Building Companies for Women: The Investor Experience with a Female Founder, Beth Santos

Upfront Work sits down with Beth Santos, founder of Wanderful, helping solo female travelers feel safe and connected while wandering the globe– to talk about her experience raising money.  Currently, she is in a convertible note round seeking $350,000 from angel investors to transition her employees full-time and pay for new product development giving Wanderful an 18-month runway.

Tell us about your company.  What is your 60 second pitch?

After five years of running a profitable company with a network of 40,000 users globally and a highly acclaimed B2B conference reaching over 60M consumers on two continents, Wanderful is seeking investors to support development of a new identity-verified platform and homesharing network for travelers to find, meet, and stay with other women around the world.  The solo female travel market is $800B, and no one is making it easier for women to travel safely and confidently on their own. In a world where sexual harassment and discrimination are some of women’s most pressing concerns when they travel, Wanderful provides a necessary safe and secure alternative.

What feedback do you get from investors?

I find that angel investors are more open to the potential of a product while VC firms want to already see the product being successful.

Some of the positive feedback has been, “why aren’t you asking for more money?”  While alternatively, some push back has been, “Is solo female travel a thing? Is safety a real concern?”  These questions come from mostly men (well, actually all men), who are unaware that women felt unsafe when traveling.

In addition, I have found that many investors ask about Airbnb and how we are different.  The clearest explanation I provide is that Airbnb is less focused on private room rental versus entire homes or apartments, making it difficult for solo women to find affordable, safe options.  And it makes sense because Airbnb is competing against hotels with a fast, transactional approach while we focus on women who want a connection with a safe and local built in guide.

What successful techniques have you used to find the right investors?

Finding female investors has been my most successful technique because I have discovered other women understand the market and product concept right away.  I wish I could say that the market opportunity speaks for itself, but I've definitely noticed that someone with a personal experience has found what we're doing much more compelling, and oftentimes that brings us to other women.

However, the reality is there are more male investors (without this personal experience) than women so my second successful technique has been to get referrals.   By being referred by a trusted source, I get further credibility than a cold call pitch with male investors who need more persuasion on a market less natural to them.

What challenges have you faced finding investors?

People told me early on that being a profitable business already would make finding an investor easy. But the fact of the matter is, we're solving a problem that only a small portion of investors have actually witnessed. It's not just about convincing investors, either. We also need to be convinced that they're right for our company, and if they don't understand the nuances of what we're building, that's difficult.

If you could give investors some advice, what would it be and why?

I would focus on six majors themes when looking to invest:

  1. Is my investment company and leadership diverse?  Is my team made up the same gender, race and/ or socioeconomic class?

  2. Is this meeting open? If one person disagrees, do we all disagree?  Are we subject to groupthink?

  3. Have we done our research? If we are not familiar with a market, have we prepared ahead of time to ask informed and pointed questions to this company?

  4. Do we know our bias? Are we aware of our blind spots and can we quietly reflect before making concrete conclusions about the way a presenter speaks, appears, or presents him or herself?

  5. Are we asking promotion questions? Are we going into a meeting only asking prevention questions?

  6. Are we ready to write a check? Do we take meetings just for lip service and never plan on actually investing?  

“While getting my MBA, a professor said something that stuck with me – Everyone thinks they make decisions with logic. This is false.  Everyone makes decisions with emotion, and then backs it up with logic. I try and remember this when pitching.”

Bridget McMullan