I was interviewed by Karen Klein on Bloomberg Businessweek. My blog post about being pregnant and becoming a mom while doing a start up caught her eye.
I tell my story because a lot of investors decide to fund companies based on pattern recognition. Paul Graham has admitted to be fooled by entrepreneurs who look like Mark Zuckerberg. The more success stories of women doing startups, pregnant or not, the better our chances of getting funded in the future.
I also hope to inspire other women to take the risk of starting their own companies. Doing a startup means taking a huge risk, perhaps the risk is a little bigger if you’re a woman, but my story proves that it’s certainly possible to succeed.
Pregnant. That was my big secret when I was pitching (and winning :)) at Women 2.0 a year ago. Not only am I a female founder, I’ve also led my startup while becoming a mom at the same time.
I wish we didn’t have to have this debate so I could be working instead of writing my story. I wish there wasn’t any bias in Silicon Valley. I wish I didn’t have to think carefully about how I could write this so I could still be perceived as a strong and capable individual, not a victim of gender bias or a privileged super hero (or whatever they are calling Marissa and Sheryl). But I write because we need more women in tech, and to inspire someone to join us here is to contribute to the solution.
Truth is that women are treated differently in Silicon Valley. Most people are not aware of their bias, just like symphony orchestras had no idea they were judging female musicians differently until they introduced blind auditions. Just like that, they went from being 90% male to 50-50. We don’t have blind VC pitches here, nor do we have a rigorous data set for Steven Levitt to write a chapter for the next edition of Freakonomics, so we’ll never really know how the gender bias plays out for sure.
I can say that I’ve walked into a dinner of aspiring entrepreneurs who were all male and been asked point blank: “So, how come you here?” because it was inconceivable that a woman would be founder. I also know that some smart VCs recognize their bias and are actively hiring women to source deals (so they don’t miss the next Pinterest). Silicon Valley is human, complete with faults and desire for self improvement.
I do know what it’s like to fundraise while pregnant. Awkward. Do you disclose? Will they think that just because their wife decided to stay home you will too? Or will it all be irrelevant because the one woman you are pitching to in the room will automatically figure out that someone with your body type would never wear such an outfit unless the midline was out of sorts, and the guy in the room will notice that an excel document labeled Baby List is hanging out on your Chrome download tool bar? That’s what happened one pitch meeting, as they happily told me “we knew it!” when I ran into them again late into my 8th month.
There is hardly any precedent for a pregnant founder pitching. Not long ago, there also used to be little precedent for couples founding companies together. Married founders give investors pause, I know because I’m married to my co-founder. It’s funny to hear VCs wonder out loud how someone could work with their spouse because they could never see themselves working with their wife, and I smile to myself at the utter irrelevancy of that observation. Investing is such imperfect science.
Now that the roster of successful married founders is growing, (thanks to EventBrite, Bebo, and hey even Y Combinator since PG’s wife, Jessica, also works there), investors no longer bat much of an eye at funding married founders. I hope the same will be true of women, and down the road in a more gender-equal future, pregnant women.
Since you are wondering what the F happened when I had the baby, I’ll tell you that we hired a great team that could execute the details while I directed high level strategy taking care of baby. We launched Tiny Post 2 weeks before I gave birth, and released a major update 2 weeks after, and grew like bottle rockets with Apple promoting us around the world.
Was it hard? Harder than I could ever have predicted. It wasn’t just the sleepless nights or pregnancy induced carpal tunnel syndrome, it was being responsible for a tiny human who didn’t come with an operating manual. A few times a week, I was able to walk to the office with baby sleeping in a carrier and bounce on a ball at my computer, but it was really having the full support of my co-founder and team that made it possible. It really took all of us to get through it. I’ve been back at work full time for a while now, feeling refreshed and driven. We’ve got something up our sleeve that will be revealed soon.
Am I going to get stuff accomplished as a founder and a mom? Yes. Being an entrepreneur takes guts to try to accomplish something when all the odds are stacked against you. Perhaps the odds are a little steeper for women, and once in a while I notice it, but I don’t want to get hung up on the gender bias. The best way to have more women at the top is to climb up there myself.
The Case of Teeny Avatars - When Design Follows Engineering
Sometimes it’s so easy in Photoshop to re-design an app screen and change the size of an element:
"Look at those teeny avatars! Wouldn’t it be better to make them 30px high instead of a measly 25px?" And with a quick drag of the transform tool, your design is more beautiful and you go home happy…
Until engineering wants to shoot you. As it turns out, all those measly little avatars have been stored in S3 at 25px and your quick resize means that someone needs to run a script and resize all 3 million of them. Small task? Maybe, but depends on how many to-do’s are on their plate.
Luckily, the backend for the app that I’m helping is clean enough that engineering can get it done with minimal effort, but I’m glad that I caught that implication and got engineering go-ahead before going home happy or digging my heels thinking that 30px is the way it HAD to be.
Make Something People Love (+ Design and Marketing Stories)
Alexis Ohanian talks about design, community, and marketing in a great set of video over at General Assembly (that blissfully designy startup space in NYC). If you’re doing or even thinking of doing a startup, this is required watching.
Renowned entrepreneur and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian will inspire you to think of unique ways to connect with your customers, and to build a community of users who want your business to succeed. In this class, you’ll learn some key branding, marketing, and user experience principles, plus specific tactics and strategies that you can use to create a company people love.
The farther away you are from a situation, the harder it is to empathize. If you’ve not been a minority in a group before (especially in a career-type setting), then it is hard to even imagine what that’s like. A male friend recently came to me and told me about a childcare situation he was in where he was the only male. In this group of females, he was already feeling a bit apprehensive when one of them made a joke about him being a pedofile, and why was he there, etc. etc. He didn’t think the woman meant anything malicious, but was instead just clueless. Unfortunately, her insensitivity left my friend feeling hurt and even more awkward than before. Even though he loved working with kids, it tainted his whole experience, and made him question whether or not he even wanted to continue. A few synapse connections later, my friend came to me and said “now I know what you guys must feel like in this industry. I’m really sorry on behalf of us all.
- Elizabeth Naramore on why empathy is important, and how hard it is for guys to understand what it’s like to be a woman in tech.
I always struggle trying to figure out what typefaces go together, and usually end up defaulting to clean Helvetica or humanist Lucida to avoid a faux pas. This website takes the guess work out, love it!
There is a lot of speculation about Facebook’s $1bn acquisition of Instagram. Regardless of how much Instagram is actually “worth” (value is in the eye of the beholder), here is my perspective on how it might have gone:
Facebook realizes that in order to keep winning the social network game,…
“Think about this: decisive, breakthrough creative decision-making is almost always made by one, two, possibly three minds working in unison, take it or leave it. Collective thinking usually leads to stalemate or worse. And the smarter the individuals in the group, the harder it is to nail the idea. Certainly in my experience as a mass communicator and cultural provocateur, I know this to be absolutely true: group thinking and decision-making results in group grope.”—
The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?
“If you want to take on a problem as big as the ones I’ve discussed, don’t make a direct frontal attack on it. Don’t say, for example, that you’re going to replace email. If you do that you raise too many expectations. Your employees and investors will constantly be asking “are we there yet?” and you’ll have an army of haters waiting to see you fail. Just say you’re building todo-list software. That sounds harmless. People can notice you’ve replaced email when it’s a fait accompli.”—Paul Graham in Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas.
The birth of Copy Paste: Susan Kare sketches the first icons
Ever wonder how copy /paste icons came to be? Susan Kare was an artist working with Steve jobs on the Macintosh. Armed with a pink marker and sketchbook from University Arts in Palo Alto, she created the first famous set of icons that made computers human. Take a look at the rest of them on PLoS Blogs.
Great advice from Camilo Acosta from PaybyGroup, one of the startups in our batch at 500 Startups. When asking for an intro, you want to make it as easy as possible for the person you’re asking to connect you. Type up an email they can just forward, like the one from Russell D’Souza from SeatGeek below:
Hi [Person making intro],
Things at Seatgeek are going well. We’ve been growing revenue and traffic dramatically over the last few months. We’re trying to integrate ___________ into Seatgeek and thought that I’d reach out to ____________ to discuss an opportunity. Looking at LinkedIn, ____________ seems to be the best person to reach out to, and it seems like the two of you are connected. If you don’t mind, could you make an intro between us two?
Here’s a background for the intro:
Seatgeek is a ticket search engine that helps users find the best deals on sports and concert tickets. The company focuses on driving traffic to the secondary ticket markets today, but would like to be a profitable marketing vehicle for primary markets and venues as well.
We just had Patrick McKenzie, better known as patio11, at 500 Startups give us better SEO advice than I’ve learned in 3 years. I learned so much I wanted to hug the guy. Here are some of the best nuggets. If you have zero clue about SEO, start with the SEOMoz beginner guide.
"Your website is just what I’m looking for!"
Use Google Adword’s keyword tool to come up with keywords and write pages that speak to those topics. If you’re a productivity app, write a page for “increases productivity in Healthcare”, another for “increases productivity in Education”, “lowers cost in Healthcare”, and so on. Rather than automating it or having the CEO or head marketing guy write everything, you want to define a process such that a freelancer or team member can create content responsive to those keywords with a consistent level of quality. eHow previously made a killing by having an army of monkeys banging on typewriters: they got people to write low-quality content about a topic that people were searching for. (Aside: The content was so unsatisfying that people clicked the more relevant ad at the bottom. Brilliant business that people hated. Google is thankfully squashing it with their Panda update. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create content in a fashion that scales while simultaneously ensuring that the user experience of consuming your content remains good.)
Use keywords in your copy, in your description and title tags. If someone is searching for project management for hospitals, it would make them giddy to land on 37Signal’s Basecamp and see how it solves project management in healthcare.
Exact match domains are a great strategy because they start ranking in search results quickly while not requiring as links relative to other domains: Halloweenbingocards.net will rank for “halloween bingo cards” very fast. It cost Patrick $8.95 to buy, $100 for a writer to make 5 pages of content, and he made thousands in sales. This works for .com (.edu, .org) domains, but not for non-US TLDs like .co or .ly. (Exception: certain large countries with well-established TLDs, like the UK with .co.uk, have those TLDs enjoy the bonus for searches originating in that country.)
Design Matters. A lot.
A good looking, well designed website will convey credibility and professionalism. Even if you’re just two guys coding at a Starbucks, you can look like a big, well-known brand. Invest in design.
Your Biggest Enemy
It’s not your competitor, or another startup, or even Google. It’s the back button.
Tricks to Get Links
First, realize that programmers, journalists, and other internet savvy people control the links on the internet. Build relationships with them, even when they are not your target customer, because their links boost your search rankings. 37Signals has a big following on the internet, which helps make them the number one search result for their target customers to find them.
Engage with bloggers who are just a little bit bigger than you. It’s much easier to reach them than a TechCrunch writer. When you write a blogger, make sure you tell them in plain English why your content is directly relevant to their readers. They’re busy, don’t make them guess.
What Makes Link-worthy content?
If your startup has an interesting story to tell, it often makes for a better blog post than writing about the product. Open source projects and API documentation are also great for the developer audience, which remember is overrepresented online (and can give you a lot of link juice). If you need inspiration just look at the Ok Cupid blog, lots of brand personality and good content. It takes them a while to write the blog posts, but it pays off.
Twitter has No SEO juice
Tweets have close to zero value from an SEO perspective when compared to standard links. It’s better to get people to write blog posts that link to you. Patrick goes as far as taking off the Twitter buttons from his sites, since they satisfy people’s craving to share without returning any SEO value. He prefers Delicious buttons. There is value in reaching influencers through places that do not give good links if you can then convince those influencers to link to you from their own sites.
Don’t use a Subdomain. Who Knew?
If The New York Times or another high profile website links to your blog at blog.domain.com, your domain doesn’t get full credit! It’s better to set up your blog as domain.com/blog. 301 redirects don’t transfer all the link juice, so it’s better to service domain.com/blog directly.
Github, Slideshare, Tumblr are fantastic, but don’t give them your link juice. Put your content on your own domain.
The quickest way to accomplish this technically is with a reverse proxy on domain.com/blog
More Words are Better
Search engines are not good at determining the content of a video or an image. Use alt tags to describe your images (using keywords, of course); it’s good practice for search engines and blind people with screen readers. Since alt tags can be manipulated, text describing your content is even better in Google’s eye. Transcribe all videos so that crawlers can index the content. Avoid duplicate alt/meta tags and content.
Landing pages should be text rich. The current trend among startups to put 40 words or less on their landing pages is terrible for SEO because there is little text for Google to pick up. Patrick’s landing pages have 800 words. However, there are times when you trade off on SEO to increase conversion. Highrise sells to a design audience who responds to faces (as revealed by heavy A/B testing - that’s a great process story, btw). Their landing page has little text but it converts visitors into customers very well.
Faces Better. So Are Logos.
Dave McClure first wrote about the importance of faces, and Patrick agrees that they convert better. Helpspot’s founder put his own picture on the landing page and conversion went up 10%! Faces are so popular that there’s even headsethotties.com - you know they are fake but you still like them. In general, people are A/B testing the heck out of things, so when they converge on a trend there’s a good reason: e.g. they have figured out that pictures of buff guys work well for fitness oriented sites.
If a big name website covers your site, add the logo to your landing page, ideally near the big button you want people to press. It adds credibility and makes you look big.
Things That Don’t Provide Value
Don’t use the keyword meta tag. Google stopped looking at it a long time ago because it was so easy to game. Need keyword ideas? Look at your competitors’ keyword meta tags.
Obvious HTML Tips
Keep HTML lean. Don’t use style tags, keep comments out, put scripts in separate files.
One style for title tags is descriptive copy of what you do (use the keywords your customers are searching for), followed by a pipe character, and then your company name. Google most often uses the description meta tag for their search results. It should an enticing, human readable value proposition to visit your website, because it has to compete against the description of the other ~9 links on the search engine results page which the user might otherwise click on.
"Google is the Primary Navigation for the Internet"
That’s what Patrick said 16 times. How many searches did you do this week? Whatever you think of SEO, it’s really important and most people are leaving money on the table. For more, read Startup SEO and the rest of Patrick’s blog.
Finally learned how to make my favorite thing on the planet— spicy tuna rolls, thanks to Young from GoVoluntr. People are 500 Startups are so talented, but Young stands out among them. He apprenticed as sushi chef for three months, just because he wanted to learn.
It’s so important to make things as a designer, and today for the first time in a while I felt like I learned a new craft.
- Tuna. Buy at Hankook market in Santa Clara, California. - spicy paste - chopped garlic - jalapeños - cilantro - sesame oil, most important - chipotle mayo (secret ingredient) - 3 cups of rice - seaweed
The rice is tricky. Use sticky white rice, with about 1/4 cup extra water. Let it cool completely, then add 1/3 of a cup of the following: 5parts rice vinegar, 1 part salt, 3 parts sugar. Warm it up till the sugar dissolves, and add to 3 cups of rice.
First, chop the tuna. Save the nice slices from the middle for sashimi. Cut up the ends and ugly pieces for the spicy tuna roll.
Spread rice on the seaweed sheet, thin layer.
Add a thin strip of spicy tuna mix.
Add thinly sliced cucumber and avocado
Roll. Let the seaweed sheet fold lightly over the rice, then press it tightly but gently so it doesn’t rip.
Cut with a very sharp knife.
Apparently we should have pressed the rice all the way to the edges so the seaweed won’t hang out like a barrel, but who cares when it’s this delicious.
Siri is almost human with the responses she’s been programmed to give. She makes us smile when she answers the meaning of life is “42” and that it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female in the cloud. Apple nailed it. Siri could become extremely useful in our lives (no more texting while driving), but Siri had to pass the human entertainment test. Now that we got to know her and we like her, we’re more likely to remember she’s pretty useful for adding calendar items and sending emails while driving.
This video shows how we’ve already fallen in love with her, she’ll never be just a voice command tool.
“Last week brought an additional milestone: Kickstarter backers have now pledged more than $100 million to projects. To put this in some context, the 2011 fiscal year budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is $154 million. At the current pace of more than $2 million in pledges each week, Kickstarter backers are pledging more than $100 million a year.”—
A sad day. I just came across a few of his quotes that I love:
From his 2005 Stanford commencement speech: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all…
“In Holland, we have two words for design. One is vormgeving; in German formgeben. And the other word is ontwerpen; in German entwurf. In the Anglo-Saxon language there’s only one word for design, which is design. That is something you should work out. Vormgeving is more to make things look nice. So for instance, packaging for a perfume or for chocolate in order to make things fashionable, obsolete and therefore bad for society because we don’t really need it. While ontwerpe means, and the Anglo-saxon word, but its stronger, means engineering. That means you as a person try to invent a new thing—which is intelligent, which is clever, and which will have a long-life. And that’s called stylistic durability. It means you can use it for a long time.”—
Reminds me of how important it is to be like Foursquare - utilitarian but with a great game experience, rather than Gowalla, easily the most beautiful site at the time but with a game no one understood. Foursquare was ontwerpe, Gowalla was vormgeving.
“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, back when I was 23 and newly out of school, is this: look around and figure out who you want to be on your team. Figure out the people around you that you want to work with for the rest of your life. Figure out the people who are smart & awesome, who share your values, who get things done — and maybe most important, who you like to be with and who you want to help win. And treat them right, always. Look for ways to help, to work together, to learn. Because in 20 years you’ll all be in amazing places doing amazing things.”—John Lilly (via parislemon)