Why is it that only 3pc of venture-backed companies are led by women? This and many other topics were raised at Silicon Republic’s inaugural Female Founders Forum in Dublin yesterday.
In a panel discussion on the topic of rebalancing a male-dominated high-potential start-up sector and designing a culture of diversity in high-growth enterprises, Eventbrite co-founder and president Julia Hartz joined a panel that consisted of Geraldine McCarthy, online sales and operations, Dropbox, Leonora O’Brien, founder and CEO of Pharmapod, Grainne Barron, founder of Viddyad, and Sonya Lennon, co-founder of Frockadvisor.
The panel initially focused on whether its possible to go it alone as a solo founder or if it is better to have co-founders.
“It’s not impossible to go it alone initially, but there is no way you can be good at everything,” said Hartz, who established Eventbrite with her husband Kevin Hartz and their friend and CTO Renaud Visage.
“Trust and respect are important for co-founders,” said Lennon, who started Frockadvisor with fellow broadcaster Brendan Courtney. “Originally, we could have been in competition but we very quickly built a relationship based on trust and respect. We shared skillsets to make everyone better.”
O’Brien initially tried to go it alone. “I was lucky in having a good CFO who was driven and motivated and who had the same values. To scale a business internationally you need the support of co-founders. I’m looking for co-founders now.”
(From left) Silicon Republic CEO and editor-at-large Ann O’Dea; Eventbrite co-founder and president Julia Hartz; Grainne Barron, founder and CEO of Viddyad; Leonora O’Brien, founder and CEO of Pharmapod; Sonya Lennon, co-founder of Frockadvisor; and Geraldine MacCarthy, online sales and operations, Dropbox, hold a panel discussion at the Female Founders Forum in Dublin. Photo by Conor McCabe Photography
Barron said finding a co-founder with an engineering background was vital.
“Don’t let things hold you back," she said. "Five years ago, if someone said to me that I’d be a founder I’d have asked what drugs they were on – don’t let it hold you back, just go for it.
“It’s like being on a sailing boat – you think you are going slowly but look behind you and you’ll see how fast you’ve been moving.”
The investors in blue shirts and khakis
The panel also addressed why only 3pc of venture-backed companies are led by women.
Barron pointed out that pattern matching has something to do with it, and often investors in Silicon Valley tend to invest in people who look and dress like them, which is not good news for female founders.
“There’s a VC I know who fits the blue shirt and chinos stereotype. There’s a degree of pattern matching involved. If he sees someone come in that looks like him, he hires him.
“This is a struggle for a lot of women and as Ben Horowitz pointed out in his book, people pattern match.”
Lennon urged women to celebrate being different and said so what if you happen to be wearing the brightest colours that day.
Striking a balance
Hartz said she doesn’t believe in gender quotas, but in having quietly analysed her own workforce, was happily surprised that a balance had been struck.
“We created a balanced company – we created an equal opportunity and a nice gender balance, so it is completely possible.
“I also see exciting trends and things are moving in the right direction. I think every woman deserves to be hired for her skills and make an impact beyond her gender.”
Watch highlights of the first panel discussion at the Female Founders Forum here:
Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.