Mentorship and Networking Especially Important for Women Entrepreneurs (Stories of Leadership)
By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0)
Last week, Andreessen Horowitz invited women to their Menlo Park office to hear stories from leaders: Padmasree Warrior (CTO, Cisco), Marissa Mayer (VP Location & Local, Google), Freada Kapor Klein (Founder, Level Playing Field Institute), Angela Benton (Founder, NewME), and Sandy Jen (Co-Founder & CTO, Meebo).
Panel moderator and TechCrunch writer Vivek Wadhwa conducted research with NCWIT, finding that the only difference between women and men to become entrepreneurs is that women feel discouraged from starting up.
A proponent of diversity in technology and entrepreneurship, Vivek Wadhwa was the author of an incendiary TechCrunch post “Silicon Valley: You and Some of Your VCs Have A Gender Problem”.
How Sandy Jen Became An Entrepreneur
Panelist Meebo CTO and co-founder Sandy Jen recalled:
“You may not feel as if you are qualified or confident enough… The biggest insight in this entrepreneurial journey of mine was when I realized ‘someone I knew who was not super smart, who failed the same tests I did, and started a company’, I realized I could do that too. We launched Meebo without funding, got a lot of traction and finally was fulfilled.
The gender thing hit me a few years later when people realized that the two technical founders of Meebo are women, and the guy is the business guy. That was interesting for me personally because I hadn’t noticed until I went to the Grace Hopper Conference and realized I had never seen so many young women engineers in one room…
What I learned there is women tend to under estimate themselves. They can accomplish so much, but they don’t identify themselves as being powerful and smart and just as good as the guy next to them. They make excuses for their achievements… Be confident for who you are.”
Sandy admitted that when she started, she was a “shy and timid Chinese girl at Stanford” but now loves speaking at conferences and going to networking events.
What Men Do Differently Than Women
After watching the women talk about their experiences starting up and feeling shy about self-promotion — Vivek summed it up:
“Men boast about their accomplishments — that’s called selling. This is a deficiency in women. It’s about selling, positioning, and communicating effectively.”
He advised the audience to read some books on selling and “persuade people you are top notch. That’s an important lesson.” So proactively go out and tell people how awesome you are!
The Importance of Networks and Mentoring For Women
“My research showed it’s the networks that they built. Entrepreneurship is a repetitive process — by helping each other and by mentoring each other you can give each other an unfair advantage. What makes the Valley tick? It’s a giant social network, we’re not afraid of failure, we share ideas openly. People don’t shoot you down — they tell you how to make it better,” lectured Vivek Wadhwa.
His main point was that entrepreneurship is not a meritocracy: understand that there is a problem, understand the rules of engagement of the Silicon Valley, and mentor and network amongst yourself. Don’t hesitate to email a busy mentor 3 to 4 times to ask for advice. Mentors realize they can give back and uplift the entire ecosystem.
“Zuckerberg had a lot of people helping him along the way. Ask for help,” concluded Vivek Wadhwa.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
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.