billion-dollar ideas

How to Appeal to Dude Investors? Tell Them Your Start-up Is for Men.

Soylent is the new (male) SlimFast
Soylent is the new (male) SlimFast Photo: Soylent, Slimfast

I’ve read about two products lately that I’d be eager to try. One, the so-called “tampon of the future” was created by engineer Ridhi Tariyal to allow women to collect their period blood and analyze it to learn more about their health. The other, a line of weed products brought to you by Whoopi Goldberg, is designed to soothe menstrual cramps.

Both of these products sound like no-brainers to me. But I’m not an investor. Tariyal and Goldberg both described meeting after meeting with potential funders who declined to invest in their businesses. “They always came back with: ‘That’s too niche a market,’” Goldberg said. Tariyal and her business partner spent a year pitching investors, and heard the same thing: “Someone told us that the product would only help women, and women are only half the population — so what was the point?”

You won’t be surprised to learn that venture-capital firms are, on average, 92 percent male. And a 2010 study found that companies headed by male executives received 98 percent of all investments. While this doesn’t explain their group-think that 50 percent of the population is too small a target market, it certainly accounts for the gender bias against two start-ups designed with women in mind.

Meanwhile, what are these mostly male investors interested in funding? In a great ironic twist, apparently they love products that have been traditionally marketed to women — as long as those products are branded with a techy slant. In The Guardian this week, Nellie Bowles wrote that the hottest food start-ups are just repackaging stuff that’s been sold to women for decades. She points to meal substitute Soylent (a de-gendered SlimFast) and a $700 juice machine called Juicero as prime examples. “Tech has become a brand unto itself, a veneer to rub on to otherwise boring, domestic business (protein shakes, a crummy juicer),” Bowles writes. “SlimFast is for women, and it’s boring. Soylent, though? I bet they’re raising another round.”

The funding difficulties that plagued Tariyal and Goldberg’s new businesses and the investment success of Juicero and Soylent are two sides of the same venture-backed coin. How can the enterprising female entrepreneur beat the “it’s too niche” criticism and take advantage of the trend toward techifying stuff that’s long been marketed to us? Simple. Just hike the price, change the language, and sell it to young men.

Here are a few ideas for Silicon Valley rebrands guaranteed to appeal to 92 percent of tech investors:

Plats: Studies show the taller you are, the more respect you get in the workplace. Hack the system with these stylish shoes designed give you a few extra inches — and a lot more authority. Plats are engineered to look like sneakers, allowing you to maintain the casual appearance that’s important to your investors while boosting your confidence at the same time. It’s time to level up.

Biome: Not ready to go full Soylent? Try supplementing your diet with Biome. Our team of scientists can confirm that eating a small container of this uniquely engineered dairy product every day will keep your gut bacteria and your bowels operating with maximum efficiency. Plus, it tastes good. Like, skip-your-biohacking-fast good.

BotuPen: Research shows that people form snap judgments within seconds of a first meeting. BotuPen, the latest innovation to put health technology in the hands of consumers, is a revolutionary way to temporarily reverse the physical symptoms of aging. A device that’s simple to use at home, BotuPen disrupts the antiquated cosmetic surgery industry and lets users ensure their face says “youthful innovation.” No more hiding behind a hoodie!

Stox: When you spend a lot of time private-jetting from meeting to meeting with investors, you’re at risk for pulmonary embolism. Beat the odds — and stay warm at the same time — with Stox, the innovative legwear for high-fliers.

Aegaeus: This partial-immersion-therapy technology allows you to practice mindfulness while at the same time cleansing your body. Stress is a major health concern, and the Aegaeus is designed to regulate water temperatures for optimized relaxation. The 2.0 version is sold with a suite of ecofriendly soaps that, when in contact with water, create thin spheres of liquid-enclosed gas for a more effervescent experience. It’s like Washio, but for your dishes. After a dinner party, a Blue Apron meal, or any night of enjoying the inefficiency of cooking at home, simply tap the app and someone will arrive to handle the kitchen cleanup. With, you’re free to return to your laptop as soon as the meal is over.

Notch: Let’s face it: A lot of important networking still happens around alcohol, even though distilled spirits have a suboptimal effect on the body. Notch offers the unique flavor profile of a traditional Scotch whiskey, with fewer physical side effects like hangovers, dehydration, and weight gain. With Notch you can skip the calories, not the happy-hour event.

Pitch these ideas with the confidence of a mediocre white man. You can rest assured that an investor is never going to bring up the fact that they’re “only” for 50 percent of the population.

Appeal to Investors by Making Start-ups for Men