A freshly reminted Utah-based tech company is finding success in disrupting industry norms that have put women-owned companies and women investors on the sidelines when it comes to the venture capital game.

And Fullcast has successful names in technology backing the venture.

A 2023 study helped define just how prevalent and pernicious gender disparities are among venture-backed entrepreneurs and venture capital investors. The findings of the Harvard Business Review report show companies founded solely by women account for less than 3% of all venture investments and women investors represent less than 15% of those writing checks to venture-supported businesses.

One interview conducted as part of the analysis reveals a glimpse at the perceptions and performances behind the profoundly unbalanced statistics.

“Ultimately, venture capital at the early stages is a people thing, ‘I’m betting on you,’” one male investor told Harvard researchers. “People are just more comfortable betting on somebody that is more like them, looks like them, talks like them, went to the same schools, eats the same food, goes to the same restaurant, drinks the same wine, goes to the same country club, all these little things.

“They’re not overtly racist or overtly discriminatory, it’s just comfort. Ultimately, it’s a comfort thing.”

Making inroads against this inequitable venture playing field, however, is Fullcast, a revenue operations software platform that was just acquired in a $34 million seed round which included participation by some 30 individual women investors.

Fullcast co-founder Amy Cook talks with Fullcast CEO Ryan Westwood at a company gathering in Huntsville on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Cook participated in funding Fullcast. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A matter of priorities

Fullcast co-founder and chief marketing officer Amy Cook said cultivating and supporting diversity, in both investor demographic and company culture, is a top priority for the firm.

“In a space traditionally dominated by men, it’s invigorating to see a diverse group of investors rallying behind Fullcast,” said Cook, who is also the company’s chief marketing officer and an investor in the business. “Our journey is not just about revolutionizing RevOps (revenue operations); it’s about creating a space where diverse voices thrive.”

Cook said her experience as a veteran tech executive, a vibrant professional network and the reputations of her fellow co-founders, helped tip the scales toward equity when it came to drawing investment interest to the Fullcast seed funding effort.

“In terms of why did we attract so many women, part of the reason is I’m a co-founder and have great friends that want to support me,” Cook said. “When you empower other women, we bring our community along with us.

“And, our CEO (and Fullcast co-founder) Ryan Westwood has made a very strong point that he wants women to succeed. I think that’s another reason. He’s made it clear that he wants to have a diverse community.”

Westwood, who previously headed up the sales-related software platform Simplus, was recognized in 2021 as one of the top 50 “Best CEOs for Women” by Comparably in ratings conducted by women employees from some 60,000 companies.

At the 2021 Utah Business Outlook Summit, Westwood shared some insights behind the effort to grow Simplus from nothing to $400 million in annual revenues in just seven years. Cook was also a member of Simplus’ executive team.

“My philosophy is that culture eats strategy for breakfast,” Westwood said. “If you have an inclusive culture where everybody feels like their ideas, their thoughts are valued and they are valued, you are going to have so much more success than if you don’t.”

Fund the world you want

Whitney Johnson, CEO of tech-enabled talent development firm Disruption Advisors, is among the Fullcast investor group. She said diversity matters when it comes to both building your company demographic and investor pools.

And, having worked with both Cook and Westwood in the past, Johnson said she knew Fullcast’s founder/leadership team was one that believes in supporting women and building equity into their corporate culture.

“Bringing in different viewpoints, different ways of seeing the world is critical and an approach that leads to best outcomes. We need men’s and women’s voices in the world,” Johnson said. “You need to fund the world that you want, invest in the world that you want. I want to invest in entrepreneurs that I know and like, including men and women.”

Johnson said Fullcast’s mantra of equity and inclusion may still be an outlier in the current iteration of the business world, but she believes a tide shift is afoot and not only works to identify those type of bonafides in her own investment strategies but is also sure to alert women investors when the opportunities arise.

Fullcast co-founder Amy Cook meets with team members at a company gathering in Huntsville on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Cook participated in funding Fullcast. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It all starts with wealth-building

Fullcast investor Trisha Price, chief product officer for business analytics platform Pendo, notes that part of the dynamic that’s shaped the demographic of venture capital investors is a matter of wealth-building opportunities, or in the case of women, a lack of those opportunities.

“If you look back over the past several decades, women have been underrepresented on corporate boards and C-suite positions,” Price said. “In order to participate like this, you have to have made money and be in a position, the fortunate position, to invest. Women are still playing catch-up at the executive equity level to reap the benefits of those positions, and be capitalized at a level that makes investment activity possible.”

Reflecting some of the same findings of the Harvard study, Price said she believes that a “closed, old boys network” is still very much in play in the venture capital community and many investors tend to “just go back to what’s comfortable and familiar.”

The perceptions of competence

Harvard researchers conducted experiments that revealed some of this behavior is driven by attribution bias, a psychological effect in which individuals show a tendency to assume that someone’s identity or character, rather than outside factors, are responsible for the situation they’re in.

“When people see that a female founder has a male investor, they assume she must have received his investment because she is competent, and her startup is strong,” the Harvard report reads. “But when people see that a female founder has a female investor, they attribute her investment success to her gender rather than her competence.

“As a result, new potential investors assume that a female founder is less competent if they see that she has only been backed by female investors — regardless of her actual qualifications.”

Cook said she believes Fullcast’s success in attracting women investors has been one driven by multiple factors but noted that having founders and executives with observable track records that reflect their collective credibility, particularly when it comes to equity issues, is a powerful component.

“I think you have to establish yourself long term in a very authentic way as being committed to diversity,” Cook said. “That’s different than just running a company and saying you support DEI. Put your money where your mouth is and do what you say. And do it for years.”