It’s estimated that VC investments in women-founded businesses have hovered around 2% over the past few years. Go on, read that again. It’s an abysmal statistic, and sadder still with the context that this number was marginally higher pre-pandemic. More than ever, VC leaders like Anu Duggal are so essential.
Duggal is the Founding Partner of Female Founders Fund, which she launched in 2014, bringing her own experience of being an entrepreneur to the table. After graduating from Vassar College, Duggal’s career pivoted to cooking school in France and eventually to open India’s first wine bar, The Tasting Room, in 2005. Following that, she co-founded Exclusively.In., a flash sale site intended to broaden the selling reach of Indian artisans. This business shuttered in 2012 but became the catalyst for Duggal to start Female Founders Fund with her partner Sutian Dong.
Though not all consumers know the investor behind their favorite products, likely, you’re already a fan of at least one of the brands Duggal has backed. For instance, Female Founders Fund portfolio includes the trend-forward, plus-size fashion brand, Eloquii; the all-in-one wedding registry and planning platform, Zola; a revolutionary shaving brand, Billie; and the astrology app you (and all your friends) check daily, Co-Star.
To date, under Duggal’s leadership, Female Founders Fund has not only become the largest seed fund for women, but it’s fostered an ambitious community—through events, summits, and an annual founders summer camp program—that is incredibly powerful in an atmosphere where female founders are still undervalued and underfunded. And ahead, our Work Friend shares more about how she came to bridge her experience to help others thrive in their careers and why there’s still so much more work needed to move the statistics forward.
"When I started the fund, there were very few female partners at any VC fund. In the last few years, almost every large venture fund has added one, if not two, female partners which shows we are moving in the right direction."
ON EARLIEST CAREER DAYS
In the earlier part of my career, I was very passionate about the food world and wanted to open an Indian French restaurant or write a cookbook. After starting India’s first wine bar in Bombay, I realized firsthand how difficult the food industry can be and decided to pursue my interest in food as a hobby. The inspiration behind Exclusively.In was a desire to share the beauty of Indian design, fashion, travel, and more with the broader global market. My parents moved to India in 2000 and, after spending time in Bombay and other parts of India, it felt like there was a real opportunity to be the first to bring the Indian aesthetic online and open it up to a larger
ON THE ORIGINS OF FEMALE FOUNDERS FUND
Female Founders Fund was inspired by my own experience as an entrepreneur raising capital for Exclusively.In. It was very eye-opening to see the lack of female investors and check writers as part of our fundraising journey. Digging into the numbers, it became clear there was a larger issue at hand with less than 2% of venture dollars going to companies started by women. My longer-term view was this has to change with a generation of women with relevant backgrounds.
ON 10 YEARS OF FEMALE FOUNDERS FUND
In the last 10 years, we’ve seen tremendous positive change. When I started the fund, there were very few female partners at any VC fund. In the last few years, almost every large venture fund has added one, if not two, female partners which shows we are moving in the right direction. In addition to this, we’ve seen a massive increase in female-led IPOs particularly in the last three years. This is all very positive momentum, but we need to see more action particularly as it relates to overall dollars going towards companies led by women.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF FOSTERING COMMUNITY THROUGH THE FEMALE FOUNDERS FUND
As a small fund, we are not able to compete with the more name-brand funds on assets under management. Therefore, investing in building our brand through community has set us apart and enabled us to punch above our weight class in creating a recognizable brand in the venture and tech community. Over time we have seen these efforts lead to tangible outcomes both through improved deal flow, as well as, as well as for our portfolio companies meeting investors who have ended up partnering with them long term.
ON PERSONAL STYLE
I’m a huge fan of bright colors (reds/pinks/blues) and I love a good monochromatic look, whether it’s a skirt or pantsuit. It’s something I keep coming back to and definitely elevates my confidence.
ON ADVICE FOR FUTURE VCS
One piece of advice would be to not be afraid to switch industries or be intimidated by having no experience. Every entrepreneurial venture I have started is one in which I had no background or expertise. Often this enables one to identify opportunities that are non-obvious to those who have spent years within an industry.
ON HER CAREER NORTH STAR
The Fund’s goal is to move the VC ecosystem forward by demonstrating it is possible to achieve top-tier returns by investing in a portfolio that is 100% female-founded. This has not been done and inspires our day-to-day work but also has created a strong sense of mission amongst our team that is unique in the world of investing and venture capital. Our company values center on empathy, transparency, and collaboration and this guides the work we do as a fund—with our founders, investors, and the broader community.
“Investing in building our brand through community has set us apart and enabled us to punch above our weight class.”