Being a Female CEO of a Tech Startup in Southeast Asia (Part 2)

Posted by Abe on September 2, 2015

more accelerators focusing on women - Mailbird

Full Stack Engineer

Published on September 2, 2015

More Accelerators Are Focusing on Female CEOs

It all started back in 1972 when Katharine Graham became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She inspired a generation of women, taking about 4 decades to show significance in women taking on leadership roles within companies.

The move to promote more women to becoming a CEO or taking on an executive role is picking up some traction and interest by many tech incubators, accelerators and venture capital firms. Highly regarded accelerators in the U.S. like  Y-Combinator and 500 Startups are taking a closer look at female lead startups. Jessica Livingston, founding partner of Y- Combinator, who was also part of the minority of women in the venture capital industry, took the cause further to ensure that Y-Combinator was a startup accelerator that was very nurturing and supportive of women.

She nails it on the head in her article on women who’ve been in the YC accelerator. The quote below is personally funny to me, considering I hadn’t read the article until after writing about what it was like to attend my first tech conference as a female entrepreneur. Jessica says,

“We got an interesting variety of responses when we asked the women whether being a female was advantageous or disadvantageous in their roles as founders. Some felt they had been harmed but as many felt it was an advantage. Interestingly, many said it got them attention for being unusual, and that they’d used this to their advantage. Others felt that being female did impose some barriers, but didn’t let it get them down.”

Funny thing is after checking out the alumni of female badasses who survived Y Combinator, I stumbled upon one lady named Jamie Wong – CEO and founder of Vayable. Why did this name ring a bell…. “Oh that’s right! I totally rented Jamie’s place via AirBnB when I was last in San Francisco.” Crazy. Love this because I can relate to Jamie in that I decided to start and rung a tech startup as a non-technical person. Jamie shares,

“I entered YC thinking I had several inherent disadvantages: I was non-technical. I had never started a company before. I had never worked at a tech company. I studied “soft” sciences in university. I had already turned 30. I was a woman. I was right to believe this meant I was an outlier, but I was incorrect in thinking this would put me at a disadvantage at Y Combinator.”

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If you are a female entrepreneur, being able to also code is like the cherry on top of the icing. I wish I was a hardcore software developer myself, despite a BBC article on the tech startup landscape in Bali, Indonesia (my hub for where all the magic happens in Mailbird) building up my story as “Andrea Loubier, CEO of Mailbird. She’s not the only one coding late into the night.” So it resonates with me what Jamie said about feeling disadvantaged being non-technical. But what I have quickly learned is that is far from the case. I was flattered that I was a notably hardcore programmer in the BBC article. Despite it not being the case, I didn’t think it was too late to contribute a little piece of code to Mailbird, so I did. For now I’m the front-woman, the muscle, the support, the communicator and the glue for the Mailbird team, and it’s one of the most rewarding and fulfilling roles I’ve ever had.

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Then we have 500 Startups, the other biggest startup accelerator in the U.S. and building momentum throughout the world. So why are they focused on filling up their accelerator slots with more women through their 500 Women syndicate?

“We think it is important to support our women-led companies, and this is a good way to do that”

Says Bedy Yang, one of the managing partners of the fund.

“They don’t care about your gender or your ethnicity. They just want to see that your idea is getting traction, and they are quite willing to back female founders.”

Bedy says, talking about the investment in female founded companies by way of the 500 Startups accelerator. Pretty powerful to remove gender from the equation.

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Ever heard of the term “Bro-grammer”?

Well these ladies are ready to change the male dominated environment in computer science lead startups. This is awesome because more and more women are starting businesses, specifically in the U.S. however the % of them that are receiving investment is proportionately low as compared to male founded companies.

“We are talking 75% of startups that receive investment are with male founders.”

So to see 500 Startups, Y Combinator and more female focused venture capitalist firms and organizations like Golden Seeds, BELLE Capital, Springboard Enterprises, Astia, X Squared Angels, 37 Angels and Pipeline Fellowship among many other female empowering focused firms…this means a lot to the world that we are moving forward in. If you are a female entrepreneur, I highly recommend connecting with these awesome VC firms who are changing the world we live in today. They are waiting for you to take over and achieve world domination 😉

Former hedge fund lawyer and founder of Girls Who Code, ReshmaSaujani, has the answer to “So what needs to happen to change this perception, that coding is for boys?”

“The Maker Faire movement is really important. It says that it’s not just boys that like to break things apart – it’s fun. What happens to boys in tech is in many ways different than what happens to girls in tech. It’s not that they’re facing sexism per se it’s that they don’t think it’s cool. So I think we really have to change the way we present technology.”

Did you know that modern computer science was not always dominated by men?

In fact, many women jumped on board in technical related education in the 80’s. However once the personal computer began gaining momentum in more homes in the U.S. – that is when we started to see a decline of women in the computer science fields. This is because the marketing story that news, image, influencers, movies said that computers and programming were geeky – of a boys interest. Because of this marketing and messaging of IT – culturally in the U.S. computer products were typically a luxury good for the boys. Pre-knowledge of computer science became an expectation in many IT programs.

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Female Advocate At Large

Founder of Make Love, Not PornCindy Gallop is an esteemed badass; the best way to put it. She is always front and center when it comes to empowerment of women in leading executive roles.

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I read an awesome post that Cindy shared called “How the biggest tech companies stack up on corporate diversity”. This gave a breakdown of how mega-corporate or well-known, leading tech companies cut the pie in terms of both gender and ethnic diversity. Companies under gender diversity scrutiny included Microsoft, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Amazon.

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Pinterest was the best for gender diversity, however, Apple had more Female Leadership at 28%, still very low…

pinterest gender diversity

Brilliant as this has always been top of mind for me when building Mailbird as a truly diverse company. We have 3 women and 8 men which is a good start, especially for a Southeast Asia tech startup. I am more eager than ever to hire more women in the future as we continue to grow, it is what I am most proud of that we’ve been proactive with ethnic and gender diversity in building a global email company. Diversity is what brings meaning and relativity to Mailbird. Our team spans from Denmark, India, Indonesia, America, Colombia, Germany and Spain – and we aren’t going to stop there. In business, I strongly believe that diversity leads to better returns.

When it comes to Southeast Asia the numbers of female founders are much less when compared to America and Europe, and these women don’t get enough attention. Here is a list of 12 badass female entrepreneurs who are rocking the tech world in Southeast Asia.

Keep your attention on this, as more initiatives are launching like FemaleFounders which aims to lower the gender gap in Southeast Asia. We definitely need more things like this.

Gender, in the end, should actually no longer be a variable in our judgment of talent and success, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo said it well….

“I’m not a girl at Google. I’m a geek at Google.”

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Want to help make a difference?

Share this blog post using the social buttons and leave your comments below. It’s a small thing to do, that is easy and makes a difference. We need to start somewhere so I’m asking for both men and women to encourage and support more women in entrepreneurship, in executive roles and in business to grow in making amazing products, businesses and services across the globe. It starts with sharing and engaging with this post, a small gesture so budding companies lead by women, just like Mailbird can make a positive change in the world!

You would like to read more posts like that?

Then you should also check out Part 1Part 3 and Part 4 of the series.

Full Stack Engineer

Published on September 2, 2015