By Emily Gonzales (CTO, Bookigee) As I sat in the Women 2.0 PITCH Conference yesterday surrounded by close to a thousand female tech entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, investors and supporters, I couldn't help but feel like we were making history.
As a tech entrepreneur flying in from Miami to learn as much as possible from the speakers and mentors, they exceeded every expectation I had for inspiration and practical advice. In short, I was blown away.
Here are some of the gems I'm taking home with me:
On Ideas, I Learned:
- Do something you're passionate about.When asked about how she got the idea for her startup, Danielle Fong (Co-Founder & Chief Scientist, LightSail Energy) revealed, "I made a list of 50 ideas and it was the idea that I couldn't stop working on that became my startup."
Leah Culver (Founder & CEO, Grove & Convore) warned, "Don't focus on what industry will be the next big thing. Focus on what you're passionate about."
- You, your product, your ideas don't have to be perfect.
As women, we tend to want our work to be perfect before putting it out into the world. Sheila Lirio Marcelo (Founder & CEO, Care.com) advised to "get rid of the picture of perfection in your head." It stops us from doing what we want to do and what we're capable of doing. Cathy Edwards (Founder & CTO, Chomp) had a similar directive when she told us to "just ship."
- Build something great. When thinking about what you're going to build, including the features and functions included in it, Caterina Fake (Co-Founder, Flickr & Hunch) wants us to "ask - does the technology bring us closer together or drive us apart? Build technology that brings us closer together." She reminded us that we should be building technology that makes more human.
On Lean Startup, I learned:
- Keep your company alive.When talking to Deena Varshavskaya (Founder & CEO, Wanelo) about the challenges I face daily while building our startup, she told me "focus on solving your current biggest risk, not all the risks that will come after." Taking this perfectly logical advice will make the process of building our product a lot smoother.
- Focus on solving a problem.
The investors onstage are passionate about solving problems, and reminded us that we should be too. Naval Ravikant (Founder & CEO, AngelList) advised to "get married to the problem, not the idea or solution." No matter how great we think our product is, if it doesn't do what our customers want, it's useless to them.
Jeff Clavier (Founder & Managing Director, SoftTech VC) noted that "customers don't care about whiz-bang tech or fancy implementation. They just care about getting the job done."
On Fundraising, I Learned:
- Getting press is good, but keeping customers is better.During the first round of pitches, one of the pitches showed the prominent press they had received. Thomas Korte (Managing Partner, AngelPad) warned to "beware of press. Investors want to know that the users you get after press are sustainable."
- Be prepared to meet opportunity.
While describing her fundraising path, Robin Chase (Co-Founder, ZipCar, Founder & CEO, BuzzCar) said, "You never know who your next investor is going to be. The person you have dinner with today might know someone who will eventually fund you."
Her advice was to always be ready to talk appropriately about what you're doing. When she confessed there's a bit of luck involved when raising funds, she also noted that "luck is where preparation meets opportunity."
About Growth, I Learned:
- Build a great team.When it's time to grow and begin hiring into your startup family, Julia Hu (Founder & CEO, Lark) advises us to "employ those who work like a dog and are smart and hungry, like you." And once you do that, she describes the next step as guiding your employees to positions they're best suited for. They may not know themselves what they do best. It's your job, as the leader, to help them discover it.
- Build a company that people like.
When you build something that makes a difference to people, make sure that you're also building a company with the right values and ethics. Robin Chase showed us customer praise that ZipCar has received and said to "Aspire to be a company people write love notes to."
This conference proved that there's no shortage of brilliant, engaging, relevant, female tech entrepreneur speakers. Thanks to Women 2.0, we had a magical day where speakers and attendees alike contributed to collective inspiration for everyone in the rooms. The greatest show of gratitude we can do is take all of this advice, lessons learned and new connections apply them to their own companies, projects, ideas and lives.
The Women 2.0 PITCH Conference was either a reminder of how much we can accomplish in the tech community, a wake-up call to start building something already, or affirmation to keep doing all the amazing things you've already been doing. For some, it's all three.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. Photo credit: Hong Quan on Tiny Review. About the guest blogger: Emily Gonzales is the CTO of Bookigee, an early-stage startup that builds online analytics and marketing applications for the Book Publishing Industry. Prior to joining Bookigee, Emily was a Director at Expense Reduction Analysts. Before that, she was a Senior Design Engineer at Motorola. She holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Miami and writes for TechFemme. Follow her on Twitter at @emilyshere.