• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Meet the Panelist: Xochi Birch of Monkey Inferno

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Besides our amazing keynote speakers, this week’s conference features great curated panel discussions. Meet the participants ahead of the event.

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Some things always stay the same at event Women 2.0 conference — high flyers deliver keynotes, lunchtime mentoring offers support and advice in an intimate environment, and our PITCH competition highlights awesome early-stagefemale-founded companies — but we’re also always looking for fresh ways to make the event even more valuable for our community.

That’s why we decided to introduce curated panels for the first time ever this year. Drawing on the principle that two (or more) heads are better than one, we decided to pick the brains of veteran investors and top tech journalists to help us select some of our panels and guide participants’ in-depth discussions of pressing issues in the industry.

So who have they invited to share their experience and insight with our audience? This week we’re highlighting some of the participants gathered by Techcrunch writer Josh Constine for his curated panel, “Big Tech: Has Le Bubble Has Arrived?” which will take a look at the level of froth in the current startup scene. Meet Xochi Birch, co-founder of Monkey InfernoThe Battery and social media site, Bebo.

Can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers who might not be familiar with your work? 

Along with my husband Michael, I run an incubator called Monkey Inferno and a social club called The Battery. I worked as a developer for various companies in London until 2002 while working with my husband, also a developer, on the side. We created consumer-facing Internet sites. We developed a number of companies which failed, including Lemon Link, a self updating address book, Friendly Wills, an online tool allowing people to create their own wills and Babysitting Circle, a place for families to babysit for each other. Some of our successes were Birthday Alarm, a birthday reminder and e-card website, Ringo, a social networking site which we sold in 2003 and Bebo, another social networking site we sold in 2008.

In 2008 we started two new projects, Monkey Inferno and The Battery. Monkey Inferno is a personal incubator in San Francisco that is launching multiple new innovative consumer Internet and mobile ideas. The Battery is a social club located in the historic Jackson Square neighborhood in San Francisco. The vision for the club is to create a culture where “inspiration is embraced, diverse communities come together and egos are checked at the door.”

Your panel delves into the idea of bubbles and whether we’re in one now. On a scale of 1-10 how frothy is the startup scene at the moment in your opinion? 

I would give the current startup scene a solid 7. However, I don’t feel the current time is similar to the bubble in 1999 that caused a large section of the tech industry to collapse. In comparison to the broader economy, the tech industry is currently booming, but I believe there is real substance in our growth.

You’ve been in the startup game for a fair amount of time. Do you notice the expectations of people working in startups changing over time and in what way?   

I first moved to San Francisco in 2002 when it was easy to find housing, office space and employees. At that time, we had an edge on other startups because we had decided to set up our office in San Francisco. We would attract people who lived in the city and were tired of commuting to the South Bay.

But things have changed now. There are many more opportunities for creative people to work with great companies, and many of them are right in San Francisco. Startups are in fierce competition for talent, and it isn’t just about a salary anymore. The best people want a job that fulfills them intellectually, socially, and even emotionally.  They want the company’s values to align with their personal values. You need to have a clear and compelling mission to attract employees.

Anything else you’d like to highlight about your background or the panel topic before the event? 

I sold my company, Bebo, in 2008, right before the financial crisis and the Great Recession. In hindsight, it was perfect timing: I could not have predicted what happened, and we were fortunate we sold when we did. If we hadn’t sold before the economic downturn, we would probably still own Bebo today and would have pivoted into some mobile app.

My point is that as an entrepreneur you do not have complete control of your surroundings. You have to make the best decisions you can with the information you have at the time. We sold Bebo in 2008 because we did not believe we could compete with Facebook. We hoped that with the help of a larger company, we could leverage their reach while morphing Bebo for the next generation of users.

It didn’t work.

On a scale of 1-10 how frothy is the startup scene at the moment in your opinion?

jstillmanJessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.