Digital platforms are full of cases of online bullying and harassment that disproportionately target girls. This is a downside that coto, the Singapore-based social neighborhood platform Web3, is trying to deal with.
The platform, according to its co-founder Aparna Acharekar, offers a protected digital home for girls, as well as monetization alternatives. Coto claims to have amassed over 100,000 subscribers in less than two months after its official launch.
Acharekar, a former government over-the-top (OTT) provider from Indian entertainment company Zee, says entrepreneurship has been a rewarding journey so far.
“I have learned and unlearned more in 18 months than in 22 years of my corporate job. As a woman contributing to the creation of a platform for women, I realized that I had to put aside my own prejudices to avoid assumptions and prejudices,” she said in an interview for the DealStreetAsia’s latest report on the Southeast Asia Gender Funding Gap.
Going through prejudice as a female co-founder, Acharekar says she hasn’t experienced any, but has heard stories of others who have.
“…while I don’t suppose [investors] expect less business efficiency from women-founded businesses, there is always skepticism and doubts about whether a girl founder will stick to her dedication. I’ve met female founders who were asked questions like, “Will your husband help you with this business?” Are you planning to take a maternity break now that you just got married? Will you be able to travel because you have children? “I don’t think anyone would ever ask a male founder these questions,” she said.
The DealStreetAsia Southeast Asia Women’s Funding Gap Report found that only 12.6% of all corporate funding raised in 2022 went to startups with at least one female co-founder. In the meantime, more than 86% of the capital has been won by all-male founding groups.
Edited excerpts from an interview with Acharekar:
What led you to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been enthusiastic about creating something from scratch and bringing new concepts to life. I bought a first alternative in my career to go from print to digital and then be one of the first in India to help create the OTT revolution. The pandemic has changed my outlook on life and my goals a lot. I longed for a bigger impression and the ability to create a little distinction on my own.
When my longtime mentor, Tarun Katial, told me about his imagination and vision for a protected digital platform for women, the concept immediately resonated. I knew I could be excited to build this and make it my mission. This is what led me to become an entrepreneur.
How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey so far?
My entrepreneurial journey has been both rewarding and challenging. I learned and unlearned more in 18 months than in 22 years of my corporate job. As a woman contributing to the creation of a platform for women, I realized that I had to put aside my own prejudices to avoid assumptions and prejudices. The deep immersions of buyers, drawing on what the first customers of our platform have indicated via their behavior, have taught me a lot about the programs I have taken or the conferences I have attended.
I’m really pleased with the positive impression we’re making by creating a sheltered home for women to stand out and achieve financial independence. The journey has been one of self-discovery and personal development, and I am grateful for every little and big expertise, good or difficult.
What are some of your biggest challenges as a female founder?
I think entrepreneurship should be genderless, and we should always, in our reference to professionals, stop including gender. While personally I have never really faced a problem because of my gender, I have noticed that female traders or analysts on the other side of the desk offer more empathy and understanding towards women-focused businesses. Additional girls in fundraising and analyst roles will stage the play space for all founders.
Do you suppose merchants are likely to have totally different expectations or requirements for female founders versus male founders?
I imagine a very powerful factor is to create a powerful and viable business model and show traders the potential for growth and profitability. And while I don’t think they expect any less business efficiency from women-founded companies, there’s always skepticism and doubts about whether a daughter founder will stick to his dedication. I’ve met female founders who were asked questions like, “Will your husband help you with this business?” Are you planning to take a maternity break now that you just got married? Will you be able to travel because you have children? I guess no one would ever ask a male founder these questions. Some girl founders shared that the level of debate traders had with them was poorer than their male counterparts. What they believed to be discriminatory and uncertain of their skills.
What are a number of potential causes of the gender gap in corporate finance, and how do you think they could be addressed?
The gender gap in business finance can be attributed to a number of factors, including unconscious biases, a lack of illustration, and structural barriers.
To address this hole, we would like to see more girls represented in investments and, as decision makers, encourage more girls to pursue entrepreneurship and provide additional support and resources to female founders.
In the current environment, when fundraising should be more difficult to secure for many startups, could female founders find it more sustainable to increase their capital?
Any founder, whether or not they are male or female, may face significant challenges securing funding throughout these trying times. Nevertheless, it is also a possibility to show our resilience, creativity and problem-solving abilities. We are able to weather the storm and come out of it stronger with the right help and sources.
What recommendation would you give to different female entrepreneurs?
Many people suffer from both impostor syndrome or are constantly striving to be superwomen. My recommendation for every entrepreneur is to imagine within themselves and their imaginative and prescient and build a powerful helping community around them. We should seek mentorship and sources and be willing to study and adapt all the time. It may be a difficult journey, but it is also extremely rewarding.
How can we work to change the tradition and mindset in venture capital trading to be more inclusive and support women founders?
This can be achieved by actively seeking out and investing in many areas of expertise, offering mentorship and sources to underrepresented teams, and avoiding difficult biases and stereotypes.
In your opinion, what are some of the most essential things marketers should think about when evaluating a startup, regardless of the gender of the founder?
When evaluating a startup, marketers should think about things like market alternative, staff energy, concept scalability, and potential for growth and profitability. Gender should not be an element in the analysis process, as it is not necessarily correlated to a startup’s potential for success.
How has being a female entrepreneur influenced the way you manage and operate a business?
I imagine collaboration, empathy and inclusiveness and try to create a tradition where everyone feels valued and supported. I also imagine setting excessive demands and holding my staff accountable for achieving our goals.