5 Tips for Building an Equitable Early-Stage Company

Topknot’s values and pattern-aligned Founding Team

“You can’t retrofit equity” — Claire Shorall.

Claire Shorall and her founding team at Topknot recently raised a pre-seed round from prominent investors like Backstage Capital, Homebrew, and Aston Motes, among others — while also doubling down on their commitment to making Topknot an equity-driven company.

  1. Prioritize building a diverse cap table: The Topknot team focussed on authentically sourcing a racially and gender diverse group of investors. They fundamentally believe that finding diverse mission and values-aligned investors would put Topknot in the best position for long-term success. The intentionality paid off — and Topknot enjoys a very diverse cap table and track and publicize not only percent of headcount but percent of dollars.
  2. Bring your values into every process. Topknot built a framework to ask themselves how they are addressing race, equity, diversity, and inclusion before, during, and after projects are done. The result has been process and accountability structure that has imbued everything from job descriptions to user personas with these values, to content marketing decisions.
  3. Leverage advisors. Topknot recruited a diverse group of talented advisors that could help them bring an equity lens into their work in ways that both big and small. For example, as Topknot considered “what it looked like to authentically celebrate Black History Month?,” they leaned on the perspective of their advisors. Claire noted that “It’s not just that people are in the room, but the frequency and gravity with which they can use their voice. We’ve made our team bigger through authentic inclusion.”
  4. Develop accessible pricing models. Topknot developed a sliding price scale. They ask brief series questions to gauge a user’s ability to pay, and subsequently offer full, reduced, and “solidarity” pricing schemes. For users with limited ability to pay, their service is effectively free, and Topknot makes a point to not make users jump through hoops to demonstrate need. “True accessibility means it needs to be straightforward for people to get what they need,” Claire argues.
  5. “You’re either about it, or you’re not.” When Claire agreed to give one of their male advisors an equity figure greater than what one of their impactful qualified womxn advisors has asked for, she realized that the womxn deserved the same amount, and so she increased her equity grant. While the disparity was unlikely to have surfaced, Claire knew that bumping the womxn advisor’s equity was the right thing to do from an equity and integrity perspective.



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