Per usual these days, much is being written about the lack of women in tech and the difficulty for women to get funded. The always honest and entertaining Dave McClure (his 500 Startups blog is a must read) had some hard-hitting words this week in an article titled “Women in Tech: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.” While I don’t agree with the entire piece, and the problem is much bigger than the lack of female investors, I do give kudos to Dave’s new project, Women Investors NOW. WIN challenges women to publicly commit to invest a total of $15,000 in three start-ups over the next year. Per Dave, “I’d like to CHALLENGE every woman in tech who’s a) got a nice care, b) owns a nice house, or c) is making over $125K a year to start thinking of themselves as the next Ron Conway or Esther Dyson in the making and commit to investing in startups…”
I often talk (and write here) about the need for women to help women. And this is a GREAT way to do it. Once I get a few months of my new gig behind me (more on that soon!), I am totally up for this challenge – and I hope you are too. Click here to learn more about the WIN Challenge. Personally, I plan to be a force in the LA Angel Investing community. There are definitely not enough women funding and advising companies in Silicon Beach. Yet, there are a ton of successful entrepreneurial women here.
Speaking of kickass chicks, I am adding Kirsten Green to my list. Her female-only VC, Forerunner Ventures, announced is raised $40 million today. How do you like that, Mr. McClure! I had not heard of Forerunner before, but they already have a stellar portfolio that focuses on consumer facing ventures that are predominantly in the digital commerce space. They have funded a number of companies I love, including Warby Parker, Birchbox and Chloe + Isabel. Also, I went into online stalker mode on Kirsten and discovered she is married and has a kid. This might upset all the authors/bloggers who took part in the “Women Can’t Have It All” meme a few weeks back.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has emerged as a tremendous inspiration to female executives and working mothers everywhere. As a woman in the tech startup space, I admire her greatly. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I love that she says it – as she sees it. She is a no bullshit kinda chick who is also very witty and fun. Sheryl throws a monthly dinner at her home to bring women in business together. I have been wanting to emulate this in LA (lots of amazing female tech founders and business executives here in LaLaLand!) for a while now, and my first event, called LA Women Rising, is happening this Monday. So excited!!! (a recap to come of course) If you are new to the fabulosity that is Mrs. Sandberg, read this New Yorker article title, ” A Woman’s Place: Can Sheryl Sandberg upend Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture?” Also, check out her TED talk, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.“
As for Oprah, I will admit here that I participated in her Eckhart Tolle “A New Earth” online classes, and they truly helped me improve myself and my life. Probably gonna sound like “O” here, but I am all about becoming the best person I can be – and Oprah has been an amazing personal and spiritual growth “coach” for me. As a high-energy, uber-passionate worker bee living in NYC at the time of the classes, I had some major “Aha moments” re: the importance of awareness and how to “breathe” and be present. In startupland, speed is everything. Being 100 steps ahead of the game is crucial to success, and can lend itself to focusing on the destination rather than journey. I, as we all are, am a work in progress, and Oprah has been instrumental to that progress. Oprah and her show have elevated the world by influencing countless individuals to empower themselves and live their most authentic life (not to mention read books, volunteer/donate to worthy causes, and know what to buy for Christmas). And, of course, it probably goes without saying that I also am obsessed with “THE Oprah” because she is a fierce businesswoman, entrepreneur and mogul.
BTW Oprah is doing new online “life classes” starting in October. Highly Recommend! http://www.oprah.com/own/About-Oprahs-Lifeclass
Both these women are beyond authentic and inspirational. Watch this and see for yourself:
I recently had the honor of participating in the inaugural Biz2Beach event held by Callfire, a kickass Silicon Beach cloud telephony company. The event was dubbed as an “unconference”, and it made for a terrific experience. In lieu of having a speaker or panel of speakers talk at an audience, discussion leaders sat at round tables with no more than 10 attendees. There were 8 tables/topics and attendees were able to rotate to 4 tables. It was more like a co-working, ideas-sharing day for all kinds of entrepreneurial folks. The event ended with an amazing meal atop the Huntley Hotel at sunset. Kudos to Kim Kohatsu and all the Callfire folks for pulling of such an unique and worthwhile day!
Below is an interview with yours truly, published by TalkTech Communications (thanks Rebekah Iliff), about my startup life and the importance of people to the success of any business. Not gonna lie – I don’t mind being called a Startup Rockstar.
Robyn Ward has been consulting, advising, and working at early-stage Tech/Internet businesses in LA and NYC for over a decade. Most recently, she was VP Business Development at fast-growing LA startup, Docstoc. Currently she works for BetterWorks, where she is known as the “Startup Rockstar,” responsible for business development and sales.
At the upcoming Biz2Beach event hosted by CallFire, Robyn will speak about fostering a positive and productive work environment for employees, including the BetterWorks next-generation platform that makes it easy and affordable for SMBs to recognize, reward and motivate talent.
I sat down with Robyn to find out a little bit more about BetterWorks, but also learn what she believes is important for finding success in the startup and small business environment. Needless to say, I now understand where her nickname comes from….total, and utter…Rockstar.
RI: What is the background of BetterWorks, how did the idea get started, who are the key players, etc?
RW: BetterWorks was founded by Paige Craig, Zao Yang, and George Ishii, who combined their experience in consulting (investing in and advising) over 50 startups, and SMBs. Paige was a prolific Angel investor, Zao was one of the founders of Farmville, and George had extensive experience, from his early days of PayPal, of making simple UIs focused on user-friendliness. Pulling from these various experiences they identified the need for an easy, affordable solution for the “smaller guy” to recognize and reward employees. Now at over 30 employees, I can say that the “secret sauce” of BetterWorks is how we hire and engage talent. So we literally walk the talk. This is my 5th startup and I can honestly say we have the most cohesive team and culture, it’s truly remarkable.
RI: What is your role there? Give me your day to day?
RW: My main focus during the first 5 months was on the company’s launch stage – how do we best position and differentiate ourselves, marketing and sales, understanding what is resonating and fine tuning the pitch. I was also responsible for signing on alpha clients, relaying to product team what can be fixed, and what to add. I now spend the lion’s share of my time figuring out partnerships and alliances.
RI: What are some of the challenges you face as a startup and small biz?
RW: One of biggest challenges is hiring the right team and keeping the right team. Regardless of the recession, it’s still a hot market for startups and tech. This is one of the things the BetterWorks Perks platform is built to address. It’s not about an idea, it’s about execution (human capital); managing growth plus hiring really good people that fit the culture. For many new startups, another challenge is knowing how to “get out there” and tell the right message so that the brand looks unified and “buttoned up.”
RI: What do you find inspiring?
RW: I come from a small biz background, so I know what we are doing is helping people, so I am inspired daily by BetterWorks and the stellar team. In general, the entrepreneurial environment is inspiring to me; I’m not an artist, a cook, or a fashion designer…but I know how to put together a company. Another thing is this whole shift towards “social innovation” and all of these inspiring platforms that are popping up built to create social change. I’m so excited to be a part of this shift and to be involved in the startup world here in LA…there is so much going on!
RI: On that note, what excites you about the LA tech scene?
RW: The thing I love about the LA tech scene is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are so many industries in LA. Obviously, Hollywood is a leading industry and the one that LA is most well known for, but there are so many others that are innovating left and right; automotive, green tech, energy, B2B platforms.
What I think is fun about the LA tech scene is the surfer-come-CEO…waltzing into his Venice office fresh from a jaunt in the ocean. Second to that is the CEO in dreadlocks. I mean, it’s just so cool and fun…people obviously embrace the “Silicon Beach” culture.
RI: Thoughts on females in tech?
RW: Well, I’m on the business side of tech and not a female technologist per se, but I think that encouraging more girls to explore science and math early on would be beneficial…and this is an issue that women and men together need to address.
In general, as far as women in business goes, I would like to see more constructive relationships built between women. We need to come together and work diligently to redefine our roles in business, but also support each other in what we are doing. It’s also important that we take the mentorship of young women seriously. This is an extremely important step, but we need to stop talking about it and do it.
RI: What are a few of the topics you’ll be covering at Biz2Beach?
RW: I’m going to focus on the importance of people – instead of talking about technology, my role is to talk about how to build and maintain teams and culture …recognizing and appreciating your folks. So, I will encourage attendees to answer questions like: What is our culture? How are we rewarding? How are we communicating to people that we value them? What are the little things we do in between and how do we let them know they are the most important thing and are the biggest assets?
RI: Ok I have to know; iPhone, Android or Blackberry? Hmm?
RW: I will NOT lose my personal Blackberry. BetterWorks paid for my iPhone, so I carry it, but hate it. I do love my iPad, though. I carry it with me for demos.
Follow Robyn on Twitter: @rmward
Follow BetterWorks on Twitter: @betterworks
OOPS….I did it again. I promised myself, and you, that I would begin blogging in a semi-regular fashion. I started this blog the week I started Docstoc – then InterWebs silence for over a year. Then, I got back on the blogwagon right about the time we started BetterWorks. And it happened again. Building a business is exhausting and if/when one has some personal time, blogwriting is not the first activity that comes to mind. Regardless, I have had so many amazing experiences helping launch this company, I regret not having taken time to share. I will do my best going forward to do so.
As I left off with a “stayed tuned” to learn more about my new BetterWorks adventure, I will pick back up with a killer video that does an amazing job, way better than words, at explaining our Perks Platform.
We have been executing at the speed of light, and lots of folks (customers, vendors, investors, press peeps) have taken notice. Check out this awesome Forbes coverage announcing our funding by stellar San Fran Venture Capital firm Redpoint Ventures.
GO Team BetterWorks – Aka Team Banana, Team Kicking Ass and Taking Names, Team HoneyBadger and Team Amaze Balls!!!
Last Tuesday I started a new gig at yet another early-stage company. The company is called BetterWorks, and we are located on 3rd Street Promenade (very close to where I live – this is always ideal when living the “startup” life). I did not, of course, take on this new adventure solely due to location. I was an immediate fan of the idea and business model, but was truly sold upon meeting with the founders. After all, building a successful company is not about the idea, it is about the execution. And the three founder of Betterworks have a long history of “crushing it.” BW was founded by three serial entrepreneurs: Paige Craig – founder of The Lincoln Group and LA’s most prolific Angel Investor, Zao Yang – inventor of Farmville (sold to Zynga), and George Ishii -co- founder at Yammer and Geni.com.
The below is a ThisWeekInStartups clip of my former Docstoc CEO, Jason Nazar, talking with my current bossman, Paige Craig, about investment themes, startups, and Paige’s military background. Watch, listen and learn as this is a good one!
You are probably wondering what we do at this point. I can’t share that yet, but look forward to posting more about our offering and our progress soon. For now, you can learn some info by checking out www.betterworks.com and following our blog.
BW is moving faster than any startup I have either worked at or with. Pretty exhilarating! I have been moving at lightspeed since the second I walked in the door and I am loving every minute of it. Speed is key in building a successful company, particularly in the tech space. In fact, it is a part of the 8 key drivers of the BW culture (TIP: if you do not have the defining points of your culture written down and shared with your employees, do so now! And while you’re at it read Delivering Happiness by Zappos’ CEO).
One last share- for those that think the early startup life is glamorous, check out the below photo. That is our office – 4 people in 100 sq ft. room with cardboard tables and empty computer boxes for desks. Nothing like a little sacrifice to make the reward of building a kickass company that much sweeter.
When people ask me what I do, I often say I help build very early stage Internet/technology companies. This often leads to the follow-up question – “What exacly does that mean?” On the flip side, I meet countless Business Undergrads, and even MBAs, who tell me they want to work in startups, but seem to have very little idea of exactly what the job entails. I recently came across a great post on 500Startups about what it means to be the “Business Guy at a Startup” by Charles Hudson (@chudson). It is dead-on (for pre-RevGen stage), so I am sharing just about all of it below:
Being the businessperson at a startup is not easy. While the engineering team is busy checking in code and the product team is busy revising the product plan, you’re out meeting with people. Everyone else, from the finance person to the engineering team has measurable and observable deliverables in terms of code checkins, PRDs, and other key tasks that show up on a weekly progress report, while what you’re doing isn’t easy to measure. You’re not closing deals because you don’t have a product. You’re not generating revenue because the product is still in development. You’re out trying to sell a dream (literally) – some day the startup will live up to all of the promises you’re making to potential partners. So what should you do every day?
I believe there are 4 core activities that every startup business guy should do if you join in the early days:
1. Be an early advocate for a business model and revenue model discovery. Everyone in your organization is going to be focused on building a killer product that users will love. But someone has to worry about the business model and distribution strategy. The good news for you as the business guy at your startup is that you can focus on that issue as a core part of your day. Even if the business model isn’t clear, it’s your job to take advantage of your seat at the table to advocate for potential business models, run early experiments with customers who believe in what you’re doing, and constantly make the case that what you’re doing has to turn into a business if the company is to ultimately be successful. If you don’t agitate for revenue and customer development and discovery, it’s easy to have that work deferred into the future. It’s never too early to start thinking through those issues.
The other natural byproduct of working as a revenue and business model advocate is that it forces you to get more involved in understanding the product roadmap and prioritization of pending features. It’s critical that you find a way to be a part of those conversations early on. Most great Internet startups are driven by product and engineering people who have strong views about where the product should go and which features should be prioritized to achieve that end. If you wait until the product is nearly complete or about to ship, it’s too late; the major opportunities to influence the direction of the product or at least understand why and how key features are being prioritized has been lost. The most frustrating experience many early businesspeople I’ve talked to encounter at startups is a feeling that the product people “just don’t get it” when they come in with a big revenue opportunity, partnership, or deal. You’re right – they probably don’t get it. They’re focused on building the product that they believe customers want. If you haven’t invested the hours it takes to get to understand the product and engineering teams longer term plans, why they want to do what they want to do and when, and to build relationships with them, you’ll never be a part of the process. Spend the time to connect with those teams and work with them – yu can rarely get anything meaningful done if it doesn’t fit into the company’s longer term product plans and vision.
2. Be the one man or one woman combination of sales, business development, and marketing. In the early days of any startup, you’re probably going to be the only person responsible for the “business stuff.” You’re not going to have business counterparts in other key business functions such as marketing and sales. If you’re nominally the VP of Business Development, that’s not actually your job. Your job is to drive all of the business functions to the best of your abilities. Someday you might have a counterpart in sales, marketing, or other key business functions. But until you do, it’s your responsibility to drive those functions forward to the best of your ability and help the company better execute across all business functions, even though you’re only one person.
For those of you coming from big companies, this can be a jarring transformation. I know it was from me. For my first full-time business development role, I went from Google (15,000 employees when I left) to Gaia (about 65 employees at the time I joined). The nice thing about larger companies is that you can afford to staff all of those other business functions – if you’re in business development, it’s not your job to run marketing. And let’s not overlook one critical difference between being at a big company such as Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft. When you call, people will pick up the phone because of the company you represent. Getting meetings is relatively easy. Getting small and large partners to line up behind your new product or vision can be easy when you have the power of a big brand behind you. That is rarely the case at a startup – you have to make it happen and it will take a lot of hustle to do so.
3. Start building relationships that will pay off when your company starts to scale. Similar to the points raised in the first point, there are key relationships you want to start building early, even before it’s entirely clear how the product will turn out. In every early stage business, the management team knows the initial market you’re planning to target. And in every market, there are key other ecosystem participants you want to get to know for distribution relationships, corporate development opportunities, or for other reasons that will help both of your businesses. It’s never too early to start those conversations. The best part of starting those conversations early is that you get an opportunity to better understand how other people in your ecosystem are thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve. Do they have internal efforts already underway? Are they desperate to partner with someone else who has traction? Do they have strongly held beliefs about how the space you’re in is going to play out? These are all things that are good to know as you plot your strategy. And as the person who is focused on life outside of the four walls of your company, this is valuable intel you can bring back to everyone else in the company.
4. Keep your ears open about the chatter in your industry so you don’t get blindsided. Don’t forget that the vast majority of your colleagues are focused on the internal issues that could keep your startup from succeeding. They’re working on product planning and customer development issues that are unique to the product your company is building. But that’s not 100% of what you need to know to succeed. Sometimes it’s really important to know what’s happening in your industry. Is one of your competitors raising a major round? If so, what does that mean for your company? Will that major round allow them to out-spend your on sales and marketing or hire more engineers? Is there a big deal out for bid that doesn’t involve you? If so, what would it mean for the space if one of your competitors closes that deal? Is there a big public company actively looking to acquire someone in your space? These questions and 500 others are important to know if you’re running a startup. Those things can impact your startup’s perceived chances of success. As the business person at a startup, it’s your job to stay on top of industry chatter to make sure your startup isn’t left out in the cold if changes are afoot in your industry.
Last but not least, you need to get comfortable with the fact that many of the activities you’re doing won’t show up in a weekly progress report. Building relationships, pushing for revenue models, and staying up to speed on what’s happening in your industry might not pay immediate dividends in the same way that code checkins and PRD revisions do. But nothing hurts startup morale more than being blindsided by a major industry development that you hear about on TechCrunch without being part of the conversation.
You can read the entire post here: http://blog.500startups.com/2010/11/08/what-does-that-business-guy-at-your-startup-do-anyway/
Three months ago I entered into what is one of the biggest adventures I have ever undertaken. I rescued a puppy. I had been toying with idea of getting a dog for about 5 years (yes, 5 years). Two things held me back: my startup life and New York City. But I now live in sunny Santa Monica in a bungalow with a spacious yard. Even so, it still took me two years, as my startup hours remained an obstacle. Then, a friend posted a photo of a puppy she was fostering on Facebook and I fell in love. I am now the proud mother of a Pit / Black Lab pup named Joanie (after Joan Jett, of course).
I have been working on balance (as just about every entrepreneur will tell you) since – well…..birth. And rescuing a month-old, wildly energetic puppy provided me with an instantaneous, and sometimes overwhelming, priority outside of work. Luckily, I have been in consulting mode as of late and have had more flexibility with regards to spending time with my pup. (I am starting a new gig very soon so stay tuned as this adventure evolves!).
To date, my life with Joanie has very much felt like a TV sitcom – chasing her down after she jumps out of the tub and spreads bubbles all over my house, stumbling over myself as she charges down the beach, sporting bite marks on my arms and bite holes in my clothes, etc . But it is all worth it, as I have a new best friend and we have tons of fun.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how raising this puppy is very similar, in many ways, to my experiences launching Internet businesses.
1) It is exhilarating and exhausting all at once
2) It requires dealing with all kinds of shit – and lots of it!
3) Every day (hour, minute, second) brings something new
4) It is anybody’s guess exactly how big it will be
5) Some days the growth and progress are tremendous, others not so much
6) It requires a great deal of stamina and patience
7) Success in training has more to do with the owner than the dog / success in startups has more to do with the team than the idea
8) It can be more rewarding than you ever imagined
Of course, companies don’t eagerly await for you to get home, look at you with adorable puppy eyes, or want to lick/kiss your face off. If you don’t have one and want one, go for it. There are way too many dogs out there that need great homes. Check out People For Paws for assistance.