A First Date With The Valley – Women 2.0 PITCH Conference

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The first thing PITCH reminded me was how lucky I am to live near the Silicon Valley.

By Miki Johnson (Co-Founder, PassionSync)

I had been on the Women 2.0 mailing list only a few weeks when a message about the fast-approaching PITCH Conference hit my inbox. Sometimes the universe delivers just what you need, just when you need it.

Jackson had started a company before. He’d incorporated and “done a friends and family round” and “pitched to angels” and created the all-important “decks.” I’m a fast learner, but I knew I didn’t even know what I didn’t know yet about the whole Silicon Valley startup world. The Valley and I, we’d seen each other at a few parties, but we didn’t have each other’s number yet.

PITCH seemed like the perfect first date. I’d been hearing from friends (two women founders in particular) about the growing resources to encourage women founders, and I loved the idea of getting to know startup culture through the smaller, supportive world of women entrepreneurs.

Well, it certainly was supportive — but at nearly 900 attendees, I wouldn’t exactly call PITCH “small.” By the end of the day, I was talked out, sat out, and thought out, but mostly I felt inspired and much better informed about what Jackson and I were getting ourselves into.

The first thing PITCH reminded me was how lucky I am to live here. The two women I first sat down between were from Calgary and Vancouver … Canada. Me? I got a ride from a friend who was working the registration table.

Then, chatting with those two women, I was reminded how much I know about startups, tech, and business, even if it feels like everyone around me knows much more. Just breathing the same air as all those Bay Area entrepreneurs seems to have rubbed off on me; I found myself explaining AngelList, for instance, which neither of them had heard of.

In talks by the amazing women on the founding teams of Facebook, Flickr, Zipcar, and Care.com, I heard these resonating notes:

  1. Start with a small team, keep expenses low, launch with the bare minimum, listen to users, iterate what works, be one with the flux.
  2. The right team (including investors) is EVERYTHING, and shared values matter more than an impressive resume.

I also got to hear ten startups pitch their ideas to the room and field questions from a panel of VCs and angels. That was very helpful for thinking about our pitch presentation, and expanding my vocabulary of catch phrases: traction, proof points, MVP, extended user engagement, density of content, behavior-based software.

The most important thing I took away from PITCH, however, was more of an ethos than a tip. It’s something like…

“We owe it to our fellow humans to develop tools that amplify our best, not worst, tendencies; we owe it to ourselves to start companies that make us happy, not just rich.”

I don’t know if this sentiment is stronger among women entrepreneurs or if it marks a shift in the startup culture as a whole, but either way it made my day. Jackson and I have both learned from experience that being a workaholic just isn’t worth it. One of the first things we agreed on was to create a company that would never compromise the health, sanity, or relationships of our employees — starting with ourselves.

We also vowed we’d never start a “tech” company. That lasted until dinner that night…

This post was originally posted at This Starts Now.

About the guest blogger: Miki Johnson is Co-Founder of PassionSync, a network that facilitates professional collaboration, using trust relationships to reinvent job search for the “gig economy.” PassionSync is currently private, but Miki blogs about starting up with her boyfriend and co-founder, Jackson, at This Starts Now. Miki is also a branding consultant and creative facilitator. Previously, she was the social media editor at liveBooks (a website provider for creative entrepreneurs) and a senior editor at American Photo Magazine.