When I arrived for the first day of TechCrunch Disrupt NY, my conference app full of meetings and pics of my new contacts, I squirmed my way through a packed Startup Alley for my first meeting.
I expected the Day One feeding frenzy. The $2,000+ ticket prices set a high bar on audience quality. Having worked for years as an events marketer, I know very few people are willing to pay that much just to “hang with the tech set.” This community means — and does — business.
What I didn’t expect was having a such a hard time finding my interview subjects — each a woman tech founder — in this sea of people. The STEM gender gap remains wide, with women representing less than 10% of professionals in eight of the top STEM fields according to Girls in Tech.
So I expected a 5%-ish community of female founders to stand out easily from their male counterparts. Happy to report I was wrong. CEOs, coders, investment bankers, international advisors….dozens of women launching, pitching and promoting tech businesses.
I had the opportunity to speak with five female founders whose launches span marketing, data, digital, virtual communities and breastfeeding. Yes, you read that correctly. Breastfeeding.
Here’s part one of my two-part feature on the Women of TechCrunch, their must-do advice and how they view opportunities — and work still to be done — for aspiring women entrepreneurs in STEM:
Kate Bradley Chernis is Co-Founder and CEO of Lately, MRM application that manages marketing activities and outcomes in one place, one click. Prior to launching Lately, Kate was a corporate marketer heading up multi-million dollar media campaigns, trying to keep herself and her team on top of it all through complex, but highly-efficient Excel workbooks. She recognized most marketers shared her pain and needed something better than Excel, so she took the startup leap and partnered with a small team to build a simpler, all-in-one automated solution.
Kate’s Tip: “Moving in to the tech space can be ruthless. It’s a competition; with customers, with investors. Some women want to be touchy-feely and nice. You obviously need to be human, but you’re still talking mostly to men. I learned the power of my voice and that learning to speak forcefully is critical.”
Keeping it real: “I’ve had investors tell me they haven’t invested in other companies because women talked too much like women. I think that’s crap, but that perspective is still out there. This is your company. YOU are the boss. Talk like one. You need to own them.”
Next up? Big Data. The “gotta have” that eludes, or at the very least, confuses the savviest of CEOs. Not Megan Kvamme, CEO of FactGem, cloud-based service that allows users to integrate and analyze data and surface actionable insights without hiring a host of engineers. An experienced revenue-producing investment banker, Megan kept hearing customers and investors struggle with the time and effort getting meaningful insights from disparate data. She went from investor to founder, launching FactGem to meet the growing need.
Megan’s Tip: “Get a great advisory team. I surrounded myself with people who understood the problem and shared my vision to fix it. But you need people who are both supportive and will challenge you along the way; people who will knock on you a little bit, be hard on you, because that’s how you develop great products.”
Keeping it real: “We’ve got to change the narrative about women in tech. I had someone recommend that I should stand on stage and behave more like a man. Being 7 months pregnant at the time, that was going to be difficult, but that kind of advice is still coming out of the community. I don’t need to stand like a man. I need to stand like a strong woman who helped create a great product.”
Two founders sharing a common message: You, ladies, are the leader. With a good idea, the right resources and a “won’t take no for an answer” fearlessness, the tech startup field is open and eager for more women entrepreneurs….heels optional.