Building and sustaining a professional network is challenging, but it’s twice as hard when the kind of group you’re looking for simply doesn’t exist.
That’s how Kristen Hamerstadt and Robyn Miley ended up starting Ladies in SaaS, a casual, community networking group for professional women in tech and software-as-a-service.
More opportunity for everyone
Kristen was working in marketing at ExactTarget in 2008, one of Indianapolis’ largest and most well-known tech employers. During her time there, she met strong, successful women who were making waves in their own careers while building a company on a meteoric rise.
Shortly after Salesforce acquired ExactTarget in 2013, Kristen left to join a smaller tech company and create her next career path.
“When people started leaving ExactTarget to go off and do their own thing, which is petty common after an acquisition at that stage of growth, I was really excited about that because that means more opportunity for everyone,” said Kristen.
But she quickly realized how few people – specifically, women – she knew in the tech sphere outside of Salesforce.
A simplified networking idea
In 2015, Kristen joined SmarterHQ as a director of marketing and met Robyn Miley, who had started working at the company right after she graduated from Ball State University. The two found themselves wanting more connections to the Indy tech community.
“I still tried to keep in touch with my former ExactTarget coworkers, but I wondered how I would meet all of the different people at other Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and tech companies who were experiencing the same challenges as Robyn and me as marketers at a scale-up company,” said Kristen.
Indianapolis is home to many scale-up tech companies that are hiring and innovating rapidly. They all have similar needs to attract and retain talent, promote a growing company, and acquire capital and customers.
Though they were meeting others through their existing networks and scheduling coffee meetings across the city, Kristen and Robyn became frustrated with the lack of a centralized way to meet more of their tech community female peers at one time, and that’s how the idea of a monthly Ladies in SaaS event series came to be.
It started with a Facebook event invite sent from both Robyn and Kristen to their current tech network and was described as an opportunity to network with the women you used to work with and might work with in the future.
Starting small, staying informal
The first event was held at the Rathskeller in May 2016, and was comprised of mostly Salesforce employees, as that was Robyn and Kristen’s current network, but they started inviting their coworkers and friends to the next event. That’s where Ladies in SaaS started to gain popularity and awareness within other tech companies.
“I’ve tried very hard to make sure Ladies in SaaS is not a super formal event. If in a year’s time, fewer and fewer people show up, then maybe there isn’t a need anymore. It is about offering up something the community wants,” said Kristen. “Robyn and I aren’t looking to create a business or overly program it so nobody wants to come. We did it for ourselves to have an opportunity to see former coworkers and connect with new ones.”
Every other month, Ladies in SaaS is hosted at a local bar or restaurant, and the off months are hosted at a tech company. The events at tech companies have speaking opportunities for the women at that company. For example, at the second event held at High Alpha, Haley Altman (CEO of Doxly) spoke about how at first she didn’t think she could be a good CEO, which has been resoundingly proven wrong by the company’s success.
“I talked about my time as a CEO: building a team, raising capital and trying to figure out the type of leader that I wanted to be,” Haley said. “I want to empower my team to be the best they can be and I want to create an environment in which everyone collaborates together to reach our goals. I don’t think gender has impacted my CEO journey as much as my lack of true business background did in the beginning,” said Altman.
“I think the conversation is relevant to Ladies in SaaS because it is helpful to hear everyone’s journey to entrepreneurship. No one journey will be exactly the same, but there are common threads to how people have been successful that people can apply to their own lives. We had a good conversation about increasing the number of mentors and advisors that women can have access to overall.
I think Ladies in SaaS is a great group. I wish it wasn’t needed. It would be great if there wasn’t a need to have a separate group for women because it seems to keep us divided on gender lines. However, I think there is still a need to understand people’s experiences and find ways to help women make more advances in the tech field. I think it should exist to help give women additional perspectives and support and also as a signal to women outside of the tech field that want to get into it that women are involved in tech.”
Connect with Ladies in SaaS
The group promotes their upcoming events in a Facebook group that also generates conversation about other women-focused events, articles and opportunities. A future vision is for the Facebook group to be a place where women in SaaS feel comfortable sharing job postings and asking questions about their field, so it becomes more of a discussion forum.
The next Ladies in SaaS is titled “Leading Your Peers” and will take place on Wednesday, January 18, at Torchlite’s new location on Mass Ave in Indianapolis. The guest speaker is Shelly Griffin, VP of Sales and Operations at Torchlite. Find the details on our Community Events page and RSVP before it is sold out!