok, but not at Ellevest.)

One can argue that our raise and Sofi's issues are two sides of the same coin: that lack of diversity can drive poor decision-making (and, it seems, poor behavior). That the drive for hyper-growth, now, can lead to increased risk and divert management attention away from the client. That this can work really well for a while, but can end in tears. I saw it when I worked on Wall Street (and, boy, did the financial crisis cause a lot of tears); and this feels a bit like "déjà vu all over again."

Believe me, I understand that building a company that embraces diversity isn't easy. My co-founder and I have struggled with how to best do this and sometimes haven't agreed. And having investors who are aligned with your mission isn't easy either: determining who they are, getting to them, selling them … none of this is a snap.

But in working with these investors, I didn't have to convince them that women will invest, that the product is needed, that the market isn't "just a niche" (it's half the population, for goodness sake), or that women will embrace a digital experience. And that what we're doing matters even beyond the financial return we hope to earn for them.

So today at Ellevest, we'll pop the champagne corks, and then get back to work. We have a lot more to do.

Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, the innovative investing and planning platform for women. She is also Chair of Ellevate Network and of the Pax Ellevate Global Women's Index Fund. She is the best-selling author of Own It: The Power of Women at Work.

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This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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