Lessons Learned From The 2012 Women 2.0 PITCH Conference

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The highlights from the speakers at 2012 PITCH Conference.

By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0)

Thanks everybody for joining us at our fifth annual Women 2.0 PITCH Conference & Competition on February 14, 2012 at the Computer History Museum on Valentine’s Day. It was a sold-out success with 1000 women (and a few good men) strong. Special thanks to Tropo, Bing, AT&T Interactive and Care.com for sponsoring the event.

Here are the highlights from the speakers at 2012 PITCH Conference:

Caterina Fake’s Pitch

Serial entrepreneur Caterina Fake is the co-founder of Flickr and Hunch. Fake delivered the early morning keynote on “Making, the True Path and Keeping It Real” and spoke about her experience building technology companies.

Fake used the Amish as an example of a community that helps each other, and asked the audience to consider if technology brings us closer together or drives us farther apart.

She broached the seven deadly sins and fear of missing out (“FOMO”) as drivers of user engagementon the Internet, and argued that “we can redeem the technology that we build and create great products that make us more and not less human”. Fake has long been interested in social networking (“Web 2.0″) before the social tagging phenomena even had a name, building Flickr in 2004 and starting the Web 2.0 movement.

“We can humanize technology before it dehumanizes us,” she said. An angel investor in companies like Etsy, Kickstarter and 20×200, Caterina argues for technology to be “human” and “soulful”. Her current venture Pinwheel to find and leave notes all around the world. Pinwheel has raised $7.5 million in venture funding with Redpoint Ventures leading the round.

Robin Chase’s Pitch

Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase delivered a keynote about launching Zipcar on $75k as a non-engineer. Chase reminded the audience that car-sharing is a low-tech concept that has been going on for 50 years. Zipcar didn’t invent car-sharing, but they did provide an online platform to enable car-sharing. This was the moment the light bulb went on.

As an ambitious young woman from Wellesley, Chase had wanted to do something big but having children got in the way, she remarked good-humoredly: “I was irritated for a number of years and then I founded Zipcar when my three children were required by law to be in school for many hours a day.”

Chase offered sage advice for entrepreneurs:

  • Focus on technology development - Figure out what is the absolute minimum. Launch lean, then iterate quickly.
  • Luck does happen - It’s when preparation meets opportunity.
  • When fundraising - Be very clear on what exactly you’re doing with the capital you’re raising.
  • Build a company that people will write love notes to - Customers have sent her pictures of Zipcars driving newborn children home from the hospital, or involved in an engagement proposal.

Chase asked the audience “Are you someone who says ‘I can buy that’? Or, ‘I can make that?”

Both Chase and Fake emphasized their love for making and building products people loved, showing PowerPoint slide after slide of user-submitted photos – of Flickr logos on home-baked goods, and user-submitted photographs of the Zipcars involved in in a newborn’s ride home from the hospital and an engagement proposal.

Sheila Lirio Marcelo’s Pitch

Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder and CEO of Care.com talked about having an unplanned child in college, experiencing the struggle to find trusted childcare.

After getting a JD/MBA from Harvard Business School, she got a job as a product manager for the technology experience – writing product requirements documents (PRDs) and building web products. Then she built Care.com and raised over $36 million in venture funding to date.

She talked about the need to practice getting venture capitalists (primarily men) to put themselves in the shoes of women.

But Marcelo’s biggest impact at the Women 2.0 PITCH Conference was made when she spoke of the “image of perfection” that women may have in their heads. She urged women to leave the dishes in the sink and let go of the idea of a perfect series of events, from clean dishes to a clean house. Many women insist on cleaning before doing anything else. Instead, Marcelo argues that women should make the choice of letting things go in order to focus on other things – important things. She encourages women to prioritize and ask themselves, “Where will you make the most impact?”

Katie Mitic’s Pitch

Katie Mitic, Facebook‘s Director of Platform and Mobile Marketing, talked to building a product innovation leadership culture from the first 10 employees of a company:

“Builders love to ship – it’s the way that we get progress. It’s where users tell us what’s working and what is not. If you walk around Facebook, you’ll see posters everywhere, some say ‘done is better than perfect’ or ‘move fast and break things’.

It’s about one simple idea: build it, get it out there, learn, and iterate. Repeat, and keep doing it and doing it. Shipping isn’t the end, it’s the beginning! The listening and learning that can happen after shipping is the part when the product become successful and your users can co-architect your product with you.”

Mitic congratulated the PITCH conference attendees for being present and aiming to build great products. “Great products are great foundations for companies,” she said. People define themselves by the products they build.

Deena Varshavskaya’s Pitch

Deena Varshavskaya, who recently raised $2M for her social store Wanelo, talked about the “messy path” of her startup.

The Siberian-born Varshavskaya took the money she had saved to buy a house and instead invested it in her startup. She told the story of building Wanelo as a overly-complicated, feature-laden product that even her friends and family wouldn’t use. So she spent months doing user testing and removing features until she reached the bare-bones Wanelo product.

Varshavskaya advised entrepreneurs to:

  • Get on AngelList - Find investors early, follow up, deliver results.
  • Don’t give up - Anticipate 30-40 rejections in the fundraising process. Reject bad term sheets.
  • Optimize for people and control - This is more important than money.
  • Build a simple product people love - Build a lean product and always test with users.

With the simple bare-bones product, Wanelo hit the user adoption inflection point and gained massive traction over the last year. Varshavskaya closed a $2M round in January 2012 for Wanelo after rejecting many bad term sheets.

Leah Busque’s Pitch

Former IBM engineer turned entrepreneur, Leah Busque founded TaskRabbit when she knew nothing about fundraising for venture capital. She just wanted to build the platform. So she quit her job at IBM and locked herself in her house for 10 weeks to code and build the first version of TaskRabbit. After launching TaskRabbit, Busque moved from Boston to San Francisco from Boston to build and grow the team and business.

After raising Series A, she started to understand the economics of the business model and built a user experience worth coming back for, proving the initial model for TaskRabbit. Today, TaskRabbit has raised $25 million in venture funding and is expanding service to more cities across the United States.

Busque credits her success to the mentors and advisors she brought on board early in the startup process. As an engineer, she realized that she needed to bring business expertise in via mentors and advisors early on. Watch this interview with Leah Busque at PITCH for more on this.

Julia Hu’s Pitch

Lark founder and CEO Julia Hu talked about building a great team and company.

“If we’re going to change the world, we’re going to work with people that we see more than our husbands, wives, children.. this is going to be your life. It’s going to be worth it to build a team you actually love. It makes the day-to-day worth it,” Hu said.

Hu discussed building a team, underlining that startup founders are always building and rebuilding their teams. Your team is never in stasis. Here are her main points:

  • Who to hire - What does your company stand for? Find 3-4 defensible strengths. This will inform your first hires. Stay focused, stay lean.
  • How to hire - Who are you as a leader and what are your values? When you’re just starting out and your idea is so precious to you, be out there, be bold, and just share your ideas.
  • Hire by your values - Hu dropped out of MIT Sloan when she had no money, no team and no prototype built yet. PCH is a company that manufactures some of the world’s larger brands. Hu talked to the CEO about wanting to build Lark, and he said that he always wanted to work with startups, so they had a handshake. In one year, that handshake deal allowed Hu to take Lark and scale her product internationally to all Apple stores in 20 languages in 25 countries. It wasn’t about money, it was about helping create the PCH accelerator and helping them create a brand for a company. She succeeded because she articulated her values and found a partnership with a matching value.
  • How to fire - CEOS and leaders do not want to fire. Try to work on it. Firing is a tool that will make everyone happier. The hardest lesson is firing at the right time. Firing is something that is healthy, a part of the process, and you can fire without burning bridges. When you fire too late, you start burning bridges.

Cathy Edwards’ Pitch

Chomp co-founder and CTO Cathy Edwards provided actionable advice for the first 90 days of building a new product. Her goal is to provide attendees with “some concrete things so you can have conversations with your technical co-founders and engineers about – and start participating in those conversations”. Her slides are available here.

Cathy Edwards’ rules of early stage product building, from a product and technology perspective.

  1. Over-invest in user research - “Your primary job in the first 90 days is to really understand what it is you are building. that sounds easy, but is extraordinarily difficult.” She recommends Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think” for a common sense approach to web usability. The ethos of this book is to do user research quickly and often. This will be a good value to instill in your early-stage lean startup.
  2. Size the market - Ask yourself if you are building something big enough. If your target market isn’t big enough, that’s problematic. It’s better to go after a big market, even if you capture only 1% that it’s still worthwhile.
  3. Minimum viable process - We’ve all heard of minimum viable products (MVPs) but from an early-stage startup CTO perspective, you should think of minimum viable process – put just enough process in place. This means: use version control, set up commit emails, don’t track bugs in email, and set up a Wiki for documentation.
  4. Know your system - If for some reason you have a catastrophic failure, you will need to be able to understand how to diagnose the problem. Products like Munin, Cacti and Ganglia will graph the response or actual request time to load a webpage over time, so if something goes wrong you can help diagnose the problem by looking at the shape of the graph. Use Nagios for monitoring.
  5. Ship a product in 90 days - “Just ship.” If you’re not shipping in the first 90 days, you should ship. It’s really important to get that market validation and user feedback.

Danielle Fong’s Pitch

LightSail Energy co-founder and Chief Scientist Danielle Fong articulated on the innovation panel that the cost of starting up is going down. For example, most of your cost as an early-stage startup is simply your cost of living today.

Fong identified an opportunity to innovate in hardware due to the lowering cost:

“We are at the cusp of a hardware revolution. There’s no Ruby on Rails for hardware now, but there is becoming that. There’s an infrastructure to do electronics. CNC machines – you can go to TechShop now and just use the machines to build things today and it’s a very inexpensive membership to get your first prototypes out. You can do it. There’s huge opportunities in pretty much every industry that touches the physical world, where people haven’t been able to innovate in it so far but now you can [due to the] immense increase in efficiency.”

Fong talks about innovation:

“Innovation is spreading everywhere – into the real world, into every corner of every industry. I hope it’s a trend that continues, from the web darlings like AirBnB into cars like Uber, into things you wouldn’t even think of. There’s an extremely exciting company called Solem revolutionizing agriculture. There is a big problem in agriculture, which is that fertilizer, an enormous industry in the tens of billions of dollars annually. Basically people just dump this stuff and it hurts plants, keeps them from growing, causes toxic algal blooms which kill fish and it costs farmers an extra $10 billion a year, which could be supporting their businesses. What Solem does is measure the contents of the essential minerals that the fertilizer would put in to the soil, so that you can put exactly the right amount for your crop at that location,which saves farmers money, saves the environment. That is an absolutely huge industry and was started by a couple Stanford pHD students. This is just one example of innovation I hope will spread everywhere.”

Leah Culver’s Pitch

Serial entrepreneur Leah Culver advocates using open-source software. She founded Pownce in 2007, which was acquired by Six Apart in 2008. Now she is the founder and CEO of Grove, providing hosted IRC for teams.

From a software perspective, infrastructure has improved as there are now open source tools to do a lot of the work for you for no money at all. When Leah started Pownce in 2007, web frameworks were just emerging. Now that they are popular, and hosting is cheaper – even free.

Culver is currently working on building an IRC product for businesses. She explains, “IRC is a protocol for chat. We provide your chat. We provide it as a service. The reason we went with the IRC protocol is because there are already apps written for every device. I’m not going to build any of this. I’m going to build a platform.”

Jean Hsu’s Pitch

An engineer at The Obvious Corporation and formerly an Android developer at Pulse and Google, Jean Hsu talked about building products that are “obvious in retrospect”. The innovation panel talked about technology products, underlining that they are not necessarily on the cutting edge of technology.

“A lot of times, it’s just putting things together things that make sense – to provide more value than things already out there, to become the go-to company for that,” said Hsu.

Jeff Clavier’s Pitch

Innovation panel moderator Jeff Clavier, founder and managing director of SoftTech VC discussed going big with your startup idea:

“”The issue when we see roughly two or three thousand [business] plans a year. There’s a lot of ‘me-toos’ or ideas that are not big enough to build sustainable, long-term companies. Actually, it’s as hard to build a big ambitious startup like Danielle [Fong]‘s than building a vertical version of ‘name your own fad’. I really urge you to think big and try to go for it.”

The 2012 PITCH Startup Competition

The startup competition showcased some of Women 2.0′s most promising companies out of 172 applicants from 12 countries and 64 different states. The 9 finalists pitching onstage at the 2012 PITCH Conference & Competition allowed the audience some insight into the minds of investors, as judges asked questions for 5 minutes after each startup pitch.

Kleiner Perkins partner Aileen Lee asked one company, “how do you rise above the noise?” The judges’ questions reminded the entrepreneurs that you need proof points and to show a plan – beside having a vision, can you show proof of relationships and partnerships forged or currently in the making?

Several conference speakers and competition judges mentioned for entrepreneurs to join AngelList as soon as possible as an early stage company. AngelPad managing director Thomas Korte along with Naval Ravikant reminded the audience that angel investors scour AngelList looking at companies, and enjoy watching them evolve and hit their proof points (ie. traffic numbers).

And That’s It For PITCH 2012 – Stay Tuned For Next Year!

For those who missed it, here are Bookigee CTO Emily Gonzales’s 9 lessons learned from the day. Thomas Korte, the founder and managing director at AngelPad, wrote about his 5 lessons learned from a day with 1000 women entrepreneurs.

The day was filled with speakers like Facebook’s Katie Mitic reminding us that the job is only 1% done. Onstage, women talked about shipping products, not shopping for products. Women sat in the red chair for solidarity and awareness of women in technology everywhere.

Tiny Review won the 2012 Women 2.0 PITCH Competition, while Buyosphere won “best team”. DocPons won “Most Likely To Change The World” while Perfect Beauty won “Most Disruptive”. Meanwhile, the Daily Muse gave Hotseat an honorable mention.

Check out the official photos from the event here and here – tag people you know!

About the guest blogger: Angie Chang co-founded Women 2.0 in 2006 with Shaherose Charania. She currently serves as Editor-In-Chief of Women 2.0 and is working to mainstream women in entrepreneurship. Previously, Angie held roles in product management, web UI design, and entrepreneurship. In 2008, Angie launched Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, asking that guys come as the “+1″ for once. Angie holds a B.A. in English and Social Welfare from UC Berkeley. Follow her on Twitter at @thisgirlangie.