Why are Women Funded Less than Men? a crowdsourced conversation presents a thoughtful collection of advice on how to do it and the challenges you face, drawn from a fascinating set of video interviews. Pemo interviewed VCs, entrepreneurs and advisors, asking them all to speak about the issues and challenges facing women trying to raise venture capital.
In a world more than 95% run by men, and 95% invested in by men, advice for the female entrepreneur is invaluable, and by presenting the advice in short video form, Pemo makes it very easy to absorb and enjoy.
Raising venture capital has never been a problem for me, and as I watched the videos I found myself thinking was I lucky, good, or just really ignorant of the challenge? I very much resonate with the advice to not be aware of your gender as you pitch, to be aggressive and to ignore that you know most VCs are not women friendly – your idea is still great.
I also resonate with the advice from Janice Roberts at Mayfield Fund that you can empower yourself by choosing the right VC. Finding the right investing partner is critical – my advice on how to pick a VC is in this post.
Many of the contributors speak about how important confidence is. So many women let themselves down by expressing self doubt. DON’T. VCs are already taking enough risk – they won’t invest in someone that reveals their fears – and men don’t let on no matter how scared they might be. Be confident, project confidence, and your investors will follow you.
As I said in my forward for the book:
While the facts are that only 3-5% of venture capital goes to female entrepreneurs there is simply no good reason for this to be the case. Women are as strong and smart as men, and often have the advantages of better management skills and stronger team building ability. But today’s venture world is dominated by men looking for the classical male style of leadership and until that changes women need to adapt to the current rules of the game, get funded and win so they can change the game.
It take confidence, courage and authenticity and a healthy dose of advice and encouragement. This wonderful collection of advice, shared experience and often humorous stories will be an inspiration to any female entrepreneur. Pemo interviews across the spectrum: VCs, entrepreneurs, those who have succeeded, some that have failed, all that have learned and share their experience with you. It’s a terrific resource if you are raising money from venture capital, plan to do so for your next brilliant idea or are a VC yourself wanting to unlock higher quality deals by tapping into the female advantage.
An interesting commentary this week by BBC News’ Jane Wakefield commenting on the increasing influence of algorithms in our daily life has gotten a fair amount of play. And indeed, it’s a useful and thought-provoking piece, if for no other reason that we probably can’t emphasize enough the emerging importance that algorithms are now playing in our economy, society and daily lives.
But where Wakefield’s article falls short is in its vaguely menacing tone, patching together random examples of algorithms at use and the trial and error process of putting them to work effectively—all while implying that the extensive use of these algorithms will lead us to some unfortunate yet unspecified problem (my favorite part was her concern over an algorithm being used to determine a potential movie’s marketability in advance of making the movie—because Hollywood movie producers never made such cynical greenlight decisions before they were corrupted by algorithms …). And even more unfortunate, she completely fails to acknowledge the truly amazing things we can now accomplish because of our ability to employ algorithms.
For every example of an algorithm that has wreaked havoc due to the unforeseen effects of it’s implementation, there have got to be at least 100 examples of the application of algorithms that are making our world tick more effectively every day, like the encryptions needed for secure daily electronic transactions, the design of advanced composite materials and improved aerodynamics for more fuel-efficient cars, optimized telecommunications routing, the analysis of disease genetics, molecular drug design, trip, traffic and shipment routing, computer game design, even the algorithm that apportions the number of U.S. Representatives based on census data.
In other words, smart people writing creative algorithms are the guts and magic that glue together much of the wonder and advancement in our modern life. And while it’s relatively easy to find and get freaked out by isolated examples of algorithms gone haywire, it’s also just as easy to overlook the vast numbers of unseen algorithms powering our world.
And yet, Wakefield somehow makes this seem like a sinister conspiracy, as if algorithms were secretly sentient beings slowly insinuating themselves into our lives in anticipation of the day they rise up and throw down their human overlords. Instead, algorithms are the application of great math in modern technology to help solve problems we wouldn’t otherwise be able to solve. When an algorithm goes wrong in some unanticipated way, it might be amusing, it might be quite serious (e.g. the Flash Crash), but it’s not really a signifier of anything more significant than a program with a bug. Of course, the higher the stakes (e.g., algorithmic trading systems that interact with one another and can move the market as a whole) the more important it is that we’re thoroughly testing and deeply thinking through the algorithms we implement. No systems, human or technological, ever operate without error, and there’s probably a strong argument that our algorithmically based systems operate with many fewer errors than human-controlled systems do.
The challenge, however, is that as humans we’re much more tolerant of human-based errors than we ever are of machine-based ones, even if those machines make far fewer errors. For example, take Google’s driverless car project. These prototypes are now out and running with astounding levels safety and accuracy. And indeed, this is actually the point of the program itself, to avoid the huge number of human-caused auto deaths and save millions of lives every year (this is the number one cause of death of young people) by relying on machines who can react and make these types of decisions much more quickly and accurately than any human. But just one human death by a failure of one algorithm in one car could kill the whole program. Is this logical if the program is saving many more net lives per year? No, but the illusion of human control and superiority is a powerful one.
In reality, however, where we get the most benefit is not from either human or algorithmic control—it’s in the combination of the two. It’s humans figuring out how and when and where and what algorithms to apply in new and creative ways to better our lives. It’s humans acting as a backstop to ensure algorithms are doing their jobs accurately, and catching the instances that require a lifetime of human experience, context and subtlety to truly understand. It’s why there will always be stock trades made by humans as well as machines. In fact, we employ these algorithmic backstops everyday at FirstRain. For example, we have incredibly sophisticated text analytics algorithms that analyze the Business Web content we find, look for a category in our taxonomy to apply to a given article, and if it doesn’t find one sufficiently descriptive, then suggests a new category to create. On the whole, this works incredibly well, and it’s why our taxonomy is so unbelievably granular. But even still, we need to have a team in place that reviews these algorithmic suggestions and can do a human sanity check, lest a “#CharlieSheen” occasionally slips in unnoticed.
Algorithms are tools, and in the end, it’s the use of tools that make us fundamentally human. This is probably why I’m not overly worried about the implications of humans now using the Web to supplement our memories. From the beginning of time, our bodies have evolved along with the technologies we’ve developed to survive and thrive. I’m sure there was handwringing about the loss of body hair as we began to wear clothes, and doomsday projections as our jaw muscles shrank thanks to our use of fire to cook meat. We’re the animals that use tools more than any other, and those tools change us the more we use them. And so as we employ these newest tools, these algorithms, into our daily life in a million new and groundbreaking ways, let’s be sure we’re thoughtful about those implementations, and creative, and far-sighted, and humble, and maybe even a little grateful.
[Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, by my colleague David Cooke, on the big implications of algorithms in enabling ‘just-in-time’ content delivery]
Living in Silicon Valley, running a software company with big ambitions I hear the question a lot. Is this another tech bubble? Isn’t is going to burst again?
The short answer is no.
Pundits covering tech tend to confuse valuation with long term value. We may well be in a valuation bubble but unlike the 2000 tech bubble the companies in question have deep, sustainable revenue models.
There are certainly some high valuations – per Fred Wilson’s view of frothy valuations in April – and these are driven by investor demand. As Father Guido Sarducci so wisely said in the 5 minute university, Economics is about supply and demand. When a few companies have sky high valuations in the public and private markets VCs are chasing good ideas with too much money again and so the early stage and later stage valuations may be getting silly for most companies, but some will be worth it.
Valuation is very different than long term value. Technology, and in particular software, is where long term sustainable value is being built. And when I say long term I am thinking hundreds of years. Marc Andreesen wrote very eloquently about this in the WSJ on Saturday in his essay Why Software Is Eating the World. We are at the beginning of a long era in which technology will reshape every aspect of our lives in ways we are just now beginning to see.
Just as the Industrial Revolution developed over more than 150 years in the 18th and 19th centuries and reshaped machines, industry, transport and the very nature of where people chose to live and work, technology is now reshaping the way we communicate, are entertained, where we live and work and shop and it is rewiring our kids brains for a new world. I’ve believed this for 20 years and the ups and downs of the tech world over that period have done nothing to dissuade me from that belief because technology is steadily, consistently and dramatically changing our lives. (Want to get some perspective on the 150 year change last time around – spend a day in Ironbridge in Shropshire, England.)
It’s happening right now because the pieces are now in place. As Marc writes “Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.”
The cost structure is right, the technology base is ready. In FirstRain’s case we have built a highly disruptive technology that changes the way business people use the web for their critical decision making. As Roger McNamee says in his thought provoking talk “Everything is Changing”, Google’s approach to indexing has peaked. People want apps designed for their specific need (he cites his investments like Facebook and Yelp), not one app for all needs, and they want it on their device of choice – which is a smartphone or an iPad. In our case the business need is even more specific than that. Our users want a business web app so they can tap into the breadth, currency and power of the web as a data source, but they want it tailored to their specific business and role, and they want it in a cost effective way.
Marc and Roger are just two rockstars in Silicon Valley but most people here agree with them (and not just because we are all drinking the same Kool-Aid). Yes we are dealing with some higher valuations, maybe that is a bubble, but the long term value being built in technology is real, and software is where it’s at. And what makes it even better is it a continuously exciting place to build a career, or even a company.
Like many folks I have a Facebook account. I check Facebook on the iPad daily – it is great to keep up to date with the whereabouts of my friends, follow various interests, and to occasionally share notable events with my social circle as well. And these are all common ways in which social media adds value to many of our lives as individuals. But at the FirstRain lunch table the other day we also did some grousing about some of the shared pet peeves in our social media lives as well: the over-posters (5-10 posts an hour, do these people do anything else?), the way-too-personal posters (did I need to know about the re-appearance of your lunch?), the aggressive-posters (would you make that sarcastic comment at a podium in front of 300 of your friends, family and associates? Well you just did), and the simple fact that keeping connected via Social Media can eat significantly into your day, pushing out time spent watching news, or other methods for keeping up to date.
But after thinking about how time consuming these platforms can be, I also started to wonder if something counter-logical is going on. Social Media sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to connect with friends and co-workers. It also makes it really easy to reach out and make friends with like-minded people across the country and the globe. At face value, they seem to be great tools to associate with people interested in the same things you are. My sister, for instance knits socks (very fancy socks!) and she uses the Web to be part of a community of sock knitters, to share patterns, post pictures and discuss types of yarn, which significantly enhances her enjoyment.
Thinking more broadly, however, even the best of intentions can result in undesirable outcomes. The Web—and Social Media in particular—
In the past, before the time of the Web and social media platforms, we had to co-exist with the people living around us, or working with us. News outlets were fewer and had to be broad-based. Now we can choose from a multitude of channels, and create our own custom filters. We now have the luxury to only hear what we want to hear. Sharing this with my co-worker Ash, it turns out that we’re not the only people questioning the impacts of the web. Eli Pariser, in his book The Filter Bubble, articulates this problem (he also did a great Ted talk on this subject: http://on.ted.com/9BwR). Rather than having to live in the physical community with people around us, we unconsciously end up “opting-out” of reality and “opting-in” to a narrow view of the world defined by our friends and filters.
Many years ago a group of like-minded people came together in Jonestown. They isolated themselves from a diversity of views, associated solelywith each other, self-reinforced each other views and allowed their worldview to become dominated by a loud and extreme fringe. Eventually, when their leader told them to drink the cyanide-laden Kool-Aid, 918 people died. Clearly, this is an extreme example, but it really is illustrative of how philosophical isolation and the filtering out other views and interactions can lead to extremely unfortunate choices.
What does this mean in the context of the business world? Obviously, mass suicide is a little extreme. But, the cautionary message still applies. Are people obtaining the necessary information they need to make the right business decisions? It’s very possible that valuable information is not being received due to filtering. The beauty of social media is that it allows access to business intelligence that was not accessible years ago. In order to make the best business choices, professionals must look beyond the people and news they WANT to follow, and direct their focus to the channels they NEED to follow.
Are we entering an era of extreme polarization? Working in the Bay Area, I hope not. The wide diverse backgrounds, ideology and experience of the people in this region are something I value greatly. To travel, and experience how different people live is a great privilege. It’s important that we as Web users take the initiative to expand our bubble beyond our closest circles. Use social media to track areas you wouldn’t have initially thought you’d be interested in. Follow the newscasters and politicians you disagree with, and maybe even hate. Seek out opinions from smart people different than yourself. I see richness in diversity and believe it creates stronger solutions for everyone over the long term.
Yesterday’s news about Google buying Motorola Mobility has set the twittersphere on fire – and generated humor at the same time. Case in point this morning’s tweet from nikcub “If you are a motorola employee and do not want to lose your job, I suggest you show up to work dressed as a patent”
This tweet speaks to the core question about what Google’s acquisition really means. Google paid a 60% premium for a hardware business, purportedly to get access to their patent portfolio. Anyone who lives in the IP licensing and litigation world (as I do as a board member of Rambus), especially in the US software patent world (as I do as CEO of FirstRain) knows that the US patent system is pretty badly broken and it is very hard and extremely expensive to defend and protect your inventions from the idea thieves.
Google was feeling extreme IP licensing pressure from Apple – even going so far as to accuse Apple and Microsoft of a “hostile, organized campaign” against Android – and buying up their own defensive patents was the only way to go. They are just too young a company, and too newly into the mobile phone world to build up enough of an arsenal to defend themselves in court – and Motorola Mobility has 17,000 patents.
Google may simply not have had any other choice than to buy the patent portfolio to fight with – and so they brought the alien onto their ship.
They paid $12.5B for a hardware business and that is so very different than a software business. A hardware business takes a very different kind of DNA. It takes discipline, cost management and high precision supply chain management. It takes strong controls of inventory turns and the cash conversion cycle. All things Google is not known for.
Larry Page has stated that Android will stay open and free, and the cell phone companies, for now, are supporting Google’s move, but for how long? How long until Google realizes that to get a return on their $12.5B (which is a big purchase even for Google) they need to develop a deep integration of OS and phone to compete with Apple and Microsoft? How long until Larry’s promise that “Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers” leads to a move to give Google a product advantage over HTC and Samsung, causing them to develop their own operating systems as Samsung is now doing with Bada?
Remember Google’s snafu with the Nexus phone, when they demonstrated very publicly how little they understood the business of selling hardware products (especially to consumers). While I am sure the Google management team has thought about all the possible outcomes I wonder if arrogance and the lack of hardware DNA will lead them into the world of unforseen consequences?
How long will it be until Google either a) creates a proprietary version of Android for their own phones – while protesting vociferously that they will take care of their Android partners or b) shut down the phone business, ending thousands of engineering and production jobs while creating more work for IP litigators? (and those jobs were going to be on the chopping block anyway with the decline of Motorola’s market share).
Like the crew of the Nostromo who allowed their crewmate Kane back onto their ship to save him from the alien attached to his face, only to find it killed all the crew except Ripley, who then blew up the ship, has Google taken on an alien business that can eat into it’s market position and profitability. Will they, in the end, chose option (b) and blast it out of their ship?
You know the feeling. That moment when it all makes sense, it all clicks, you finally get it. That moment while watching the Usual Suspects when you see the plot twist, when your bio-chemist friend explains some complex project and it finally makes sense to you, when you finally understand what the debt ceiling means to your wallet. There is such a pure sense of satisfaction, excitement, and relief, all rolled into the “Aha” moment. And if that moment can impact both your personal and professional life, well you might just have something great on your hands.
I had one of those moments, in the basement of Grand Central Station of all places. I was eating a rather average pastrami sandwich (should have gone to Katz Deli, but that is another blog post) while catching up with an old friend and former co-worker. He was explaining the technology behind the new company he recently joined, FirstRain. As he was filling me in on the details of the Web Graph, I started to put the pieces together in my head. I asked some questions that began with “does it really…” “do you realize…” and ended with statements that began with “wow…” and “holy…” Then something clicked. I had an “Aha moment!” I realized that I had been introduced to something new and amazing. At that moment I knew that I was about to begin the next phase in my life.
It was a sea change both personally and professionally. From the business side, I realized that FirstRain will impact how companies use and think about information. It would enable many people I know to move their business to the next level. I was convinced that companies needed the right business tool to use the web properly and efficiently. FirstRain is that tool to harness the power of the web.
As we talked, I tried to make sense of how this would be the right fit for me personally. It was a chance to use all the skills I have acquired over the years and help companies move forward. I was excited to begin working with one of the best teams I’d ever come across. I felt like Kramer from Seinfeld, ready to jump on board in exchange for free lattes.
So I was in, all in. I pushed all my chips into the middle of the table and went for it. And a funny thing happened. It got better, and keeps on getting better. I knew I was joining a great company but FirstRain has continued to beat all my expectations. This is the right company, the right technology, the right team, the right strategy, the right place for me to elevate my career.
As a sales professional, I am constantly striving to help my clients understand how FirstRain will impact their company so they will have their own “Aha moments”. With FirstRain, those moments will transform into real business value and a much greater return on their investment.
I’m still riding that “Aha” wave, right out of the basement of Grand Central. Like any “Aha moment”, when you get it, you want to share it. You want others to see what you see, not just because you think it’s cool, but because you know it’s a game changer.
We’re all very excited here at FirstRain, as we’ve just seen the product review of FirstRain published this month by VIP Reports and (in a slightly more condensed form) in the August 2011 edition of VIP Magazine. VIP Reports aim to provide product and vendor reviews of premium content products. We were delighted to have VIP’s report author Perrin Kerravala, Senior Librarian at Export Development Canada, analyze FirstRain and share an inside look into how effectively our solution can help deliver The Business Web to busy professionals. The Report walks readers through the basic workings of the product and offers a detailed product review (including screenshots and a step-by-step guide).
In short, it’s a great review, and the VIP Report highlights a number of the attributes that make FirstRain such an asset to businesses:
• “FirstRain is primarily a current awareness research tool that makes free, relevant web content easy to find.” (Emphasis theirs)
• “[FirstRain] Vastly increases precision when searching for quality business information on the internet, largely thanks to the FirstRain Business Web taxonomic system.”
• “FirstRain enables users to build sophisticated Monitors very quickly using a three-step process.”
• “Numerous mobile and enterprise integration options allow organisations to choose the method of content delivery that works best for them.”
• “[FirstRain] is suitable for users at all levels of research expertise—novice to expert searchers. The product’s customisable monitoring functions and content delivery options make it a good option for busy C-Level executives.”
A really positive review like this one provides just one more validation that FirstRain is a solution that can truly meet the needs of sales, marketing, legal, CI, research and many other professionals who need to find information to make business decisions. For example, selling and rolling out a solution is one challenge, but delivering a solution that people actually find value in and continue to use on a daily basis is quite another. Fortunately, we know how good the active usage by our customers of FirstRain actually is, but it’s wonderful to see this strongly supported, as when Ms. Kerravala suggests, “… FirstRain is effective and user friendly—ensuring that users will come back to it, time and again.”
Everyone interacts differently in the office, based on their role and personality, but most people sort into one of two types with respect to their impact on other people: energy sources and energy sinks. The CEO has to be open to all, and to motivate and energize all, and so I become very aware of the net gain or drain of interaction with my coworkers – and everyone at all levels of the company is consciously or unconsciously impacting the energy level of the people around them.
- Bring you problems for you to solve. They’ll arrive with a problem, dump it on you and ask what you are going to do about it. Particularly sink-ish when they phone you up with the problem on Friday afternoon and get it off their chest so you can worry about it all weekend.
- Have a negative outlook. Every solution you come up with they shoot it down without chewing on it first, and they drag down other people in the discussion who are trying to find a positive solution. Some people are consistently negative – about movies, about food, about their spouse. It’s exhausting!
- Take cheap shots up. Some people think it’s OK to be positive down their organization, positive to peers and attack up. The logic is something like “well you wanted the job so you just have to take it”. Very negative to other people in the room and, inside, very tiring for the leader. Equally draining are people who are obsequious – also does not move the business forward.
- Are non interactive. They sit silent in a problem solving discussion. Especially frustrating when you know they are smart and have ideas to contribute so you work extra hard to help them participate and overcome whatever inhibition is holding them back.
In contrast energy sources:
- Bring solutions with the problems. Even if they don’t have a good solution to some killer problem you are facing together, they try get the brainstorming going until the team comes up with a reasonable idea.
- Bring smart, out of the box solutions. The people who are willing to listen to an issue, think and then take the risk of an unusual or creative solution are particularly energizing, even if half their ideas are bad ones. They open up the solution space for everyone.
- See issues as bumps in the road, not roadblocks.
- See you a fellow traveler on the road (whatever level of management you are at), working together to move the company forward. They don’t take cheap shots or kiss up.
- Have a positive outlook. Some people know how to look for the silver lining – it’s in their nature – and these people often become leaders of their teams, whether they have an official manager role or not.
- Understand that executives are human. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone gets stumped at times and energy sources know that and detect when to be demanding and when to offer an ear to listen. As CEO you can never expect support from below, you need to be self reliant, but it sure is helpful sometimes when it’s offered no strings attached.
Think about which are you in what circumstances – and is your behavior and impact on your coworkers conscious? And if you behave differently with co-workers who are at or below your level in the org chart than you do with coworkers above you why is that and is it justified or helpful to your company?
The top image is of Centaurus A which is two colliding galaxies around a super massive black hole. The bottom image is our Sun.
The FirstRain office has had a full house this week with members from our East Coast sales team in town for our quarterly sales kick-off. And last night, in the spirit of fun, culture and generally getting over ourselves, the entire sales team and most of the company, headed down south to Cupertino for the final Splash and Dash race of the summer. The race consisted of a one-mile swim in the Stevens Creek Reservoir, followed by a three-mile run. We are lucky to have 13 great (or at least enthusiastic!) athletes that competed in relays – so we had 6.5 teams in the competition. The less brave joined the superb cheerleading team led by Julie and her cowbell.
Aaron and Ryan finished first for the team, crediting their win to the support from our star, 5-year old cheerleader Natalie. Natalie earned her prize, keeping the shiny blue pom-poms that she used to cheer on each rainmaker.
After the race, everyone plus families and friends and headed back to my house for a team cookout – where Thomas, Carolyn and Doug dueled over the grill (I was happy to hand off the tongs, so to speak). It was a beautiful night out, with great food and terrific company. We finished the night by celebrating Rajiv’s birthday (he is visiting us from our Gurgaon office) using our best singing voices to serenade him (in and out of tune!).
The Splash and Dash race has proven to be a great team building event for FirstRain and I’m very proud of my team. The encouragement and support they show one another builds the kind of relationships that make a company great. Their ability to congratulate each other for a job well done, to help each other, to care about each other independent of their work roles is part of what makes FirstRain such a fun place to be.