8 Success Secrets From Rising Women in Tech
Have a great idea brewing, but not sure how to jumpstart your own company? Been wanting to quit that daily 9–5 corporate routine, but too scared to take the plunge? We’ve all heard stories about the tech scene boom, but women still account for only 26 percent of the entire industry. Tech can be both scary and exhilarating, but take heart! Here are a few lessons we’ve learned from our second Women in Tech panel hosted by Kanwal Jehan and Codify Academy. We recently hosted the event featuring five trailblazing women, who are making strides in the New York startup world. Along with our moderator and Marketing Director, Kanwal Jehan, they dished out some real talk on what it takes to get to where they are now.
Tiffany Pham is the the Founder & CEO of MOGUL, an award-winning worldwide platform connecting women from over 196 countries to trending content that are personalized to their interests. Seeking to change traditional education, Maya Gat co-founded Branching Minds, an educational technology company that helps teachers and parents identify, understand, and respond to students’ learning challenges. Patrycja Slawuta is a bi-coastal researcher and entrepreneur with a passion for the complexity and nonlinearity of human nature. Amy Wu is the Head of Finance and Operations for NewsCred, the leading end-to-end content marketing platform for brands and publishers. Our youngest panelist, high schooler Valerie Weisler is the CEO and Founder of The Validation Project, which seeks to help teenagers around the world realize their true skills, while tackling global issues within their communities.
1. Fuel your inspiration from your own challenges and the need for change.
Maya: What I did was that I had all this time on my hands during my maternity leave, and I found an application for an Ed Tech challenge. I thought the questions would help me organize my thinking, so that was a small test. I put the application together, submitted as a way of using it as an organization tool, and we won! That gave us early money and validation, so that I can take the next small test. It’s just a matter of finding ways to ease yourself in.
Patrycja: What I discovered is that I love teaching, however at The New School, the classroom is usually thirty students and there’s only that much effect you have. Whereas, I noticed there’s this world of Internet and this growing platform that’s self-education, and all these educational platforms that can reach thousands and thousands of people. I speak six languages, so multiply whatever by six and that’s a lot of people that could access the work that I’ve been doing. That really helped get me into what I do.
Amy: I graduated from school and I did management consulting, because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted something related to business, but at this point, it was like 5–6 years ago, tech in New York was getting really exciting. I was actually squatting at WeWork when it was just founded in the Canal Street office. I quit my job and literally approached a bunch of startups, and was like, “Can I volunteer for you guys? I want to learn”.
Valerie: One day, I realized that there were tons of other kids at my school that were getting bullied as well, whether it was by their parents at home or by another kid at school. I started to reach out to them and make sure they knew they mattered. I finally had someone to sit with at lunch, but there were other kids that were going to other schools or at my own school that had nowhere that people can pat them on the back and tell them don’t give up, don’t believe the words and calls in the hallways, and that everything’s going to be okay. There are tons of kids everyday who are committing suicide or not going for that dream that they have, and I can’t stand knowing that and not doing anything about it.
2. Freedom and success come from perseverance, taking risks, and stepping out of your comfort zone.
Tiffany: For me, being an entrepreneur is adopting the mindset of knowing what you need to accomplish and adopting every skill set along the way to get there, and having that tenacity.
Maya: To me, activists and entrepreneurs are really very much the same. It’s about identifying the problems, figuring out what the solution is, and just faking the gumption until you know it. Whether or not you have the gumption, pretend that you do.
Patrycja: There’s a book by Erich Fromm, who’s a famous psychologist in Germany and he said, “One of the biggest fears we have is the fear of freedom, because once there is freedom, we have to take responsibility”. That’s what entrepreneurship is. If you put in the work, there are results. You don’t put in the work, there’s no check coming in, right? So, I find entrepreneurship to be that, ‘freedom to and freedom from’.
Amy: We recently had a conversation with our executives on entrepreneurship and the definition that we came up at Newscred is that entrepreneurship is about taking risks and taking the path less traveled. For us, we’re a very fast growth-stage company, but we’re also in a space that’s extremely competitive. In order to really differentiate ourselves from our competitors, we have to take a lot of risks, and those risks have pretty large consequences. Entrepreneurship is taking that plunge and making decisions when there’s a risk and reward to weigh.
Valerie: Faking until you make it was definitely something I did and sometimes what I still have to do. If I haven’t done that then I would never have kids who are involved with us or having a new campaign that we’re launching in a couple of months with the NFL for special need kids. Forcing yourself into situations that you don’t feel comfortable in is the best thing that you can do.
If you’re feeling comfortable, you’re probably doing the wrong thing.
3. It doesn’t need to be perfect the first time. The faster you put your product out, the faster you will know what you need to make it better.
Tiffany: Every day at 2 AM after finishing my three jobs, I would sit down when everything else was quiet and I would look up this book called Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl. It literally taught me step-by-step how to build a platform. I thought that Ruby on Rails would enable to me build a real-time information platform that democratizes media in the same way that Twitter did for the other aspects of community. Any time that I got confused or lost, I would go to stackoverflow.com and look up all these different features and posts, and just working through it one by one. The site that resulted was so ugly, but the functionalities were all there. Even if it’s super sloppy, you should at least start it and get it rolling. After I finished the platform, we launched in 2014 and within that first week, we got a million users. It’s a pretty amazing thing to realize that you can set your mind to anything and that’s probably the part that I’m the proudest of in running MOGUL, knowing that I’ve built it myself.
Valerie: I sat at my kitchen table, which is still The Validation Project headquarters, for six hours and I designed The Validation Project. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew that I wanted to spread kindness and validation. Then people started coming to us and asking what exactly is this? How can I get involved? What does this mean? These people started with my neighbors, but that evolved. A week later, someone in Spain knew about us and a kid in Uganda wanted to get involved, so I knew I had to come up with a mission statement. At the beginning, it was mostly trials and errors and I’ve redesigned the website like nine times. That was a way that I learned how to do it.
4. Giving back can go a long way.
Amy: I find that I love people in tech, because it’s an industry that people are so open in helping others. I started squatting at WeWork in the first place, because I met a really good friend of mine, one of my best friends to date, and he was from WeWork. We randomly met at a meet-up and he was like, “Just come hang out at WeWork”! There are so many stories like that and so I try to help people who want to get into tech. I ended up interviewing for a lot of different opportunities, both in startup and fund sides, just through the people I met at WeWork and the general tech community. I ended up at a VC for some time, but the opportunities all came from WeWork.
Tiffany: Every single week, I’d received several hundreds of emails from young women asking how was I working for all these different companies, how did I land all these opportunities at such a young age, and I would spend hours answering these emails. Just as someone mentioned earlier about the authentic, that’s always something I give advice on.
Be authentic. Be kind. Be generous.
5. Balance is what you make it.
Maya: I don’t know if you guys know Tech Star, but it’s just like one crazy hell of a run. It was like 14-hour days, 7 days a week and I have this newborn who was being pushed in on a stroller for me to nurse her in between the 50 million meetings that I was having during the day. I think that one of the blessings of being that busy is that you don’t have the time to feel the emotion of being that busy. The balance is whatever I get. That’s the balance. I don’t have time to feel the guilt and the anxiety and the dread and the worry. I work as hard as I can when work. I spend as much time as I can with my kids. I watch a little bit of TV and I fall asleep, and that’s my day.
There isn’t time to worry about balance, because you’re running as hard as you can at your dream. I’ll worry about balance when I’m dead.
Patrycja: My meter for when I make decisions is based on how alive it makes me feel. I actually feel that the work I do makes me feel alive. It gives me energy. I go to bed excited and I wake up excited. That’s a very beautiful process. It’s charging. I really believe that it’s all about energy and it either juices you up or drains you. Most of the work that I was doing [in the past] was draining me out of energy. As great as they look on paper, I would come home and I’ll be exhausted as opposed to now. Now, I work 15–16 hour days, but then you get juiced up, because you know there are new and exciting things to jump into the next day. I would say it’s energy management more than anything.
6. You can take risks that fit in with your life.
Valerie: You don’t have to have a title to do something big. You don’t have to have something under your email signature to drive you. Don’t wait four years. Don’t wait for a B.A. or an M.A. to do what you want to do. Start that Twitter account for that blog or email The Huffington Post about your idea, or call up the CEO of the company you want to work for. Listen to your seventeen self. Think about where you were when you were seventeen. Listen to that person, because that person would probably tell you yes.
Maya: If you have children, if you a have career that you’re not ready to say goodbye to, that path is not as commonly told. What I would say to the folks that are walking in those shoes is to take small risks, one at a time. Validate as you go incrementally, because it is not as easy for the folks that are not ‘cheap to keep alive’. You can’t just throw caution to the wind and be like, “I don’t care if my children don’t get food”. You can still go after your dream, but you have to take small risks along the way and find a path to do that. I completely believe that you have to start. You go home and you find a way to start. Find that seventeen year old inside the thirty-four year old and honor her, but honor that thirty-four year old too.
7. Tend to the people and relationships in your life.
Patrycja: My company started because people were very passionate about what I’m doing. They would come in and asked if they can volunteer hours. It was about the person-to-person contact. It was me learning the emotional intelligence. It’s about how you listen and how you make that social group grow. That’s what we’re wired for. We’re wired to be social and we kind of forget that, especially in the crazy startup world. It’s about people.
The business starts with people, for the people, and grows with people.
Tiffany: I totally agree with that. My advice is to be kind and giving to every person in your life. When I start thinking about the success of MOGUL, it was largely based on years and years of giving and collaborating with others, who then once I started MOGUL, came to rally around it. All of our early partners were people I worked with and contributed with. Our team members are people I’ve worked with for five to ten years on different ventures. Continuing those relationships are going to be what makes you a great entrepreneur.
8. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask.
Amy: I think as women, we tend to not demand things for ourselves. We wait for our boss to hand us a promotion or for someone to give us an introduction to an investor, because we’re afraid to ask. I actually think that you guys have to get over that, especially when you’re adopting the entrepreneur mindset. A lot of your biggest lateral career moves will happen when you ask for it. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, but the uncomfortable is actually a sign that it is something that is very important to your life. People won’t pan to you. You have to prove to yourself. First of all, ninety-nine percent of the time, you can do it. It’s about convincing yourself to go ahead and ask. Worst-case scenario, they’ll say no, but in a lot of cases it will be a maybe or yes. I really suggest going after these decisions that make you uncomfortable and go for it.
Written By Noomie Tiwutanond and Kanwal Jehan
Edited By Kanwal Jehan