I went to a technology/entrepreneurship/startup networking session last week. I’ve been to a few in the past month. The featured speaker was the co-founder of a successful tech startup. They had reached their one year anniversary. He spoke about using the right metrics to continue the growth of a start-up. It was a punchy and clear talk. Hard work was evident as well as investor funding. Then it was question time. I asked a question about using metrics at an early stage, even before finding outside funding or launching an app. I had the microphone and mentioned my lifestyle brand and that it was at an early stage. He agreed that it was a good idea to use metrics early on and also to think about the problem that you’re trying to solve.
I replied, “I have an answer to a problem.”
He said, “Great. Cause what’s a lifestyle brand? What does that mean? Anybody can start one of those. Tell me if you’re still around in twelve months time.”
I said, “I will.”
And then I surrendered the microphone.
This little exchange was no surprise.
I walked into a room of about 150 people, most of whom were male. Many were “bro’s.” I counted less than 15 women. I looked at Wikipedia for the technical definition of “bro” and it stated that “The wide-ranging iterations of bro include ” twenty-somethings, investment bankers, fraternity brothers in flannel shirts, and “laconic surfers”. National Public Radio in the US identified four types of bros: dudely, jockish, preppy, and stoner-ish.” I saw the first three last night. The one onstage was dudely.
I like going to these events. They are enormously useful for organising one’s thoughts and for strategy. Vélo-à-Porter is a start-up and I am in the midst of formulating the next stage for this brand. (Dear Readers, do not despair. I am taking you on this journey with me.) However, I am usually fifteen to twenty years older than everyone in the room. Fortunately, I have experience and perspective on my side. I dealt with the investment banker bro’s in my twenties. Introductions at Morgan Stanley where you were sized-up included: “Where did you go to uni? Where do you live?” I recall being made fun of because I didn’t have the right ski bag for a company sponsored weekend trip away with other junior bankers. Never mind, I was on the black runs for most of the weekend. I can hold my own now as a mid-forties, married woman with two children and a nineteen year career in investment banking that I chose to leave behind. And then I think of the young women in the room.
I attended another event on International Women’s Day. The immense room held nearly three hundred young women and 0.1% men. The women on the panel were all successful entrepreneurs. The event was encouraging, empathetic, positive, earnest. Having come from a male-dominated industry, it was a contrast even for me. I asked a question about failure having recently experienced it and asked the women on the panel about their “failures.” Having my question affirmed as an act of bravery by the panel and many other women afterwards was something that I had never experienced before.
The difference between the two events was startling. They were like night and day. And yet I was not surprised. Everything being written about the tech culture of Silicon Valley, venture capitalists, start-ups, the entrepreneur culture is heavily dominated by men. Better put my “game face” on again.
I went up to the speaker after the Q&A session concluded to [kick his arse, ahem] follow up and we locked eyes. He was in the middle of a conversation with someone else. When I approached him, he moved away to another part of the room. Consequently, I had a lovely conversation with a young man who suggested a coffee to discuss a possible IT collaboration. Later, I networked around the room. Many people had witnessed the above conversation. And then I bicycled home.