March 25, 2007

Women 2.0 Gets It So Wrong

First off, I really hate all this 2.0 naming. Why plant yourself in a time that is on the verge of obsolescence? Women 2.0. What can I say? Are we software that needs an upgrade?

Anyway, Women 2.0 is running a pitch contest (great idea), but for the rules way down at the bottom which say:

Women 2.0 Napkin Business Challenge Eligibility and Rules

The business plan must represent the original work of members of the team. You can submit as many business ideas on napkins as you want. You may have a team of up to four individuals. At least half of the team must be female and at least half of the team must be under 35; else the majority shareholder must be a woman and under 35. This is a Women 2.0 and Entrepreneur27 production after all.

Nice. So Mike Moritz and Tim Drapier are the prizes (meetings with them for another pitch). And the judges are mostly women, over 35.

Isn't the issue that women who are first timers need a lot of help getting started in terms of making a startup, pitching and getting funding? And, there are so few women anyway. Why on earth would you limit it? If you are really concerned that the few women over 35 that might submit ideas are going to wipe out the few women under 35, why not divide them into categories by age?

There is so much to know as you make a startup, and you need experienced people around you to clue you in, because almost none of what you really need to know is written down or even bloggable.

My best learning experiences have been with people who have a lot of experiences with the VC community, who can explain how things work, the quirky hand done ways of VC land, and what the various relationships are between people, and just how connected they are in what appears from the outside to be invisible.

I also am well aware that women over 35 are often seen as invisible in our society. If women are only valued for their looks (not how I see the world, but there is certainly a large percentage that treats women this way, and they aren't only men), then a woman over 35 is a stereotypical 'fading bloom.' And a women over 35 making her first company, pitching for the first time, in this Byzantine and fairly undocumented world around funding can be very difficult, because people may well be seeing right past her.

I don't believe I've had this experience myself, and maybe that's because people don't see me at about that age. Or maybe it's because of other things.. I don't really care. The bottom line is for women who are older, it's more difficult.

The thought of going to Sand Hill Road and standing up for yourself and your ideas can be intimidating. VCs meetings can be hard. One VC interrupted me 12 times (after the third, I started making tic marks) to say that with his startup (10 years before) they never had to do anything social. And he didn't belive in it now and why on earth was I even thinking about it? I don't mind defending what I work on, but you really have to have it very together, and often they actually don't want a real answer. They are looking for the right code words to provide comfort that this is a good investment. If you don't speak the way they understand the world, you will not be taken seriously. They also may be looking for push back instead of inclusiveness if they challenge you, and women when they first meet someone are often reluctant to push back without more relationship building. Right there in the first 5 minutes of a meeting, that can be a confidence undermining event for both parties. Women do communicate differently than men, and it doesn't change at 35.

One adviser I have talks about how Silicon Valley (or Silicon Village) is run on fear and greed. Greed comes first, but fear trumps all. And listening to the years of stories does make that world more understandable and feel less scary, more like something you can work with in an acceptable way.

Anyway, my point is, Women 2.0 needs to focus on what the barriers are: going out the first time with your first company. Doesn't matter whether you are 25 or 70. It's going to require a support network and information no matter your age. Women do have different needs than men, and we do behave differently in these situations. We tend to network differently, and that can be a barrier as well.

Women 2.0 isn't helping by institutionalizing and making acceptable agism. On top of everything else women face going to Sand Hill, that's just not something we need, especially from our own.

Update: I took this photo at Mesh07:

Women 2.0

All the more reason I think this post was necessary to point out that first time women entrepreneurs and not young entrepreneurs are the ones who need help. I don't care if it wasn't towing the party line. Age discrimination isn't right.

Posted by Mary Hodder at March 25, 2007 11:03 AM | TrackBack

I think there is a bit of a fascination and an assumption with youth in the valley - not always one that I think is entirely a good thing.

I'm a man and haven't been actively seeking VC funding for my current company, so my experiences may vary a bit - but I'm extremely glad that my co-founder and partner is well over 35 - in fact he has decades of business experience and has been programming for over 30 years (of course, he like I learned to program at a very, very young age). Between us we actually probably have over 50 years of programming and business experience. (I'm 32 myself - but learned to program when I was 8, been on the Internet since 1991)

And that experience - tempered with staying current with technology and social and business trends - is invaluable.

Whether you are a man OR a woman.

But looking at the business plan, pitch competitions, even a lot of the media coverage of startups here in the valley - it is dominated by a focus on "how young can you be to start a company" - ignoring that in many cases young founders have had early hires and/or mentors (even co-founders) who did have deep experience.

I also would predict that some of the best, most successful businesses in the coming decades will be those businesses that reach out to a non-youth demographic - my 85+ year old grandmother for example is online every day - mostly to play bridge but as her mobility diminishes the power to stay in active, social contact with friends - new and old is a powerful one (and she, like many elderly will pay for services that add value to her life).


Posted by: Shannon Clark at March 26, 2007 02:45 PM

Hi Mary,

I remember you from the Women 2.0 Conference last year. I'm sorry that you feel this way about the upcoming Business Challenge. Thank you for your constructive comments about our age limit.

Women 2.0 have committed ourselves to promoting the growth of young women in entrepreneurship because we noticed the need for support and resources for this segment and because we (the co-founders) happen to be in it. We responded to a need in the market - like true entrepreneurs!

When assessing the need in the market, we came across a number of organizations such as the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, the Women's Technology Cluster, the eWomen Network, and Ladies Who Launch. When I personally started feeling the entrepreneurial itch living in the Silicon Valley, I explored a lot of these women's group but didn't see one oriented toward the twentysomething young professional crowd. I felt so *young* and didn't have much of a nerve to join these accomplished groups, nor did I feel at home at Stanford because I had already graduated. I was at my first job out of college in the Silicon Valley, and with three friends in exactly the same position, we started mobilizing the Women 2.0 community.

We have been asked a few times why don't we directly address the empty-nested, the second-career woman, etc. We would love to, but Women 2.0 already takes so much time and energy to execute and we would love to partner with another grassroot organization which we hope will arise to meet that challenge - fighting ageism and fostering entrepreneurship in working professionals who are tired of the 9-5.

However, most of the people we meet who are in our situation and who respond most enthusiastically to our mission are those who joined our mailing list and show up to events - women under 35. We have all kinds show up, and we warmly welcome everyone.

But we have to state a mission and a niche - it distinguishes us from the women's entrepeneurship and business organizations.

I personally had thought that putting in an age requirement of sorts would encourage the more experienced, older entrepreneur to look for young talent to bring on board. After all, a team of up to four individual only has to at least 50% females under 35. I'm not a fan of ageism at all and I thought this was a reasonable deduction.

I hope this explains where we're coming from and that you will continue to support Women 2.0. If I weren't in the cohort that I am in, I don't know if I would feel the same way as you. We are young and inexperienced and probably a bit naive, sure. We're bound to make some faux pas along the way, and thank you for voicing your opinion about our decisions to help us grow wiser.


Angie Chang
Women 2.0 Coordinator

Posted by: Angie Chang at March 26, 2007 09:15 PM

Hi Angie,
I think the barrier is more about first timers and their needing help getting going.

If you want to ask that at least half of any pitch team be first time women entrepreuneurs, great.

Much better than age discrimination.


Posted by: mary hodder at March 26, 2007 09:34 PM

You've got It. There is no 2.0 in this story.
Because the web is not a "unique" software. Its a ecosystem! Like earth.

Posted by: Alan at April 9, 2007 06:50 AM