Women 2.0 is the brainchild of Angie Chang, Shaherose Charania, Shivani Sopory, and Wen Wen Lam—four Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs who wanted to see more women like them start companies and thrive. FastCompany.com chatted with Chang and Charania.
How did Women 2.0 come to be?
At networking events, we often found we were the only women. We did one networking event and panel and named it Women 2.0 and 100 people showed up. We've done some kind of event every month since, to encourage more women to start tech companies. The numbers are terrible—less than 5% of founders are female.
We also have a newsletter with a circulation of 20,000 where we profile women founders we know, as well as up-and-coming ones. We have this encouragement factor, saying "Hey, you can do this, too."
We don't do any marketing; all our growth has been viral, but what's also unique is that our events are action oriented. We have startup weekend with a partner organization, a napkin pitch competition, a 10-week workshop where you go from idea to prototype, and so on. We do things we want to do ourselves. We are our own demographic.
How has the response been to the pitch competition?
We've done it three or four years now, and we get about 100 submissions worldwide. It's a chance to get feedback on your beta-stage startup from about 30 investors. Investors each put in virtual dollars, and the top five present their companies American Idol-style. The winner doesn't walk away with cash, but with a startup in a box: office space, a meeting with a high profile VC, legal support, and marketing support.
The actual title of this event is the Napkin Pitch Competition. Is submitting on a napkin actually required?
When you come up with ideas, you come up with them at the bar and you doodle them on a napkin. It helps to market the event. You also have to submit a three to five page executive summary, but the napkins work really well. At our yearly conference we displayed them all like—what do they call them?
Prayer flags! And everyone can see all these napkins and good ideas. Some will come to fruition and some won't, but it's just creating this sequence of ideas that can lead to actually launching startups.
Is being a woman in tech an intimidating space to be in?
A lot of women I know feel intimidated. I think when we bring together these women entrepreneurs, we're creating a unique opportunity to come up with products focused towards women, which you don't get so much when you go to all these male conferences and they're trying to create the next Digg killer. We have this unique opportunity to address the other half of the market.
What kind of products would you like to see on the market?
Women are more concerned about the environment, for example—they start more green startups.
Biotech is also pretty big in our group. There's always this social aspect of helping people, doing good, and creating a business that has a greater social impact.
How has the industry, and more importantly, investors reacted to the work you're doing?
Investors come to our events because they're intrigued by how different the ideas are, how different the pitches are. What's it like to be a woman in the tech world? You're a minority. The only time we're a majority is at our own events. The startups I've worked at—Angie will say the same thing—I've always been the only woman in management or on the executive level, and often the youngest. When everybody is old and everybody is male, it's challenging. You develop a complex, and sometimes can't help but think, "Am I good enough?" Everyone questions themselves, but we don't want them to—we want them to go and build.
So it's a bit of an old boys' club?
That's exactly what Angie used to say—I want to break the boys' club. We want to have our own girls' club. We have had an impact, though: At the mainstream events, I do notice more women. There's a level of risk women are not necessarily comfortable with, and there are questions they come up with—I want to have a baby, I want to have a startup, what do I do? If you just give people the resources, the network, and encouragement, they can do it. Take calculated risks. We want to make smarter, wiser entrepreneurs.
If you could only offer one piece of advice to woman interested in starting their own business, what would it be?
Just try, try, try, and if you fail, try again. And if you fail again, try again. In the end, we do this because we're convinced that more women founders make the world a better place. I'm not saying it in a cheesy way. I really mean it.