Upon entering the Masonic Center in San Francisco, the noise was deafening. Conversations from small groups of networking women bounced off the walls and ceiling back into the room adding to the energy already bubbling forth from the women attending the second annual Y Combinator Female Founders Conference (FFC).
On a bright Saturday afternoon last weekend, more than 1,000 women eager to know how they could get an invite to pitch their company to Y Combinator came to listen to the success stories of YC’s female graduates.
Y Combinator, located in Mountain View, Calif., was named the top startup incubator and accelerator by Forbes in 2012. With Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit among its graduates, it is known world-wide as the incubator that can ensure the success of a startup. YC’s portfolio of startups have reportedly raised over $3 billion in seed funding. Like many accelerators across the U.S., it has turned a focus toward encouraging more women to start technology-focused companies, hence, the women-only event.
As I walked among the small clusters of women all wearing name badges with their primary interest (mine read ‘Rosanna Garcia,’ ‘data analytics’ and ‘online safety’), it was pretty quickly evident that I was an outlier in terms of age. In her introduction, Jessica Livingston, co-founder of YC, noted that the average age of an invitee to join the accelerator is 26 and only 23% of its companies were headed by women. The odds seemed against me as a middle-aged woman.
Not just young, but beautiful aptly described the presenters at the FFC. The presentations kicked off with Tracy Young
, founder of PlanGrid, a cloud-based storage for architectural blueprints. I loved her take-no-prisoners attitude. This petite Asian woman showed how to kick butt in the men’s world of engineering and construction. After starting with $1.1 million in seed funding, PlanGrid had 200% growth in 2014 with more than 10,000 new customers.
Growth was also on the mind of Kimberly Bryant,
the founder of Black Girls Code
who wants to train one million black girls to code by 2040. Kimberly started her nonprofit because too few black girls strive to become software engineers.
If women are under-represented in technology-based companies, minorities are even more so. Looking around the room I realize that I am older than average and also one of the few women of color in the room. But this I find encouraging. It means I’m wiser and have more guts than the average entrepreneur, both good traits for the CEO of a tech-based company.
I started Vijilent to make the sharing economy safer after an Airbnb guest left $18,000 in damages to my vacation home. Like Tracy and Kimberly, I saw a need that I know I can fill with my background in engineering and entrepreneurship. At the FFC, I was hoping to get feedback on Vijilent’s new app, which was developed by
worthy of Chapel Hill, which helps one local startup a month get on its feet with coding support. Feedback on the app had so far been positive.
The next speaker, Grace Garey, also was motivated by personal frustrations to co-found Watsi. Watsi is a crowdfunding site that matches donors with patients around the world who can’t afford medical care. Grace inspired the room by showing how small entrepreneurial non-profits can conquer the world by being focused and effective in the field.
If Tracy, Kimberly, and Grace made it look easy, Ruchi Sanghvi, co-founder of Cove and Facebook’s first female engineer made it look real, real hard. Ruchi, who is largely responsible for Facebook’s Newsfeed, spoke of the downside of startups. She is currently on hiatus from entrepreneurship after selling her latest venture to Dropbox.
Other speakers included, the fashionable Harvard-graduate Olga Vidisheva, founder of Shoptiques; energetic, formidable Adora Cheung of Homejoy; and fundraising guru Susan Johnson of Women.com. Each woman spoke of the determination needed to keep moving forward as everyday as an entrepreneur has its joys and discouragements. You can watch all the presentations on the FFC YouTube page.
I thought that Homejoy might be a good partner for Vijilent, but Adora said she didn’t see her company using our services. Again, I am not discouraged as it just means I’m one step closer to finding my target audience. This leads to my takeaways from the YC Female Founders Conference 2015:
- Be determined. There will be two successes and two failure every day in your start-up. Neither one of them should slow you down.
- Solve a big problem that no one else is looking to fix, and that you, like no one else knows how to fix.
- Keep metrics so you know where you are in your path to success.
- Don’t be afraid to fire your co-founders if they hinder you from achieving your goals.
- Be excited by the ‘Nos’ (when searching for seed funding) because it means you are one step closer to a ‘yes’.
- Believe in yourself, because sometimes nobody else will.