Female Founder’s Leadership And Team Development Platform Attracts VC

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Center: Jennifer Dulski, CEO & Founder at Rising Team, with her leadership team

Rising Team

Companies increase their budgets on leadership training programs yet fail to receive results commensurate with their spending. Jennifer Dulski, an entrepreneur and an executive at tech companies, is changing that.

“Rising Team is the product I wished I had as a leader of teams throughout my career,” said Dulski. “While I was lucky to have access to coaching and training, I never felt like I had the tools to take what I learned and bring it to life with my teams.”

The pandemic exacerbated the need for team-building tools—employees felt disconnected. Yet, raising money was challenging even with a demonstrated need and a founder with street creds.

Dulski is among the few who have raised VC as a solo female founder. The percentage of dollars going to all female-founder teams dropped from 2.6% in 2019 to 2.1% to 2.3% during the pandemic, according to PitchBook. She raised $3 million.

This Founder Has Skills

Dulski was an executive at Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. She helped run Change.org, an online platform that empowers people to create and sign petitions to make change for five years. Notably, this is her second venture-backed company. She sold DealMap to Google. Dulski teaches management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and wrote Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Starter? about how people can start movements about causes they care about.

The through line for me was always that whenever I saw individuals and teams feeling valued, connected, and motivated, I saw organizations be more successful,” said Dulski. She had executive coaches and was offered training. But, “I felt like I was being taught to fish and then sent back to the lake with a binder instead of a fishing pole.”

Leadership training falls into two buckets.

  • A learning management system that you do by yourself. These systems often receive low usage because there aren’t any tools to bring the learning concepts back to your teams.
  • Facilitated live sessions, either in person or virtual, are very well-received. But they are expensive and hard to scale. These programs often don’t have the tools to bring back to the teams.

Using digital tool kits, Rising Team teaches managers new skills and how to implement what they’ve learned to become better leaders and empower employees. By helping teams understand each other better and build trust, Rising Team aims to enable leaders to succeed in a changing workplace.

The initial prototype was successful with a small group of managers who wanted a tool that assessed people’s natural talents, how they wanted to be appreciated, and their working style preferences. However, most leaders did not want a tool to use one-on-one with individuals; they wanted something to bring their teams together as a team.

In 2021, Rising Team’s launched a series of online kits that let leaders run engaging, experiential, interactive sessions with their teams, on their own, in person, or remotely. This version of the product has been enormously successful. Customers include large corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, and schools.

Even With Street Cred, Raising Capital Was Hard

Dulski bootstrapped the company for the first year, 2020.

The pandemic made Rising Team even more critical. Three-quarters of all knowledge jobs were remote or hybrid. Managers were overwhelmed, burned out, and needed more tools to bring their teams together when they no longer met in person regularly.

Even so, Dulski, an experienced fundraiser when market conditions are less than ideal, took six months to raise the initial seed round. She had raised money for her previous venture-backed company, Dealmap, during the 2008 financial crisis. In February 2021, Dulski raised $3 million in an initial seed round. The lead investor was Female Founders Fund.

“Fundraising is the only time in my life I ever wished I were a man,” said Dulski. “It just feels so difficult sometimes to raise money.”

The confidence gap between men and women—even for highly successful women—is real. “While I have felt highly successful in other parts of my life and work, that wasn’t the case for fundraising. But I was ashamed to admit it. Saying it feels like admitting defeat or giving an excuse. And it made me wonder if maybe my ideas weren’t good enough,” Dulski acknowledged.

Also real is the investment gap between men and women. Investment in mixed-gender entrepreneurial teams is on the rise, according to PitchBook. But the share of VC for all women-founder teams is decreasing. In 2019, 2.6% of venture capital went towards all-female founder teams, which dropped to 2.1 and 2.3% amid the pandemic. There are no numbers for solo female founders, but I suspect the numbers would be more dismal.

Investment in Rising Team has paid off. “Our ARR [Annual Recurring Revenue] is up more than 5X over the past year,” said Dulski. Businesses founded by women delivered higher revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested—than those founded by men, making women-owned companies better investments for financial backers.

Fundraising did get easier. In August 2022, Roble Ventures was the first to express interest, and they led the round. Dulski raised what she calls the seed plus round. “That round only took me three weeks. I was so surprised,” she said.

What obstacles have you overcome to raise money for your company?

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