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Video interview with Vivek Wadhwa @ Data 2.0 Conference. Vivek is a senior research associate with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, an executive in residence/adjunct professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and a visiting scholar at the School of Information at University of California at Berkeley. He helps students prepare for the real world, lectures in class and leads groundbreaking research projects. He is also an advisor to several start-up companies, a columnist for BusinessWeek.com, a contributor to the popular tech blog, TechCrunch, and writes occasionally for several international publications. Prior to joining academia in 2005, Wadhwa was a technology entrepreneur, who founded two software companies. You can find Vivek on his site & on Twitter @vwadhwa
Transcript follows & video above.
- I was wondering if you could talk about women entrepreneurs & female startups & what advantages or disadvantages that we may have, particularly in the area of raising funding.
Yes first of all women have a lot of advantages. They’re are a lot more sensible than men are. They are a lot more caring than men often are. They lack the arrogance. They’re down to earth. And those are big advantages. Now the same advantages in the tech world can be disadvantages because if you look at the stereotypical person that vcs & Silicon Valley fund it’s a Stanford dropout. It’s not just a Stanford dropout, it’s a young Stanford dropout, a male Stanford dropout, typically a white guy! That’s the stereotype. Vcs talk about pattern recognition to show off about how smart they are. When they see this person, when they see someone, they know that he’s going to make it big! What they typically do is they look at the characters & say young white boy. Then they look at ‘arrogance level’ & the person talks about how they’re going to change the world. They want a $50m valuation for their startup. I’m exaggerating a little bit. Then they must be a great entrepreneur. They’ll be the next Mark Zuckerberg.
But look at the results. The vast majority of venture capital investments have failed. This industry is in serious trouble because they’ve outsmarted themselves over here. If they had focused on looking at more modest people particularly women who are sensible, who have experience, who have brought up families, who have managed finances, then success rate would be a lot higher. You wouldn’t have the multi billion dollar home runs but if you have a company that is worth $30m or $40m & you put $100k into that, what’s wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with that! So that’s why I’m so critical about the venture capital system because the obsession with these massive home runs & then encouraging kids who drop out of school & then the stereotypes & pattern recognition.
- Do you think that there is a solution to this?
The solution to this is that women have to help themselves. There’s a second part to this. If you look at Indians in Silicon Valley for example. Thirty years ago there were no Indian founded companies. Now 15.5% one out of seven startups have an Indian CEO or CTO. How did that happen? Despite the fact who these people were, they achieved extraordinary success. The way they did it was by helping each other, mentoring each other, by encouraging each other.
Yes I know that the organization TIE is very very strong.
TIE was very relevant 15-20 years ago. It’s become less relevant right now because Indians don’t need TIE anymore. They’ve become part of the ecosystem in Silicon Valley. But the lesson for women is that by pulling each other up, one woman achieves some success, she pulls up another 2 women behind her. If they started doing that, I have zero doubt that you would have a major impact here. You’ll start seeing many successful women entrepreneurs.
Fantastic & if we’re generalizing, that’s what women easily do is support each other.
But they haven’t been doing that in the tech world. There are some groups. I’ve got to give full credit to Astia, Anitaborg, Women2.0. There are a whole bunch of groups run by good people who have their heart in the right place. But these are new. We didn’t have this 5 years ago, not that I know of at least. So you need to do that on a much larger scale. Women are 50% of the population. We need them to scale up by order of magnitude & then get more by helping women behind them. That will make the difference. There is hope.
- Do you think those particular organizations should scale up or do you think that we should have more of those organizations?
I would do more of them. You don’t have to have one. There’s no one formula that works. The population of women is very diverse. You have black women, you have white women. You have Muslim women, you have Christian women. That’s one dimension. Then you have women from Georgia, you have women from New York. Everyone is different. Then you have women who have a background in engineering and women who have a background in science. Then you have women who have a background in business or in English, in Liberal Arts. There’s no reason why any of them can’t be successful. So you can’t have one recipe & one way of doing it. You’ve got to have diversity in solutions as much as you have diversity in people.
- Something that worries me is about the segregation that can happen. I see it on the social networks, the Linkedin groups like the big venture capital groups any posting about women is just totally ignored. And yet in Women2.0 or Astia or TheNextWomen obviously that’s where all the women are congregating. My concern is that in a way we could become segregated & I don’t think that’s the solution.
I don’t think that you’ll become segregated. Right now the challenge is to have more successes. The same thing was said about the Indians in the old days because the Indian networks were more Indian. Now it’s not even TIE anymore. TIE is irrelevant. Indians have started going to standard networking events. Whatever they hold basically everyone comes to them. First you achieve success & then you integrate. That’s the model that’s worked for the group that I’ve been researching.
Well that’s a great role model to follow. Thank you so much for your time today.