Tag Archives: Women and high-tech

Female founders – an analysis from 800 (former) startups

I just decided to add a new analysis to my recent study of 800 (former) startups. Although the topic is an important one in high-tech entrepreneurship, I had never looked at it except anectoticaly in the posts with the tag #women-and-high-tech.

Eight female founders or entrepreneurs. I am not sure how many I would have automatically recognized. And you?

And here are the results I found. My apologies in advance as this work is far from perfect: I tried to identify female founders from their name and this is not always easy. I believe however I cannot be too far from the exact results.

So what does this say?

– There are 76 female founders in 825 companies, which says 9% of these former startups had a female founder. Now to make it worse, the total number of founders identified is 1644.
– It is in the biotech field, that they are most represented (hence Boston, Switzerland, California outside Silicon Valley)
– The good news is that the number is up to 15% for the last decade. Still…
– Now there are only 31 female CEOs, this is only 4% (remember that founding CEOs are a little more than 60% so this is even worse as some of these female CEOS are not even founders – see here if you don’t know what I am talking about). In fact, 20 of these women were founders and 11 were not…

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock (part III) – (the invisible) women in the workplace

The gender gap has become a much more visible issue in 2018 and Bock is no exception (even if his book is older). But before I mention what he says about it, here are two recent and very interesting references:
– The New Yorker just published an article about the gender gap at work and particular at BBC: How the BBC Women Are Working Toward Equal Pay.
– France Culture tells the story of Margaret Hamilton, a software programmer on the Appolo project: (in French) Margaret Hamilton, la femme qui a fait atterrir l’Homme sur la Lune.

Margaret Hamilton during the Apollo program.• Credits : NASA

Now Bock: In one study conducted by Maura Belliveau of long Island University [1], 184 managers were asked to allocate salary increases across a group of employees. The increases aligned nicely with performance ratings. Then they were told that the company’s financial situation meant that funds were limited, but were given the same amount amount of funds to allocate. This time, men received 71 percent of the increase funds, compared to 29 percent for the women even though the men and women had the same distribution of ratings. The managers – of both genders – had given more to the men because they assumed women would be mollified by the explanation of the company’s performance, but that the men would not. they put more money toward the men to avoid what they feared would be a tough conversation. [Page 170]

[1] “Engendering Inequity? How Social Accounts Create vs. Merely Explain Unfavorable Pay Outcomes for Women” Organization Science 23 no 4 (2012) 1154-1174 published online September 28, 2011, https://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/abs/10.1287/orsc.1110.0691

Bock mentions another study on page 137 about graduates from Carnegie Mellon that is also mentioned in the New Yorker article as “As the economist Linda Babcock and the writer Sara Laschever explain, in their book “Women Don’t Ask,” women are less likely than men to negotiate for higher salaries and other benefits. At Carnegie Mellon University, for example, ninety-three per cent of female M.B.A. students accepted an initial salary offer, while only forty-three per cent of men did. Women incur heavy losses for their tendency to avoid negotiation. It is estimated that, over the course of her career, an average woman loses a total of somewhere between half a million and a million and a half dollars.” Additionally “Even when women do make it to the bargaining table, they often fare poorly. In “What Works: Gender Equality by Design,” the behavioral economist Iris Bohnet examines data from a group of Swedish job seekers, among whom women ended up with lower salaries than their equally qualified male peers. “Not only did employers counter women’s already lower demands with stingier counter-offers, they responded less positively when women tried to self-promote,” she writes. “Women, it turns out, cannot even exercise the same strategies for advancement that men benefit from.” When women act more like men, she suggests, they are often punished for it. Lean in, and you might get pushed even further back.

Facts, Truth, Courage…

The word Start-up is controversial. Money, business are often the synonymous and at the time of the Paradise Papers, they do not have good press, with reason! I sometimes had to “defend” and I would still defend a world that is important … And more widely, I believe, we must fight to defend the importance of facts and a “dirty word”, truth, with courage. In a world where communication is confused with information (already at the beginning of the 20th century, Schumpeter explained that capitalism could not exist without marketing and advertising) it is important that the voices defending the facts, truth with courage be heard. For this reason, I have sometimes come out of the strict framework of technology, innovation and high-tech entrepreneurship to mention intellectuals who seem important to me. Harari, Piketty, Fleury, Stiegler, Picq.

A long introduction to mention a beautiful interview of Pascal Picq on France Inter this morning: “We must deconstruct male domination in Hollywood as elsewhere.” The link to the site in French is here. A brief excerpt: “Note: the bonobos, who are close to us, have not evolved like us. Homo sapiens is one of the most violent species towards its females, so women. The degrees of this violence vary according to time and culture. The dominant status is exercised with regard to Nature on the one hand, and women on the other hand. The behaviors of male dominance that are rooted in our human societies are the result of a behavioral evolution, and not of a natural and genetic determinism. In the bonobos, the female is dominant, the violence of the relations is mastered by the hedonic relations, and the bonobos live according to a model of gynocracy. The bonobos and the men did not have the same behavioral evolution. And I say that we can not blame our nature, as some do, in the principles of male dominance that have been imposed on humans. It is a behavioral evolution that has become embedded in agricultural societies and industrial societies. Historically, where foods or things are produced, men tend to take control of production and reproduction.”

I should have added that this interview is related to the Oscar granted last night to Agnès Varda for her career and coincidence or not, my previous article in French only – If you do not love me, I can tell you that I do not love you either – dealt with Sandrine Bonnaire, the actress of Agnes Varda in the magnificent Vagabond.

In all disciplines, scientific or not, complexity makes it difficult sometimes, not to say often, to assert truths. They seem sometime to be moving. But there are facts that one must always analyze as honestly as possible with courage and then we can come out with truths. Thanks to these intellectuals who work without dogma and help us understand the world.

And to finish on a “lighter” touch, here are two works by Obey whose artistic fight is magnificent!

Silicon Valley, 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, I entered the VC and startup world. What an anniversary! It was fun and exciting. I would have forgotten it if I did not have a lunch two days ago with people from Logitech. When we talked about Logitech offices in Silicon Valley, I told them I had a document from Businessweek which showed that Logitech was considered as Stanford’s Progeny.

I had to find that document and it was fascinating to go through this 50+ page special issue of Businessweek dated August 18, 1997 and entitled: Silicon Valley, The People, the Deals, the Culture, The Future – How it really works. So let me go through it again.

First the cover. This is a nice little quizz. How many people do you recognize? The answer is at the end of the post.

Second, the table of content. It could be the same today. So things have not changed so much. For example, the migrant factor; the craziness of the area, because of cost, stress; and the invisibility of women, this “subtle sexism every day”.

Third, the recurrent question of why the efforts to duplicate Silicon Valley have all failed…

There are the classical arguments: local governments offer tax incentives or small investments but have no hand in inventing or commercializing technology. And there is an interesting piece: Even private efforts to clone the Valley have fallen flat. Terman, the father of Silicon Valley, was hired in the 1960s to recreate the magic in New Jersey and Texas. He focused on establishing strong research institutions, like Stanford, that could provide a petri dish for bright ideas. But Terman was hired by large organizations, including Bell Labs and Texas Instruments Inc., and few company men were willing to chance a startup. ‘He failed, in part, because he overestimated the importance of academia and in part because he was hired by large companies with no entrepreneurial traditions.’

Finally, what are the lessons learnt? Well known and still valid today…

If you want the pdf, just ask me. This would be a private gift. Whereas putting the full document onlien would be copyrigth infrigement…

Answer to the quizz: A dozen of the Valley’s brightest stars: (top row, left to right) Larry Ellison, Oracle; Marc Andreessen, Netscape; Andy Grove, Intel; Al Shugart, Seagate Technology; Gordon Moore, Intel; John Chambers, Cisco Systems (bottom row, left to right) Steve Jobs, Apple Computer, Pixar; Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems; John Doerr, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Larry Sonsini, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; Lew Platt, Hewlett-Packard; Jim Clark, Netscape.

The Founder’s Dilemmas – The Answer is “It depends!”

The Founder’s Dilemmas is at the same time a fascinating and frustrating book. Fascinating because it’s providing very seldom seen (and mostly unknown) data about founders and high-tech start-ups. Frustrating because it is also seldom providing answers to the dilemmas founders may face. It took me the full reading of the book to finally understand that the answer Wasserman provides is that there is no best solution for a founder facing a problem, but that if he knows all possible situations, he might better decide based on his own motivation and … personality. So she or he might decide, not on rational criteria but more because of his personal inclinations!


The best illustration of this is Evan Williams who was a founder of Blogger, and then of Odeo (and then after the book was designed of Twitter). Williams had a very different behavior with the two start-ups. He was “control-oriented” with Blogger, hiring people in his close network, taking friends and family (and close network) money only and keeping management control to the point of firing everyone including his former co-founder and girlfriend. With Odeo, he had initially a “wealth-oriented” attitude, taking VC money and having a different hiring strategy. His inclination made him however buy back his investor’s stake, as he needed to control his start-up again.

Wasserman shows that the “3Rs” (Relationships, Roles & Rewards) are key features for decisions about the key dilemmas founders may experience. These dilemmas are classified according to the chapters of the book: Career, Solo-vs.-Team, Weak vs. Network, Positions, Compensations, Hiring, Investors, and Succession. Wasserman explains (or better-said describes) the various dilemmas founders face when taking decisions and shows that their decisions are very often dependent upon their motivation. Do they want to be Kings (power or control-oriented) or Rich (wealth oriented)? He does it with anecdotes (not so good and quite well-known) and with statistics (very good and not so well-known)

In summary I saw it more as a book for academics than for entrepreneurs and founders who apparently will not take better decisions after reading this book as they will be driven by their motivations, not their experience! At least they will be aware of it. It may be another illustration that youth and enthusiasm are as important as experience and rational behaviors!

One interesting puzzle Wasserman addresses is why individuals decide to become entrepreneurs, often thinking that they will become wealthy whereas this is entirely wrong. This has to do with control vs. wealth. You will need to read Wasserman if you want to know more.

Here are some more notes taken when reading. The next table is probably an essential part of the control-vs.-wealth dilemma.

Table 1.2 (& 11.1) – Wealth-versus-Control Dilemmas

Wasserman has many more interesting data and let me show a small sample:
– There are no real pattern in becoming a founder (age, experience, childhood influences, personality, family status, economic status), however early influences and natural motivations seem to be important.
– About age, he has seen a wide variation with an average of 14 years of work experience before becoming a founder (higher in life sciences). There is a specific group of founders with 0-4 years of experience.
– The main motivations are either control or wealth, but having an impact counts.
– Wasserman shows strong differences related to gender correlated with age. This is a must read but too long to be explained here…or are they, let me try [pages 33-35]

Tables 2 – Motivations of male and female entrepreneurs

Ethnic homogeneity occurred 46 times more often than not (and still 27 times more often to control for family ties). And it diminishes conflicts risks, they are therefore more stable.

Size of founders’ teams


Founding with friends…
– 40% of teams had prior professional relationships and 17% family ties.
– Each such relationship added a 30% likelihood of founder departure.
– As a summary

“A friendship built on business can be glorious, while a business built on friendship can be murder.” [Page 104]

Jobs and Wozniak is a good example: they did not clarify crucial issues and “he got paid one amount, he told me he got paid another. He wasn’t honest with me, and I was hurt… But you know… he was my best friend, and I feel extremely linked to him.” They eventually parted ways. [page 109]

About decision making: “Two people at the wheel is the worst way to drive. You end up going straight when either a right or a left would be better.” A reason why being three might be good.

Equity sharing

Woman compensation
There is a much greater gap in the preponderance of women than in their compensation. Only 10% were C- or VP-level (17% in life sciences) and 3% and 7% were respectively CEO. But the compensation was 5% below.


On BAs vs. VCs, Wasserman shows the usual dilemmas. Dick Costolo about too many BAs: “It was a recipe for disaster. I had 13 people who, now that they had $20’000 invested, wanted to call me and ask about […], taking 45 minutes of the CEO’s time when he should be running the business.”


Succession of CEO



Wasserman strangely mentions here: “What is entrepreneurship? A widely used definition is a process by which individuals pursue opportunities without regard to the resources they currently control”. It sound even romantic, but it has a dark side: founders are 60 times more likely to be resource-constrained than have all the resources they need. Lack of resources lies behind all the dilemmas described. [Page 333]

Founders who had kept control held equity stakes which were [half] as valuable as those held by founders who had given up both CEO position and board control.


There are hybrid paths, compromises between control and wealth, using “second-tier” solutions (hiring, investors) but Wasserman shows it is even riskier. Consistent decisions give a higher likeliness of desired output (either control or wealth).
So the answer to dilemmas is “it depends.” Be knowledgeable about options and consistent in your choices!

Wasserman opens new directions for research:
– Who are these special animals which obtain both control and wealth (Gates, Ellison, Jobs 2.0…)
– Serial entrepreneurs: they receive larger equity stakes, remain CEOs longer, negotiate better investment terms and might be more successful. Are they?!! (cf Serial entrepreneurs: are they better?)
– How often is a control-oriented founder able to sell a start-up for which he owns 100%, for $5M and how often is a wealthe-oriented founder able to sell for $100M a company of which he owns 5%…
– Wasserman is aware all this is specific to high-tech and the USA. What about outside these boundaries?

“Any honest model of a complex human phenomenon has to acknowledge many unknowns”

I plan to come back on the Founder’s Dilemmans with a look at recent Swiss start-ups situation…

Is there a bias against women in Silicon Valley? And in the technology world in general?

Why are there so few women in Silicon Valley start-ups? Why so few in technology in general? Why so few in science? And even why so few as famous cooks or fashion designers when they do most of this daily work at home? I do not have the perfect answers or maybe too many. The debate became passionate again a few days ago when Vivek Wadhwa criticized Twitter for not having female board members, first in the New York Times article Curtain Is Rising on a Tech Premiere With (as Usual) a Mostly Male Cast then in a follow-up article he wrote for TechCrunch My Response To Dick Costolo: Twitter Must Lead Silicon Valley On Diversity.

Women in society

With violent words, “This is the elite arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia, the Twitter mafia”, “It’s the same male chauvinistic thinking. The fact that they went to the I.P.O. without a single woman on the board, how dare they?” and “The root of this problem is arrogance and a “don’t-care” attitude,” Wadhwa does not buy the argument that the Twitter’s CEO and others are using: “There is definitely a supply-side problem.” Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive, has prioritized finding a woman to be on the board, but has found it difficult, according to two people with knowledge of his plans who were not authorized to speak about them publicly. “Everyone is trying for diversity, both gender and ethnic diversity, on boards and in operating positions,” said Rick Devine, chief executive of TalentSky, a Silicon Valley recruiting firm. “The issue isn’t the intention, the issue is just the paucity of candidates.” (same NYT article)

Again you should read the entire articles. I do not have good answers but if there is a paucity of candidates, I can only mention here that twice in my life, first in the VC world, then in the academic world, I heard decision makers seriously say that hiring a woman would be a risk because of the pregnancy possibility. As if having anyone in a team was not risky, just because they can always leave at any time…

Women -Caterina_Fake
Catarina Fake

Let me finish with another quote by Catarina Fake in Founders at Work, that I already used in the past: “There is a lot of institutionalized sexism working against women in business and I think that people aren’t even aware that it’s there. One example happened when we went down to Silicon Valley to meet with a venture capital firm. After the meeting, the VC spoke to someone associated with our company and said to him, “Tell Stewart not to bring his wife to VC meetings.” It takes a lot of nerve for women to face up to this assumption — and the assumption is everywhere, even in some of the most surprising places — that they don’t measure up, that they’re not good or tough enough. Twice as much will be expected of them. I hear this from women again and again in business: they have to be twice as prepared as men.”

Smasher, another Silicon Valley mystery

Smasher is the second Silicon Valley thriller from Keith Raffel that I read. After reading dot.dead, I found this one more complex, and certainly as interesting. A mixture of a traditional thriller where the hero’s wife is smashed by a car, together with a good start-up story where the leader in the field is trying to smash the hero’s company and an academic story of intense competition between researchers in the physics field of [smashed] particles. Hence the title Smasher.

I already mentioned novels about start-ups or Silicon Valley (dot.dead, but also The Ultimate Cure). I have never mentioned though Po Bronson (I loved The First 20 Million Is Always the Hardest) or Michael Wolff (Burn Rate). I have not read (yet) Kaplan’s Start-up. On the academic side, there is Small World by the great David Lodge which I have not read (either…) There are of course many essays on the start-up or academic worlds (I mentioned many in my past posts in the must read category) but there are clearly not so many novels based on these worlds,

Raffel loves to take inspiration from real individuals in Silicon Valley. I had played at recognizing a few in dot.dead. Here it is less obvious; the academic smasher is a mixture of Feynman and Gell-Man. The start-up smasher looks more like Larry Ellison with his dark suits and love for Japanese architecture. But there is a little from Steve Jobs as well. The other characters existed in the first novel. I will not talk about the story and only shortly about the particle physics. I will say more about the start-up and broader Silicon Valley context. Smasher talks of Quarks and quirks, of Murray Gell-Man who got the Nobel prize for their discovery and of SLAC, the Stanford Linear Accelerator (a small CERN). You may identify SLAC both on the map and picture below.

There is indeed a link between particle physics and the start-up world. Raffel reminds us that the World Wide Web was invented at Cern thanks to Tim Berners-Lee. Slac had other spin-offs, but this is another story. Slac was also a home for the Homebrew Computer Club (see [1] and extract from page 214 below)

Smasher is also about women and science. “Stanford was on a campaign to recruit female undergraduates, Ph.D. candidates, and faculty to the natural sciences. My mother’s late aunt had been the first woman in the physics department back in the 1960s. In an effort to honor her and to appeal to what was still the second sex in the realm of natural sciences, the university was naming its particle physics lab after her. I’d lived in Palo Alto all my life and couldn’t recall a building, library, school or academic chair at Stanford labeled with a name except in return for a donation of dollars, euros, yens, dinars, or other convertible currency. So maybe Stanford was really serious about recruiting women.” And the invited professor for the ceremony adds: “We all follow in the footsteps of our predecessors. When I was a girl in France, I wanted to be Marie Curie. After two years as a graduate student at Stanford, after two years of hearing about her legacy, I wanted to be your great aunt.” (Page 12)

What may not be realistic is that this French professor smokes Gauloises (page 213). I know I left France a long time ago but I doubt professors still smoke them! It is pure work of fiction of course but Raffel adds in his acknowledgments that he found inspiration in Rosalind Franklin‘s life. A sad story which shows the complexity of being a woman in science or high-tech

A funny (sorry for the jump for sadness to humor) quote and apparently true [2] on the academic world is Clark Kerr once said his job as president of the University of California was to provide football for the alumni, sex for the students, and offices for the faculty. [The physics and Nobel prize professor] sanctum was twice the size of the [professor of English literature]’s but only a third the size of the business school professor [who is on the board of the hero’s start-up].” (Page 34)

It is also about VCs and term sheets. “VCs, bah. When you had no need for their money, investment offers would cascade over you like a tropical waterfall. When you could use a capital infusion – like now – the money flowed like water in a wadi, a riverbed in Sahara. In other words, it did not.” (Page 20)

“I drove west of Sand Hill Road. This was familiar territory, the Vatican of venture capitalism. In the bubble days of the late 1990s, office space on Sand Hill was the most expensive in the world. Here’s where the founders of Google, eBay, Amazon and Cisco had come, hat in hand, seeking the dollars required to turn the base metal of their dreams into stock market gold.” (Page 41)

Raffel has a few notes on Silicon Valley culture:
“The value of Silicon Valley company wasn’t in inventory or patents. It was in the brain of its employees.” (page 33)
“I had learned in the Valley that no more than two people could keep a business secret and that only worked if one of them was dead.” (Page 45 )
“Under an NDA? I asked. Non-disclosure agreements didn’t usually do much good in the Valley, which was built on loosey-goosey dissemination of intellectual capital, but having one couldn’t hurt. We had a raft of patent applications pending on the technology, but if they stole what we had, we would be defunct by the time we won any lawsuit.” (Page 94)
“Ron Qi, the inventor [of the technology incorporated in our product] and now head of engineering looked down as if examining the polish on his shoes. The other three around the table, Samantha Maxwell, our Korean-born MIT-educated marketing genius; Ori Mohr, the ex-Israeli paratrooper and kick-ass head of operations, and Bharat Gupta, the CFO, all moved their eyes back to me.” … “I saw Ron, who’d been brought up in the more deferential milieu of Taiwan…” (Page 44) [Immigrants again]
“I asked the engineers how the tweaking of the product was going, the sales rep what I could do to help them close their big deals, and the bean counters how much work was left to close the books for the latest quarter. What I heard from them was unfiltered by the vice presidents who reported to me. (The business professor) had told me that I could ask any employee anything but I could only tell my direct reports what to do. Managing the others was – who’d’ve thunk of it? – the jobs of their managers. As I popped into offices or cubicles, I was following the footsteps of the Founding Fathers of Silicon Valley, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, who advocated MWBA – management by walking around.” (Page 102)
“Thirty minutes later, I walked into a building named after Robert Noyce, one of the “traitorous eight” whose departure from Shockley Semiconductor loomed as large in Valley history as the exodus from Egypt did in the Bible. One of the founders of both Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, Noyce was the co-inventor of the microprocessor, the electronic brain that ran everything from cell phones to server farms.” (Page 194)

A few more things on the academic world:

“It seems that the only way for a Stanford professor to win prestige is to start a successful company.
– Americans may not be interested in how the universe is made. I can tell you though, in Silicon Valley, they definitely want to know how money is made.
A researcher at CERN wanted to share information with others physicists. He invented a language to send it around and we ended up with the World Wide Web.
– Of course you would know our wonderful Sir Tim. […] The computer nerds at SLAC in the early 1970s hosted meetings of what they called the Homebrew Computer Club [1]. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak came.” … “And from that came Apple Computer and the whole PC industry. So you’re saying Silicon Valley wouldn’t be much without the physicists?”
(Page 214)

as well as

“I caught sight of a new photo over the desk. His head flanked by two earnest student types. He followed my eyes. “Another sign of my vanity.” Sergey Brin and Larry page developed their search algorithm as Stanford grad students and, of course, started their company to exploit it. Stanford got shares in the venture in return for their ownership of intellectual property.
– And how many millions did that piece of Google add to the university coffers?
– Three hundred and thirty six”
(Page 218)

Smasher is certainly not about literature, but it is (really) entertaining; nor does it belong to the category of the mystery masterpieces. Raffel does not have the genius (or experience) of James Ellroy, or even George Pelecanos and Henning Mankell but he is a real pleasure to read, I appreciate his talent, imagination and his interesting description of SV culture, history and dynamics.

[1] Homebrew Computer Club: “One influential event was the publication of Bill Gates’s Open Letter to Hobbyists, which lambasted the early hackers of the time for pirating commercial software programs.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homebrew_Computer_Club. Another site is Memoir of a Homebrew Computer Club Member

[2] Another legacy was his wit—after writing a serious book “The Uses of the University”, Kerr surprised an audience with this riposte–“The three purposes of the University?–To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.” From http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt687004sg&chunk.id=d0e21648&brand=calisphere&doc.view=entire_text

Pitch Perfect

Pemo Theodore had interviewed me a few weeks ago about Women and HighTech Entrepreneurship. I was all the more honored that I joined a group of very famous entrepreneurs and investors on Pemo’s Ezebis web site and I am not sure why I belong to it! Among them, Guy Kawasaki, Neil Rimer, Vivek Wadhwa, Randy Komisar, Jeff Clavier and many more.

Pemo is doing a great job on role models and I just learnt she is also a coach. Her program, Pitch Perfect, looks very exciting. She summaizes it as:

  1. P rove your concept & presentation start to finish
  2. I mprove your confidence & passion despite rejection
  3. T est drive your demo
  4. C hoose the best kind of investment
  5. H one everything to a fine PITCH

and as a short reminder, what I had said is since yesterday on The Next Woman magazine

Women, Europe and High-Tech

Pemo Theodore is doing great interviews of people in high-tech, and she has a specific focus on women & entrepreneurship, on venture capital too, her blog is ezebis. She was interested in my views on the topic, I am not sure why as I am neither an entrepreneur, nor a VC anymore. If you are not afraid of French accents… here it is and the text is on Hervé Lebret, EPFL Swiss Tech Institute, Difference in European & US Venture Capitalists. Thanks, Pemo!

Women and High-Tech Entrepreneurship.

Here is my third contribution to Créateurs, the Geneva newsletter, where I have been asked to write short articles about famous success stories. After Adobe and Genentech, here are some thoughts about women and high-tech entrepreneurship.

Women Entrepreneurs? Carol Bartz, Sandy Kurtzig…

… but also Ann Winblad, Catarina Fake, Kim Polese, Candice Carpenter, Mena Trott.
The list may go on but would not be much longer. Why so few women in high-tech entrepreneurship? And even worse, why are they so little known? The answer is simple: the situation is just an illustration of their position in science, in high-level positions in companies or in society more generally. A few anecdotes will show however that they have nothing to prove their male counterparts.

Sandy Kurtzig is a school dropout. She stopped the PhD program she was following at Stanford University and joined General Electric. She discovered there that computer science must help in improving manufacturing (such as in inventory management or logistics) and left again to found Ask Computer in 1972 with $2’000 from her own savings. “No venture capitalist would have given me money in the beginning. First software was seen of no value and then I was a woman.” She declined an acquisition offer from Hewlett-Packard in 1976 and in 1981 Ask Computer went public on Nasdaq. (The reader should remember that Apple had gone public in December 1980 and Logitech was founded in January 1981.) When she left Ask in 1989, the company had $189M in sales. Her advice to entrepreneurs? Believe in yourself, hire the right people and share success. Do not be afraid of making mistakes.

Carol Bartz also began her career in a big company: 3M is the inventor of the famous post-it. She heard there: “you are a woman, what are you doing here?” She left the company when he understood she would not be promoted because she was a woman. A few years later, she moved to Silicon Valley. “Even in this region, being a woman is belonging to a minority.” Her comment will not prevent her from becoming CEO of Autodesk in 1992. (Autodesk is the world leader for 3D software for architecture and mechanical design with $2B in sales in 2008.) That same year, in 1992, she was diagnosed with cancer. She will have chemotherapy while managing her company. She succeeded twice. “With private life and work, you do not have time to wonder if you are all right or not.” Work was a distraction and the leadership she showed was a strong motivation for her colleagues.

She is also fighting for the position of women in science: “I sincerely believe that women are dissuaded [from doing science]. They are told it is not important. Another female entrepreneur, Ann Winblad adds: “The daughter of a friend of mine is worried about appearing too nerdy if she invests in science. However some of the successful women – myself, Carol Bartz – all of us were math whizzes and we really had fun teenage lives as well as adult lives and have been very successful. The problem is that we need role models like Steve Jobs with this inspirational product, the iPod. Something is getting lost in the message because not many say I want to be like them.”

In January 2009, Carol Bartz became Yahoo’s CEO. The task may not be easy. Should we listen to Caratina Fake, founder of Flickr: « There is a lot of institutionalized sexism working against women in business and I think that people aren’t even aware that it’s there. » This post is unfortunately too short to celebrate women as entrepreneurs- Those who succeeded had to be exceptional and those who try also, without any doubt. The barriers entrepreneurs face are amplified for women. I will just conclude by copying the poet in saying that, in the start-up world maybe “Women are the Future of Men”.

To know more:
Carol Bartz in “Betting It All” by Michael Malone (Wiley, 2002).
Sandy Kurtzig in “In the Company of Giants” by R. Dev Jager and R. Ortiz (McGraw Hill, 1997)

Next article: A European in Silicon Valley, Aart de Geus.