What do investors want? I’ve read more than 100 business plans in the last two months. Entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly predictable on this point. Investors want disruptive. Investors want game changing.
But not just saying it. Being able to believe it. Two of every three plans says it. Only a very few make it actually believable.
And believable, in this context, is still a matter of huge uncertainty. Nothing in startups is fully believable. The closest you get is an interesting market story about solving a real problem and doing something important differently, and a team that seems to have experience and background that indicates it can execute the idea.
The best thing I’ve seen in a while on what investors want — at the high end of venture capital — is this one on The Anatomy of a Successful Entrepreneur, that appeared on TechCrunch about a week ago. Post author Rip Empson digs into the recent Kaufmann data on venture capital, adds some analysis by Fred Wilson, Chris Dixon, and others, and comes out with the short list shown here.
(note: I posted this on the Huffington Post first, just about 10 minutes ago)
Maybe it’s because I’m father to four daughters, maybe because of simple fair play, but if you read my stuff I’ve been a chronic complainer about the relatively low numbers of women in high tech and tech in general. And I don’t believe it’s because the women like it that way, either. So why then does Don’t Be Afraid To Go Pink: Designing Great Tech Products For Women on TechCrunch today make me nervous?
My answer starts with a true story: in the late 1990s, at Palo Alto Software, we had a team brainstorming session to deal with the problem of under representation of women in among our Business Plan Pro users. The team at the time was half women, and for the record, our company is 49% women owned.
But that brainstorming session turned up nothing but bad ideas. Business planning is a great example of something that has no gender specificity. Most of the suggestions made were unintentionally insulting to women, as if being female means you plan your numbers less, or are more intuitive or less rigorous, which is a crock. Pink packaging? We did take it to heart with our packaging, putting the image of a happy female user all over the back of the box. But that was it. Business planning has no gender component.
The TechCrunch post has five suggestions, starting with don’t be afraid to go pink. Say what? Here’s how post authors Sarah Paiji and Sanby Lee explain that point:
We don’t mean that your product literally has to be pink. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to make a product that is only for women, and to signal this through your aesthetic and branding. For our mobile shopping app, we chose a name and color scheme that was decidedly feminine. We had men complain that they didn’t feel comfortable using the app, or posting in a community dominated by women. But that’s the point — we didn’t want men as our initial audience.
That bothers me. I think we have to make some logical distinctions here.
First, some products have gender specificity. Clothes, sporting goods, personal hygiene for example: of course they’re different for men or women.
Second, some content has gender specificity. Obviously some television programming, movies, magazines and other media have gender behaviors built into them.
So if you put these two assumptions together, then there’s absolutely nothing troublesome to me about gender-specific products where there are gender differences, and gender specific marketing that takes advantage of those differences, whether for gender-specific product or not, to focus market dollars more effectively. Sure, they advertise beer on football games and tampons on soap operas. So what?
But I really don’t like trying to build gender specifics into products that don’t have them. Very few tech products are inherently gender specific. Maybe the authors’ shopping app is, but if so, it’s one of a very few. And for the most part, trying to design tech for women ends up, well meaning or not, assuming women are dumber than men. Which is a dumb assumption.
Which I think we see in that post. After making that first point, the authors follow with 2.) resist feature overload, 3.) find the key influencers, and 4.) enable discovery. How are those factors gender specific? I’m a man, and I don’t want feature overload, I get influenced and I influence, and discover is good for me. How are those points women centric?
Then, finally, fifth of five: have women on your team. Doh! Of course! The work force is 50-50-ish, then so too should be every team on every company that isn’t doing gender-specific product. And I don’t mean by law, or forced by anybody; but rather, just common sense and a natural process over time.
The trouble with link bait like that, as Alexia points out, is that people read it, believe it, and use it, oftentimes use it against a good cause. It becomes justification. Rationalization. Reinforcement.
And I like her conclusion, too:
And here’s a piece of advice to women (or any other minority) in tech — Every time you get worked up over a dumb blog post, you’re wasting time that you could have spent building a world-changing company, writing your own blog post and/or proving pundits like Penelope Trunk wrong. And that starts with voting with your feet (or pen even).
So go, prove her wrong. Because a) This needs to stop b) The future depends on it.
I remember a cartoon I saw in 1999. The woman says she’s really looking forward to the new millennium. The man answers “You should; you’re a woman.” Fast forward to Jessica Bennett and Jessie Ellison with Women Will Rule the World on Newsweek.com. This is a very well researched and well written think piece, well worth reading. And it makes a lot of sense.
Ami Groth tracked statistics on the age of startup founders in People Over 35 Have Recently Launched 80% of the Startups on Business Insider. Being an old guy, I can’t resist quoting this one, at least this paragraph:
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, people over the age of 35 made up 80 percent of the total entrepreneurship activity in 2009. That same year, the Kauffman Foundation conducted a survey of 549 startups operating in “high-growth” industries — including aerospace, defense, health care, and computer and electronics — and found that people over 55 are nearly twice as likely to launch startups in these industries.
Alex Rampell posted an excellent analysis of the guts of new marketing in The Power of Pull on TechCrunch.
Also, some calendar items:
I’m going to be live with with Dr. Amy Vanderbilt at 11 AM PDT today on Trend POV at trendpov.com/content.
I’ve discovered Plancast.com, which lets me post my interview and speaking dates online at plancast.com/timberry. I hope you can join me. I’ll be putting a widget on my sidebar … plancast.com, are you listening? Widgets, maybe?. If you go to that site you can follow me to be able to see my schedule; actually, I think you can see it on that URL whether you follow me or not.
Finally, if you’re an SBDC person and you’re going to the annual conference in San Diego, please join me for a training and certification of my free-for-teachers online curriculum. That’s Sept. 6, the Tuesday before the opening, as part of the “pre-conference.” Please click here for more information on that.
There was a nice short video on TechCrunch the other day, quoting Mark Zuckerberg, John Doerr, and two other industry leaders on how much the iPad has changed “everything.” I picked it up because of what John Doerr says near the end.
The video snippet I’ve embedded here skips directly to my favorite part, at 2:45, very near the end, as John Doerr talks about Steve Jobs saying what market research has done for the iPad. Jobs says:
It’s not the consumers’ job to figure out what they want.
I like that. As we turn increasingly to polling and research for answers, the problem is that people don’t often say what they really think, and quite often don’t even know what they really want. One kind of leadership, to me, is leading people instead of asking people. You take a guess. When you guess right, you win big. Guess wrong, you lose. Is it possible that this is also called entrepreneurship? What do you think?
Yes, it is restored now, but if you looked at this blog during the 30 hours or so before 1 pm Friday April 22 it would have appeared that I hadn’t posted since April 6: no, I just lost (temporarily thank goodness) two weeks of posts to an Amazon EC2 problem. The cloud computing temporarily swallowed the previous 10 posts and yourthree dozen or so comments. But the good news is that it is all back again, including your comments, as of 1 pm the following day.
You may have heard about what happened today. It affected a lot of major sites, and was written up in TechCrunch. This Google search will give you an idea. Foursquare, Reddit, Quora, and others went down … including me.
As I originally wrote this, late Thursday evening, April 21, our tech team and the Amazon team expected to restore things so I would get my posts and your comments back. And that finally happened early Friday afternoon.
Not fun. A good reminder, though: always back up your stuff. In my defense, I backup my regular work daily, but I wasn’t backing up the WordPress blog except every couple of weeks.
Over funding often produces bad behavior in early-stage companies. You hire people too fast, you over build your products, you try to force market adoption and you do PR blitzes before your product is really ready for prime time. And having too much money certainly raises board expectations that you will do big things quickly.
As blogger, former full-time journalist, and long-term entrepreneur, I’m offended from all three sides by journalists complaining that bloggers don’t get paid on the Huffington Post.
I’m offended by the envy. The money Arianna Huffington and her investors made on the sale of Huffington Post to AOL was classic entrepreneurship, earned by taking risks. They risked their time, money, health, and reputations. They established a business, hired people, rented offices, bought computers, bought server space, and all that. So when they make something happen, they deserve the dollars.
I’m also offended by the distortion. Huffington Post does have journalists on staff, and they get paid as journalists. If you don’t get it, you should probably read this explanation from one of them. And Huffington Post also publishes posts from thousands of bloggers, me included, who post there voluntarily, as self expression, mostly opinion, with no expectation of being paid for it. They want an audience. The distortion on the poster (in the illustration here) makes me angry. “You can’t eat prestige” is pure sensationalism, complete distortion.
Is Twitter exploiting people who tweet? Is Facebook exploiting its users?
The house painter gets paid. The landscape painter doesn’t.
The passport photographer gets paid. The news photographer gets paid. The art photographer doesn’t.
The journalist gets paid. The reporter gets paid. The investigative journalist gets paid. The author of the letter to the editor doesn’t.
Some bloggers are journalists, and should be paid. Reporters for Mashable, Engadget, TechCrunch and Read/Write Web, to cite some well-known examples, are journalists, and they get paid. Guest posters aren’t journalists usually, and they don’t usually get paid.
Summary: entrepreneurship is big risk, and big money if you make something that succeeds. Journalism is work and there is expectation of pay. Some blogging is work with expectation of pay, and some is self expression, which is its own reward.
(Disclosure: I blog on the Huffington Post and my son is CTO. I was also a member of the Newspaper Guild as a professional journalist, on salary with United Press International, a correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News, and a freelancer.)
It’s pretty much common knowledge that there are far fewer women than men running high-tech high-end (meaning visible, getting buzz, getting investment) startups. That’s bad news, right? I thought it was obvious.
There’s a reason that women start more businesses than men, but women only get 3% of the funding that men do. The reason is that women want a lifestyle business. Women want to control their time, control their work, to be flexible for their kids.
So having a life is a feminine trait? Work-life balance is a business failing of women? I think not, but she says:
For men it’s different. We all know that men do not search all over town finding the perfect ballet teacher. Men are more likely to settle when it comes to raising kids. The kids are fine. Men are more likely than women to think they themselves are doing a good job parenting.
Wow. Do we like stereotypes? At least she’s giving us equal opportunity stereotypes, insulting both genders at once.
I think Penelope Trunk writes stuff like that for the same reason that blowhard talk radio idiots say the dumb stuff they do: it works commercially. Exaggerated opinions on radio generate listeners, and controversial blog posts generate traffic. Penelope Trunk is very smart, very successful, a ground breaker, a great blogger, and she loves controversy. This is the same woman who posted Get married first, then focus on career as if that were her advice to young women. And Forget the Job Hunt. Just Have a Baby Instead. I like her writing too much to believe she’s serious. Do you think she moves to the absurd to make the opposite point?
What do you think? Do you think gender difference explain why women are under represented in high-tech startups? I don’t.
Yes, sure there are gender differences. Thank heavens there are. But they don’t justify unequal opportunity. They don’t explain the startups gap.
Vivek, on the other hand, makes two specific suggestions: first, when hiring, interview at least one woman. Second, include one woman on the recruiting team. He concludes:
These are pretty simple remedies. I am not advocating that companies institute any kind of affirmative-action programs or stack the deck against men. But we need to recognize that negative stereotypes such as the ones highlighted in TechCrunch can be harmful and lead to discrimination. Let’s not blame anyone, but let’s act proactively to fix a problem that we all know exists.
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