Women 2.0 Conference – The Rest Of The Story
May 16 2008

So here’s the rest of my Women 2.0 Conference story.  If you want to see tons of pictures (which sadly I and my deep pink Banana Republic shirt don’t appear) please check out the official Women 2.0 Conference Wrap Up post.  You can also see Sophia Perl’s (another semi-finalist) post on it here.

Friday – May 9, 2008
I took my rented yellow car and drove around the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area to meet some people.  I met Jeff Nolan, who was one of the venture investors in my first company, for lunch at a place called Buck’s.  We only just got to know each other while at my last company before I left, but he seemed to be one of the good guys.  I mentioned him in a post I did about angels and venture capitalists a while back.  We might get to work together again and this time in hopefully a more creative and collaborative way.

I tried to meet up with Guy Kawasaki later that afternoon but he had something mildly important to do like make some sort of silly book submission deadline, so we traded tweets and emails instead.  Then I went to the Stanford mall.  I’m not a big shopper, but since I had a few hours to kill, and my husband wanted me to get him a Stanford t-shirt (It’s one of his alma-maters) I wandered around a bit and read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, but was not feeling in the “now” at the time so didn’t make much progress.  So I got some hot chocolate, my rings cleaned, and happened to find a couple of light-weight jackets at really good sale prices to protect me from the Bay Area cool evenings!

Later I had the pleasure of meeting up with Maryam Scoble for wine and fabulous brie with a flakey crust. Yum! Maryam and I met through our blogs.  I initially heard about her and her husband Robert Scoble from our very own Austin based Connie Reece.  Robert even did a Qik video of me at SXSW but I don’t think that many pregnant moms or parents with newborn babies, preemies or twins are watching those videos.  Go figure!

Saturday – May 10, 2008 (conference day)

You can see the agenda for the conference here.  It was an interesting day in a tent near the Stanford golf course.  Walking in grass was a challenge for many of us who were wearing heels.  Those wearing pointed heels especially suffered by sinking into the grass/dirt, but since I would trip and fall on my face in pointed heels, I wear more flat ones.

The most interesting sound bites, in my opinion, came from the Power Panel: “Igniting the spark through strategies taught and lessons learned”

Terri Ghio, Unique Solutions and TBS Connect said: Make sure you have an audience, a secret sauce, strategic alliances, and ability to build the blocks and barriers for success.

Amy Love, Protégé Performance Group said: Build an inner circle, share your dream, think big, and have the confidence & energy to move forward.

Dr. Jwala Karnik, JwalaCo said: Be open to inspiration, tell people what you want to do, and just take the first step!

Dr. Maggie Haertsch, VOICEMAP said: Have passion and be totally committed, focused, and fearless!

Pat McEntee, AuxoGlobal said: Women entrepreneurs are different and that’s OK.  Women look at things they want to spend their time on differently.  Women build different companies. The fact that many retail companies are currently dominated by men is not going to last long, but women should build companies that men feel comfortable in.  By the way, Pat is a guy!

I mentioned the winners of the napkin business plan challenge in my yellow car post, so I won’t mention it here again, but I did want to mention one company and founder who was on one of the panels: Erica Estrada of d.light design.  She is impressive and her company is very cool!  They make affordable, small, solar power lighting units for people in third world countries who have no access to electricity.  So the kids in who live in shacks can study/read after dark and parents can cook or work after dark without having to use a kerosene lamp that not only stinks and has to be bad for your lungs, but also doesn’t last very long.  I really do wish her and her company great luck, good partners, fabulous investors and perfect timing!

I ended the day by eating sushi with the friends I was staying with.  They even took a picture of me (see below) drinking this huge cup of sake! The waitress finished the bottle on me, so the sake overflowed into its holding bowl.  I was glad I wasn’t the one driving us home in my rented yellow car. 😀

Coming soon I’ll post an update on my SEO experiences, so you might want to subscribe to read more about the birth pains of a web business.  It’s not pretty.

 

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Going to Cali for Women 2.0
May 7 2008

You might have heard, I was a semi-finalist for the Women 2.0 napkin business plan competition.  Well, they informed me on May 3, I didn’t make the finals.  Sigh.  But trying to look on the bright side, I’m actually kind of relieved because now I can focus on networking and learning instead of being stressed out about giving my pitch!  I’m starting to think I’ll have to get a job to support my entrepreneurial addiction.  Too bad I didn’t get rich off of my first entrepreneurial endeavor…

I’d like to profusely thank Sylvester Becker (a.k.a. German Cowboy) of Dana Lynn Media for helping me pull together a very cool 2 minute pitch video which I can’t share with the world yet, but maybe soon.  Sylvester was awesome to work with and so creative!  We used crayons.  We used Little People to illustrate our future customers as well as small figures of Dora the Explorer and her friends Boots and Benny.  Although I think Boots got cut out in editing.  My daughter loves Dora and in fact some people say she looks like her especially now with her new haircut.

I had already decided that even if I didn’t make the finals, I was going to the Women 2.0 conference (check out the site for the fabulous list of panel speakers – entrepreneurs and venture capitalists) this weekend in the Bay Area where the skies are blue, the weather is usually predictable, the money made in tech is gigantic, and everything is way too expensive.  Except for, oddly, the reasonably priced rental car I got from Hertz.  Thankfully, some friends are letting me crash at their place so I can save money by not getting a hotel.

Anyway, in case you are interested in the names of the finalists, here you go:

 Women 2.0 Napkin 2008 Pitch Finalists

I’ll do a post about it after I get back, so Subscribe Now so you don’t miss a thing about my sure-to-be idyllic, fantastic, jaw dropping trip to Cali!  I wonder if I can find a way to eat some sushi while I’m there…

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Why Aren’t There More Rich Women Entrepreneurs?
Apr 24 2008

That’s the headline of a Wall Street Journal blog post that came out yesterday: Why Aren’t There More Rich Women Entrepreneurs?  It starts with:

Recent studies show that there are more wealthy women than ever before. While a growing number are making it by climbing the corporate ladder, most of today’s wealthy women are still making their money through inheritance or divorce. A scarce few are making their fortunes by launching big companies – the most common source of big riches for today’s men.

and concludes with:

There are two explanations for the female shortfall, according to the USA Today story. First, starting a business usually requires capital, and men have easier access to the clubby world of bankers, venture capitalists and private-equity. Second, the article says, women are more devoted to their family and have less time than men to start businesses.

The blog post is interesting but the comments just blow me away because it’s like I was reading comments from people back from the dark ages.  Most of the comments were well thought out but several posted by people not choosing to put their name down were really shallow.  I mean do people really think like this:

There is this little thing called a brain. Most women are severely lacking in this department, and as such have been relegated to house duties for most of history. Now that women are clamoring for equality, we see that they really aren’t equal at all.

Talk about issues! Other thoughts from the commenters:

Seems to me that women are better at following rules than men, hence they do better in structured institutions (schools, large companies, institutions) whereas men are more intrinsically rule breakers and therefore on average do less well, but sometimes succeed spectacularly.  – Bill

While I agree that risk aversion plays a part, one also has to look at Analysis Paralysis. As ‘not trying to offend’ points out, men often “execute and follow through based purely on logic”. Women (and I am one, early 30s, well-employed, trying to start my own company at the same time) tend to need full answers before they act. – More than just risk aversion

Despite advances for working women, I think it is certainly the case that they are not supported by husbands. I am about to be married and my fiancee is asking me to quit my job to raise a family – despite making twice as much as him.  – so true

To be an entrepeneur one has to be completely comfortable with business risk. In my experience, women as a group
are far less willing to risk everything they have for a business idea. This may be a gender specific biological trait related to the female’s reproductive functions. – Orrin Schwab

Many of the paths to entrepreneurial success are only open to people who have college degrees in science or engineering. Most women don’t have them and it certainly limits their opportunities. – Kevin

I think women also tend to have their eye on the “big picture,” and define success much more broadly than in dollars and cents. This can lead to decisions like cutting back on work hours or taking less challenging jobs in order to have more time to spend on family or other personal pursuits. At the end of the day, this may lead to less money – but greater happiness.  – e c

Sometimes I can’t believe we are still having discussions and comments like this.  Why can’t we just get along and let women choose to do what they want to do without analyzing every thing about it? If a woman wants to stay at home with the kids full time and be CEO of the house, great! If she wants to work from home, great! If she wants to work outside of the home, great! If she wants to work part time, great! If she wants to work full time, great!  If she doesn’t want kids, great! If she wants to try to be Bill Gates, fine. If she wants to be the CEO of PepsiCo, awesome! If she wants to be head of the PTA, cool!

We are all (hopefully) doing the best we can. Us women were given the gift of being able to incubate and give birth to the future generation of humans, honestly that in and of itself is success! Sadly that ability is often sort of brushed aside as not being as valuable as being a billionaire entrepreneur/CEO.  Honestly, I can think of several former billionaire CEOs who would have traded their fate to be a woman/mom. 🙂

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5 White Men, Rebranding, and Dads
Mar 22 2008

What do 5 White Men, Rebranding, and Dads have in common?  Well other than the fact that Dads are usually men, probably not a whole lot.  These are just some of the interesting things happening around the blogosphere.

5 White Men Talk About Social Media was written by Connie Reece at Every Dot Connects.  Connie is a huge presence in the world of social media especially here in Austin, yet was overlooked for a panel on Social Media the Chamber of Commerce was putting on.  She voices her frustration at women still being “invisible” even when they are playing a major role in the world of social media.   Connie got me started in blogging almost a year ago!  She is also one of the main reasons the Frozen Pea Fund initiative got started as a result of Susan Reynolds struggle with breast cancer.  Here’s a quote from her post:

This afternoon I got an email from fellow Dot-Connector Brenda Thompson with the subject line: “Five White Men Talk About Social Media.” That got my attention and I opened the email right away. …

It irked me too. It’s not like the organizers would have had to look very far to find some outstanding women to speak, and I’m not just referring to myself. In less than 30 seconds, Brenda and I came up with a list of five or six local women who would have made great panelists.

See, lists are easy to make. But women on lists are still invisible if conference organizers aren’t looking for the list.

Looking Minnesota. Feeling California and The Gaping Void Between Our Brand And Our Audience were two recent posts written by Wendy Piersall of eMoms at Home.  After her recent trip to SXSW Interactive, she realized she needed to rebrand because many of her readers are not eMoms or even parents!  I love Wendy’s blog for a variety of reasons but mostly because she is open and honest about her experience as an entrepreneur and she readily shares her blogging and business tips.  We met through our blogs, had a couple of phone conversations and when we finally met in person at SXSW, it was like we just “got each other” as entrepreneurs and as moms!  I’m not sure if she has come to a decision on the new name, so go check out her posts and give her your 2 cents!

AllTop Dads launches.  Thanks to Guy Kawasaki of How to Change the World my entrepreMusings blog is near the top of AllTop Moms blogger list.  It’s a great place to go to check out all the top mommy and daddy bloggers.   If you don’t know Guy, he was once asked to interview for the CEO position at Yahoo! take on the CEO position of Google and he turned the opportunity to interview down thinking there’s no way Google Yahoo! would amount to much.  He often refers to it as his $4 billion dollar mistake, but he reflects back and realizes that instead he was able to be involved in his children’s lives, which is priceless!  

So as I said when I began this post, there isn’t much in common between these links, but all are great reads!

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Random Stuff and Bobby Jindal
Oct 22 2007

What a day!  It started out with a potty training disaster and an overflowing toilet and ended (well not quite ended yet) with me playing Power Rangers with my son before putting him to bed.  In between, there was a plumber, a photographer, many business related calls/emails/documents, a trip to Jiffy Lube for an overdue oil change, a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond for an overpriced plunger, telling my 5 year old son repeatedly that he cannot play on a football team right now, dinner, and a few scenes of the Jungle Book.  Phew!

In the middle of my interesting day, history was made and that was the election of Piyush “Bobby” Jindal as the governor of Louisiana.  Now normally someone being elected as the governor of any state is news but NOT history making news.  Bobby is the first Indian American to be elected Governor of a US state.  Why is this interesting to me?  Well because I am South Asian.  I remember when I was a teenager in West Texas I would joke with my friends about the fact that since I was born in another country, I could never be the president of the United States.  Back then, the fact that I was a woman didn’t enter into my analysis of whether or not I could be President some day.  The only loophole we found was that I could become the Speaker of the House and if something (God forbid) happened to the President and Vice President, I could for a few seconds actually be President until they realized I was a naturalized US citizen and not a native born one.

As I’m sure you can tell, I did not end up pursuing a political career (thank goodness!).  I am pretty sure that the political world would have driven me nuts!  

If you’d like to read about what other South Asians are saying about Bobby winning the election, look no further than Sepia Mutiny.  Sepia Mutiny is an irreverent blog for South Asians about South Asian stuff.  I happened upon it a few months ago and have been fascinated by the dialogue that goes on there.  The October 21, 2007 post on Bobby Jindal by Anna already has close to 500 comments!  Many of their posts draw hundreds of comments.

Personally, I do not have the same political leanings as Bobby.  He is a very strict conservative, and I am moderate in my political philosophy.  However, I have to say a hearty ‘congrats’ to him for making history.  Plus if he accomplishes what he says he wants to which is to get rid of corruption in Louisiana politics and bring in more aid for Katrina victims then more power to him! He along with people like Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, and all the high-tech entrepreneurs of South Asian descent have made it a bit easier for the rest of us brown immigrants to contribute to the glorious US of A. 🙂

OK, now I’m going to go watch Heroes before ending my interesting day.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring…

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The Asians Shine – Musings of a Texas Gal in NYC
Sep 3 2007

Following up on The Art of War for Women written by a Chinese woman Chin-Ning Chu post, I am now going to write about the “Same-Race Discussion Circles: How Are You Powerful?” session that I referred to at the end of the post called From the Mouths of Men.

aruni-headshot-sep07-200×150.jpg

After we completed the Instant Polling session at the Working Mother Multicultural Conference (POWER: OWN IT. — USE IT. SHARE IT.), we separated into groups (e.g., Asian, African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Caucasian, and Men) and met in different rooms.  I was born in Sri Lanka (i.e., South Asia) so I was part of the Asian group.   In our rooms we then broke up into several groups of 6 to 8 people and were instructed to do the following:

  1. Introduce yourself by saying your name and briefly answering the question: How am I powerful and where do I leverage it the most?
  2. In the workplace how does my racial identity affect my power?
  3. In the workplace what are the things I do to limit or trade off my power?

We discussed those questions in our smaller groups and then shared our answers while the moderators (Deepika Bajaj, President of Invincibelle and Janice Won, Owner of Inclusion Strategies & Diversity Solutions) could write them on a big flip pad.  They then asked who would be interested in presenting our findings to the large group (i.e., 700 people) during lunch.  Of course I volunteered because I try to take on any opportunity I can to practice my public speaking skills.  Two other women also volunteered.  One was from India and the other was from China.  I volunteered to share our findings on question #2. 

We ran late in the breakout session so I was starving!  I sat down to eat thinking they would call us up when they wanted our group to talk.  When I got up to go to the ladies room…thinking I had some time…I saw one of the other women on my team already standing in line next to the stage.  My jaw literally dropped!  I had to delay my trip to the restroom and make a beeline to the stage.  We went on after the Hispanic, African American and Native American groups.  The Indian woman started first, then I went second, and the Chinese woman addressed the third question.   Usually when I speak, I’m lucky to remember anything else that’s happening and unfortunately since I didn’t take down the summary notes for questions 1 and 3, I can only share with you the Asian group’s thoughts on question 2 which were:

  • It’s a great thing to be Asian in a global environment
  • When we do speak people tend to listen (I jokingly asked the question “Are you listening?” after I made that statement which got a chuckle from the audience) 🙂
  • When we are in higher positions people tend to give us more credibility as they feel we ‘know our stuff.’ (e.g., Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo)
  • We are hard workers and don’t tend to need a lot of help
  • We are generally perceived as doers vs. leaders; specialists vs. managers.  In other words ‘worker bees’ vs. ‘queen bees.’
  • We are underrepresented in the minority model of many companies.  Asian groups/networks don’t usually exist like they do for African American or Hispanic groups.  Therefore, we don’t tend to offer as much support to each other as we should.
  • Many people aren’t clear what the term ‘Asian’ means.  For example Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.) or South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, etc.).  Usually when you say ‘Asian,’ people think of Oriental Asians.

I experienced the last point during the conference itself.  The next day after the From the Mouths of Men session, I was asking an African American woman a question in the lobby area, and she said something like ‘weren’t you the one wearing that bright blue shirt that spoke on behalf of the Asian group?‘  I say ‘yes‘ and she said ‘the first thing that crossed my mind was: why is she up there, she’s not Asian!’  I smiled and said that’s why people don’t know what to do with us South Asians!  But hey, I wouldn’t want to be anything else. 😉

Next up on the conference:

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Musings of a Texas Gal in NYC – From the Mouths of Men
Aug 20 2007

 
Picture by: Rohanna Mertens of Doug Goodman Photography

Soon after discussing The Art of War for Women at the Working Mother Multicultural Conference (POWER: OWN IT. — USE IT. SHARE IT.), we headed into another room to listen to speakers on a panel called From the Mouths of Men: What it Takes to Put Women in the Corner Office.  This was the first time they had a panel of men at the conference, and I hope they do it again next year.

The men were put on the spot on several occassions with questions ranging from Why aren’t women included in men’s social get togethers (e.g., lunches, dinners, golf outings, etc.)? to Why are women overlooked for certain promotions?

The speakers from left to right are:

They did a great job at answering the questions honestly.  Michael admitted as a young staff that he was ‘clueless’ for quite some time on the diversity issue.  He thought he was being inclusive but after time had passed, and having banged his head against a wall a few times, he realized that he just didn’t get it.  While rising up through the ranks at Ernst & Young, he and others saw women disappearing over the years so that by the time they were approaching Partner status there were very few women around.  He said about 8 years ago, Ernst & Young started helping its people focus on inclusiveness issues.  Through the many gender/ethnicity programs Ernst & Young delivered around inclusivity, Michael said he finally “GOT IT.”  He, personally, came to the conclusion that men have to understand that women use different language to convey their interest in a position.  For instance, if he asked a man if he wanted to be a Partner, most often he would get a “Hell Yes!” answer but if he asked a woman the same question she would respond with “I’m not sure.”  Now many of us women have been trained to act like men and say “Hell Yes!” when we really feel like saying “I’m not sure,” and he admitted that it’s up to the men (and everyone in the workplace) to make sure that the “I’m not sure” response is addressed.  For example, he has learned to ask “What information do you need to help you make your decision?” before jumping to the conclusion that she is not interested.

Tyronne was hilarious!  When someone asked the question regarding “How do we get more women in higher positions” he said “Tell them to go start a company!”  Of course I smiled at that one because I am an entrepreneur!  He also answered the question regarding “Why aren’t women included in men’s social get togethers?” by saying “Just show up!” Many of us felt like we couldn’t do that but he said that if his boss schedules a meeting that he was not invited to and he knows he can add value, he just shows up! 

Ron (who is holding the Power wand) admitted that women are measured by different criteria and have a different playing field.  It is still not a level playing field, but his group within IBM works constantly to change that.  He also said that part of the reason men rise faster in corporate America has to do with their portrayed confidence and their inclination to watch each other’s back.  They are more likely to spend time understanding the company’s culture and tell another guy “Hey, don’t wear that shirt.  The boss hates that color” than women are.  Women tend to feel that the other women in the office will figure it out eventually, but in the meantime she’s hurt her chances and also made others wonder why no one told her not to dress that way.   If you came to an interview dressed in a nice business suit, you should not show up on your first day wearing hardly any clothes and big hoop earrings.  The company didn’t hire that person…they hired the person they interviewed!  That makes total sense to me.  Finally, he emphasized the importance of women networking together to coach and mentor each other as well as support the development of colleagues who are earlier in their careers. 

As the moderator, Stephen was asking all of the hard questions and keeping the talkative panelists on track, so we didn’t get to hear his perspective on things, but when I met with him afterwards he gave me his card and told me he would introduce me to someone at Diversity Business.

All in all, a great panel.  I stayed well after it was over to meet each of them and exchange cards.  Now is where I tell the story about the blue top I was wearing.  After the panel, I spoke at length with Tyronne and he asked me “Weren’t you the person wearing that brilliant blue top during the ‘Same-Race Discussion – How Are You Powerful’ presentation yesterday?”  I said “Why, yes that was me!”  He said when he heard me speaking he could tell I had confidence and power and that I should not have uttered the words “shameless plug” when talking about my business.  He told me that I was here at this conference to network and to make people aware of my company, and I should not be ashamed of plugging it!  I agreed and said I did that because one woman before said the same thing about her business, and I was worried that the audience might think I’m being too ‘out there’ with my business.  He said don’t apologize, “seize your power and share it with the room!”  OK, I don’t think he said those words exactly, but I felt empowered after hearing his words of encouragement and a little relieved that the 700 (yes 700) other people (of which 96% were women) in the room might not have been saying ‘Tsk. Tsk. Who does she think she is? Does she think she’s better than me?‘ under their breath while I was speaking and that I might not have been judged too harshly. 🙂

I feel fortunate to have met these great men!

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