The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Technology allows us to take a peak. Incredible. Watch the whole way through.
A Thank You to Six Female Rockstars
I have spent a lot of time in 2013 thinking about the lack of women in tech and especially the lack of strong communities that help push women to the forefront of their fields. There are true exceptions to this rule, namely Joanne Wilson and Rachel Sklar. Both women answered a cold e-mail from me within hours after I had just moved to New York City to begin my career at Bessemer. I wish there were more Joanne’s and Rachel’s in our community, but I am confident they are pushing us in the right direction and mentoring future generations to do the same.
I am a huge proponent of practicing what I preach, and while I look up to many strong female executives and leaders like Joanne and Rachel, or Marissa and Sheryl, I believe strength is first derived from those communities closest to you - with people you interact with on a day to day basis. Today, I wanted to spend time highlighting six specific women for their impact on our community and the reasons why I look up to them.
Anjali Vaidya: I worked with Anjali on the executive team of a student undergraduate organization that is near and dear to my heart, Stanford Women in Business. Anjali was the antithesis of a typical Stanford engineering student. She had all the smarts (really, all of them) and none of the quirks (read: male). Anjali won the Terman Engineering Award, one of Stanford’s most elite engineering awards and was in several prestigious academic societies. It was a true honor to have her lead a woman’s organization as an engineer, in a sea of other student-run organizations that were led by male engineering students. Anjali has never been intentionally vocal about her achievements, which makes her success all the more impressive. After Stanford, she went on to HBS and joined Google’s agile mobile advertising team as a manager. Anjali’s team was behind the very successful Admob acquistion and Anjali helped grow the mobile ad business 200% YoY to a $2.5B run rate. She recently left to join Yahoo as Senior Manager of Mobile Products. I’m sure she will shake things up there in a big way. Anjali has started writing for the Huffington Post on issues she faced in the workplace and words of advice for other women in tech. Read her articles here and here.
Caitlin Strandberg: I met Caitlin at the first NYVC Women dinner I put together with Eugenia Koo (another awesome female investor at RRE Ventures) and was blown away by her diverse experience in such a short period of time at two successful startups: Behance and Learnvest. Caitlin had recently joined Flybridge Capital as one of the few (not even enough to count on one hand) early stage female investors in the city. Caitlin was genuine, unassuming and brutally honest about what is wrong with tech and the NYC community and blazed her way through righting those wrongs in her own laid-back/Brooklyn way (she’s going to kill me for saying that but its true.) Caitlin has quickly become the go-to young investor in the city and is often seen at the center of engendering a true venture community. Recently, she has spear-headed an initiative with Edlyn Yuen and Ed Zimmerman to help bring more female investors to the forefront of the community. Caitlin spends her down time kite surfing in remote islands all over the world (not joking).
Christina Wallace: I met Christina for the first time at Pershing Square after she founded Quincy Apparel, a customized fashion startup for women. If I could describe Christina in three words they would be: bold, midwestern, and wicked smart (okay I cheated on the adjective there.) There was an honesty to Christina that is difficult to find in the city. She was incredibly upfront about the uphill battle of building a company from scratch despite her glowing resume: HBS, BCG, Opera Singer (how amazing is that!) Christina is one of the few people I know who is more open about her failures than her successes. Like most startups, Quincy failed but Christina got right back up to use the time to reflect and think about her tech career moving forward. Today, she is the Director of the Startup Institute (the winners of Take the Helm! Hell Yeah!), founded a kick-ass a cappella group, and ran 13 races in 2013. Amazing, I know.
Kelly Peller: I meet Kelly through the National Women in Business (NWIB) summit as a junior in college. The NWIB summit was the first time the presidents of female undergraduate business organizations came together from multiple schools to discuss their successes and failures. Kelly had the foresight to realize a meeting of the minds would make our jobs much easier and would build a necessary community between female leaders for future networking. NWIB has been a very big part of my life in New York today by introducing me to women who are now facing the same trials and tribulations in the working world. Kelly didn’t stop there. She started the first ever business plan competition in Iraq and is at the center of the startup community at the American University of Iraq. She also recently founded NextGenVest out of her Kauffman Fellowship. Kelly is incredibly passionate about teaching young students about financial management and I am convinced she will start a financial education revolution!
Lauren Maillian Bias: Lauren is the only true Renaissance woman I know. She is a mother of two beautiful children, a successful wine entrepreneur, marketing executive, investor and soon to be book author! Every time I meet Lauren, I feel I should be doing more. She has a magnetic and inspiring personality that makes you want to be better and has made a name for herself in the community as the best angel/seed investor for a female-led startup. Lauren proves that you don’t have to eat, sleep, and breathe tech to be a smart investor. In fact, Lauren’s experience in the marketing and lifestyle world as well as making and selling wine make her a 360-degree thinker and an incredible asset to the teams she helps coach. I don’t know anyone who juggles all their responsibilities so well and loves every minute of it. Incredible.
Tracy Chou: You won’t believe Tracy’s resume when you read it. In a perfect world, Tracy would be advising the board of every tech company on how to better integrate female engineers in the workplace. The articles that we read about women in tech, Tracy experiences. An honors graduate from Stanford,Tracy has worked as a software engineer at Quora, Facebook, and Google. Better yet, she is now happily pinning away at Pinterest. A true resource for young women who want to be engineers and investors who want to understand the lack of female-founded companies, Tracy "turns coffee into code" seamlessly and is a force to be reckoned with. She is also a frequent Quora poster and I’ve highlighted some of her best articles here here and here. You also have to check out a recent hilarious tweet.
So there you have it, my fabulous six. Thanks to all of you for spearheading the push forward. You are all incredible.
Happy New Year!
"Why can’t I re-instagram?": The Influence of Design, An Instagram Case Study
I have a confession to make.
I recently joined instagram after much harassment from friends. I had used instagram privately to filter and store my personal photos, but never engaged in the community by following other users on a regular basis (allegedly, the core driver of growth.)
For the last week or so, I have started to understand why this community element was and remains so critical to instagram’s success. In particular, I noticed a few design and user interface decisions that contribute to building this creative community.
1) Focus on creation: I was shocked to find that the only way one can share content on instagram is by copying the photo URL and sharing on other websites or tweeting the photo link directly. There is no ‘retweet’ (or re-instagram) functionality. I remember when I first joined Twitter, I felt more comfortable retweeting other people’s content before I became comfortable creating my own. Instagram pushes users to create on day one to feel truly engaged. You can like, comment, and follow to show appreciation but it doesn’t influence your own content stream the way it does on Twitter.
Figure 1: Sharing options on instagram
Figure 2: Sharing options on Twitter (Retweet functionality is second to left.)
2) Photo size: When I go through my instagram feed, each photo is guaranteed a few seconds of my attention. Instagram’s design interface leverages the mobile form factor to highlight each individual photo (if the photo size was any different, this leverage may have been compromised.) Instagram wanted each photo to speak for itself before the user was inundated with the comments that followed (almost forcing a user to be influenced by the photo itself before being influenced by the comments that followed.) The font size and comment collapsing features augment this focus on the photo. Facebook took a similar approach in their most recent design, understanding that users wanted to see, create and be influenced by more photos.
Figure 3: A photo on instagram takes up most of the iPhone screen.
Figure 4: Facebook has mimicked this focus on photos.
3) Devaluing the tag: While users can tag other users in their instagram photos, these tagged photos do not appear on the tagged user’s personal feed. On Facebook, many passive users augment their feeds via active users who tag them. On instagram, your personal feed depends on individual creation.
Figure 5: I was tagged in this photo, but could not view it until I went to my “news” section. On Facebook, this would show up on my home feed.
We take design at face value and miss some of the subtle features that are so core to a company’s success. A lot of these features iterate over time and depend on user feedback, but a core few dictate the way users act, ultimately shaping the reputation and community of a company.
Agree/disagree/share your own case studies! Happy to jump down the rabbit hole of design…
Silicon Valley’s Banksy: Can we create products without personality?
A few days ago, I was browsing Twitter in transit and stumbled upon an article about Banksy’s NYC art spree. I had heard Banksy’s name many times before but had never really studied his art or his background. I quickly realized that Banksy was purposefully elusive, and had kept his identity shrouded in mystery for years.
Banksy’s art is fairly homogeneous in its underlying message even though the homogeneity is expressed in a multitude of forms. The main premise is a fight against “the man” (broken down in many forms such as big government, ruthless capitalism, or religious fundamentalism.) Banksy is the hybrid of a marxist-nihilist, who chooses art as a peaceful but flippant channel of communication.
However, Banksy’s choice to remain anonymous seems deeper than just a fear of the law. If we knew who Banksy was, would that affect our opinion of his art? Would its ability to influence us be tainted? Say tomorrow we find out he belongs to a British aristocratic family - would his art lose validity?
Banksy’s active decision to remain anonymous made me think about founders of start-ups today. Do they have the luxury of remaining anonymous and allowing their product to speak for itself?
A perfect, and perhaps overused example is Facebook. Facebook seeks to make the world more open and connected, but it has been consistently criticized for being intrusive and showing disrespect for privacy. How much of this perception has to do with Zuckerberg’s personality? Through a variety of media channels, Facebook was painted as Zuckerberg’s solution to his own social awkwardness. If Zuckerberg had been a charismatic and suave college student with a robust dating history, would our opinion of Facebook’s larger message be any different? Would Facebook’s subtle privacy changes be as offensive?
Frankly I don’t know, but it begs a larger question about whether identity guides output and product and whether it should or should not.
Can we imagine a world where famous start-ups have anonymous founders? Free from societal framing, could that start-up have unprecedented impact?
Is it time for Silicon Valley to find its Banksy?