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Friday December 19, 2014

NY Convergence ORIGINAL

NYTECH: Women Leaders in Tech – Blocking and Tackling #NYTC

Women leaders in tech: (l to r) Nelly Yusupova, Veronika Sonsev, Yin Yin Chan, Peggy Wallace, Nina Sodhi (credit: Lauren Keyson)

By Lauren Keyson

The four panelists at NYTECH’s event earlier this week at Citrin Cooperman in Midtown talked about what it’s like to be a successful woman technology entrepreneur in NY.  They recognized that it had long been a boy’s club, but according to new studies, NY has attracted more women tech entrepreneurs than California and Boston in the last decade.

Donn Morrill, director of NY Technology Council starts a new job next week at Amazon Web Services, but said that spotlighting diversity had been a long time coming in the organization.  “We felt our audience was skewed very male – so this is our pilot track.  The men will take away that the industry is more diverse than they might otherwise see. There are a lot of women here tonight and a lot of other people that you would not normally see at a technology-focused event.”

Peggy Wallace, Managing Director of Golden Seeds, was the only investor sitting on the panel. She echoed the need for more women in the startup space. “Last year angel investors were 12% female and 2.4% of funding went to companies with a female in a C-level position.  Women hold 16% of public board seats. We still have a long way to go. Really all we want is half of everything,” she added with a smile.  Her advice to female founders, “Be courageous, learn about raising money, learn the process and get smart about things before you rush into them.”

On the other hand, other panelists seemed less cautious. Veronika Sonsev, co-founder of Women Innovate Mobile, a company that powers social commerce marketing technology for retailers said:  “I always say, ‘just do it!’ — if it’s something you are passionate about, then do it! Make sure you’re prepared to do it; set yourself up in advance financially and with the right mentors and skill set.  Founders and non-founders is just a mind set.” But she did agree that woman need to have courage. “Failure is not something to be afraid of,” she added.  “I always say ‘if you haven’t failed you haven’t tried hard enough’ — it’s important to push the envelope with what you can do.”

Yin Yin Chan, co-founder of OnePager, gave advice about partners and process.  Her company, which works to make website building easier for businesses, has four founders in her company.  “I think that it’s a very beneficial thing to have multiple co-founders — not necessarily four — but have more than you.  Always reach out to other people for advice — it’s helpful to get feedback from your customers, especially if you’re a B to C type of business. Always iterate your product – I can’t even guess how many times we have iterated OnePager – maybe about 20 or 30 times.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean we changed the product around; it might just be that we enhanced or removed the feature.”

Panelist Nina Sodhi, founder of BluTrumpet mobile advertising, is currently on her seventh startup.  “Women are a little shy about embracing just their own personality.  That might be that they’re more detail oriented or engaging and nurturing.  But whatever their personalities, they should find out who they are and what makes them stronger. Too many women try to be something they’re not and then they end up weakening themselves. We think as  leaders is that we have to take charge and tell people what to do, but really a leader should be listening to what’s going on, making fast decisions, and then communicating that concisely. Bring all that together and you are probably learning 60% of the time and thinking and talking the other 40%.”

Wallace’s take on women as leaders: “A lot of what leaders do is about process. You have to build a company that allows people that are very different from you – you can’t always hire people just like you. You have to hire people at all levels and build an organization that allows them to work at their highest potential.  A lot of running a business is really boring – blocking and tackling.  But the greatest leaders I know are obsessed with process. If something is not working, you have to fix it. If someone is not at their potential, it’s your leadership’s failure.”