Conversation with Silicon Valley – Girl Geek Dinners

Girl Geek ScotlandIt has been a while since Girl Geek Scotland hosted a dinner but they certainly came out with all guns blazing for their return, with a host of fantastic guests answering questions in a panel debate. Although not entirely games related the events are highly regarded in the tech community and so we couldn’t afford to miss a chance to report on it.

For those of you who aren’t aware Girl Geek Dinners were inspired as a supportive base for women in all walks of the tech industry, allowing them to meet others and hear talks from inspiring females who were already involved in tech. Acting as a networking and a supportive community these events were not exclusive to women and, to be honest, I’ve always cursed missing them as they are fascinating and vibrant events.

Taking place in Summerhall the event was Introduced by Morna Simpson, whose name is synonymous with Girl Geek Scotland as it is with female entrepreneurship. The panel itself chaired by Suzanne Doyle-Morris, Founder and CEO of Female Breadwinners; the panel including: Ann Winblad, co-founder and Managing Director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners; Heidi Roizen, Venture Partner with Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Director for TiVo, Eventful, TrustID, ShareThis and XTime; Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction recognised as a Top 100 Woman of Influence in Silicon Valley; Karen White, President and Chief Operating Officer, Addepar, a leader in smart technology platforms for global wealth and investment management.

IMG_5178Starting with the value of investors coaching companies the panel identified the potential risks angel investors and venture capitalists undertake. Utilising their knowledge, skills and connections, you are not only alleviating potential concerns but also receiving this advice for free as it is in their interests for you to succeed.

Every start-up is a learning process, for example, it is essential that you create a natural bond with potential investors. Often, at early stages, you will not know when you can ask for funding and an angel investor can help identify the right time to push for that support. Of course this engagement is invaluable as you learn from the process and hone your skills so that in the future you may be teaching others so there is never a downside to seeking the relevant investor to help you resolve an issue.

Continuing the theme of this learning journey the panel identified the risks involved in any start-up. It is essential to ensure you gather the right people, with a diverse set of skills, about you. People who will accept the challenge and help identify any risks involved in the process. These people will also help you identify when the timing is right and help build the business by ensuring the right people, who can keep up with the pace of the business model and its expansion, are in place.

It is valuable to be able to repeat processes that work and are designed well but to learn these processes you have to give permission for people to screw up and fail. About half the time it can be expected people know things the first time, so you should always take time to listen to what people are saying, even if you don’t agree. Don’t try and be restricted, if someone else is telling you something they are probably right but, even if they’re not, there is probably something else of value to be gleaned from their advice.

BS73CeAIIAAem92Even though you may be the head of the organisation it is worth noting the whole team feels responsible when things fail. To try and address this you should make sure that people are in the right seats and realise this can change over time. It is worth finding out how your employees adapt to deal with different roles and hire people with incredible intellect, a self awareness, a willing heart and the capacity for change. You, and they, also need to be passionate about the business and your role within that business as, to be blunt, if you aren’t then, “someone else will come along and beat the crap out of you.”

Continuing the panel noted that they could never have imagined the opportunities that would lie before them. You don’t know what is going to happen so be prepared and ready but, “stop with the planning”. Don’t worry so much about what is next, but concentrate on what is happening in the here and now because if you are not engaged in that process then you may miss something valuable. This may mean you have to compromise some things to achieve what you are doing at that time, because that should be the most important thing you are doing.

To counter this though it was pointed out that if you absorb all your time on one thing you will always find more to do, so you need to know when to step away from the subject and let others consider it. It is possible to concentrate on one thing too much, to the detriment of those other things around it, so if you diversify you will naturally find that you prioritise the things that are more important to you and do them better. Everyone has woken up the next morning thinking, “Oh my God, I seriously fucked up” but that proves you are trying and although, “failure sucks, you learn from failure.”

Its worth remembering that there is probably someone else who has fucked up worse and it is worthy of note that perceptions change and you, “carry the brand of every company you worked for.” So, for example, when Apple were struggling in the past they never seemed the best addition to any profile but now they are a successful company people take note you have worked for them. If you keep a youthful perspective and adapt to events you will always be able to begin again.

IMG_5148Looking at customer engagement the panel considered how you start out. Any scaling strategy is about your customer, consumer or individual, agency or government. If you’re going to build a business of any kind you need to hear the voice of the customer, understand better what they want and embed the weight of the customer in everything they are doing.

Taking a case in point they discussed one start-up who ensured wherever their customers found them they could give feedback and it would go back to the company, their product and marketing teams allowing them to actively engage with that feedback. The voice of the customer constantly feeding in from the social web and also through whatever systems or records they were using. So they were constantly collecting all this data and insight.

Customers want visual features they can see. They want a lot of choice so you should not lock them into a path because you think is the best rather you want them to be able to open a lot of doors, or possibilities. This means companies have a much more natural or organic structure than the more complex, less logical, structures that have exited in the past.

You need to ensure that you are engaging them at the most natural place they start to look for your content. When building your company you need to be highly discoverable through the most natural body there is which is a search engine and ensure that you appear at the top. This gives your customers a selection of potential ways of contacting you.

Your job is to be where they are. You create the content from your company so you need to ensure this discoverability is not simply for those looking to solve a problem but also if they want to investigate the possibilities a company like yours provides. As long as you are open and honest what you make public will be amplified, so your interactions, both live or online, need to be very natural and free of jargon. Getting real statements from real people talking about your product has been proven to work well. Companies who have switched their campaigns to nothing but customer quotes showing great degrees of success.

The next subject the panel covered concerned networking or, as they preferred, building a social framework. There is no natural way to enter a room and make new contacts, indeed it might be something that we feel a degree of trepidation about, and you can never know exactly how the person you speak to will be able to help you but by making the connections and learning about them you know that if their skill set becomes relevant to your business at a later point then the connection you made will be invaluable.

You should encourage yourself to make one new connection at any networking event, social gathering or business meeting. Find out what is it about the person you are speaking to that makes them valuable and what are they doing. It is highly likely that you will still be connected to people you met years ago as, although what you have learned may be obsolete in a couple of years, connections and friendships do not suffer from this problem. You may not know if you are kissing a frog or meeting a prince but it takes work and planning to build a network that works for you, your company and your customers.

If you add some process to ensure each meeting is valuable in some way you will not regret it. One suggestion being a brisk walk to the meeting so even if the engagement has little value you know you have gained some health benefits from the walk. You can learn as much from those who are younger and each person has something to give, like their knowledge, reaction and perspective on the world.

Identifying the Harvard Business Case concerning Heidi Roizen the panel talked about the fact that subtle gender models (as well as racial models) often needed to be hurdled in business but if you are an entrepreneur the customer doesn’t care if you are a man woman or alien they just want to know if the business works for them. Gender bias can sometimes act to your advantage. If you are the only woman in a question and answer session then you may always get your questions answered. However when it hurts you should just move on, except on the occasions where it gets bad and then you should do something about it.

As a final subject the panel knew that at times, leading an entrepreneurial endeavour, it can be lonely but, considering what they had already talked about, there was potentially your board, contacts and your employees who can help; ask for what you need and go for the opportunity

You have to figure out what your weaknesses are and work out a way to counter them, get the best talent to fill those gaps and allow that talent to perform. Find diverse stakeholders in as many different areas as you possibly can to ensure that you can diversify. By sharing the control, rather than taking full responsibility for the whole business you gain the respect and trust of your peers and investors.

IMG_5253As always Girl Geek Scotland produced a vibrant event followed by the Summer Startup Party, where the panel were quickly engaged in further questions and there was much networking to be had. The event, as expected, being a great success for all those involved.

We highly recommend you check out upcoming events and, if you’re not in Scotland, its worth finding our if there is a Girl Geek group near you as their events are invaluable.

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