The gender gap in investing, and what Robbie Hardy is doing about it

Robbie Hardy is an entrepreneur and angel investor who’s on a personal mission to fix the gender gap in funding – you know the one, that women-led startups get only 2% of venture capital.  As the founder and chair of xElle Ventures, she’s doing something about it. Today, Robbie talks about what all investors can do to help solve the problem, what she looks for in founders, and what mistakes she sees entrepreneurs making all the time.

Transcript

Voiceover: Welcome to First Check, a podcast so you can learn how to be the next great venture capitalist or angel investor.

You’ve seen the Uber’s, Google’s, and Pendo’s of the world; the 10 X to 100 X returns. And you want to know how you can get in on the action. As a partner at Cofounders Capital, Host of First Check, Tim McLoughlin has invested over $43 million in startups. And on this podcast, he’s going to share with you what works and what doesn’t so you can be ready to write your first check.

On each episode, Tim brings on investors and founders so they can tell you the ups and downs of venture capital and what lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Today’s guest is Robbie Hardy, founder and chair of xElle Ventures, an early stage Angel Fund for women founders BY women founders and investors. xElle’s Mission is to invest in the ideas, products and services of women. Here’s the problem – only 2 and a half percent of venture capital funding goes to women-led startups – and Robbie is on a personal mission to fix that.

On the show today, Robbie talks about what all investors can do to help solve the problem, what she looks for in founders, and what mistakes she sees entrepreneurs making all the time.

Here’s the host of First Check, Tim McLoughlin.

Tim McLoughlin: Robbie, how you doing? 

Robbie Hardy: I’m good. How are you? 

Tim McLoughlin: I am doing great. I’m doing great. I know that our, our guests and our listeners are going to be in for a good show listening to you and about you, hearing about– more about your background, Robbie, why don’t you take us, take us back. Take us into your days as an entrepreneur and into an investor and just give us a little backstory on you. 

Robbie Hardy: Okay. So, I spent 25 years in the corporate world. I was very successful, but I just wasn’t very fulfilled, and I thought, “There’s got to be more than this.” So I thought, “You know? I’ll just resign, figure it out,” because I was so burned out.

But the fact that I was a woman, and so I was kind of a needed commodity in 1993 for a publicly held company. And so, they suggested I take a paid leave. Anyway, so I thought, “Okay, you’re going to pay me to go figure out my life. I’m happy to do that.” And they were actually very good to me.

So, I can’t say bad things about them. But I realized I was ready to do something else. I was ready to, you know, I was in the consulting business doing software. And we did it for, you know, Fortune 500 companies and you would build the same solution over and over and over again. And these were big $50 million deals back then.

So, the only way you could do better or, you know, professionally for yourself or your team was fill more hours, which was really not my thing. So, that’s kind of, you know, what kicked me out. So, I took a little leave and I figured it out, and I decided that, you know, I would bootstrap something. And so, the goodness of the people who thought maybe it was something wrong with me became my first client.

So, we did consulting work by day and we built the product, the first product on nights and weekends. And so, that’s kind of how I got my start. I did raise money. And I didn’t raise a lot of money. I only raised $600,000. I was on my way to raising some venture money. Actually, it was Intersouth Partners. I was talking to Mitch Mumma back in the day. And then, you know, our product was out there, we were just starting to get traction, and we were in the right place at the right time. And we ended up selling the company to Seagate two years later. So, right time, right place, et cetera, et cetera. Did that, you know, built a couple of other software products, never built a, you know, a sales company, sold those.

But right after I first exited, then I became an angel investor. And that was sort of paying it back. You know, you, somebody invested in you and been believed in you for whatever reason and you think, “Well, you know, maybe I should do that too.” I had no clue what I was doing. You know, the good news about having been in the corporate world, that experience was helpful to some extent in the entrepreneurial world.

But, you know, it was back in the day when you actually didn’t do anything in the corporate world. You just talked and went to meetings and whatever, and you had a team that did everything else. And so, you know, you become an entrepreneur and you’re on your own and you need to look in the mirror and say, “Who’s going to do that? Who’s going to do that? Oh, I’m going to do that.” So then, the whole idea of paying it forward and saying, “Okay, well, someone invested in me, I’ll invest in them.” I thought I understood it because I’d been on the entrepreneur side, but I really didn’t understand it. 

Tim McLoughlin: That’s what I try to explain entrepreneurs. They don’t always understand that, you know, we have to raise money too. And then there’s not, there’s an investor way of looking at this stuff.

Robbie Hardy: Right. And just the whole way of looking at it. And so I liked it and I think you do too. I like to educate entrepreneurs about what it’s like to be on both sides of the desk.

Tim McLoughlin: Right. And so the $600,000 that you, you raised, that was angel money that you raised?

Robbie Hardy: It was, yeah. It was individuals at $25,000 a piece the first round. And then they came up again. 

Tim McLoughlin: And then those poor venture capitals didn’t get a chance to get in on your deal. Mitch Mumma and — 

Robbie Hardy: No, it took them a long time, you know? You know how that game goes, “You’re not quite ready.” 

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah. 

Robbie Hardy: You know. And so.

Tim McLoughlin:  I want to see a little more attraction. I’ll give, I’ll give him–

Robbie Hardy: A little more attraction.

Tim McLoughlin: He missed out on that. 

Robbie Hardy: Yeah, we did. We went down both paths at the same time. 

Tim McLoughlin: Gotcha. What was the difference in that experience? Pitching angel investors and what you see today, pitching angel investors versus pitching venture funds?

Robbie Hardy: You know? When I look back on what I did, I was much more casual and more myself in pitching angel investors. I didn’t try to figure out what I thought they wanted to hear. I just told the story. And when I played in the venture, you know, trying to raise money there, I spent so much time trying to figure out what I thought they wanted to hear or what I needed to have and what I– all that.

And so, it made it really hard. And so, it turns out, you know, sometimes the questions they would ask, I thought, well, “That’s what I told the angel investors. Why didn’t I say that here?” So, a lot of that stuff, instead of just doing what I do and telling me your story so that you can, you know evaluate it in your terms. I was trying to figure out what your terms were so I could tell the story that way, which is completely wrong. 

Tim McLoughlin: You know, Robbie, one of the things I think is interesting is venture funds have such a specific thesis, oftentimes, that I can tell entrepreneurs are coming in, pitching us what we want to hear so that we’ll make an investment. So that it fits into our thesis.

Robbie Hardy: Oh, absolutely.

Tim McLoughlin: And I’ve often encouraged entrepreneurs to cast a wider net when it comes to institutional money, because you’re going to need your story to align with the investor’s thesis. Don’t change your story so that it fits a specific investor. What do you think about that? 

Robbie Hardy: I agree. I mean, one of the things that, you know, because of my, you know, that corporate, “Be prepared,” kind of background. So of course, you know, you do your homework on, and I tell entrepreneurs to do the same thing. Do your homework on who these investors are because you’re going to be in bed with them for a long time if you, if you ended up doing a deal together. Doing that, doing your homework and understand their thesis or what it is, and then telling your story, or, you know, you’ve got to, you’ve got to pay attention to it. You can’t become what they need if you’re not already that. No matter how hard you try, how clever you are, you know, all those things, it doesn’t work that way. 

Tim McLoughlin: Got it. So, so you raised angel money and now you’re writing angel checks, but think back to when you were an entrepreneur, what were some things that your angel investors did that were particularly helpful to you?

Robbie Hardy: I was so, I mean, I can’t tell you how fortunate I was. They made introductions, they set up a marketing advisory board, they invited people. Most of them were entrepreneurs who had been successful, and they paid it forward. And so I ended up with a, you know, a monthly marketing team that I could run things over.

I mean, they were extraordinarily helpful. And they asked hard questions, which was also good. You know, “Why are you doing that? What about this? What about that?” Getting that kind of feedback. So, I was very, very fortunate to have really good investors. 

Tim McLoughlin: Well, that that’s great. We always try to say that if you’re raising capital, we try to get more than money. Right? 

Robbie Hardy: That’s my advice to entrepreneurs too. I mean, yeah, the money. I mean, you couldn’t, it’s not that you can’t get the money anywhere, but you can choose where you get the money. And so, make sure you get the money with people you want to spend time with. I always say, “Do you want to be on an airplane sitting in the middle seat between two of your investors? And if you don’t, then don’t do it.”

Tim McLoughlin: That’s a, that’s a great way to put it. I hope that some of our portfolio companies would answer yes to that question. 

Robbie Hardy: Well, we’ll see. 

Tim McLoughlin: We can! Maybe I’m going to bring that up at the next board meeting.

Robbie Hardy: Yeah, nobody’s going to know the big difference. 

Tim McLoughlin: So, so talk about your evolution of, of putting Excel together. What drove you to start Excel? How it’s evolved over the last, you know, year plus? 

Robbie Hardy: So, Excel actually has its roots in 2000. I became an angel investor in 1995, as I, you know, after I sold my first company and I had always been the only woman in the room in my corporate life.

And I found myself similar to that in the angel world. And after about five years being with all of these men, I thought, “God, it’s got to be time to have women in here.” So, I thought being the entrepreneur that I am, I’m much more an entrepreneur than an investor. It’s like, “I can do that. We’ll get– raise a fund, and it’ll be all women.”

 Well, it took me a long time to get 6 women and then I opened it up and no. So the first, the first women’s angel fund was 6 women and the 75 men. And that went on to be very successful and all that. And then it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to do a women’s angel network and have women investors. It’s just that, you know, things didn’t come to, they didn’t come together until I moved back here after having been gone for 10 years and thought, you know, it’s time, if I’m going to do it, I better do it. Invited 25 women, some who were angel investors before, and some who had never done it before. 

I thought they were all accredited and said, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking. What do you think?” 14 of them said, “I’m in.” And we spent most of 2019 putting it together. The difference in this time is I think I had learned over many years of doing a lot of things is, you know, letting it happen more naturally, instead of the “Robbie Hardy let’s drive this down here,” it was more collaborative and listening.

What is it that’s going to make this work? What’s going to make this happen? Because for me, you know, increasing the number of women angel investors is hugely important because you know, we, as we say, we complain about, you know, men not investing in women. Well, women need to invest in women. You can’t complain until you do it yourself.

So, those women got, we got together, and we met, and we talked, and the overriding issue was they wanted to be in control of their money. So, that’s where the angel network came from instead of a fund. And now that we’ve done it for almost a year or just about we’re in a year, what’s been kind of a weird year.

It’s hard to decide, do I want to be in this deal? And if I want to be on, how much do I want to be in for? And so, over time, as they got more comfortable with the whole process, then the fund is, has emerged. And when we, you know, we started this with that whole “Crawl, walk, run” approach. And so, now we’re in the walk phase.

Tim McLoughlin: Got it. You know, some of the benefits of an angel network are you can get the right people in the deal that you think can help move the needle for the company. And they can strategically pick which deals that they want to get into.

Robbie Hardy: Correct. 

Tim McLoughlin: But also with the fund comes a little bit more buying power and negotiating power with the deal, putting the right amount of capital into, into a deal. There’s some things that we’ve seen. Any other benefits that you’ve seen from, that you think from a fund rather than a network? 

Robbie Hardy: Well, I think in — from the entrepreneur’s perspective, I think it’s much better. Because it’s kind of a guess on what the network–you don’t know what people’s appetite is going to be, you know?

You ask if you’ve decided we want to do this? And you don’t know how many people are really going to come in? What’s happening in their personal life? What’s happening in the world? So, at least with the fun, you at least know that, you know, this money is committed, so we can decide how much of that we can do.

So, I think it’s a huge benefit for the entrepreneur. Not that network’s not great, because I think they are, it’s just different strokes for different folks. And not having to sort of do that, we can spend more time on some other things. And it has attracted more women than the, than the network model. 

Tim McLoughlin: I love that you immediately went back from the perspective of what was it like for the entrepreneur? That shows your entrepreneurial roots.

Robbie Hardy: Yeah, I know. 

Tim McLoughlin: That’s great. Well, listen, if any, if any of our women listeners, female listeners out there, or male listeners that want to support Excel, certainly get in touch with me or with Robbie. I know she’s driving–

Robbie Hardy: Yeah, we’d love to have you work with us. 

Tim McLoughlin: –A lot, driving change here in our ecosystem, so. As a former successful entrepreneur, Robbie, what characteristics do you look for when you’re evaluating an entrepreneur now, when you’re considering investing?

Robbie Hardy: Well, I, I look for confidence, not arrogance– is probably one of the first things. And I think a lot of that goes back to my corporate time where I think I felt like I lived in a bubble of arrogance. And so, it was just hard to kind of figure out what was real. And sometimes that’s a front for insecurities and other issues.

And so, trying to peel back that onion. So, that’s really important. And sometimes, you know, you can– I think after we’ve been doing this a long time, you can kind of see– obviously, you know, understanding the business that they’re going into. You know, what problem are you solving? And how are you going to solve it? And how do you, you know, what do you know about that?

I don’t expect them to know everything at all. I think that would be crazy. And particularly at our stage, because we invest such small amounts of money that wouldn’t be expected. But what you have put forward that you really understand it. And one of the interesting things, and I’m sure you’ve seen this is, you know, you get some numbers or percentages or whatever. How much of the market? Or how much money they’re going to spend? Or whatever.

And you ask what the assumptions are. You know, how did you come up with this? And they have no clue. And that’s a huge red flag. And then you kind of peel back the onion a little further and they say, well, they didn’t do them. They either hired someone to do them or some relative did– or whatever, and then they just took them and plugged them in.

And so to me, that’s a big red flag is if you– I don’t care if they’re crazy and wrong, but at least you understand what you’re doing and you realize, you know, you’ve gotten yourself into it. And you know, you want them to have skin in the game, whether it’s, you know, real money or “Sweat equity.” 

Tim McLoughlin: “Sweat equity,” sure. And one of the things we always look at, and this goes to the entrepreneurs out there is, you need to know the assumptions driving your business model, like Robbie said. The last thing you can have is a model that just says, “Well, 10% month over month growth is going to lead us to this.” 

Well, what caused 10% month over month growth? What are the assumptions that you’re driving? What– was it more marketing spend? Was it more sales hires? What caused that growth? Do you understand with those metrics? And have you created a baseline that you can test off of? Even if they’re wrong. I think most sophisticated angel or early-stage investors know that the assumptions are going to be wrong. Are you tracking them? 

Robbie Hardy: Well, but you know, and I think that I now ask people when they, I start asking about, you know, “What’s behind this?” And they start fumbling. I just say, “Well, did you create these?” And you would be shocked. At least I am. I’ve been shocked in the last couple of years of the number of people who had– who did not do them.

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah, we see that quite a bit, which is–

Robbie Hardy: And so, and that’s– and I don’t do that. I mean, having someone check them. And I know, and everybody says, “I’m too busy to do them. So I had blah, blah, do them.”  Well, if you’re too busy to do them, why are you talking to me? 

Tim McLoughlin: Yep, that’s your business. That is your business.

Robbie Hardy: Right. Right. And even if you don’t understand– you know, people are afraid of financials, they’re afraid of numbers. And it’s okay. I don’t really care. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated. It just has to be thought out. And whether you were right or wrong, but it, you know what it is. 

Tim McLoughlin: So, let me tell you an objection that we went through at Cofounders Capital. And when we were raising our funds, and our last fund specifically, it’s important to have a fun thesis. But the more narrow your fund thesis is, the objection can be made that it’s going to inhibit fund returns. So, Cofounders Capital, we’re focused on primarily North Carolina-based B2B software companies, which is a pretty seed stage, which is a pretty narrow fund thesis.

But Robbie at Excel, you’re investing in female entrepreneurs, which is restricting your deal flow and– how do you handle that objection if somebody brings it up?

Robbie Hardy: Well, we do get it. I have had people say, “Why won’t you, why won’t you invest in men?” And I say, “Well, you know, because we’re investing in women.” You know, “We’re trying to balance the scales so that we have more women investors and more women entrepreneurs being funded.”

Once we get that scale balanced, I’m more than happy to have men join us, but this fund is for women investors, for women founders only. And I get it if it’s not for you. It’s not for everybody. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to do it, but I get that, you know, it’s not your thing. So yeah, I just have to stand tall on it and we know that we’re– but there are a lot of women out there.

And the other thing is by doing it for only women who sometimes feel uncomfortable in the man’s world, they feel more comfortable. And so, they come forward. And by coming forward, they bring more deals to all of us. So, there’s many reasons on both the investor side and on the company side. 

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah. I think two things that you hit on that we’ve often said is that the return of capital is one value prop. It’s the leading, probably dominant value prop for most of your investors. But there are other value props, invest in your own backyard where you care about, invest in female entrepreneurs, which is something that you care about, and make a good return, I think is important. 

And on the other side, you and I have talked about this in other times that the marketing you’re going to be able to get, and the deal flow from female founders — and maybe you’re uncomfortable pitching somewhere else, or that you can market to. You’re going to get outside deal flow from that group, which can lead to better returns. 

Robbie Hardy: Well, and it really is. I mean, you know, the returns from Excel. I mean, you know, we are doing, you know, we’re not doing equity, we’re doing debt. We’re, you know, it’s the 8 to 10%. You know, revenue share will — is going to be a higher return. So it is a, both about the returns. This is not the unicorn play. And so if you are a unicorn investor, this is probably not for you. But if we want to move the needle to have — find more talented entrepreneurs, we get more women to the table. It’s going to make a big difference. 

Tim McLoughlin: So Robbie, you’re trying to solve a problem in which female founders are getting far less of the venture and investment dollars than they deserve. Venture capitalists, like myself, other angel investors recognize generally that this problem exists. I would say that’s universally accepted. What can we do? What would you recommend a fund like Cofounders Capital? What should we do differently to help solve this problem? 

Robbie Hardy: Well, I mean, first of all, you’re already, you know, I mean, we’re, we’re having this conversation. So, you’re already out there saying, you know, I want to know what Excel is seeing because it might be something that works for us.

So, I think there has to be more openness. So of, instead of sort of looking at– when I first was doing Excel and I would tell people about it and we were going to keep it simple so that we, you know, for various reasons and they’re like, “Well, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of.” And they’d sort of hang up. And I’d be like, “Well, there you go.”

And so, over time that has improved. But I think it’s being open to new paradigms. This is not like your venture fund or some other angel funds. So, in this case, so pay attention, you know, go to events you’re invited to, figure out how to share deal flow, because we are obviously going to send anything that makes sense to us for you.

And so we– that in reverse, and you’ve done that. And I think that, so it’s like– you know, the other thing I’m trying to be more diverse than just women. We want women of color also. So, now we’re going to more events like that and putting things out there. So, I mean, it’s really putting yourself out there. And when we get to, you know– you’re not going to hire a lot of people.

I mean, there’s not, it’s not like, you know, venture angel is a place for a plethora of jobs, but it is a place where there’s a plethora of interns. And so, I think by, you know, really carefully choosing your interns and not trying to have them, people look like you, but people have, you know, great experience and smarts. It’s– I mean, it has to be a conscious effort. Otherwise, you know, this white male venture front won’t change. I think, I think we’re at a tipping point here where that is not the case. And I just want to make sure we keep going and we don’t get too comfortable not doing that. 

Tim McLoughlin: So, one of the things we talked about before was promoting your fund to female founders. And as you’re doing that promoting, and you have that, that marketing push for, for female founders, I think you’re just going to get a flood of deal flow. What are the first, maybe one, two, three things that you’re going to do to screen out those deals so you can be efficient at your job?

Robbie Hardy: Well, first of all, we have to make sure they are women founders. You would not, you’d be shocked at the number of deals we’ve got, there’s not a woman on the, in the company. So, we have some fundamental things we go through. They’re very basic, you know, it’s a woman, it’s one, you know, they’re either founders or they have some controlling interests.

And then it’s what I said before, is that they, you know, they have domain expertise. What we do when something comes in to be screened, we have a screening committee and they look at it, and once it meets all the basic criteria, then somebody looks at, you know, what’s there. Is it a business that can benefit from debt?

You know, there are not– it’s not for every business because debt is different. And of course, you know, you have to be able to pay that back. And equity, you pay it back hopefully, in many times over, but it’s a long time away. So, we look at all those things. Once we get through that, and we say, “Yeah, this is a business that makes sense.” if it’s just an idea, we’ll talk to them and mentor them, but we won’t let them go through the normal funnel. 

And then we look at, you know, what’s the experience? What’s the expertise? You know, the same kind of things that you do. You know, if we ask the simple questions, “Tell us about how you got here?”

So, you know, we have varying levels of, of screening. So far, the screening, the way we do it has been okay, because we’ve had so many deals that were outside of North Carolina or were not women. Now that we’re moving to a fund, and I think we’re, and we’ve already seen a lot more deal flow. And we’ve put a few more, you know, placeholders in there.

And sometimes when we start talking to them, and you probably know this too, and you realize that they’re not coachable or they don’t appear to be coachable, they’re not– they don’t know how to ask for help. You know, there’s some triggers, you know, things that you ask and suddenly you’re like, “This is a waste of time,” because particularly, when we’re doing debt and small amounts of, you know, we need to be moving the needle for them. They need to be able to pay it back. 

Tim McLoughlin: Right. That’s great. Anything an entrepreneur can do to get an immediate no that they wouldn’t be expecting? Like, any mistake an entrepreneur could make that would be an immediate no from you? 

Robbie Hardy: Yeah. Not knowing, not knowing their assumptions. Not having any domain expertise or being arrogant, and not being confident.

Tim McLoughlin: Confidence, not arrogance. Comes back again.

Robbie Hardy: Yeah, confidence, not arrogance. Because it’s– Tim, and it’s probably unfair because sometimes they are, the arrogance comes from insecurity. So, you just have to, you know, you don’t want to throw somebody away because they were being bold or whatever that day. But generally, when we go through it’s– yeah, if they can’t give us answers to what’s the basis of their business? In fairly simple terms. 

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah. I think there are always questions an entrepreneur has to be able to answer. But at some point, there’s a tipping point where an “I don’t know” is okay, as long as–

Robbie Hardy: Oh my God, yes.

Tim McLoughlin: –There’s an explanation, why? I don’t know. I’d rather have an “I don’t know” than a 20 minute– a story that circles the question and never really answers it.

Robbie Hardy: Right. I think, and yes, and I think that’s a big part of the, you know, being willing to ask for help, being willing to say, “I don’t know.” And then if you say, “Okay, well, you don’t know. Do you, do you think you know how to find out? Do you need help finding that out? Do you need our help? Can you find it out on your own?”

We do do a lot of mentoring because we get a wide variety of– the thing is, sometimes people come to us when really they would be better off with an equity investor. If they don’t need inventory, they don’t need, you know, things that kind of, move it along. So, and we do that.

Tim McLoughlin: Right. Well, that’s the responsibility of the entrepreneur, which is to vet your investor. Is this the right fit? 

Robbie Hardy: Right. And that’s –yeah. Vetting your investor, that’s been an interesting– yeah. That, we’ve, that’s been a big failure. We’ve had many that have obviously not understood that we only invest in women. But they always, I mean, I get it as an entrepreneur. You think, “Well, I’m different.” I have a product for women, which is obviously, oftentimes not true either, but. 

Tim McLoughlin: So, let’s fast forward 10 years. What do you want Excel to be at that point? What are you? What’s the vision for the fund? 

Robbie Hardy: Well, that’s easy for me. I mean, I want there to be Excel Ventures all over the country. They may not be called “Excel,” but there are lots of women investing in women. I mean, I want there to be hundreds more women in the angel investors– in venture world than there is today. And therefore, of course, more women founders getting more money than the two and a half percent. I don’t know what the percentage is, but I want it to be so close to equal, that it’s no longer a talking point.

I don’t want to have to hear anybody say women only get two and a half percent. It’s just ridiculous. So for me, Excel Ventures just being a small piece of it, but you know, you think you can do big things. I just want to be re– have the model repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated.

And it’s not about– it’s hard to not let men in as investors. And I know that. And sticking with this until we get where we need to be. Sticking with this all-women investor group so we grow the number of– you know, I want women who have never done this before. And we have that in Excel. We probably have– half have never done it and half who do. And it’s amazing what you learn from those who have never done it before. So, I just want there to be, you know, lots of women angel investors, and lots of women founders getting investment. 

Tim McLoughlin: If you had to give a minute– you talked about educating female angel investors that had never done it before.

Robbie Hardy:  Right.

Tim McLoughlin: If you had a minute course to teach them about angel investing, maybe the do’s or the don’ts, where would you start? 

Robbie Hardy: Well, I think first of all, I would say my, when I, when I do talk about it, I say, you know, “This is not rocket science. This is really just jargon.” Every industry has its jargon. And there are plenty of things about investing that’s complicated, but the basic tenants are not. You know how to borrow money; you know how to pay it back. You know how to– so these kinds of things– so, if I can get women to open up their mind.

I mean, when I was in– first went in the software business, I mean, who knew? I mean, talk about business, it’s you know, it’s just filled with acronyms. I mean, it’s just this whole jargon city. As like, lots of things. And, and invest– angel investing is the same thing.

So, recognize that we can make it very simple and you can learn as you go. And it’s proven to be true. So, give it a chance.

Tim McLoughlin:  Robbie, I consider that my job security. Is learning that jargon. I don’t want everyone to know that it’s that easy. 

Robbie Hardy: Yeah, well see, that’s because– yeah, because it’s your job, right? We’re a volunteer army here, so.

Tim McLoughlin: Right. All right. So, I’m going to ask you a hypothetical here. You have to write a personal check, a check from Robbie Hardy. You meet with 10 companies you’ve never met with before and have to write a hundred-thousand-dollar check into one of those 10 companies. You only get to ask them one question. What’s the question you’re asking those companies? 

Robbie Hardy: What problem does your product or service solve? And why? 

Tim McLoughlin: And how long would you expect them to take to answer that question? 

Robbie Hardy: Well, I’d like it to be an elevator pitch, but I know that’s not fair. So, I would, in, in a conversation, I would hope within five minutes. You know, if they’re new to it, you know, they may stumble along the way.

You know, an experienced entrepreneur would be able to– she’d be able to tell me that, you know, in a minute. 

Tim McLoughlin: But that’s only because it’s memorized in that one minute and it’s happened so many times. 

Robbie Hardy: Yeah. But it’s funny when you, if yeah, yeah. But that may be true. That may be true. Good point. 

Tim McLoughlin: But every entrepreneur knows the answer to those questions.

Robbie Hardy: Oh my God. No, they don’t. 

Tim McLoughlin: Well, every entrepreneur that you want to invest in does. 

Robbie Hardy: Oh, yes. I’m sorry. Yes. I was going to say most entrepreneurs can answer that. Yes. Yes. The one that, yeah. What does, yeah, and why and why? Yeah. 

Tim McLoughlin: Yeah, that’s great. 

Robbie Hardy: I mean, I don’t want to, yeah, there’s a lot. I mean, there’s probably 10 questions I could choose, but that’s just what popped in my head.

Tim McLoughlin: Well, yeah, that’s the, that’s the one you went to, so that’s great. Well, Robbie, as, as always thank you for, for your time. And I hope to be co-investing with you on many deals with Excel and Cofounders together and working together to help, you know, change the narrative around women entrepreneurs, and women investors, and especially in our state of North Carolina.

Robbie Hardy: Yes. And I, it’s great to be here with you and I know you’ll be very helpful, and I know all your listeners out there will figure out how they can help too. 

Tim McLoughlin: Great. Thank you. 

Robbie Hardy: Okay. Thanks so much.

Full Episode Transcript

First Check is hosted by Cofounders Capital partner Tim McLoughlin, and is a production of Earfluence.

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