Women in Technology

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Tech Startups: A Safe Bet

by Shaherose Charania and Shivani Sopory
09/20/2007

Shaherose Charania is a cluetrain manifesto junkie and is currently at Sequoia-backed Jajah, trying to revolutionize communications for the globe. She co-founded Women 2.0 in April 2006, which received the Young Leaders Award from Santa Clara County's Commission for the Status of Women, endorsed by members of Congress.

Shivani Sopory is an auditing machine at a Big Four accounting firm (KPMG, LLP), tearing through balance sheets and income statements to make sure that everything is in order. In addition to her full-time job, she co-founded Women 2.0 (an organization aimed at increasing the number of young women entrepreneurs and helping them to jumpstart their businesses).

At the launch event for Women 2.0 (an organization aimed at increasing the number of young women entrepreneurs), the panelists were asked, "What are the unique challenges you face as a woman in technology?" Oddly, not one woman on the panel had a direct answer but rather they rephrased the question to "What challenges do you face working at or leading a tech startup?" That was it. Very simply, the panelists didn't feel that being a woman had anything to do with the status of their startup.

The number of women in tech startups may be low today, but this represents an opportunity for this sector and for women worldwide to build upon. Unlike traditional small businesses, technology startups provide an opportunity that can be scalable, globally. Based on personal experience and interaction with hundreds of male and female tech startup junkies, there is no reason why there shouldn't be more women in tech startups. In fact, here are some reasons why you should consider joining their ranks:

1. You Have the Power to Create

There is a clear difference between pursuing a high-tech start-up career versus having a traditional academic or consulting career. There is an element of risk coupled with an opportunity to create. There is an adjustment to lifestyle with an opportunity to have full ownership. There is no learning curve or internal processes, you must think quickly and execute. If you have the desire to change the world with your own passion, a tech startup may be right for you.

"Starting a company gives you an unprecedented opportunity to serve people with original designs using pure creativity sourced within your own imagination from a blank canvas." -Marleen McDaniel, CEO Emeritus, Women.com (now iVillage)

2. You Can Set the Standard That It Is Meritocratic

Being a woman in a tech startup becomes an issue only by perception and it is easy to wonder, "Why am I the only female in this room?" Set the perception of your gender as a non-issue and focus on the real issues, such as "How do we make this startup succeed?"

"I'd never want to work anywhere other than a tech start-up because of the amount of influence every employee has on the shape the company takes. I'm excited to come into work every day and juggle press requests, software bugs, and marketing campaigns because I have so much more responsibility than I would elsewhere. Start-ups are almost complete meritocracies. Everyone at work is valued according to how much they contribute to the company, rather than by age, position, college, gender, or salary. Being a nineteen year old, and the only female employee at Spock, I can probably appreciate this more than most." -Maia Bittner, Engineer, Spock.com

Startups are—and to succeed, must be—meritocratic. Limited funding, time, and even office space restrictions don't allow for hiring anyone who doesn't add real value. Larger companies and firms have internal diversity goals whereas startups don't have such goals in their early stages.

3. You Are a Good Leader

Studies have shown that the transformational leadership style comes naturally to women. In an early stage startup, the transformational leadership style that is people-centric and nurturing is the strategy to build a passionate and committed team. In contrast, transactional leadership that involves command and control does not ignite the passion in individuals to create the next Google. A tech startup idea is only as good as the people who execute it.

"Women get high ratings on exactly those skills needed to succeed in the global Information Age, where teamwork and partnering are so important." -Rosabeth Moss Kanter, HBS Professor

4. You Can't Fail!

The process of converting a passionate idea into an actual product with a business model is not for the faint of heart. A small fraction of startups achieve financial success. However, the entire process increases your marketability and professional network even if the startup doesn't succeed. You will carry transferable experiences and really know what "not" to do and be aware of your personal strengths and weaknesses earlier in your career.

"Forget widgets and iPhones—women in technology are the hottest trend of 2007. I'm excited and inspired to see so many female entrepreneurs proving that their innovations can become true business successes and as they innovate in this sector." -Rebecca Weeks, Director of Business Development at Real Girls Media Network, Inc.

As women in tech startups evangelize entrepreneurship as a way of life, the numbers will increase and we will see the numbers mimic that of a viral campaign. Today, we find 10% of tech startups have a female CEO, Founder, or President (Stanford GSB, Project on Emerging Businesses)

At the same time, across all sectors, "every day, 420 women go out and start their own businesses—twice the rate at which men do so. And these businesses are growing revenue, profits and jobs faster than business as a whole." -Margaret Heffernan, Forbes.com. There is a tremendous opportunity to grow the number of women in tech startups.

Do not be afraid to embark upon your own self-made career path, set your own perception, believe in meritocracy, and leverage your inherent strengths. Women with a passion to change the world belong in tech startups where they can realize these passions and truly impact the world.


Series creator and editor Tatiana Apandi Recommends: a company like Ycombinator if you need some help getting from a brilliant idea to the early stages of funding. Some basic tips specifically for women to keep in mind when creating your own business: http://www.best-business-skills-training-info.com/startup-capital/Start-Up-Capital-For-Women-Owned-Businesses.html. A ton of resources for women entrepreneurs around the world: http://www.internationalentrepreneurship.com/Women%20Entrepreneurs.asp.


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