Why I view being an underrepresented founder as my superpowerFeatured

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!

I love your story and what you're doing!
Thank you, @allisonliem!
Very excited about what you're doing. I did some work in the underbanked market years ago. Together with alternate credit agencies/data, it's a huge market opportunity. Congratulations. I'm half Chinese (dad) and half white Australia (mum). I don't look either. Here, I am often thought of as Puerto Rican or Pacific Islander. I stood out both looks wise & culturally in all Chinese elementary school in Hong Kong & in a very white boarding school in Sydney. I also have dyslexia & ADHD so was pretty disruptive at school including university. My classmates at Chinese school, in 2nd grade, used to ask me why I wasn't ashamed when I enthusiastically shouted out the wrong answer all the time. That was my first real memory of realizing how culture influence behavior. Once I got into the workforce, my ability to see opportunity and how to work around an existing system was value. Being an "other" gave me an understanding of systems approaches, how culture & context influences behavior and to be curious all the time. Curiosity is sort of ADHD but started as a coping mechanism - a way to connect with people who had many assumptions about me & how I didn't fit in - which started in elementary school. I do think it has helped me to be likeable. And to make less assumptions about people. Now, biracial is much more common but back then, it was definitely very rare.
Thank you for sharing your story, Amanda! I especially appreciate the "less assumptions about people" - there's so much to learn from each individual's unique story.
The data on women getting rejected also reminds me of the "blind" auditions for orchestra & removing names from resumes. Outcomes were very different. We are wired to be bias as a survival mode but in this many ethnicities in a country world, bias is a killer.
Yes, so true! I love Invisible Women - too many instances of a world designed for the "default male."
Thank you for pioneering new paths for women, particularly women of color! (BTW, I joined the Sequin card waitlist. I'm looking forward to using it.)
We can't wait for you to try it out! Thanks for joining.
Thank you for sharing and helping to change my mindset. I identify as Chinese American and so identify with all that you’ve said.