Entrepreneur

3 Questions with Aryel Cianflone, UX Researcher & Creator of Mixed Methods Podcast

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Aryel! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Hi! For work, I manage a small team of user researchers at Domo, a business intelligence company aimed at being the control center for your business (it’s currently valued at $2B).

When I’m not at work, I love spending time outside! Summer is my favorite season because I can get out and go hiking, climbing, camping, etc. I live in Utah right now, which is paradise for stuff like that.

What inspired you to launch Mixed Methods as a podcast?

I have been using different user research methods throughout my career, but about a year ago, I started working as a researcher for my team. The learning curve was pretty steep and I had a number of questions and no one to ask. The UX research community is pretty small where I live, so I started reaching out to people. I wanted to speed up my learning and get more involved with the professional community.

During his process, I realized that if these conversations were useful to me, they probably would be for others as well. So I bought a mic, learned how to do some audio editing, and started a podcast.

Who would be your dream guest and why?

My dream guest is changing all the time. For a while, it was Jake Knapp, but since he’s been on the show, I had the chance to rethink it. Right now, I’m really interested in speaking with Edward de Bono. He is the father of lateral thinking, which is a method of problem solving that is more creative/less direct than more traditional methods. His ideas have informed an entire generation of UX professionals, and I think it would be amazing to talk to him about his journey.

BroadMic Founder Sara Weinheimer Shares Advice for Pitching Angel Investors

Sara_Weinheimer

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Sara! How did you initially develop the idea for BroadMic?

I hatched the idea for BroadMic in the spring of 2015. Listening to the coverage of Ellen Pao’s legal battle with her former employer (venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) convinced me that the industry was desperately in need of change. Pao argued that the firm discriminated against her based on gender. She lost, but the trial opened up a Pandora’s box of questions when the ugly truth emerged about gender bias in Silicon Valley.

I’d been an angel investor in women-led, fast-growth tech startups for over a decade and had assumed somewhat naively that it wouldn’t be long before we caught up to men. The overwhelming evidence to the contrary that came out in the wake of the Ellen Pao case galvanized me to research what I identified as a gap in the marketplace: we needed a counter narrative to the media stereotype of the entrepreneur as a 20-something, white male, hoodie-wearing, unicorn-hunting Stanford engineer.

Launching BroadMic was an effort to use tech and media to interview accomplished women entrepreneurs, show that it can be done and is being done, and to scale their advice to hundreds of thousands of aspiring women entrepreneurs.

Who has been your favorite guest to host on BroadMic and why?

It’s impossible for me to list one favorite because they’re all such incredible women with very compelling entrepreneurial stories. However, I empathized with a few in particular because they were similar to my own career journey:

  • Janet Hanson, after a career on Wall St, became a digital social network pioneer as founder of 85Broads.
  • Kathryn Finney, an icon and pioneer in the style blogging community, sold her company and went on to found digitalundivided (DID), a social enterprise dedicated to the success of Black and Latina women tech founders.
  • Stephanie Newby, after a career in Wall St., founded the Golden Seeds angel network and is currently CEO of Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics company.

Each of their stories resonate with me because:

  1. They have been founders and investors in other women founders.
  2. Their successful careers eventually brought them to a point where they could found mission-driven companies of their own.
  3. What they learned from being in the fire as founders informed them and made them better investors in women entrepreneurs.

Becoming a founder has been an incredibly rewarding and humbling experience, and made me a better angel investor. It’s easier to recognize the “red flags” in prospective founders I’m considering for investment because I’ve made so many of the same mistakes myself.

What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs looking to court angel investors?

It’s a really important question, and one I get asked a lot. Angel investors function in a fragmented marketplace that lacks an established protocol. How an entrepreneur approaches mentors and angel investors is not very well understood, and yet it’s such a critical stage of the process.

In the hierarchy of rules to observe, there are two that are super important: 1) recognize that it’s a long term process of building relationships, because angels are betting on the rider, not the horse; and 2) the reciprocity principle should govern one’s approach. Every contact, call, or meeting is an opportunity to learn more about the advisor or investor, how they came to be an angel investor, what motivates them, areas of expertise, and what they look for in the entrepreneurs in whom they invest. It will improve the quality of the dialogue immensely. So ask questions, don’t do all the talking.

Other common sense tips include:

  • Bring an attitude of gratitude and humility (even if you are the next big opportunity, don’t act like you’re doing angels a “favor” by letting them in on your startup idea).
  • Prepare for the meeting. Research the person with whom you schedule a call or meeting and come with specific asks. Preparation guarantees higher probability of potential positive outcomes.
  • Make a gesture of reciprocity, even if symbolic — and definitely pay for the coffee! If you act like it’s a one-way street (“What can you do for me?”), you may not get very far. Just as investors acquire reputations among early stage founders, so do founders acquire reputations among investors — for better or for worse.
  • Just because you obtain a meeting with an angel, do not assume that they owe you more time, more help, or access to their rolodex; all of that you have to earn.

Angel investing is a relationship business, and keeping this in mind as you court angel investors will make a huge difference in your success.

Meet 16-year-old Katie Mishra, CEO and founder of Code Circle

Katie_Mishra

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Katie! How did you first get into computer science, and how did that lead to the creation of Code Circle?

I actually used to be solely focused on humanities. When I was 10, I won an honorable mention in a New York book pitching contest, and since then have published 3 books. Going into high school, I was set on becoming a professional writer.

At my school, each grade has an assigned color (the freshman are green, for example). Early in freshman year, I had nothing green to wear for spirit week, so I signed up for Gatorbotics (Castilleja’s first robotics team) simply to get their free, green t-shirt. I had no intention of actually participating in the team, but I felt bad, so I went to the season kickoff in January. Immediately the energy and community of robotics captivated me. The upper classmen devoted their time to teaching me how to code, and I got to work hands-on with the robot, both designing and building mechanisms. For days on end, I learned college level math, complex machines, nitty gritty circuits, and everything in between. During that six week season, the lab became my second home.

After cultivating my computer science knowledge in robotics, I taught Google’s CSFirst Curriculum at Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula (BGCP) last spring in an effort to share my own passion for programming. However, every week I would be disappointed when most of the 4th and 5th grade students begged to play video games instead. So that’s when I founded Code Circle to share my own passion for programming with others.

As a young CEO and entrepreneur, what has been your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?

I thought that my biggest challenge would be my lack of experience, but it has actually been the opposite. Everyone I’ve reached out to has been extraordinarily welcoming and helpful, and I’ve secured amazing opportunities even at 16 years old. I can truthfully say that I’ve learned more about myself and real-world skills in the past three months of running Code Circle than I have in my entire life of schooling.

Rather, my biggest challenge has been time. I am a junior in high school with rigorous classes, standardized testing, social events, and numerous extracurriculars, all on top of Code Circle. My dad jokes that I’m the absent father of the house because I always have meetings, emails, and work to do. Occasionally, I’ve let Code Circle consume my life and I’ve always seen the negative effects of being a workaholic on my personal health and my relationships.

Therefore, I had to adopt many habits to prevent my business ventures from taking over my life. The first is maintaining a routine sleep schedule — going to bed no later than 11pm and waking up at around 6am. This allows me to be more alert during my working hours and ultimately more productive. I also find my productivity to be increased by exercise, so I fit workouts into my schedule. Finally, I love lists. I have them for everything: school, work, social plans, events — you name it. These lists allow me to organize my life and break down what I need to do, so I can finish tasks more efficiently and take smaller steps toward larger goals.

What do you hope to do once you graduate from high school?

Once I graduate from high school, I plan on attending college to obtain a double major in computer science and business, specifically entrepreneurship. Many entrepreneurs believe that college isn’t necessary because they think can learn all necessary skills in the real world. However, I believe to be a successful entrepreneur you also need a technical skillset, which in many cases can only be truly solidified through college.

If you look at the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, they fall into three categorical backgrounds: business, technology, or both. A handful of extraordinary executives fall into the first two categories, such as Jeff Bezos and Marissa Mayer. However, the majority of successful executives fall into the sweet spot of the third category, with both a business and technical background, including superstars such as Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai.

I want to double major to obtain both a technical and business skills that can be utilized in my future entrepreneurial ventures. In the coming years and in college, I aspire to launch a for-profit startup to solve a real world problem. I don’t plan on attending graduate school, but instead hope that by the time I graduate from college, my startups will have made a significant impact on the world.

3 Questions with Beauty-Tech Founder Keena Newell of Pigment File

Keena_newell

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Keena! Can you tell us about what you do and how you came to create Pigment File?

Pigment File is a makeup database that allows you to search every foundation out there. My background is in digital advertising and e-commerce, and my first job after college was as the assistant in the advertising department at Barneys New York. I was the liaison between every brand (from cosmetics to men’s suits) and the in-house advertising team. It was creative, but I also managed hundreds of spreadsheets. The combo of skills that I developed there fueled my career — and ultimately — Pigment File.

When I relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina, the cosmetics buying experience was totally different. Stores in Raleigh only carry a tiny percentage of what I know is available. I had to get comfortable shopping online-only for certain categories, and even though I work in e-commerce, I found it tough to buy makeup without consulting several sites. I made a bunch of bad decisions and cringe at all the money I wasted.

Out of necessity, I started scraping websites to build a spreadsheet of every foundation and their attributes. It stripped away the marketing and gave me straight facts. The final sheet was massive and I wanted to turn it into something visually simple that could help everyone. I started building Pigment File in 2016 and published it in February 2017. It’s nearly 500 pages of products, organized by a custom taxonomy that visitors can search.

Beauty and tech rarely collide, but when they do, incredible things can happen like the development of Pigment File! Can you talk about the challenges of integrating beauty and tech and how you’ve dealt with that?

Beauty brands have to face the challenge of using tech to duplicate the entire in-store shopping experience, instead of just supplementing it. There should be easy ways to answer every question we have about a product without walking into a store. Building Pigment File as an outsider helped me realize that the industry still has a ways to go.

Pigment File, fingers crossed, will be a very transparent authority. Sometimes, to display one line of information, I had to aggregate 20 sources. The info should be much easier to find.

Right now Pigment File is your MVP — where do you hope to evolve it next?
Lots of content, more brands, and a really simple color indexing system. There’s actually a list of a dozen features I want to add, but those stand out. It’s ambitious and I’m excited to get to work.

Claire Suellentrop, Founder of Love Your Customers on how customer-first marketing can save your startup

claire_sullentrop

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Claire! Can you tell us a little about what you do and how to came to work with SaaS companies?

Sure! I work with high-growth SaaS companies on their “product marketing” — an umbrella term for many efforts including customer research, product messaging and positioning, and more.

This work comes on the heels of my time as Director of Marketing at Calendly, where I wore all these hats at various stages — and fell completely in love with the customer-focused model of marketing.

Many SaaS companies focus all their marketing efforts on acquiring new customers, but when you consider the fact that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%, and that 80% of your company’s revenue will come from just 20% of your customers, it becomes clear that the real money comes from the people who already know about you — not strangers.

So I help companies tap into that group of people — the ones who are already on their website and in their app — to learn more about what’s really going on in their worlds, and maximize opportunities to convert those people into happy, long-term customers.

Plus, I share everything I know (and everything I’m learning) with the folks who subscribe to my Love Your Customers newsletter.

What is the #1 thing tech companies misunderstand or miss completely when it comes to their customers?

There are two huge things tech companies misunderstand when it comes to their customers:

#1. If the copy your visitors read before signing up is weak (e.g., on a landing page or across your website), you are definitely leaking money right now.

#2. As a founder or early-stage team member, it’s impossible to unlearn everything you already know about your product — you’re inherently biased. And building a signup or onboarding flow from that biased standpoint results in terrible adoption rates because your new users just don’t have all the information in their heads that you have in yours. So instead, they’ll struggle to use your product successfully.

If a company wants to see the 25–95% profit increase that comes from higher retention rates, it’s crucial to get out of your own company’s bubble and experience firsthand what your customers are actually doing.

That’s why I’m such a cheerleader for Jobs To Be Done customer interviews(which I conduct for companies, and which I teach companies how to conduct themselves long-term). And it’s why I believe every company selling products online needs a way to watch what people are doing on their website. FullStory is a great option for this.

Where do you hope to take Love Your Customers in 2017 and beyond?

In 2017, I want to work 1:1 with a bunch of high-growth SaaS companies to amp up their product marketing and get more value from the people who already know about them.

I also want to teach marketers and founders what Jobs To Be Done is all about, and how it can help them (which I’ll be doing in June at Unbounce’s Call To Action Conference).

Beyond that, I want Love Your Customers to play a major role in tech’s shift toward customer-focused marketing. It’s too early to know what that will look like yet — maybe it’ll become a series of workshops? A conference? A community? A library of “how to” resources? Who knows!

Meet the Badass Neuroscientist/Designer who Created Beyond Curie

Amanda

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Amanda! Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to develop your project Beyond Curie?

I am a neuroscientist turned designer turned design strategist (clearly a big fan of the career pivot). I feel really fortunate to be part of the design strategy team at Capital One Labs, working to redefine the relationship between people and finances. We all want to make things that matter, so to be able to solve problems that impact people in one of the major spaces that can dramatically change society is very exciting.

Before design, my first passion was science. I actually got into neuroscience through dance and was a ballerina for many years, until I had a terrible skiing accident that tore everything out of my knee. After my surgery, I couldn’t believe how much my sense of balance and coordination had changed. So I studied neuroscience at Columbia to understand why I couldn’t move as gracefully as I used to.

I moved on to conducting Alzheimer’s research at Columbia Medical Center. While I was there, I had an epiphany. I realized that, as a scientist, I was ill-equipped at communicating the vital urgency of my work to the general public. So I decided to do something about it. I quit doing research, got my MFA, and last year I founded The Leading Strand, an organization that brings scientists and designers together to co-create experiences that translate scientific research in rigorous and visually compelling ways. In my TED talk I share that the key to understanding science is storytelling, which brings us to Beyond Curie.

women_in_stem

Like many people, I was feeling pretty upset after the election, and thinking a lot about how I could get more involved. One of my friends who had worked on the Hillary campaign suggested I pick a cause I care deeply about and support it in a way only I could. With Beyond Curie, I want to share stories and visuals that celebrate the rich history of women kicking ass in STEM fields — to show that our world was built by brilliant women, not just men, from all backgrounds. I want to inspire the next generation of young women to go into STEM fields and to show them that there are heroines out there that they can look to and many of them.

Of the 32 women you feature, who is the most personally inspiring to you and why?
When I read about Rita Levi-Montalcini in the 4th grade for a book report, she definitely became one of my heroes. Her story is one of grit, tenacity, and brilliance. When Mussolini barred all non-Aryan citizens in Italy from academic and professional careers, she set up a makeshift laboratory in her bedroom and continued to do research. It was in these conditions that she discovered nerve growth factor and won the Nobel Prize for this landmark achievement in 1968. I always remember her story when I face hardship and disappointment, and it helps me bounce back, get creative, and keep going.

women_in_stem_beyondcurie

If we’re talking about next-level badassery, I have to tell you about YouYou Tu. Before 2011, she was pretty much forgotten and unknown. She’s responsible for saving millions of lives with her discovery of artemisinin, a compound used to treat malaria that is isolated from the sweet wormwood plant. When others wanted to abandon the research, she found the key to isolating the compound from a millennium-old recipe. She also first tested the compound on herself! YouYou also has no postgraduate degree, no research experience abroad, and is not a member of any Chinese national academies. I love her bold, ‘all-in’ spirit and unconventional methods. Her story is such a great reminder that success doesn’t have to hinge on specific degrees and affiliations.

How can people support Beyond Curie and download your posters?
The best way to support Beyond Curie is to share the project. The world needs to know the names and stories of these amazing women! We can start to change the white male paradigm in STEM by increasing the visibility of these badass ladies. Anyone can download the March for Science posters here. The posters are also available on beyondcurie.com.

Meet the Tech Lady who launched a coworking space with on-site childcare

Eva

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Eva! Can you tell us what inspired you and the 13 other parents who launched Women’s Business Incubator (WBI)?

I knew I possessed valuable talents as a software engineer, and I always expected to be a full-time working parent. But like many mothers, my life turned upside down when my children were born. The only thing I knew for sure is that a 40-plus-hour corporate job was not working for me anymore.

I started a freelance software consulting business, and fell into a group of like-minded parents who were also looking for a more flexible work life without paying the financial and emotional toll of full-time childcare. One visionary member of our group had been trying to start a for-profit coworking space with on-site childcare, but the startup costs for a childcare business were prohibitive and did not offer a good return on investment. So together we pivoted, and created WBI as a non-profit organization with an expanded mission to help women in business and working families face some of their major challenges — including childcare, access to funding, mentorship, networking, and education.

We now operate a coworking space with a flexible, drop-in preschool in Seattle, along with monthly networking events and business workshops. Any parent can use our space: entrepreneurs, small business owners, freelancers, new parents gradually transitioning back into their full time jobs, or any parent wanting to send a few emails in peace.

What has been the most challenging part about forming as a non-profit tech company?

Fundraising! WBI’s success depends on being able to raise the funds it needs to operate, and being on a non-profit board means you’re constantly looking for funds.

As a previously introverted software engineer, finding ways to reach out to potential donors is a unique challenge for me. At first I was totally stymied by even having to explain the concept of coworking with on-site childcare and why it’s important. But realizing that people get it right away, especially parents, has given me the confidence to hone my pitch and to reach out to everyone I know!

Another fundraising challenge is reaching the right people at the right places. I believe there are corporations out there that want to be inclusive, support working families, and retain employees returning from parental leave; yet reaching the corporate decision-makers in charge of philanthropy presents a variety of challenges. I know a lot of corporate software engineers, but they are not often able to introduce me to the person at their corporation that would champion our cause. We’ve got a long way to go to spread the word, but the team and I are getting better at it every day.

In a dream scenario, where do you see the incubator in the next few years?

In the more practical near future, WBI will be self-sustaining through memberships, including hourly punch cards, monthly memberships, and employer-sponsored WBI memberships.

We’ll continue with events and workshops and we’ll connect small businesses with funding. The incubator will operate in a larger, dedicated space adapted to both business support and childcare. We’ll have a salaried executive director who manages the daily operations of the coworking space, and the licensed, on-site and drop-in childcare for infants through pre-kindergarten.

Ultimately, I want to see coworking and childcare become as common a childcare option as daycare centers and nannies. People will wonder how we ever got along without it. I want to see the WBI expand to multiple locations in multiple cities, partnering with existing coworking businesses, and inspiring other businesses and government to offer creative, flexible, and affordable options for working families.

How Meg Athavale, co-founder & CEO of Lumo Interactive, dropped out of high school and forged her own highly-successful career path

Meg_Athavale

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Meg! How did you first enter the world of interactive design?

I entered the world of computer graphics almost by accident. I drew a lot of pictures as a kid, and I knew I was good at art. When I was in high school I started teaching myself traditional animation. I dropped out of high school in Grade 11, choosing to live on my own and work instead. Although I found odd jobs as a freelance artist, art is a pretty difficult career path and the traditional animation career landscape was moving into computer graphics. At the age of 19, I decided I needed to up my technology skills.

When Red River College in Winnipeg launched their Computer Animation Specialist program, I enrolled using a forged high school diploma (I have always been great at Photoshop). When I graduated, I spent a few years as a computer animator/compositor for a studio in Calgary. After a few years, I decided I wasn’t really that interested in linear storytelling, so I started designing small Flash games, and really enjoyed bringing characters to life through interactive media. This required me to learn to code, something I might not have otherwise learned.

I spent the early part of my career creating freelance digital media projects, VJing for a variety of bands, and working to develop and support a digital media literacy program for the Province of Manitoba. Eventually I wound up at a small interactive design firm and that’s where I met my co-founder Curtis Wachs. In our spare time, Curtis and I started developing what would eventually become www.lumoplay.com, an interactive display software platform designed to help any artist create an interactive display experience using readily available sensors.

Lumo Interactive has made so many engaging and unique displays over the years. If you had to pick a favorite project of yours, which would it be and why?

It’s really hard to pick a single project out of literally thousands. Lumoplay.com is my baby, though. The custom installations we’ve done for customers like McDonald’s and Google have all been uniquely challenging, and they’ve given everyone in our company a chance to learn how to do things like manage research and development projects, organize vendor relationships, and execute public events. But at the end of the day, the thing I’m most proud of is our platform. Knowing that we created something that thousands of people around the world are using to make interactive environments is deeply satisfying.

Do you have any advice for those Tech Ladies building companies outside of major cities on how they can improve their chances of getting funded?

I’ve approached dozens of investors in Canada, the United States, China, and most recently Russia. Aside from the obvious roadblocks around where the company is based (Winnipeg), we also face the statistical improbability of women-led companies being funded at all, and being greatly underfunded when they are.

My strategy has been to pursue funding that seems likely: I’m always open to conversations with investors, and I have a deck, a business canvas, and diligence materials on hand at all times. However, our first priority is growing organically. We’ve never depended on funding. Our company was launched with a few small business loans and a tiny bit of angel investment, and we worked our butts off to break even as quickly as possible. We’ve also done well with small loans and support from organizations like IRAP, SR&ED, and the Canadian Media Fund.

That said, my advice to any founder regarding funding is to be aware that fundraising is a full time job, and the outcome is very much outside your control (especially if you’re a female founder). While you’re fundraising, you won’t be doing any other job (like business growth or marketing) very well. If you have a team to focus on growth while you focus on fundraising, and you’re confident that your company will grow exponentially with funding, it’s probably worth the risk. If not, you might want to focus on the stuff you can do without funding.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Camille Hearst, co-founder and CEO of Kit

Camille_Hearst

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Camille! What made you take the leap from working at other tech companies like Apple and Google to striking out on your own to launch Kit?

I grew up in San Francisco in the 80s and 90s, so I witnessed the first dot-com boom and bust firsthand. My parents are musicians and artists, so I’ve always been around people who hustle. I studied entrepreneurship when I was at Stanford, first as a Mayfield Fellow, and then as a graduate student. So for me, I’ve always felt like I would strike out on my own.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at and get my initial “training” at amazing companies like Apple, YouTube, Google, and even Hailo (even though they didn’t turn out as we’d hoped) during the early stages of my career. For me, leaving to work on Kit was a question of the timing being right, as well as the team and the idea.

When I first met Naveen Selvadurai (of Expa) and we started jamming on the idea for Kit, I was at a crosspoint in my career where it made sense to start applying everything I’d picked up over the years; the more we worked on Kit, the more I fell in love with the vision we were crafting and the problem we decided to set out to solve — helping people discover the best products for them so that they can get on with living life.

What’s it like working at Kit?

The team at Kit is brilliant — we are collectively ex-Apple, Google, YouTube, Gilt, and Foursquare, as well as a former professional DJ; and we are diverse, inclusive, and a lot of fun. Working with smart, talented people really can make all the difference in your outlook.

Couple that with clear set goals, open communication, and a mission we are all hungry to solve, and coming to work feels really satisfying. In such a small environment, you can see and feel your impact firsthand, and I think this kind of opportunity attracts people who want to leave their mark on the world — and it shows.

Late last year, you and your team announced that you had raised $2.5 million in your seed round to grow Kit. Congratulations! Do you have any advice for other Tech Ladies who want to get funded, especially at that scale?

Fundraising is really, really hard. My main piece of advice is to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, and to take care of yourself physically and spiritually throughout the process as well.

I used to play basketball growing up, and I found this great article on mental toughness for high school girls’ basketball coaches that I actually think applies to fundraising and entrepreneurship as well. A lot of people think they have these traits, but it’s not until you’re really in a situation where you can forge those skills that you can 1) see what you’re made of and 2) continue to develop the skills. The advice in the article is awesome and I found it incredibly encouraging when things were tough.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Courtney Zalewski, Partner at Midnight

Courtney Zalewski.jpeg

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

Hi Courtney! Can you tell us about Midnight and what you do there?

Midnight is a product design studio based in NYC, which I run with my creative partner in crime Elan Miller. We work with companies to help them figure out what to build and how to bring it to life. Think of us a product team-in-residence. We facilitate design sprints, prototype hypotheses, validate assumptions, prioritize features, create interfaces, guide development, and conduct usability tests to design something people want.

As former startup founders, we like to move fast in an organized way. We come up with crazy ideas that can be used as a North star, but then reel them back in so teams can start executing immediately. We believe the world’s best brands are designed with a distinct point of view, so opportunities that allow us to focus on brand and design are amazing to work on. We want to do design work that is intentional and grounded in something.

What is a recent tech hurdle the agency has overcome and how did you tackle it?

It’s hard to keep track which new plugins, tools, and products are actually worth dedicating time to learn. It’s that sense of FOMO. While you want to be using all of the cool new things, you need to be realistic and think about how it will fit into your workflow and process. Especially considering how fast we work, introducing new tools mid-project could throw everything off. If I find designers in the community raving about something new on Twitter, Product Hunt, or Facebook, I’ll have the confidence to dedicate some time on nights and weekends. But, I don’t like to just try things for the sake of trying it. I’m more excited to see how these prototyping tools, specifically for micro-interactions, evolve. Those are the tools that make the biggest impact in my opinion.

On your co-founder’s Medium post announcing Midnight’s launch, he talks about how the company was born of a partnership. What advice can you give to other Tech Ladies who are launching a company with someone they’ve worked closely with before?

Partnership is number one. We first focused on defining why we were creating Midnight in the first place. We borrowed a lot from our design process: we set a timer to get as many ideas down as possible and then went through and discussed each one. We answered questions like, “What do we value?”, “Why are we different?”, “What are we best at in the world?”, and even, “What don’t we want to be?”

One of the values that came from that process was “Radical Candor,” which we define as “Honest feedback is the first step to greatness. We want to push each other, yet are careful to deliver critiques in constructive, actionable, and thoughtful ways. It’s not what you say — it’s how you say it.” Business is hard enough, but when you mix in two friends that are both passionate and emotional, it definitely has potential to get messy.

My advice is to over-communicate and think about the reason why you’re starting something and why you’re starting it with this person. In regards to maintaining equal balance of responsibility, Elan and I are both self-aware people, so we know where our individual strengths are and where extra support and help is needed. It’s less about having a checklist of responsibilities and more of being a team-player and remembering to speak up if we’re ever feeling overwhelmed.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Ofunne Okwudiafor, Founder of Cocoa Swatches

ofunne_Okwudiafor

Hi Ofunne! Can you tell us a little bit about Cocoa Swatches and what you do?

Cocoa Swatches is a platform that allows women with underrepresented complexions to find makeup products that work for them. I swatch the latest makeup products and share the photos through a mobile app in an easy-to-use directory format. I also use social media to share curated makeup content with the community.

How did you come up with the idea for your company and validate it in the market?

After working as a fashion and beauty blogger in my spare time, I noticed how difficult it was to find makeup products that I actually liked. Upon entering grad school, I came up with the idea to crowdsource makeup swatches on Instagram: to obtain swatches of the latest makeup products and have them all in one place. After seeing such a positive response to the page, I decide to expand on the idea and turn the concept into a mobile app.

When we think of makeup, tech may not be the first thing to come to mind, but your app is making waves! What are some tech-related challenges you’ve faced in the beauty industry and how did you conquer them?

Some of the tech-related challenges definitely include trying to bridge the gap between having a great idea and bringing that to life through code. Although I had worked in the tech industry previously, I had no idea where or how to start creating an app. I had to do a lot of research to find resources that would allow me to create the app without completely starting from scratch or learning how to code from scratch. It’s been an uphill battle, and I’ve had to get comfortable with being scrappy and always being ready with a Plan B.

Additionally, trying to introduce a new platform into the beauty industry has been a challenge. I’ve really tried to work hard on messaging and PR to attract partnerships and clients to work with and to make the brand better and stronger.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Georgene Huang, Founder and CEO of Fairygodboss

georgene_huang

Interview by Breanne Thomas

Can you tell us about Fairygodboss? What you did before launching the site?

Fairygodboss is a career community for women. Women come to our site to share opinions about their employer’s policies, cultures and benefits — particularly as they apply to women. They can discover what other women think about equal pay, promotion policies, flexibility, maternity leave policies, and more.

Before I started Fairygodboss I headed up a large business and the product team at Dow Jones and previously worked in law, on Wall Street, and in venture capital, so I had a good sense of the fact that different corporate environments really made a difference for the success (or lack thereof) for women at work.

I started the company when I was 2 months pregnant (and hiding it) during interviews. I was looking for work and trying to find out whether women were promoted into senior management and what maternity leave policies were. But I felt that asking these things outright was still taboo, so I started to see what I could find online. And what I saw was that existing online job review sites didn’t really address some of the specific needs and questions women have. So I stopped my job search and started building Fairygodbossto see whether women would share their experiences and crowdsource the info I was looking for. Happily, women have come and really do pay it forward!

Why was it important to you to launch a job review platform for women, by women?

When I first hatched the idea, most people (men and women) understood the need for women to have a confidential space to talk about women-specific experiences and issues. Of course, there is overlap between the things that men and women care about. But limiting our community to women is not just about creating a “safe space” — it’s saying that women’s voices aren’t heard enough on anonymous job review sites where topics feel very male-dominated. Countless studies show that men tend to raise their hands and voices more often in group settings, starting from the classroom and going up into the boardroom. Fairygodboss changes those default rules of the game by making sure women’s voices get primetime.

Do you have any advice for women on the job hunt right now? What should they be asking or looking out for?

Every woman should try to figure out what she wants from a job, and make sure that the position and the employer she’s applying to work for matches what she wants (whether it is pay, day-to-day experience, promotion opportunities or mentorship). As much as possible, you should think about a job hunt as dating for a longer-term relationship rather than something to just to tide you over in terms of a paycheck (though obviously, money does matter!). Do your research, interview, gather all the facts and opinions, and then make the best decision you can. I believe a lot of career unhappiness comes from a simple mismatch of goals and culture fit.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Alicia V. Carr, self-taught developer, Grandmother, and founder of the PEVO app

alicia_carr

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

Hi Alicia! How did you get into tech?

My first hand on a computer was an IBM punch card machine in high school. At the age of 25 with 3 kids and a husband in the military, I got tired of working weekends in retail. I needed a career change so I took a continuing education course in MSDos and DBase. I got a job at a bank as a database programmer. That’s when I knew I was in love with technology. In 2011 while on line at the Apple store waiting to buy my second generation iPad, I met a 16-year-old young man. While waiting in line, I asked him how he got the money to buy an iPad. He told me he created an app that made him a lot of money. I asked him if he went to college to learn to create apps. No, he said, he learned from YouTube. That’s when I turned to my husband and told him “I want to do that.”

In 2012, I started looking for schools to learn how to code. On November 2, 2012, my husband told me to quit my job to follow my dream to become an iOS developer. It took me 1½ years to learn Objective C.

What advice do you have for self-taught tech ladies?

I have learned that if we as women put our minds to something we want, we can make it happen. But we have to find the time to complete what we started. When we have a family, it can leave us little time to focus on ourselves. When I started to learn Objective C, I had to learn when no one was around. My husband allowed me to quit my job to follow my passion to learn to code and to learn Objective C, but the problem was that whenever my family members (husband, grown children, and grand babies) called, I rushed to take care of them. I began to learn how to focus on myself. Find out what works for you, even if it’s a small thing like getting the kids to bed earlier to find 30 extra minutes to study. Find what works for you to be successful.

PEVO is an app that helps to empower women struggling with domestic violence. How did you get the idea for the app and what advice do you give for finding resources to build your own app?

A former mentor gave me the idea for PEVO (formerly known as Purple Pocketbook). I started promoting the app when an NFL player was beating his girlfriend in an elevator.

As far as resources? Look around you! As a woman in tech, we are the resources. I do have men developers help and give me the best advice. I have found that men love what I do and give a lot of support. I have also learned to only surround yourself with people who support what you do. And for real, get rid of the haters. If you want to empower others, surround yourself with those who are creative, loving and respectful. That’s what your circle should be, because if it is, you can never fail.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Nisha Garigarn, Founder of Croissant

nisha_garigarn

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

Your app Croissant was recently featured on Product Hunt. Can you tell us more about the app and how it came to be?

The initial idea for Croissant actually came to my team and me when we were all working on a completely different startup idea. We could never find a good place to do work together in the city. We were frustrated with coffee shops (crowded, uncomfortable, and overall just not ideal for productivity) but at the same time did not want to spend hundreds of dollars per person at a co-working space that we just wanted to use 1–2 times a week. So when we randomly went to TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon (we went for fun since we love hackathons!), we looked to our current frustrations for inspiration on what to build. And of course, we thought of the coffee shop struggle. We ended up prototyping an app to rent a seat per hour at any coffee shop. So that was our Croissant MVP. When we presented our project on stage, TechCrunch thought it was so interesting that they wrote an article on it, which got a lot of positive attention. So much so that we started to realize that this was a frustration that others had as well, and there might actually be a business here. We pivoted a few weeks later to co-working spaces, and the rest is history!

You only learned to code 2 years ago. What sparked your decision to learn how to code and what was that process like?

I was working as a marketer at an agency for a couple years after graduating college. It wasn’t what I loved doing, but I was decent at it. I had reached a point in my life where I started to feel too comfortable. Yes, I had friends to meet and go eat with. And yes, I had good work/life balance. But I felt like I could be doing so much more with my life. I didn’t feel like I was reaching my potential. So I started learning how to code! At that point, I just thought it would be a useful tool for my line of work. I was a little familiar with HTML and CSS already, and tried to teach myself web development. That was mostly through online tutorials and forums. Luckily, a few of my close friends in New York were also skilled developers, so they helped me focus and come up with personal projects in order to “learn by doing.”

As I continued learning, something inside me clicked. All of a sudden, I started coming up with all these random app ideas. The beautiful part was the realization that I could actual make these ideas into a reality. I didn’t need permission — I just needed to figure out how to code it. Suddenly, I felt so much creative empowerment that I honestly had never felt before.

Today, I mostly work on design and marketing for Croissant, but I will always credit coding with unleashing in me the desire to create.

What have you learned from becoming a founder that you can share with others?

So many learnings! A recent, and very big learning for me is realizing that being a founder is a marathon and I need to truly treat it like one. For a while, I was pushing through everything and trying to work as hard as I could all the time. I was not eating healthy and not getting enough sleep and exercise. This led to me feeling overwhelmed and stressed out constantly. I finally stopped to examine what I was doing with my life and realized something needed to change or I would burn out soon. So, I started to put more structure in my life in order to manage my energy better. I downloaded Headspace. I stopped checking my phone first thing in the morning. I made time to journal at the end of the day. I reflected on what would make me happy, regardless of what other people think.

I think it’s key to make time for yourself. Because I need to be happy and healthy in order for my company to be happy and healthy.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Sarah Doody, Freelance UX Designer and creator of UX Notebook

sarah_doody

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

Hi Sarah! What are you working on these days?

I am an independent user experience (UX) designer in NYC. UX means a lot of things to a lot of people these days. I specifically focus on the experience design side of things — that includes: conducting product, market, and user research; creating prototypes; and designing products (through user flows and wireframes). I don’t do much visual or interface design anymore. However, I d have a background in visual design which helps me create beautiful wireframes and prototypes.

My clients are about a 50/50 split between companies that are just launching a new product and companies already in market. I help new companies research, validate, and design the first version of their product. For companies already in marketing, I help them understand their users, design new features, and prioritize their roadmap. My clients are in a variety of industries. But I’d love to start focusing in the health care space. There is too much friction in health care. When people are sick, they shouldn’t spend time trying to navigate a poorly designed system.

I’ve been in the industry for 14 years. During that time I’ve done a lot of writing and teaching including co-creating General Assembly’s first 12-week UX Intensive back in 2012.

Education in the UX space is a passion of mine today I truly believe that UX is not the responsibility of one person. So many people in an organization influence the experience that someone has with a product. The experience is the sum of all the touchpoints someone has with the product and brand. Because of this, I am really focused on helping people learn to think like a designer.

That’s one of the reasons I created my UX newsletter, The UX Notebook. It is a weekly newsletter that has curated articles, questions, and activities for your team, case studies, research, and more. People seem to really love it and that’s what keeps me doing it each week (We’re up to issue 143 so far!). I also continue to teach and am currently focusing on a UX research coursethat I’m re-launching with new curriculum and content this fall.

If you weren’t doing this, what else could you see yourself doing?

Ha! Well according to a letter I wrote to myself when I was 10, I would be a ski patroller! My mum recently sent me a copy of it and I had a good laugh! I’ve always been a problem solver and I love making things with my hands, so I could see myself being an architect or industrial designer. I was actually accepted into a Neuroscience program in Canada where I’m from, but I turned it down. I think the problem solving aspect of medicine really resonated with me. I’m really creative but also can be very technical and analytical. Sometimes I think I’d make a good psychologist or psychiatrist, but at this point I don’t see myself going back to school for that long of a time! I’d also love to host a show of some sort — maybe travel because just being dropped in a new city and find my way around and hunting for the hidden gems.

What would you advise your younger self?

Confidence. It’s a tough lesson to learn. No matter how much other people believe in you. If you don’t believe in yourself then the little voice inside your head is going to drown out the chorus of positive voices from the outside. You can seem like a public success to others. You can come across as confident. You can have presence. You can take risks. You can speak with authority. But, a lack of confidence will result in your feeling like internally you’re a mess — you’ll waste energy and time, deal with imposter syndrome, and constantly debate yourself as to whether or not you’re good enough. The big problem here is that when it comes time to take a risk — you won’t take it because you won’t believe you’re worth it. And if you add up all the little risks you don’t take over a career, a lifetime, you’ll probably end up not having the impact and influence that you could have.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Sara Mauskopf, CEO and Co-Founder of Winnie

sara_mauskopf

Hi Sara! Can you tell us about your company, Winnie?

Winnie helps parents find great places to go and things to do with their children. It answers basic questions like “is there a changing table in the bathroom?” and “where’s a comfortable place to nurse a baby?” to more complex questions like “where should I send my child to school?” and even existential questions like “what should I do with my family this weekend?”

It’s an iOS app you can download on the App Store or you can visit Winnie on the web.

Winnie is almost a year old. Can you share any tips for Tech Ladies who are about to launch their own business?

Anne Halsall and I started Winnie in January 2016 and launched the product in June of the same year. The thing that worked for us was to start with a problem we genuinely had. This gave us product-market fit from the get-go. We wanted something like Winnie to exist in the world, and it didn’t, so we built it.

Winnie’s mission is to build technology to help make the job of caring for children easier. Up until now, no tech companies have worked on this problem because no one thought it was a problem. People has overlooked the work that caregivers do because historically this work has been done by women.

I’d encourage Tech Ladies who are thinking of starting their own companies to look to their own experience for ideas. There may be a massive opportunity hiding right under your nose. Also validate your idea early on with a diverse group of customers. Not only is this good product practice but it will you a stronger position when pitching investors & partners.

What are some challenges you face when developing tech for parents?

Building for parents is a challenge because all parents are different. We realized pretty early on that what is important to one parent may not be important to another. Some parents love to find free activities, and others don’t mind shelling out the big bucks for a class. Some parents are full-time caregivers and others work. Some families live in cities and others live in suburbs or rural areas. Because we want our product to be useful to all parents, we’ve had to collect vast amounts of data and enable parents to easily find what they’re looking for. We looked to our experience building at scale at previous tech companies like Twitter and Quora.

However, one thing that we’ve found pretty universal across all parents is that they genuinely want to help other parents. The stories and tips people add to Winnie are generally really high quality and useful. That’s one big difference I’ve noticed between Winnie and other platforms that rely on user-generated content. It’s really rewarding to work on a product where your audience also cares deeply about making the product great.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: LaToya Allen, Software Engineer+ Founder of SheNomads

latoya_allen

Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

Hi LaToya! Tell us about what you’re currently doing.

I’m currently readjusting to life in the states. I spent the last 2 months working from the UK, Israel, Spain, Portugal, and Norway. I work in Engineering at Big Cartel, and am building SheNomads while I do so. It’s a community for underrepresented folks in tech who want to work remotely.

SheNomads started off as a podcast. I had no idea how to work remotely from other parts of the world, so I used the podcast as a way to connect with digital nomads, and ask them about it. Where can I find a good co-working space in Barcelona? How can I fly to Europe for $300 or less? How can I best work with my team when I’m 8 hours ahead? Things like that.

Once I started working remotely, I found that I wanted to do so in a digital nomad retreat, but many of them were a reflection of tech culture as it is today. I didn’t want to be the only woman in a house full of young men drinking beer and staying up until 4am, so, I started my own. Yoga twice a day, a beautiful co-working space, and a home full of good energy in art. That’s what I wanted out of a retreat, so I made it happen. It’s happening in Mexico City this February, and we have a few spots left.

Since then, I’ve added on remote coding classes, open source projects, and helping underrepresented folks in tech find remote jobs.

What are some resources people can use to develop an efficient and productive remote team?

Slack, Google Hangouts and TMux. Working on a remote team heavily depends on communication. With Slack I can go back and see the answer to a question I had in the past. Hangouts is great for face time; sometimes the nuances of a conversation have to happen face to face. For me, personally, finding a creative answer to a complex question is easier when I can talk it out. TMux is fantastic for remote pairing; it allows you to ssh (*secure show) into another person’s computer, which is great for pair programming, debugging, and test driving solutions.

What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself from working abroad that you didn’t know beforehand?

The one thing I learned about myself: I’m not nearly as liberal as I thought I was, and my feminism needs to be more intersectional.

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Amrit Richmond, Founder of CMYK Ventures

amrit_richmond

Hi Amrit! Can you tell us a little about your company CMYK Ventures?

CMYK Ventures is an agency designed to help technology companies thrive. We work closely with investors, founders, and executives who want to support, grow, or partner with startups. CMYK is not a fund, yet, but in the meantime we can help companies connect to revenue opportunities and investors in our network.

Before starting CMYK, I spent nine years collaborating with VCs, founders, global brands, technology platforms, advertising agencies, and media companies. CMYK brings all of those people together as an ecosystem and platform of resources that companies can leverage to grow their businesses.

What have learned working in VC that you think is good career advice for our Tech Ladies?

I learned so many things from working with four venture capital funds, particularly about finance and scaling a startup after the company has product market fit. The best skills I learned were how to make detailed financial models and budgets, and creative ways to cut operations costs that don’t require downsizing!

Whether you’re running a company, a department, or a new program at work, you should always know your runway (how much money you have left in your budget), your burn rate (what you currently spend per month), and the cost of scaling if you were to expand resources, cities, or headcount. When you treat the responsibility of managing a company’s capital as if it was your own money, it becomes much easier to get budgets approved and buy-in from your colleagues for new programs.

Do you believe in goals? If so, how do you create and measure them?

Goals are important to have something to work towards, and for benchmarking success, either individually, as a team, or for client projects. While I have 1, 5, and 10-year goals for CMYK, I’m more driven by purpose in the short-term.

Before committing to something new, I think through the why — what’s the purpose of X? Why does this matter? Who or what does it impact? After those questions are answered, I outline specific goals driven by one or more of the following: engagement, awareness, revenue.

On creating goals for yourself: If you genuinely want something, such as a new job, or if you think your product should exist in the world, don’t wait for permission, a paycheck, or funding to get started. What can you do now to get started?

3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Sarah Judd Welch, CEO of Loyal

sarah_judd_welch

Hi Sarah! So what is Loyal?

Loyal is a community agency that helps brands develop and leverage communities online. Our work creates deeper customer relationships to increase user retention and help organizations innovate and grow. Clients range from really big co’s like General Electric and National Geographic to early- stage startups.

Why did you decide to start your own company and what’s the best part of running it?

It’s less about deciding to start a company and more about being called to do something or an inevitability. I saw a gap in the market for something that needed to exist. I love the relative schedule flexibility — yoga at 9am, no problem. Take two weeks off in January, sure. Yet, here I am on a Sunday in the office.

What’s one piece of advice you have for women who want to start their own company?

Your work is a reflection of you, though you are not a reflection of your work. Just as you grow and evolve, so will the things you create. Therefore, don’t be too precious with what you make.