Friday, October 24, 2014

The Venn Diagram of Hard Odds: Female Technical Founders With Venture Funding

The Venn Diagram of Hard Odds: Female Technical Founders With Venture Funding (From Re/Code)

The odds are not in their favor.

Only three percent of venture-backed startups are founded by women. An even smaller slice of that three percent, if you can imagine it, are technical founders. And it felt like they were all at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., last night, where about 200 current and aspiring technical founders got together to mix and mingle.

“It’s already hard enough getting women in computer science — then getting funding?” said 19-year-old Nathalie Scrimshaw, a symbolic systems major who said women needed more than one or two iconic success stories. “There’s a critical support system that’s missing. The Sheryl Sandbergs and Marissa Mayers, they’re kind of stand-alones. We wanted to bring more women in to share their stories.”

The technical founder — favored by influential investors like Marc Andreessen — is the person who codes, rather than sells and markets, the startup.

Panelists Amy Chang,  Rebecca Lynn, Mariam Naficy, Diana Williams, and Zenobia Moochhala

Canvas Venture Fund Panelists Amy Chang,
Rebecca Lynn, Mariam Naficy, Diana Williams, and Zenobia Moochhala
At the University’s on-campus Black Community Services Center, a little shingled brown house with a patio, attendees enjoyed crab cakes and wine (though some of the undergrads reported that bartenders were checking IDs). The women of the student coding group She++, which had organized the event, talked about the obstacles they’d have to overcome, and about how they see their male classmates drop out to start companies but rarely see women do the same. They said around 20 percent of the computer science majors are women, but that many don’t want to take the risk of starting their own companies.

What are some of the challenges that female technical founders may face?

“It might be hard to convince people you’re actually technically capable,” said 23-year-old computer science major Omosola Odetunde.

“When you say female technical founders, they’re facing the problem of being technical and a founder and also going to a VC, which brings its own set of challenges,” said Saguna Goel, a 21-year-old symbolic systems major. “Like a Venn diagram.”

Inside, a panel of speakers took the stage, and women filled the folding chairs quickly. The room was packed, and some stood around the edges. Rebecca Lynn, general partner at Canvas Venture Fund and the evening’s moderator, said there were some benefits to being female: “In corporate life, it’s been helpful, people remember me — ‘Oh, you were the woman in the room,'” she joked.

To introduce the panel, Lynn said, “These are the women who have beat the odds. And what odds they are.”

She repeated those odds — that three percent. It’s a familiar statistic, but always jarring. Many of the undergraduates in the room shifted in their seats. They looked at each other. A few of them sighed.

Lynn asked the panelists if, during their careers, they had followed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s “karma” plan for getting raises. At a women’s conference earlier this month, Nadella had infamously recommended that women not ask for raises, and instead wait and expect good karma to come their way.

The panelists each said they had definitely not followed the karma principles.

“I’m a full believer in karma, but not when it comes to raises,” said Amy Chang, the CEO and co-founder of Accompani.

Lynn challenged all the young women in the audience to ask for a raise in their very first year of employment, to get used to the experience. “Just try,” she said, and then opened the floor for questions.

Nellie Bowles
One student asked how, if she has a male co-founder, to make sure equity and salary is fair between them. Another student stood and asked what criteria the panelists had used to choose supportive mates.

“That is the most important decision you’ll ever make in your whole life,” Lynn said. “When I talk to guys, and they say, ‘My wife can never do what you do,’ I look at them and say, ‘Probably  cause you don’t help that much.'”

“And the No. 1 question my husband gets is: ‘What is it like to be married to her?'” she said.

It was dark by now, and the students and panelists milled for more “networking time” on the patio, circling the panelists with questions. I asked Lynn why technical women weren’t holding demonstrations or marches. She said the best thing to do was to be a good role model, to reach out to young women and keep working at it.

Volunteers put away the folding chairs as a tap-dancing practice group started up, and the technical women headed back to their dorms.

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