Women at Work: The Race Gets Easier

Vani Kola, co-founder and managing director of venture firm Kalaari Capital.
Vani Kola, co-founder and managing director of venture firm Kalaari Capital.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, U.S edition

Published on 20th November, 2014

Vani Kola, co-founder and managing director of venture firm Kalaari Capital, is one of the few women who have become successful in the nascent venture capital industry in India.

Before getting into venture capital, Ms. Kola founded two startup firms – RightWorks, an e-procurement company and Certus Software, a financial solutions provider— in Silicon Valley.

In 2006, she decided to start supporting other entrepreneurs and moved back to India to set up a $190 million venture fund, IndoUS Venture Partners – now known as Kalaari Capital — to provide early and mid-stage funding to startup technology firms.

Ms. Kola, a 50-year old mother of two girls, says that to be successful entrepreneurs, women have to put on blinders and run. The race gets easier as you go along, she adds. “The hurdles are high at the beginning of the path. Once you cross each hurdle, it gets easier.“

Ms. Kola spoke to India Real Time about why India’s venture capital industry is woefully short of women and why there are so few female entrepreneurs.

Edited excerpts.

The Wall Street Journal: Why are there very few women investors in India?  

Vani Kola: If you look at the U.S., about 4% of the venture capitalists there are women. I don’t think India is that far behind.  The fact that India, with its late beginnings, even has 4% or 5% women among its small batch of venture capitalists is an amazing thing.

The investor community feeds off from entrepreneurs. Before you worry about women investors, we should really consider how we can grow the pie of women entrepreneurs.

WSJ: Why are there very few women who become entrepreneurs in India? 

Ms. Kola:  Out of 40 investments in the last eight years that our fund made, nearly 10% have women CEOs or co-founders. That’s still higher than in the U.S. where only 4% of the women entrepreneurs get funded.

Women have two challenges: One is anchoring their work-life balance. The other is, culturally, not just in India but in general, for women to be aggressive about their own ambition there are several hurdles.

If you create enough role models as examples, that may be demystified. We should inspire them to believe that they could be company builders.

WSJ:  At what stage do women generally step back from the workforce? 

Ms. Kola: They fall off at the mid management level because they are unable to build a network and base. That’s also exactly the time their responsibilities and duties [at home] strongly anchor them down. You have to find ways and means to balance all of them.

WSJ: How did you deal with challenges that you faced as an entrepreneur? 

Ms. Kola: You have to sometimes put blinders on and run to win the race.

WSJ: Is the Indian office environment particularly patriarchal? 

Ms. Kola: I sit on the boards of many companies and most of the entrepreneurs are men.

Women generally want to please everybody and know what everybody else is thinking. That’s why we are the peacekeepers and homemakers. It is very hard for most women including myself to unlearn it, condition and discipline ourselves.

WSJ: When you make investment decisions, do you look for women entrepreneurs? 

Ms. Kola: That will be impossible and unfair to the job that I do. My job is to make the best investments.

WSJ: Is there a glass ceiling?

Ms. Kola: I’m sure it is there. When the first Indians went aboard, did anybody ever imagine that they will be heads of Citibank, Mastercard, Pepsico, Microsoft?  In 20 years it has changed because they were pioneers who carved out the way.

Don’t obsess about the ceilings. The ceilings are real but you need to carve a path to either push through or to go around. You make the choice.

WSJ: What are the things that men and women bring to the table in an entrepreneurial environment?

Ms. Kola: They bring very different perspectives.  Women bring a perspective that is inclusive. That can be enriching for an organization if you channel it correctly.

Men are tougher on things, unwilling to compromise. It is not objectivity that dominates their thinking, but outcome. The end goal may be achieved equally. In one you break more glass.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, U.S edition

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