Just two percent of venture capital money is invested in female-founded startups each year. Anu Duggal launched Female Founders Fund to change that.

By Megan Falk
December 04, 2019
Anu Duggal of Female Founders Fund
Credit: Marley Rizzuti

Anu Duggal knows that money talks in the world of investing. The entrepreneur raised $20 million to build the booming company she co-founded in India: Exclusively.In, an e-commerce site that gave international consumers access to Indian lifestyle brands and products. But after moving back to the U.S., Duggal found that her fellow female entrepreneurs were struggling to raise the first round of capital—funding that can make or break a small business' big idea.

In 2018, only 2.2 percent of all venture capital money was invested in all-female-founded businesses, according to financial data company PitchBook. Rather than wait for the cash flow to change, Duggal decided to fill the gap. "I really felt like this was a very untapped opportunity, from a brand perspective, to own this space by providing not just capital, but also access to the strongest network of operators and founders nationwide," she says. (Related: Meet the most inspiring female entrepreneurs under 35.)

The result: Female Founders Fund, a venture capital firm investing in women-led startups breaking the status quo, such as Peanut (a fertility and motherhood app), Billie (a direct-to-consumer shaving company), and Rent the Runway (the game-changing platform that lets you rent high-end clothes). The Fund itself is largely powered by women, with female operators (aka venture partners) who help shape the company's decision-making process and 70 business experts serving as mentors to the Fund's portfolio companies.

Here, Duggal gives the lowdown on launching an influential investment company made for women, by women, plus the wellness techniques that help her keep her cool.

If Time Travel Were Real, She'd Sign More Checks

"My big takeaway is that starting a fund—for a male or female—is incredibly difficult. If I could do it again starting from my entrepreneurial days, I think I'd be actively involved in the investing community, even if it was writing a $5,000 check or a $10,000 check so that I was comfortable with investing and being on the cap table [aka a capitalization table, which breaks down a company's investors and details about its shares], and developing that track record would have been incredibly helpful."

The Silver Linings of Her Toughest Hurdles

"The hardest part of this journey for me has really been the fundraising aspect. [We had] over 700 meetings to raise money from 70 investors for a $5.85 million fund—that in itself was an incredibly difficult experience. I learned [to] develop a much stronger and sharper pitch. I think I developed an incredible network that has been very supportive of the Fund, regardless of whether or not they've chosen to invest."

Involving the Next Generation of Female Founders

"What we found with a lot of the companies we were looking at, as well as some of the companies we've invested in, is that they tend to target a younger demographic. A very well-known fact in the venture capital community is that some of the earliest adopters of technology tend to be college or high school women. Our college program, which is made up of students interested in venture capital and entrepreneurship, enables us to really tap into that network. If we're looking at a company that's targeting college women, we can send it out to 30 of our college fellows and say, 'What do you think about this?"'

A Small Investment in Self-Care That Has a Big Payoff

"I would say there are three things I find to be really helpful as it relates to wellness and self-care that I've been able to implement on a somewhat regular basis: The first would be meditation. I use Simple Habits, which is also a female-founded meditation app. I try to do at least 10 minutes every morning. The second thing, which I think is a form of wellness, is I walk to work. I use that opportunity to think through my day, to make a call to one of our founders to just catch up on what's happening, or to listen to a podcast. The third thing is that I take a lot of Epsom salt baths. I've found those to be really relaxing and a great way to get a good night's sleep."

Never Underestimate a To-Do List

"We all have a tendency to sit at our desks for extended periods of time. When I have a call, I try to take it walking around because it enables me to get some activity and leave my desk.

The first thing I do when I get to work every day is make a to-do list, which does feel kind of basic—but, you know, when you have 500+ emails to go through, sometimes you lose sight of the two to three things that you have to accomplish."