Insights from a Woman Who Attended TechCrunch Disrupt

Nowadays, sexism towards women, especially in tech, has become quite a hot topic. Female engineers and leaders have started speaking on the issue, to protect their rights, sustainability, efficiency and proficiency.

I’m the co-founder and CTO at CruiseBe, a cruise itinerary aggregator and SaaS B2B solution that proposes a day-by-day schedule of a cruise with a complete list of attractions in each port of call and offline route navigation system on the ship. This year, our company took part in TechCrunch Disrupt in September (2017), presenting our product at the Startup Alley. I wanted to share some insights and my personal experience as a female co-founder and how my experience reflects some of what it’s like to be a woman in tech.

It seemed to me that the female founders attracted more press attention.

When I was giving an interview to the TechCrunch reporter, I think the reason he noticed me was my appearance, and only afterwards did he notice the CruiseBe booth and the banner. On the one hand, you can think of being noticed for your looks as an irritation, but on the other hand, we can use our female charm as an advantage to tell the world about what we have started and developed.

I faced some other situations that weren’t a big surprise for me.

For instance, when the conversation about my company’s product touched the technical part, people were turning to Alex (the male co-founder and CEO of CruiseBe) to continue the discussion with him. People clearly did not expect me to be a technical lead at CruiseBe. Only after I told them that I was the CTO, not Alex, did they (with a definite look of surprise on their faces) turned back to me to talk about the technical part of our company.

The only time I faced an unpleasant situation was when two middle-aged men were passing by our company’s stand on the Startup Alley. They stopped at our banner for a second and decided to come closer and find out more about the product. So as usual, I made a quick intro about the market, the problem that we are solving, and also explained how our product works. The response to everything I told them was only this question: “Who is your CEO?”

I saw them looking past me to stare at Alex.

Obviously, they were only prepared to talk with the male CEO. Sure, it’s not a problem at all, since Alex is a CEO, indeed. But this seems to be a very stark example of how women are still getting treated in the business world. It’s annoying that our society still acts with prejudice about women being programmers or technical leaders.

Being a woman in tech, especially if you are a CTO, shouldn’t mean that you have to look like a nerd for people to trust your leadership. After some time, I got used to seeing shock on the faces of people who didn’t expect me to be the CTO.

Based on my own reflections on our TechCrunch Disrupt experience, I have to list the following tips for presenting a startup for a female co-founder:

Go ahead and attract attention.

I smiled a lot. Don’t spend time proving that you are smart. Just show your product, this is the only worthy argument.

Look for funders that single out women-led companies.

Make connections with the VC funds that invest in companies which have female co-founders and any other organizations that support women in tech

Attend the events.

Don’t miss special events and sessions organized for women only (e.g. this year TechCrunch organized special networking breakfast for all women attending Disrupt).

Be yourself.

Present your startup with pride and, sure, femininity, if you want. You usually have about 20-30 seconds to make the first impression.

The upside to lack of women in tech?

The gender gap is said to be the biggest in tech. At TechCrunch Disrupt, this gap was most visible in the lines to the restrooms. At the majority of conferences and other public events, the women’s restroom lines are the longest. Not at the TechCrunch Disrupt. All three days we women definitely had more space at the restrooms than men.

I hope that within a few years, the women’s bathroom line at TechCrunch Disrupt will come to be as long and slow as we’ve grown accustomed to in regular life.