Startup founders, especially fintech founders, are overwhelmingly men, non-people of color, and non-immigrants. Sometimes I go into meetings and I see a prototype of what an entrepreneur “should” look like. As a first-generation immigrant and a young woman of color in a male-dominated space (fintech), I don’t exactly fit the bill.
But I’ve realized that’s actually my strength. My style of leadership has always been more collaborative and more about the collective whole. And that has translated into how I want to run a business and how I come across.
Throughout my founder journey, I’ve come to realize that my experience being underrepresented in most facets of my identity as a woman founder in fintech is not a disadvantage at all - it’s actually my superpower.
Underrepresentation as a VC Backed Founder
I grew up in Cupertino or “the land of Apple” and, like many others, viewed Steve Jobs as the prototype of what a founder should embody. Spoiler alert: Steve Jobs looked nothing like me. More importantly, his famously autocratic leadership style couldn’t be further from mine.
As a founder, I’m working to step into the fact that there is not only a different way to lead that is successful, but in many ways a more effective way to lead. I’m starting to feel confident that some of these hetero-normatively feminine ways that I’ve chosen to lead my company, build my product, and co-design it alongside our community, are actually a strength even though they are different.
First Generation Immigrant and Woman of Color
As a first-generation immigrant from India, a core cultural value is humility. When I first went to raise venture capital, I realized that I was being conservative in talking about my projections for my company’s potential (despite McKinsey calling Women’s Financial Services the single largest opportunity globally).
However, I knew that if I was going to impress investors, I’d need to have – and articulate – a big vision. I developed a pitching style that felt authentic to who I am and where I am from. I’ve found relying on data, stories from thousands of women I’ve spoken with, and my fintech expertise has personally been the most effective strategy.
I also listen to a pump-up playlist that I made that has all of these women who I love. There’s a lot of Beyoncé, Cardi B, Lizzo, and Rihanna. I listen and I’m like, “Yes! Preach!” That’s blasting in my ears before these meetings; songs from women who are unapologetically themselves. It gives me a lot of strength. I hope to meet one of them one day and say, “Thank you, you were there when I needed you".
Woman in Fintech
Growing up, I didn’t have a ton of role models who looked like me. And so one person who has kept me going has actually been my mom.
She’s amazing. She rebuilt a life for herself and our family in America. She’s an educator and so aspirational. But her one fear has always been the financial system. She relied on my dad because she didn’t feel very confident in the realm of finances, so when I started working at Visa, it was a lot more to me than just a job. It was something I always felt was important: To be financially independent and to understand the system, because that was something my mom always encouraged.
On those days when I’m like “entrepreneurship is really hard” — and there are a lot of those days — I always call my mom and she says, “I feel so much more empowered in financial services because of the work that you’re doing and it’s important. Keep going.”
I truly believe the world needs more product services designed by women and for women. There’s so much opportunity. In fact, every single woman, just because of her experience, has a billion-dollar idea because most products and services really aren’t designed with you in mind.
When I was rejected from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the credit card I was the PM for at Visa, I realized I wasn’t alone in lacking credit history. I saw that women were disproportionately having negative credit experiences (like rejections, lower credit lines and higher interest rates), despite statistically being better to lend to. Moreover, the credit system was never designed to center women - we could be rejected from credit cards without a male co-signer until 1974. This personal experience was the genesis of my company, Sequin.
If you’re using a product and you’re like, “Hey, this isn’t really working that well for me” it’s probably not you. It’s probably the way it was made, which means you have an opportunity to make a better product for yourself and for other women. That’s really exciting!
Why Representation Matters
I get really inspired by women entrepreneurs who are breaking all types of ceilings, especially recently. You see these unicorn companies founded by women who have amazing stories. Even just hearing the challenges that they had and how vulnerable they are about it is inspiring.
This is why representation matters. I hope to be that for the next generation of entrepreneurs as well. That’s the best part of being on this journey.
How do you view underrepresentation in your own life as a superpower? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!