It really is a woman's dot.com world

'It is a well-proven finding that women bear stress better than men'
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The Independent Online

A few days ago a young, but nice US-based site, kibu.com, closed down. Nothing unusual about that. But kibu.com had more than 50 per cent of invested capital still untouched in the bank. The site has only been running for a few months, and the lady CEO has managed the cashflow cautiously enough to avoid running out of money.

A few days ago a young, but nice US-based site, kibu.com, closed down. Nothing unusual about that. But kibu.com had more than 50 per cent of invested capital still untouched in the bank. The site has only been running for a few months, and the lady CEO has managed the cashflow cautiously enough to avoid running out of money.

The whole thing smells of a big rat: to close a company that is performing on plan and has plenty of money in the bank is pretty much unheard of. Most customer-facing brands need at least 18-24 months to make their mark, and a few months of operation is much too short a time to disprove a concept.

However, the main kibu.com investor, Jim Clark (of Netscape fame) pulled the plug, vaguely citing market difficulties. Those who remember Jim Clark from his previous life will be forgiven for linking his investment decision with the fact that the CEO of kibu.com was a woman.

In the dark ages of internet, back in early 1996, I visited Clark's offices at Netscape headquarters. Somewhat disconcerting was the fact that all the staff were white and male, except Jim's secretary and a PR lady.I had certain difficulties hiding my gloating when a few years later the Netscape ship sunk. I have always suspected that their demise was somehow a comeuppance for behaving like primitive misogynists.

Venture capitalists like Clark have been involved recently in a number of high profile dot.com company rescues.

Quite a few were cases that there wasn't any obvious reason for a resuscitation action but the CEO was a man, sometimes a golfing buddy of the venture guys, or sometimes just simply another guy. This seems to be happening quite a bit on our own shores, with a number of recent cases where female community sites were closed down prematurely and female CEOs left high and dry as their investors pull the plug.

It seems that a few companies run by female CEOs have been wound down in haste, while those headed by a male CEO are often given a helping hand way beyond the call of venture capitalist's duty.

It's an attitude that seems to be a legacy of the view that the men are the breadwinners and therefore their careers are to be taken seriously. Men have traditionally not been perceived to be expendable, as they are seen to have dependents. Therefore, the social cost of their careers going down the pan was always considered high.

However, it really is time to revise that old assumption. On the other hand, female CEOs these days are often breadwinners and quite a few are single mothers. Therefore, they often have a lot more to lose if things go pearshaped. So if you weigh the need to rescue male or female CEOs, in terms of social costs it is clear that women are where the backing should be.

However, even disregarding social niceties, it is a well-proven finding from the terrain of occupational psychology that women bear stress better than men, respond well to pressure and handle crises in a more steady manner than male executives: you don't see women running tantrums. Women in technical areas these days are usually former engineering types who have a systematic and methodical approach to problem solving and if my investment was in trouble, I know what kind of CEO I would like to sort it out. Not the testosterone-driven aggressive maniac, but a steady, focused and good-with-people individual who gives others the sense of leadership and structure when under pressure. Therefore, venture capitalists, being on the whole a logical lot, should think rationally and support their female CEOs in times of crises, as it is the women who are likely to emerge in a better shape from the current shake up of the industry.

The best examples are there for all to see, from Think Natural, The Lastminute, that is holding well in the midst of the dotcom carnage, or Yahoo! Europe, all led by formidable women who seem to be stronger after every turn on our rough internet journey. Remember Jim Clark and the demise of Netscape - if you think that women are expendable, bad karma will come and get you and your investment.

eva@never.com

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