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“My co-founder, Nikhil Mathew, and I wanted to maintain a 50/50 ratio of male and female investors.” says Jaleh Rezaei, co-founder and CEO of Mutiny about her company’s approach to fundraising and ownership.
Mutiny helps companies personalize their website messaging for customers. We spoke with Jaleh to learn how her experience as an operator prepared her for life as a Y Combinator-backed founder. She also shares advice on fundraising, dealing with investor pushback, and how she got to a cap table that’s 50% women investors—both in investment amount and number of investors (yes, really!).
When did you first realize you had a viable business on your hands?
The idea for Mutiny came from my time as Head of Marketing at Gusto. We started to apply personalization to different parts of our funnel and saw how impactful it was at helping us increase conversion rates as we scaled. I thought, “Wow, we’re probably not the only company that wants personalized digital marketing content for customers.” I also realized how challenging it was to engineer an in-house personalization solution.
I started to get feedback from other CMOs and heads of acquisition to see if my hunch was right. Everybody was interested in the idea but didn’t necessarily know where to begin, or they didn’t have the technology to support it. I thought, “Okay, there’s something real here.” That’s when I took the plunge.
When it came time to seek out funding, what sorts of investors did you approach, and why? What resources did you use to prepare?
We decided to focus on angels and institutional seed funds for our first round. We built a short list of the best seed funds based on founder recommendations and ultimately chose Uncork Capital and Cowboy Ventures. We also had about 30 angels. Some of our angels came from YC demo day and others came from introductions through our network.
My co-founder, Nikhil Mathew, and I wanted to maintain a 50/50 ratio of male and female investors. We were lucky to have a lot of inbound interest, but the gender diversity was not there. Our dilemma was: Do we close the round faster and get back to work? Or do we stick to our diversity values and do the work to find great female angel investors?
Nikhil and I felt strongly that our actions needed to align with our words from Day 1 at Mutiny. We decided to set aside some allocation, turn away inbound investors and spent three weeks after demo day getting intros to great female angel investors. Today our cap table is half badass female investors, both in terms of dollars invested and number of investors.
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Did you get any feedback or pushback from investors? For what reasons?
We definitely got pushback around competition and a few other points that we hadn’t had as much time to think about while we were heads down on product. Here is what helped us. We took very few investor meetings, but after each one, we spent hours if needed going over the objections and thinking about how we would genuinely solve the problem. We even pulled in subject matter experts and tried to see the problem from different angles. Here is a rule of thumb—a good answer to a pushback is 1-2 sentences and maybe a 1 sentence anecdote from a previously successful company to really drive your point home. A bad answer is over 5 minutes long.
Ultimately if investors believe there is a big business to be built and you are the team to do it because you understand all the potential pitfalls and opportunities, they will be excited to back you.
Do you think your gender identity was an asset or a liability in seeking funding?
I didn’t experience any unprofessional behavior and many investors seemed genuinely excited to add a female CEO to their portfolio. I will say this: I think very few investors are overtly sexist. However, I do think the average investor is unconsciously a little less confident in women founders.
Early stage fundraising is hard. You have to convince a bunch of strangers to believe in you and your journey when, objectively, all evidence suggests against doing so. Because investors haven’t seen as many successful female founders, they may unconsciously be less confident in female founders. We need more female founders, more female leaders, and more female investors to change this dynamic.
What advice do you have for other founders setting up their own cap tables?
First, follow standards. Don’t bend over backwards for a single investor. It ultimately hurts you to have a non-standard cap table. I used YC’s standard SAFE deal and got a lot of advice from YC founders and partners.
Second, be employee-friendly. Your early employees help build your company. Don’t expire their options as soon as they leave. Let them early exercise for tax benefits. Be generous to the people that matter most to your company’s success.
We include as much info in our offers as we have available, to help employees understand what it means. We tell them the number of shares they’re getting, total shares outstanding, any pricing per share that’s available, all the information from fundraising that we’ve done. Carta also has good content online that I’ve shared with them which has been useful.
Any advice for other women founders in general?
This might sound controversial, but I would say don’t think of yourself as a disadvantaged woman. You are a founder, a CEO or a CTO, and above all, a complete badass to even be in a position to fundraise. It’s not productive to come out of every meeting dissecting whether a statement was pushback or prejudice. There is good feedback in investor meetings, especially when you hear the same pushback over and over. Try to learn from the feedback, improve your pitch, and move forward.
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