August 26, 2021
Women's Equality Day: Allie Fleder, SimplyWise
In celebration of Women's Equality Day, QED is shining a light on the female founders and CEOs of companies in which it invests.
First up is Allie Fleder, the co-founder and chief operating officer of SimplyWise, a New York City-based startup that allows consumers to digitize all of their important documents, bills and papers in one place. SimplyWise builds better, simpler productivity and personal finance tools for modern retirement.
As a female founder in what has historically been a male-dominated financial technology industry, what hurdles have you had to overcome in your professional journey?
Most women I know in male-dominated spaces have experienced everything from unconscious bias to outright harassment. In my last business, we spoke with an investor who said his funding was contingent on my co-founder going out with him. I’ve heard much worse from friends.
Perhaps more than anything, female founders across industry often find that they are the only woman in the room—so the scales of power are tipped against us.
Early in my career, my boss called me in after a big meeting and asked why I had taken a seat on the side, as opposed to sitting at the main board room table. I told her I thought that as a junior, it was my place. She shook her head. She pointed out that other young men at my “level” had sat at the main table. Then she said: “No one is going to invite you to take a seat the table. If you want to be at the head, you have to grab that chair for yourself.” Since that moment, I have more consciously taken up room to take my place in “men’s spaces”, and I encourage other women to stretch out and do the same.
How is SimplyWise making a difference in people’s lives today?
Our team is working to empower seniors to take control of their data.
Modern retirement demands navigating a ton of paperwork, from medical bills to receipts to mortgage and Medicare statements. Those important papers live in filing cabinets, drawers, shoeboxes, billing portals, emails, phone galleries. And searching for what you need when you need it is a nightmare. We’re building tools that aggregate everything you care about in one place—instantly accessible, easily shareable—so you never miss a thing.
What are the next steps to ensuring female entrepreneurs are supported and funded in the same way that male founders are?
It may sound obvious, but first, investors have to actively want to make the change – and it is going to be a change. In the US, women represent more than 40 percent of entrepreneurs but secure less than 3 percent of venture funding.
Next, investors need to understand their own stats and recognize their own unconscious biases. How many female-founded companies pitched you in the last year (vs. mixed-gender or all-male founding teams)? How many of each did you invest into? It’s important to dig into the discrepancies to see how you can change the course.
For example, research has found that women founders are asked different questions than their male counterparts (by both male and female investors).Women are asked more negative, prevention-oriented questions that focus on risks or potential losses (“How are you going to protect your market position against competitors?”), while men are asked more promotion-oriented questions focused on potential gains (“How are you going to gain customers and dominate the market?”).
Finally, firms should work to have equal representation across their partnerships. Investors hold the cash and therefore power, and when they’re mostly white men, it makes it hard for women and people of color to tip the scales. Unfortunately, most female founders I know have wound up bringing a white guy (who isn’t a co-founder) into their investor meetings because they “knew” it would help their chances. If the people from whom these women were seeking funding looked more like them, bringing in someone to “bro-out” would be less important.
What resources do you turn to when you’re seeking support and guidance?
On a daily basis, I resource with my incredible co-founders—I deeply respect them, and we all come from very different backgrounds, so we have a lot to learn from each other.
I also organize a monthly call with other women in fintech (a friend of mine and I started a community in the pandemic) in which we ask for counsel on something we’re struggling with. This trusted group has been an unbelievable support for me with all of the small and huge stuff that comes with starting up.
What is one piece of hard-won advice that you would recommend to any young female entrepreneur?
Don’t let imposter syndrome stop you. Nobody—up and down the ladder and across industries—has any idea what the hell they’re doing… until they’re in it and have to be figuring it out and asking for help as they go.
Everyone has million-dollar startup ideas, but what separates entrepreneurs from the pack is that they’re the ones who actually take that idea and start building. Don’t waste time doubting whether you’re the right person to launch your idea. Get in there and start testing whether there’s a market. Start building today. You’re stronger, smarter and more capable than you even know—but you’re only going to find out if you start up today.