Category Archives: Startups & Entrepreneurs

Bustle.com: the worst case of mansplaining…ever.

yup

Nah, there’s no gender bias in VC.

So, a “failed investment banker” decides that his grocery store survey of the impulse rack is where, how and why women are not being fulfilled in their quest for in-depth conversations on politics, business and technology, ooooh AND makeup tips and gossip too, and decides that he can do it better. Of course.

So, he goes to his buddies at Social+Capital PartnershipTime Warner InvestmentGoogle Ventures500 Startups, and Rothenberg Ventures, and says (after doing his grade one research of googling “women+online” for his business case),

“Hey, you guys?! Women are the future!! They’re the leading demographic of online users and they’re so underserved, I can do it better! Give me a few mil, wouldya? I can fix this!”

And guess what. They did. Seriously. And so Bustle.com is born.

Oh. My. Fuck. I don’t even know where to begin.

Reading through Goldberg’s piece on pandodaily, is an exhausting, exasperating, would be laughable experience if it wasn’t such a sadly true testament about the incestuous, celebutante state of startups, and the systemic bias toward the homogenous worldwide fraternity known as VC.

Before we get there though, let’s start where he did…

The fact that this guy states in his press release, which also apparently passes as “news” on pandodaily, that

“Politico, Bleacher Report, TechCrunch, Business Insider, Mashable, Grantland, TheVerge, Break, College Humor, IGN, Thrillist, and Gawker”

are written for men is a great indicator that this navel gazer doesn’t actually get publishing or journalism whatsoever. Wait, then again, maybe it’s just me? I wonder why when I met Jordon Crook of TechCrunch last year and we talked about the startup scene in Toronto why she didn’t tell me to hike my skirt and push up my boobs on camera, you know, for the guys? I guess I must pass the biometric testosterone sensor they have built into their sites when I login, or something. Ya, that’s it.

Further on Goldberg writes,

“Women’s publishing has long served as a symbol of “old media” stagnancy.”

You mean, that “old media” that’s just the same as the “new media” don’t you?

or this…

“What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it?”

You mean, like JEZEBEL?! Hey Goldberg, just because you haven’t a clue about the huge number of sites that speak to women, through a woman’s lens doesn’t mean that those sites don’t exist.

Oh wait, they do exist! You know, “women’s sites” like Cosmo, and Vogue. They’re online, but of course they’re doing it all wrong, and that’s because “women publishers” have

“completely lost sight of which decade their readers are living in.”

I am so glad that Bustle is going to have paid “20 somethings” that are still in school writing on deep political issues like what Anthony Weiner said on BuzzFeed today, and “male nurses”! Phew! I can’t wait for more “awesome” “wow” and “Twittersphere” too! This is a way better business model than HuffPo. Who wants to read all that in-depth stuff on politics, business, culture & society, gaming, and tech from women, who, you know, may actually use the word feminist and not just since Caitlin Moran’s awesome missive. Clearly, Goldberg’s figured out that the writing on Vitamin W is just too, you know, male, I mean serious, for us women (or is that girls?), and who wants to hear from anyone that’s got any real life experience anywho? Definitely not enough eyebrow plucking reports included for my liking.

I am most excited that bustle.com is “ not just a publication either”, they’re investing in “technology” with “responsive design” on their site. Ooooooh, how 2010!

For the record Goldberg, “responsive design” nor “CMS” are “technology”.

Okay, enough mocking. That’s just too easy. Now let’s get a bit more serious on the real issues here, and why this is really pissing me off.

Let’s start with the word “feminist”. Oh, you opened the door Goldberg, so let’s go there.

Is this a feminist publication? You’re damn right this is a feminist publication.”

Let me simply say this; anyone that uses quotes around “income gap” is NOT a feminist. It’s not an “income gap”. It’s a fucking income gap. Your air quotes don’t make it a fairy tale, it’s a real thing. You sir, are no feminist. You’re not even a shadow of Hugo Schwyzer. You’re just a mansplaining asshole.

And speaking of assholes…

If you don’t think that there’s a bias in women led ventures getting VC funding, then you’re being willfully blind. It’s documented, ad nauseam that women only receive 4.2% of VC funding in the US. I seriously cannot think of another more perfect example than this one to animate how horribly wrong the VC eco-system is, and how every single one of the players that gave @BGoldberg money should be ashamed of themselves.

And you know why?

If a woman led initiative had come to any one of these VCs and pitched their business as piss-poorly as Goldberg obviously did, with this kind of tepid writing, and storify-ing stealing interface, they would’ve been laughed out of their offices. Soundly. And with good reason.

When sites like Bustle get $6.5 million in funding from multiple VCs, it is a glaring statement that as long as the same old same old exists in VCs, then the same old same old shit will get funded.

Lucky us.

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It’s time to disrupt the conference model

As originally published on Medium:

Enough of the conference pablum. Where’s the real meal?

Conference season is well upon us, and my advice is always this; choose wisely.

Seems that every industry, and every vertical is awash in the great calling of its pundits and practitioners to gather and….? Well, that’s just it. Do what, exactly? What is the intent of all of these conferences?

Wikipedia’s definition is that a “conference is a meeting of people who “confer” about a topic” and a business conference is “organized to discuss business-related matters”. Seem too ambiguous to you? Me too.

I’ve had it with conferences that have no real purpose or intent. There’s just too much talk, and truly, not enough action, especially for this action oriented culture. It’s time to put our collective feet down until conference organizers show us that there is going to be some tangible outcome from attending their thousand dollar shindig, rather than just:

  • hanging around with industry people that we mostly know already
  • hearing from speakers that are often irrelevant, we often know more than, or whose video we could view at our leisure because their exact same speech has been delivered umpteen times so far, and
  • being loaded down with a bunch of swag that will be immediately recycled, or handed over to our children for their imminent destruction

Even though I’m a huge proponent of the power of connecting with people IRL, and supporting the social in social media, my biggest lament about conferences is that they have become watered down, networking opportunities that serve no real value, besides perhaps the odd fan/icon photo op.

Far too often, these conferences are led by a fraternity of creators that keep inviting their closest circle of friends, or those that they’d like to be friends with, as keynotes (read: heavy male contingent on the speaker’s lists, even in female dominated industries). In their attempts to be everything to everyone, they end up really only being valuable to a small percentage of attendees, and often the speakers’ book publishers.

It’s even worse if the food is bad, the WiFi is sketchy and there are no charging stations, forcing those of us waiting for our Everpurse to arrive to stalk the seats by the walls or the back nearest the electrical outlets.

So, rather than entirely boycott, I’m choosing to engage, here. There needs to be a new approach to conferences.

I have a solution that I believe will actually provide real value and ensure that conferences do more than just provide an opportunity to over indulge in food, spirits and ego-stroking.

Let’s try this on for size, at least as a start. Instead of trying to be all things to everybody, why don’t conference organizers start creatingstreams in the following way:

  • FNG’s: this isn’t separating the wheat from the chaff. This is separating total newbies from seasoned practitioners, so we’re not all just a bunch of bobble heads in the room nodding approval at the most rudimentary elements of “how to do your job”. You want to keep people off their smartphones and laptops and truly engaged? Stop throwing us all in the same mix. Oh, and really, this is the ONLY place that you should ever be discussing “how to get in the industry” stuff. Otherwise, you’re just boring us to tears.
  • Practitioners: the meatier part of any conference should focus on developing the “middle managers” to the next level. After all, isn’t that the whole purpose of a good leader? Elevate the conversation, friends. Give us the thought leaders, show us the cutting edge technology, ENGAGE US for chrissake. Stop feeding us conference industry pablum! Go ahead, speak in acronyms, we get you!
  • Thought Leaders: let these events be a true gathering place for our industry elites. Let them gather, meet, and discuss the most pressing or topical issues. Ask them to actually tackle one real, tangible problem. Then, invite them to share those ideas and solutions with the masses. Let’s break down silos and hierarchical fronts. People are happy to do the work, as long as we give them a starting place. That’s what our thought leaders are for.
  • Purposeful Networking: help those that don’t know how to help themselves yet. Put investors in front of startups, newbies in front of practitioners, strategists beside creatives, creatives beside operations specialists. Bring the people together in the most purposeful way, instead of crossing your fingers that your hashtag will trend.

Conferences should be a place where we learn, network and connect, and then move forward in our chosen industries.

Oh, and if I have one last request, it’s this; no one, and I do mean NO ONE is allowed to ask any speaker, “what’s the one piece of advice that you’d give to (insert beginner in your industry here)”. No, no, no, no! I realized that I was even guilty of this recently when conducting an interview with a highly regarded, highly successful CEO. Reality is, it’s lazy interviewing and shows you haven’t done your homework. Shame on us if we hear that again…

and then let’s celebrate what we’ve actually learned and created with that over indulgence in food and spirits, because if we’ve done things right, then in fact, we’ve earned that right.


Startups are the best place for women to Lean In

This blog originally appeared on the MaRSdd.com blog May 3, 2013

Since the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, there’s been a slew of commentary on the issue of women in the workplace and why women and men need to all lean in together for the betterment of our economies, our families and our society as a whole. Continue reading


A lost leadership opportunity

This blog originally appears on The Executive Roundtable site.

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” ~ from Cool Hand Luke

Last week, the internet showed it’s very real, very ugly side.

You may have heard of Adria Richards, Donglegate, and the tweet that started a firestorm, which ended with her and another person losing their jobs. For those of you that haven’t, here’s a very high level breakdown:

Continue reading


You can’t be what you can’t see

Originally posted on the MaRS blog: 

Language and imagery are important. These two inputs impact our thoughts, our belief systems, our attitudes and, ultimately, our actions.

The Ms. Foundation for Women knew this when they started the Take Our Daughters to Work initiative back in 1993. Marie Wilson, founder and president emeritus of The White House Project, also knew this, which is why she started the initiative to draw women into leadership roles in America.

At MaRS we are committed to drawing women into ambitious entrepreneurship, particularly with a focus on leading high-tech, high-growth companies, and we have hosted many talented writers who have told the stories of women in technology on our blog for many years.

Why do we continue to tell these stories and highlight the work that women are doing in these fields? Personal development pundits often cite the impact of writing down goals or creating vision boards. What if those vision boards don’t have any images or stories of women as scientists, developers or leaders? What if girls and women can’t see what they may be or become? That’s a future that we don’t want to see become reality and one that our world community cannot afford to let happen.

There are many dedicated and committed women and men working together to highlight women’s stories and to provide opportunities for them to picture themselves as leaders and create their own future in the fields of technology. Today, in honour of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting two women and their teams who are doing just that.

Cassie McDaniel and Women && Tech

Inspired by FITC‘s call for submissions for a chance to win free tickets to their conference, designer, writer and illustrator/artist Cassie McDaniel created an app that was built around the “binders of women” concept: a directory of women in the technology industry that conference organizers could use to improve the ratio of women speakers at technology conferences. The app was also intended to be a community-curated platform where women could share their stories and find mentors and support as they traversed the minefield ofbarriers and challenges they faced as a minority in the technology field. The premise eventually morphed into the Women && Tech interview series.

Cassie and her core volunteer team of nine men and women are committed to interviewing 50 current tech leaders in the Toronto area (there will be men profiled as well). When asked why it was important for her to tell these stories, Cassie told me that there are plenty of women who don’t struggle with finding their way in this community and, in her experience, that’s been mostly based on their personalities. But for those women who do struggle with speaking up for themselves, asserting their presence or sharing their talents, these interviews are an important avenue to show women that ”you can get here from anywhere,” she said.

Cassie is under no delusion that using this medium to highlight women’s stories will be the sole means by which the struggles of women in the technology industry will be overcome, but she does see it as an important part of the overall discussion by at least getting people talking.

Terre Chartrand and Hackademy

Terre Chartrand  has worked in technology for most of her professional life. She knows a variety of different programming languages, comes from a background in fine arts and is passionate about providing opportunities for girls and other marginalized groups to access the knowledge, resources and skills that will see them flourish in the growing knowledge anddigital economy.

Terre, along with Stephanie Rozek and Sean Yo (all from the Kitchener-Waterloo area), created Hackademy as a response to some of the difficulties they had experienced in the tech sector and as a way to create some change. (Disclosure: Hackademy has recently joined MaRS as a client.) The team’s approach to growing Hackademy as a social venture is to provide access to training about how to code and make, while also creating an infrastructure of mentorship, so that students will be set up for success in the workplace and, most notably, girls and women will be encouraged to stay in tech.

Outreach to girls will be a particular focus for Hackademy, teaching them that tech does not have to be intimidating or scary and “isn’t just a boy thing.”

Terre gave an example of a project where girls could build a dollhouse and then create simple Arduinosolutions to wire the house and set the lights on a timing system. It is collaborative, cross-disciplined, engaging play where girls can experience different parts of what it means to “make” by using math skills and creating algorithms and heuristics.

Both Terre and Cassie agree that diversity within their teams (in gender, talent and experience) is an essential building block to the success of their projects. They both also recognize that there are particular challenges that women and girls face in the technology realm and, through their work, they’re doing their part to see that the number of girls and women in technology rise.

If you believe that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” then it is imperative that we share our stories and show girls and women that they are not alone. We need to show them that they are able and capable, and that they can be successful in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields without being minimized.

We invite you to join our Lean in Circle. Share your stories, support others and be a part of actively changing the future for today’s girls and the future of STEM industries in Ontario.

 


Connection: Don’t forget the social in social media

Originally posted on the MaRS blog

“Connection is the outcome of art.” — The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

As an entrepreneur, you’ve done your homework: you’ve listened to the excellent advice from the Entrepreneurship 101 speakers, you’ve gone through all of the workbooks and are able to speak to the market for your startup, the viability of your business plan and your go-to-market strategy.

But have you stopped to consider and measure the impact of your connections as part of the health and wealth of your startup?

The MaRS website is full of advice and guidance on how to find a mentor, build your board, invest in talent and conduct sales. All of these discussions involve connections to you and your business, but we rarely talk about the intrinsic value of these connections.

Can you valuate the invaluable?

The social graph as described by Paul Butler of Facebook clearly shows the potential reach of one’s social network. By now I think we can all readily agree that social is the new norm and that its impact is already massive, especially when you look at the economic benefits as outlined in the McKinsey Global Institute report on the social economy.

Across four industries alone (consumer packaged goods, consumer financial services, professional services and advanced manufacturing), they have determined that the potential financial impact of enterprises engaging in social technologies is in the range of $900 billion to $1.3 trillion dollars. The consumer-supported activity in supporting enterprises reached $40 billion in 2010 and is projected to be as much as $76 billion by 2015.

These are powerful and impressive numbers and, as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to build and sustain your business by engaging in and using social technologies. Those who choose not to integrate social into their businesses will surely fail. Analyzing the value of efforts, energies and resources when you’re building your social presence is a responsible position to take. And it is right to be able to articulate the value of a “like” and what that brings to your business overall.

What I want to remind you of here, though, is the holistic impact of your connections, the social of social technologies. Connection is far more than your online community. It envelops, but also goes beyond, your team of advisors, mentors and investors.

Connection is what feeds your soul, fills your brain with ideas and inspiration, and buoys you as a human being. It is why your businesses are built, why research and discovery continue, and why social enterprises and B Corps have finally found their time.

Your art shows in your fellowship

While social technologies have changed many aspects of how we manage our businesses from day to day, something that hasn’t changed and that is still fundamental to making a business successful is that people still want to do business with people: people who they know and people who they believe in. This, of course, is entirely critical for startups.

What we know is that this network of connections is more important than ever in realizing those successes. Again, as noted by the McKinsey Global Institute, “people derive great personal satisfaction from the relationships they are able to maintain, the information they can glean, and the communities they form in their use of social technologies.”

Never before has the collective “we” had such immediate access to the “they.”

A few years ago, after New York Times journalists and authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman released their book NurtureShock, I was hugely impressed by their work and I went online to share just that. The authors then reached back and responded to me. It was a small act, that communication between us, but what it said was that they were interested in my excitement and my feedback just as much I was interested in sharing their work. We talked about bringing them to my local community for them to share their work at a grassroots level with parents and community members. Connection.

In many ways, we’re all still just a bunch of “Joes,” and everybody wants to be a part of something. Social technologies may create that warm handshake, but it’s equally as important to engage your connections directly. Talk with them, meet with them, invite them in.

Po and Ashley have become a reference for me now, and while we may not be friends in real life, they are a part of my experience—and that connection, no matter how fleeting, helped form and shape my engagement and embrace of social technologies.

So, how do ensure that you receive the greatest value from your connections? The answer is simple, really.

Aron Solomon, a MaRS advisor and one of the new leads on the MaRS education technology front, shared this message with the young leaders that he met with recently at i.c.stars in Chicago: Be a mensch.

When you are a mensch, you draw those to you that proffer advocacy, word-of-mouth support, influence and goodwill; all those things that are invaluable and immeasurable, but likely have the greatest impact on your early success.


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