The Helm Shop has a new home with us…
And we want to spill all the details to you. We sat down with founder Lindsey Taylor Wood and COO Julie Weber to discuss not only the history of The Helm and the values they stand by, but also historically what has led to the funding crises that keeps female entrepreneurs from getting their foot in the door.
First and foremost, can you talk a bit about the Helm for our readers who don’t know what it is?
Lindsey: The mission of the Helm is to make it easy to invest in women, and we do that in a number of ways: through our venture fund; through an angel network; and through the e-commerce platform that is now being transitioned over to The Verticale. Our goal is to meet women wherever they are, regardless of their capacity, to provide a solution for them– driving more capital towards female founders.
Can you both talk about your past experiences? Specifically as women in the financial sphere and how you met each other?
Julie: My personal background has always been in the women’s space, but I started my career working for the UN, on the development-side of gender equity (on women, children and maternal health). I worked for the UN for about 7-8 years and enjoyed the work I was doing, but ultimately became disenchanted by the bureaucracy and the politics of a big organization like the UN. I was looking for more direct ways to make an impact, and that led me to working for an NGO, which is how I met Lindsey. After we both moved on from there, we just stayed in touch. Then at the beginning of 2018 when Lindsey was getting ready to launch The Helm, I joined the team.
Lindsey: My background is in women’s rights. I had founded a consulting company which worked with high net-worth family offices and talent to create gender-lens, philanthropic strategies. Then I had a bit of a crisis of faith. We were pouring millions and millions of dollars, yet we weren’t seeing the sorts of social returns we’d hoped to see. Whether it be women in front of behind the camera, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, or women in the C-suite.
I realized that philanthropy had sort of become this catchall for investing in women, and I didn’t necessarily think that that was the only way that we should be approaching it. I was really appalled at the numbers and the sort of implications of what it meant. Then when I went out to raise the first fund, a small proof of concept fund, I had the revelation [that] women [give their money, donating it, rather than investing it]. It was really those two things that were most catalytic in starting the company.
Lindsey, in a previous interview, you spoke towards how women receive only 3% of total venture capital, and that this has to do a lot with the systematic way our society functions– of men supporting other men. Can you talk about the way female entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts?
Lindsey: I read this morning that actually it’s now back down to 2.3% [in regards to women receiving venture capital funds]. Why do women get less funding and what can we do about it? We know that there are a couple of things.
We know that pattern matching is one of the most fundamental things that are happening in venture. People tend to invest in founders that look like them or have the same life experiences or interests. So in a firm full of men, it would be hard for them to identify with the same pain points that a woman may be solving for.
Another reason is that we tend to talk to women about traction and men about vision. Male founders are primarily asked promotion questions, whereas female founders are primarily asked prevention questions, and prevention questions tend to raise about seven times less. Those are two things that are sort of key to why women aren’t getting more capital.
This means that 98% of the world is built by and for white cis men, that they’re the ones profiting– not taking all of us into account. This results in a lot of the systemic issues that we see: not having equal pay, not having parental leave, or having issues of sexual harassment in the workplace.
It’s critical to have women investing in women because we’re creating a more inclusive and intersectional landscape as well as more of an innovative and inclusive type of capitalism. I always say that there is so much pushback against capitalism, but we actually have no idea what it looks like when we’re all participating in it equally.
The last thing I would mention is that women tend to give their money away whereas men are much more likely to invest it. So having the sort of reality that women are giving their money away and not investing it, is just perpetuating these problems.
Let’s talk about the social expectation placed upon women inside and out of the workplace, as not only workers and entrepreneurs but also as mothers and caretakers.
Julie: It’s so important to invest in women because they are going to create the kind of companies and the kind of cultures that will start to shift that paradigm. It’s not easy because we’ve been living within it for so long. If we want to see any sort of change or movement, we have to have women in leadership positions who understand what the pain points are and what the expectations and extra responsibilities that women have are. They’ll start to figure out ways to solve for that within a company, within their policies and within their culture.
One company that comes to mind specifically is Natalist, which is a woman-founded company. I know that they have miscarriage leave. Natalist is recognizing that this is a pain point that women have in order to be able to show up and do their job. They might need a couple of days off to take care of themselves physically and mentally after they’ve had miscarriage.
You’re both coming on as hands-on strategic advisors at The Verticale. Can you talk about your choice here, why it’s so important to continue the transparency and support?
Julie: One of the things that we believe really strongly in, and why we initially started the Helm Shop is that values-aligned shopping is the way of the future. What we love about The Verticale is that they’ve expanded on this thesis– having a more expansive version of values-aligned shopping.
We’re really excited about integrating the Helm and our thesis with what The Verticale is building in a bigger and more expansive way. We’ve spent the past couple of years working very hard on building out this marketplace and we have a lot of lessons learned. We’re really looking forward to being able to work with Jaclyn and Michelle, to offer our expertise and work alongside them as they continue to build out The Verticale.
Is there anything else you would like to add about the partnership?
Lindsey: Historically, we know that women have been disenfranchised when it comes to raising capital. We know that women building marketplaces is also a really challenging place to be, despite all of the evidence that suggests that it is so critical now more than ever that we are conscious consumers. Therefore supporting these women, not just through tweets and texts and Instagram posts, but with our dollars is really critical. What better time than the holiday season, when everyone is out potentially participating in consumerism more than ever before, to really be thoughtful and intentional about the way that you spend your money. To ask yourself if your capital is aligning with your values. I think this is a really fantastic way to have that conversation with yourself. To know that you’re channeling your spend in the direction of so many people who really will benefit from it and be appreciative of it than some of the bigger places that we tend to gravitate towards for sake of ease.