One of the best ways to learn about how to build a tech company is to try and build one yourself. I tried that in 2012.
I was looking for people who shared my values, interests and curiosities. I thought it would be fun to build a platform that would serendipitously introduce you to interesting people in a platonic context. So, I went to every tech networking event (including one where I pinned a sign on my back saying ‘looking for a technical co-founder’) and met with anyone who was willing to talk with me about launching a tech startup.
I created a business plan, built a prototype, raised $80,000. Ultimately, I chose not to go to market. The process of learning how to build technology was one of the greatest experiences of my life! It was also the beginning of a path to creating a women’s organization called The Startup Ladies that would help them succeed where I had not.
Transitioning Into the Tech Industry
The tech industry was very different from the more traditional corporate culture from which I hailed. Consistently, in the most constructive and friendly manner, product meetings were a place where you could deconstruct ideas without retribution. In fact, poking holes in concepts was encouraged.
Building a tech company was about understanding the needs and wants of a specific market. My experience trying to launch my own tech company was so positive that when two of my close colleagues invited me to come work with them at their product innovation agency Sticksnleaves, I said yes.
Where Are the Women Building Tech Companies?
As I started diving deeper into the tech ecosystem, I noticed that there weren’t many women founders. I spent a lot of time trying to build a list of women-led, venture-backable companies, which proved to be a challenging exercise!
Tech networking events had very few women in attendance. Why was that? Why were so few women interested in building companies with plans for rapid growth? Was it money, time, resources? The only way to learn was to ask, and I asked a lot of women.
Building a Community for Women-Owned Startups
In pursuit of finding women who shared an interest in building scalable companies, I set up a lunch with some of my female colleagues in August 2014. Three women in tech met and we had the most interesting conversation. So, we decided to do it again. Each month, I invited more women from different industries to diversify the conversation.
The message was clear — women wanted to discuss how to build their own businesses or grow a ideas from within their companies. And, they felt like they didn’t have an open forum to honestly discuss the realities and complexities of launching a business with other like-minded women.
They shared a similar set of challenges. Despite the fact that these were professionally experienced and highly educated women, they didn’t have much free time. Most of these women had full-time jobs, children, partners, or community responsibilities and they didn’t know the first thing about how to start a business.
Our Secret Sauce: Startup Study Halls
These monthly lunches were great for building community. But after a year of building trust and repeated attendance, it was time to evolve. It became very apparent that these women with ideas for scalable businesses needed structure, consistency, and accountability to transition from idea to market.
We decided to test a program called Startup Study Hall. On the first and third Wednesday of each month, a successful entrepreneur, business leader, or industry expert is invited to lead a conversation about his or her industry expertise. At the end of the discussion, everyone in the study hall is given homework to complete within two weeks. This created a unique opportunity for attendees to share their business concepts with leaders who could help them move forward and open doors to potential advisors, clients, and investors.
We’ve been fortunate to have had some amazing business leaders present, including Dan Makoski of Google, Shelly Towns of Angie’s List, Susan Marshall of Torchlite, Don Aquilano of Allos Ventures, Oscar Moralez of VisionTech, and dozens of others who’ve inspired and motivated attendees to do amazing things.
The Startup Study Halls were kept small in order to facilitate meaningful conversations between attendees and our executive mentors. Since August 2015, a total of 32 Startup Study Halls have taken place.
It was apparent that there was a huge need being unmet, so much so that the majority of our Study Halls have waiting lists. More than half of our entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are repeat attendees at every event.
As confidence and skills sets were growing, more businesses were forming which created the need for ancillary services. Our startup ladies were asking for connections to attorneys, accountants, designers, developers, bankers, printers, manufacturers, prototypers, and marketing and public relations firms.
As their businesses grew, so did opportunities for local businesses. These women were becoming contributors to our community’s economic development.
Startup Ladies Help Scale Successful Businesses
One unique advantage that we bring to our attendees is a platform to help accelerate their growth. We actively look for opportunities to help propel every entrepreneur who attends our events.
One such attendee is Emma Hostetter, Founder of TheBorrowedBoutique.com. She built an incredible business renting high-end children’s clothing, generating $100k in her first year of business. We were able to help her prepare to pitch at the Indiana Conference for Women, make introductions to potential investors, and connect her to PR firms and media outlets (she recently graced the cover of the IBJ and was interviewed by Gerry Dick on Inside Indiana Business).
Several other Startup Ladies are building tech platforms. All of them are using tech to market and sell their products and services. Additional women who have experienced significant growth with their platforms over the last year include: Marcia Haut, Founder of SmartNogginToys.com, Danielle Wolter Nolan, Founder of DNKpresents.com, Dipti Gore, Co-Founder of Techstory.in, Ashley Scott, Founder of CurlyInCollege.com, and Ieshia Hill, Founder of LadySportsNews.com.
I encourage you to visit their websites and discover ways you might support their businesses.
Since August 2014, The Startup Ladies have hosted 56 events, filled more than 1,500 seats, launched a chapter in Terre Haute, and we are tracking and supporting more than 25 women-owned companies, and all of this is being done with an all volunteer board.
In 2017, our goal is to double the number of women throughout the state of Indiana building scalable companies. You can help us grow by forwarding this article to a woman you know who is considering a startup.
While our mission is to identify, educate, connect and increase investment in a diverse group of women starting up scalable businesses; diversity is a competitive advantage. Everyone is invited to all of our events no matter how you identify.
To learn more about our programming, please visit TheStartupLadies.org. Follow us on Twitter at @IamAStartupLady.