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Upstart | Anu Duggal, Director of the Female Founders Fund

Upstart | Anu Duggal, Director of the Female Founders Fund

Posting in Finance | From Issue 08 January 27, 2014

The angel investor says not to invest in female entrepreneurs out of social consciousness but because you'll get a great return.

Anu Duggal wants to make one thing clear. Her soon-to-launch Female Founders Fund isn't some kind of affirmative-action plan conceived because female entrepreneurs need extra help.

“This is about opportunity,” she clarified – financial opportunity. Duggal believes there's a significant amount of money to be made from investing in women-led startups. With her new fund, dubbed F Cubed for short, she's set out to prove it.

Right now, between 4 and 7 percent of venture funding goes to women-led ventures, according to networking non-profit Women2Women. In this era where an investment fund that puts 25 percent of its investments in female-led companies earns gleaming accolades from Forbes, F Cubed is one of the few seed funds created with the specific purpose of investing in startups with female founders. Duggal has gathered investments from a number of “high-net-worth individuals” and is partnering with Ed Reitler of the law firm Reitler, Kailas and Rosenblatt.

“I think there's a real opportunity in that women who have built businesses for larger companies or for startups now are venturing into opportunity that's tied to their own needs or consumer demand that they've seen in the workplace,” she said. “You look at the consumer spending and it's really all around women. Nobody has really tapped into this as a niche, this community of women who are starting these type of companies.”

Between investor meetings at Manhattan's Soho House, a private club in the Meatpacking District, Duggal is holding court with her Macbook and iPhone on a couch on the edge of the club's dining area. There's an economy to her mannerisms – she's unfailingly polite but reserved with her words.

Duggal has investing in her blood. With a father who worked in finance, she spent her childhood moving across the globe from India to Tokyo, Hong Kong and the United States. She's been a serial entrepreneur since her days of childhood lemonade stands. In 2005, she co-founded India's first luxury wine bar, launching a trend among the country's growing middle class. In 2010, she co-founded Exclusively.In, a GILT Group-like e-commerce site for South Asian fashion. Through her own investments, she earned the title of one of Business Insider's top angel investors in New York in 2012. In addition to her current work with F Cubed, she's currently interim CEO of Doonya, a Bollywood dance-inspired fitness and media company that has recently partnered with Reebok.

Her business has helped define her as a person. “It's my life,” she said. “I’m very passionate about everything I do, so then it becomes your life.”

In November, F Cubed confirmed its first seed recipient, Manicube, a startup that offers 15-minute manicures at work. The concept exemplifies the kind of investment business that Duggal seeks: the two women founders noticed a need among their busy professional peers – manicure maintenance without a time-sucking trip to the salon – and they created an efficient service that women can access from their smartphones. The company has already gained clearance to bring manicures to employees at more than 100 companies, including Barclays, Citigroup, Google, HBO, JP Morgan and Yahoo.

“I think you're seeing a lot in the on-demand space,” Duggal noted of current startup trends, “so bringing services and products to people directly, sort of the Uber model.”

Duggal said her respect for other investment funds comes from how well they support their entrepreneurs after the initial investment has been made. F Cubed will offer startups guidance in addition to capital, depending on where the company is in its development. For Manicube, which has already launched in New York and Boston, Duggal says F Cubed will help to connect the company with future advisers and investors.

“I think I have a good network, which I enjoy sharing to help other people in any way that I can. Through the different types of work that I do, I just end up meeting a lot of people from very different backgrounds.” She credits her fundraising work for a number of those connections. Duggal sits on the board of a New York museum, last year served as finance chair for her friend's campaign for deputy mayor of New York and in 2012 did a fundraiser for the Obama re-election campaign.

In addition to attending London Business School, Duggal went to cooking school in France. She speaks French fluently and these days still enjoys cooking when she has the time. “I also do yoga, which I love,” she adds, “and I just enjoy New York.”

There are several qualities in a good angel investor, she said. “I think it's meeting a lot of companies, understanding what to identify, what is it that really identifies a good opportunity, and talking with other angel investors to get a sense of the landscape. And I think a lot of it is intuition, especially when it's the early stage of an investment.” 

She credits her trust in her own intuition to her globetrotting childhood. “I think it gives you a certain level of confidence,” she said, “because every three years I moved to a new country and you're always meeting new people, always having to put yourself out there, which I think in business is also very relevant.”

She also drew courage from her experience with her first large venture, the wine bar she opened at age 25 in India, a country she hadn't lived in since infancy. “People in India were drinking a lot of wine,” she explained, “so I had the idea. I found a local partner, who also shared my enthusiasm for the idea. I didn't know anything about wine, I hadn't lived in India, I didn't know anything about starting a wine bar. It was very scary. But everything seemed easier after that.”

Duggal says the best advice she's gotten as a woman in business is learning how to say “no.” “Time is the most precious commodity that we have now,” she said, “and learning how to say 'no' is sometimes hard.” When presented with a request she asks herself, “A year from now, is this really going to be a good use of my time? What am I going to get out of it?” And when she decides to decline, she does so tactfully. “I just say, 'I’m just fully committed, I don't feel like I could do justice to what you're asking me. Happy to help in an informal capacity, but not with a title attached to it.'”

Duggal expects to close the Female Founders Fund in five to 10 years. She hopes the fund can provide a two or three times return to its investors. And if she succeeds, she plans to open successively larger funds in the future. “I want to prove that when you invest in women you get a great return.”

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure