Q&A With Katherine Hague, Creator of Female Funders
Katherine Hague, 25, never wanted an office job.
Ever since she was a teenager, Hague was more enamored with the idea of being at the head of her own company. After realizing that dream — in January 2014, she sold her company ShopLocket to PCH International after raising a cool million dollars in funding — she set her sights on a new project: Female Funders. The site, which launches today, is devoted to demystifying angel investing. If you don't have a clue what an angel investor is, you're not alone!
"An angel investor is someone who invests his or her own personal money in an early-stage company, generally in exchange for equity or debt," Hague said.
Angel investors are often essential in getting a new company off the ground. Fun fact: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was an angel investor for Levo when it was getting up and running! If that doesn't sum up how incredibly influential (and cool) it can be to angel invest, nothing can.
Read on for insight on what got Hague into angel investing, and why she created this new hub for women looking for smart ways to spend their money.
Levo: When did you decide to be an entrepreneur?
Katherine Hague: When I was 13 or 14, I realized I didn't want to be employed in the traditional sense. I wanted to set my own hours and work on things I was passionate about. I looked around and saw figures like Oprah and Richard Branson, whom I really admired. I realized what they had in common was that they'd started their own companies, so I should as well. When I was 16, I started planning events for student entrepreneurs. We’d put on conferences with speakers who would talk about what it was like to start their own companies. I got to absorb so many lessons from that experience. Then, during university, I did some freelance marketing and design consulting. After school I was hoping to start my own company, but I didn't have an idea at the time! Instead, I got a job as a marketing manager at a hardware startup.
How did that lead to launching your first company, ShopLocket?
KH: While I was at that job, I started designing themes for Shopify, a super easy storefront builder. I ended up making around $30,000 over the course of eight months! I got to talk to all these store owners using my theme and noticed a lot only had one product in their stores. I was wondering why they couldn't just put the product on their existing websites instead of starting a whole new one, and that’s how I got the idea for ShopLocket. It’s embeddable e-commerce. Much like how you embed a video on a website, you can embed a product. I convinced a friend to help me put together a demo, showed it to everyone, and decided if I was going to do this, I’d have to take the plunge and quit my job.
How did angel investing first make a difference in your life?
KH: ShopLocket would have been impossible without my first angel investor, Heather Payne. About four years ago, I showed her the first demo for my product. I'd quit my job and only had enough money to survive for eight months. She took one look at the demo and said, "I love it. I'll give you $10,000." At the time I was like, "Let's talk tomorrow when the wine has worn off!" The next day, she was still excited. It was the first time she'd ever made an angel investment. Over the course of the last two years, we've learned so much together. After I sold the company in January 2014, I decided I wanted to start angel investing.
According to Female Funders' press release, only one in five angel investors are women.
KH: Right, and if you look more closely at tech investment, AngelList only has nine percent of registered investors as women. There aren't many visible female role models who angel invest. The loudest voices are generally older white men who are oftentimes retired. We have to put more examples out there who aren't the stereotype we all have in our heads!
Why do you think women make up such a small percentage?
KH: It's driven by a lot of different causes. One is that we have fewer female-founded companies, which means fewer women have the money to put back into startups. There's also the fact that angel investing often happens because friends that know of great companies tell their friends to invest. If those circles have traditionally been male, it can be harder for women to break into deals as they’re happening. With all that said, things are changing.
KH: Now deals don't always happen behind closed doors. We have platforms like AngelList that name companies trying to raise money. There are great events like demo days for startup accelerators, where companies pitch ideas after having worked intensely for months. There are also groups like Broadway Angels and Golden Seeds, two angel groups that bring companies together with the men and women who want to make investments. There's a lot more openness as to how deals work and making them way more accessible to women.
How does that play into the main mission behind Female Funders?
KH: We want to make it a lot clearer what angel investment is. The idea of giving someone you know money to start a company doesn't sound that scary, but when you frame it more around things like equity and risk, it becomes way more intimidating. We bring it down to a level that everyone can understand and give them the tools to make it happen. We want to show women it's not this terrifying, far-off thing they have to wait to do. It's tangible, and you can get a ton out of it.
The idea behind Female Funders is so inspiring. What’s the execution going to be like?
KH: We want to give women different models for how others look at angel investment, so we have weekly interviews with female angel investors talking about their journeys and what motivates them to put their money into a company. We'll also have monthly podcasts with experts in venture capital who can help talk you through the process and explain what you should be looking for in companies. Then there are features like a glossary of investment phrases in layman's terms so the language is more accessible, and a reading list that groups together all the different courses, blog posts, and books on angel investment. It'll be a resource for knowledge and inspiration.
Which part of the site are you most excited about?
KH: That would be our Wall of Angels. Anyone who tweets #FemaleFunders1000 and captures a moment of investing, like signing their first check, will appear on that wall. Our hope is that we can get 1,000 women to make their first investment over the next year. We want to encourage people to transition from looking at educational resources to actually getting out there, having meetings, and making investments. I’m excited to see the conversation this sparks. It'll be a place where everyone can see the discussion happening around women and investing.
Which companies have you invested in recently?
KH: My most recent investment was in a company called Locks and Mane. It's a hair extension bar. You go in, get extensions for $200, then come out an hour later. They last three months! The concept has been exploding, and they're starting to expand their locations across the country. Another company I recently invested in is called CareGuide. It's a series of websites that help match people with people like nannies, babysitters, and petsitters. I've personally had the problem of being in a pinch and needing someone to petsit, so I really empathize with that. Plus, I’ve known the founder for some time and he's great. I really love what they're doing.
So much of being an entrepreneur is about taking risks. Do you feel like quitting your job to pursue ShopLocket is the biggest one you've taken thus far?
KH: Not really, because I could have always gone back and gotten another job. I'd been saving up money to quit and still be able to survive for a period of time, and I didn't have a family to take care of. My expenses were pretty low. The worst-case scenario would have been going back to the kind of career I had before, but the best-case was getting to work on what I loved.
That's a level-headed way to look at it! OK, if it wasn't that, what has been the biggest risk you've taken?
KH: The scariest part was when we'd raised just over a million dollars in venture capital funding. All of a sudden we had investors and employees. We were at an incredibly early stage, but we had to figure it out since we had all these people working with us. It was so stressful, because there's no roadmap to success. You're forging your own path, experimenting, and trying new things. Some will fail, but you have to learn to push through.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Katherine Hague, Female Funders