Posts from Women

Motherhood and Entrepreneurship

The Gotham Gal wrote a post last week about motherhood and work. In it she argued that motherhood is a given for many/most women and that it hasn't gotten in the way of many great accomplishments by women over the years and we should not penalize women for the fact that they have another side project that they will be doing for the rest of their lives. She ended the post with the assertion that women were designed for this and that they thrive on it.

I've watched the Gotham Gal go right back to work a week after our first child was born because it was a startup and they needed her. She managed it pretty well. We used to swap days we had to be home early to relieve Betty (our child caregiver at the time). I've watched her take on another startup working in an office in the basement of our house selling ad space in between driving the kids here and there. And as she says in the post, she always had dinner on the table, always made sure the kids had what they needed, and always made sure our home was functioning. She still does that even though she's got something like a couple dozen projects going right now.

So on Mother's Day, I'd like to acknowledge that motherhood is simply a fact of life for many/most women and that it should not be a hurdle for women entrepreneurs. We just need the men in their lives (husbands, cofounders, investors, etc) to be supportive of their side project. It's a damn important one.

And on that note, I'm waking up the kids and going out to get stuff to make breakfast for our women entrepreneur and mother. Happy mothers day everyone.

#VC & Technology

Donors Choose Wrap Up

It's December 1st. November sure went by fast. And so the annual AVC Donors Choose campaign is over. And the results are in:

DC results 2010

We raised $22,400 for classrooms where young women learn science and technology. But because of the HP Match, that will actually be $45k.

More importantly we will impact the lives of 8,543 young women (actually way more because of HP). That's a lot of young women. Maybe one of them will go on to start an important tech company. Maybe one of them will go on to teach other young women. Maybe one of them will go on to get a nobel prize. Whatever happens to these young women, I am incredibly proud of this community's generosity. Thank you.

#VC & Technology

Women In Tech and Women Entrepreneurs Discussion

There was a piece in the WSJ on Friday about the dearth of women in tech and women entrepreneurs. We've been talking about this issue here on AVC and I was quoted in the WSJ piece:

“From successes come role models and from the role models come change,” said Union Square Ventures’ Mr. Wilson, who recently called for more diversity in the start-up world.

In the article, Rachel Sklar took a bit of a swipe at TechCrunch and Mike Arrington did not like that one bit.

He just posted a long rant on the issue on the TechCrunch blog. And guess what? He is using Disqus to host the comments to that post.

I would love to see this community join that conversation. I find the comment threads at TechCrunch to be a very different experience to what we have here at AVC. Maybe we can inflitrate and influence those discussions a bit. Maybe we can start with this issue.

I just did my part. I love commenting via Disqus. And I am so excited to see it on TechCrunch.


Tereza's Op Ed

The following is a guest post by our friend and AVC community member Tereza Nemessanyi, founder and CEO of Honestly Now Inc., a web and mobile social media platform which will release its beta product to the market in September. It was initially published by Reuters. The opinions expressed are her own.

Will the next Google be started by a woman?

After decades investing in “white male nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford,” venture capitalist John Doerr broke a pattern in July: he invested in a woman.

Not that Kathy Savitt was a risky bet.

The former CEO of American Eagle Outfitters and a senior executive at Amazon, Savitt built, a social networking and commerce site for ages 13 to 30. She grew it from 50 college and high school students to 15.5 million users in less than twelve months, leveraging natural networks of friends and social influence. In the web technology world, she’s a rock star.

Doerr, and his firm, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, are well-known for prescient, industry-leading investments including Google, Intuit, and Amazon. They estimate they’ve created 150,000 jobs.

But in an industry obsessed with placing bets based on what’s known as “pattern recognition,” women-led companies are funded less than 9% of the time. According to Shaherose Charania, founder of Women 2.0, this recently dropped as low as 3%. For women age 40+, the rates are even lower.

Savitt, a 47-year-old mother of two, breaks that mold.

Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, describes this more recent phenomenon: “There are more women in the world. They represent a greater share of markets and purchasing power. Being more proactive about increasing their presence in the industry just makes sense.”

Recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation and venture capitalist Cindy Padnos of Illuminate Ventures show high-tech businesses with women in leadership outperform the rest. They are more capital efficient, launching with 30%-50% less capital, generate 12% higher revenues, and have lower failure rates.

If women are so good at starting businesses, then why does it take them longer to start one? Well, according to a Tampa University study, women are bitten by the entrepreneurial bug later than men. Our startup sweet spot is between the ages of 35 and 45 — after we’ve finished school, gained professional experience, had children, and transitioned out of the early “interruption parenting” years. We are eager to apply what we know, to create new businesses on our own terms.

Nonetheless, the two-white-guys-in-a-garage stereotype remains the romantic ideal.

Consider Y Combinator, the tech industry’s most prestigious startup incubator.

Founded in 2005 and located in Mountain View, CA, Y Combinator’s mission is to introduce many ideas to the market quickly and cheaply, so mistakes are small and earnings arrive early. The model works.

It’s funded by big, smart tech money, which is backed by internet pioneers Paul Graham, Trevor Blackwell and Robert Morris. Its participants, who hail from around the country, get to rub elbows with the biggest names in technology. A Y Combinator badge is like flypaper for investors.

But it turns out that fewer than 3% of Y Combinator participants are women. According to Y Combinator partner and author of “Founders at Work” Jessica Livingstone, this ratio represents their applicant pool.

Now, I’m a swing-for-the-fences kind of gal so last year I looked into applying to Y Combinator. They require a three-month relocation to the Valley. Trouble is, I’m a 40-year old suburban wife and mother of two young kids from the New York. So no can do.

blogged and commented in recent weeks about it, and learned I’m not alone.

Leading venture capital investor and blogger Fred Wilson also blogged about the topic to his 10,000 daily readers. And out came a tidal wave — four times his average comment activity. Hundreds of women emerged from the shadows.

Do we need an “XX Combinator” for women entrepreneurs age 40+? Perhaps.

But many male voices of “a certain age” came out too. So did women in their 20s and 30s, without kids. So did African Americans.

They offered compelling alternatives such as the “Kids-In-Bed Combinator” — prime work hours from 9pm to 2am!

Or we could call it “NY Combinator.” The New York startup scene is breaking out. Great wins are happening for our home-grown, such as Gilt Groupe, Foursquare, Etsy and Tumblr. While these groups weren’t conceived by women, despite some of them directly serving that population, New York’s creative class does provide a mother lode of female talent. According to Richard Florida’s 2007 “singles” map, he counted 185,000 more highly-educated, creative single women than men.

These creative juices could be flowing to tech startups if they could get products to market and raise capital. We should grab this moment to support the diverse technology innovation that is popping up all over New York and start serving up the best of what New York — and everywhere else — has to offer, including young-white-guys-in-garages too.

It’s taken me, a Wharton grad with 18 years experience and several startups and an IPO under my belt, twelve months to get from idea to product introduction. In an era where speed-to-market is the name of the game, that is way too long.

Our country is in desperate need of jobs. Innovation creates jobs. And great ideas can come from the most unexpected of places. Including a mom from the ’burbs who yearns to build the next Google.

#VC & Technology

XX Combinator

Tereza, an AVC regular and active community member, wrote a blog post yesterday proposing that someone start XX Combinator, a Y Combinator style startup accelerator focused on women in their 40s.

Here’s the basic argument:

Y Combinator participants are for the most part very young — in their early 20’s. This is not when women would be most inclined. Women who start businesses like to know what they’re doing, and be trained and experienced in it. That takes up our 20’s. We have kids in our 30’s. Our entrepreneurial sweet spot is around age 40. Conventional tech investors are not really into this group and the metrics they look for are really hard for these people to hit. Most of the (few) women’s businesses that go big were funded by friends & family or strategics, not traditional angels and VCs.

She also points out that the Y Combinator program is purposefully focused on hackers and that is not a term often attributed to women. So Tereza proposes that XX Combinator come pre-populated with hackers, kind of like Betaworks is.

XX Combinator is a cute name and makes the point well. But I suspect a different model is required if this were to work. First, it is not so easy for 40 something women to move to silicon valley for three months. Second, if you have a team of hackers in-house, then you are an incubator more than an accelerator program.

But Tereza is right about a bunch of things. First, there aren’t enough women entrepreneurs. There aren’t enough women VCs. There aren’t enough women developers. The startup ecosystem is largely a man’s world and as a result, we see a lot of certain kinds of businesses and not enough of others. People are drawn to scratch an itch. If it is a 20 something developer, then they are scratching a certain kind of itch.

I know what Tereza is working on. I’m not sure if it is cool to talk about it here so I won’t. But it is the kind of idea a women in her 40s would be working on. And it is not an idea a 20 something man would likely work on all by himself.

Tereza is not alone in her evangelism. The Gotham Gal, who talks to and works with a lot of 40 something women entrepreneurs tells me that this group is “breaking out.” She told me about a conference in NYC this fall that she is involved in that is targeted at this group. And she told me last night that TED is working on a conference for women. Brad Feld wrote a great post yesterday about this topic. And he links to an excellent Eric Reis post that also articulates the need for more diversity (especially women) in the startup sector.

So maybe the time is right for an effort to build one or more efforts focused on helping women get started. These startup accelerators need a leader. Y Combinator has Paul Graham and his partner Jessica. Tech Stars has David Cohen and his partner Brad Feld. Seedcamp has Reshma and Saul. Betaworks was started by John Borthwick and Andy Weissman. So we need entrepreneurs to create these efforts, not committees, governments, or companies.

And we need entrepreneurs with a plan to deal with the realities that Tereza lays out. If there are entrepreneurs out there with the idea, the plan, and the passion to do this, please contact me. I’d be happy to help get something like this rolling.

#VC & Technology