Monday, August 20, 2007

Founders at Work

Lately I've been re-reading Founders at Work and absolutely loving it even more the second time around because it vividly tells the stories of startups' early days from Gmail (Paul Buchheit) to Research in Motion (Mike Lazaridis) to Flickr where cofounder Caterina Fake (pictured) talks about what it was like for her when she got started and in particular, some of the challenges she had to deal with as a female entrepreneur -- like this one.
Livingston: What kinds of challenges have you faced as a female technology startup founder?

Fake: There is a lot of institutionalized sexism working against women in business and I think that people aren't even aware that it's there. One example happened when we went down to Silicon Valley to meet with a venture capital fir. After the meeting, the VC spoke to someone associated with our company and said to him, "Tell Stewart not to bring his wife to VC meetings." Which was shocking to me, and Stewart was furious about this as well. He let everybody know. "Caterina is not 'my wife.' She is instrumental o the success of this company. Her contributions have been equal to mine."

It takes a lot of nerve for women to face up this assumption -- and the assumption is everywhere, even in some of the most surprising places -- that they don't measure up, that they're not good or tough enough. Twice as much will be expected of them. I hear this from women again and again in business: they have to be twice as prepared as men.

This happens to me all the time: I go to meetings and I've stayed up late preparing my presentation and I've got all my papers in order and know exactly what I'll be talking about and I come to the meeting and a bunch of guys show up and say, "Hey, so what's this meeting about?" They haven't done any of the preparation or work.

Livingston: Do women bring any advantages to a startup?

Fake: I was talking to another entrepreneur, Judy MacDonald Johnston, and she said that women are much more passionate about their businesses. They're doing it less for the money and more because they love it. There's something about that that really rings true to me. Women are able to put their hearts and souls ito it in a way that many men cannot -- or rather, are not known for doing.
Do you agree or disagree with Caterina's remarks?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an old post, but since I was specifically looking for this interview, thank you - and to answer your question, yes, I agree, with Caterina's remarks.

I used to work in investment banking, and as a woman I was definitely in the minority. The women who made it to the top were honest to goodness superwomen. Semi-professional triathlon competitors along with being (obviously full-time) bankers, what have you. I don't know how anyone, unless truly extraordinary, can work that much -- how could anyone do "twice as much" as the men in an environment that in and of itself wants to "own" your every minute -- and as a woman, you are not guaranteed the social support the guys get.

And the men? Not many of them that exceptional. Lots of legacies, frat boys, just as unprepared as the guys Caterina described. They're the last to get laid off, though. You get disillusioned, when you see some woman stuck on a certain ladder or thrown out, when guys who may not ne half as good get promoted.

More than the work, I was stressed out by the inequality. I wish I could feel more comfortable going back to working in business, but I expect this to be the norm. I hope it's not, but I do expect it, and I don't know how to undo that mindset, that lingering bad experience when I first started out.

Wish there were more men like Stewart, who stand up for women. They seem few and far between.

At my former employer, most men behaved as if they assumed women were there to fill a quota or find a husband or both. Some men were (allowed to act) incredibly sexist, and any attempts by HR to reduce this misogyny were lip service at best. Most of the men I met at the bank were cowards: they might see a woman being treated unfairly or discussed in a manner that couldn't stand the light of day (or a court case), and they would either keep quiet or side with the perpetrator. Not that different from elementary school, really.