Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector, be it as investors (or associates), founders or in management positions at major companies. Is the problem the old boys network – or that success in technology is seen as a young man’s game? In this series, we speak with some of the top industry women in New York as they discuss the challenges they face, the perceptions that need to be changed and the work that’s being done – or not – to help to promote women in tech.
Today, we hear from Michelle Madhok, founder of SheFinds, a fashion blog and buying guide that helps women figure out what to buy. ‘We study the trends and surf the web for the best items, then pass on the info in newsletters and our blog. SheFinds doesn’t carry any inventory, so we don’t push anything we wouldn’t wear,’ says the site. Another thing we’ll say: Madhok has always been someone who calls it as she sees it.
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as a female entrepreneur?
How to fake it until you make it. I am very honest, and we had to do all these projections for the VC’s. I had to make projections – like in 10 years, I am going to be making like $50 million a year – and I always felt like I was lying because I didn’t know how I would ever make $50 million. And someone said, ‘It doesn’t matter, once you get the money – that it’s not like you’re forced to hit those metrics. Everything will change once you get the money.’ I’m someone with a lot of integrity. When I say I am going to do something, I want to do it. But it takes more bravado when you are pitching ideas. Men seem fine with throwing out huge numbers and figuring it out later. As women, sometimes we undersell ourselves.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
Women need more visibility. I’m so tired of going to conferences and seeing 1 or 0 women on stage with a bunch of guys in hoodies and shower shoes.
What is being done that you like presently?
I’m seeing women business owners banding together to help each other. I didn’t see this in the corporations I worked in, but in entrepreneur land, I’m seeing a lot of women doing that. Pamela Ryckman just wrote a book called the Stiletto Network and she observed that women are informally making introductions to build their networks of successful women. I know this is happening because when I look on LinkedIn, I see that I’m one degree away from almost every NYC woman in tech.
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship?
I’m a winner of countmein.org’s Make Mine a Million contest; I belong to the Entrepreneur’s Organization (they are actively trying to get more women); I’m on the google group, XX in Tech started by Rachel Sklar of theli.st; Fashion 2.0 and I just joined Step Up.
Do you feel investors have a different mindset when it comes to investing in a woman-run company? For example, does the work/life balance issue come up?
Trying to get VC funding is a lot like dating — No one ever rejects you. After you go on a certain number of ‘dates,’ you start to realize they aren’t going to commit. When I was trying to raise money, women’s content and commerce wasn’t “hot.” After Daily Candy sold and Gilt, arrived that attitude changed.
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than their male counterparts?
I am dismayed when I see a lot of the publicity for a company going to the man. I’ve noticed lots of teams where the woman is never heard from.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
We are a content and commerce company, so we play in both the media and publishing worlds. We’ll sell over $2M of goods this year for retailers and do 10M pageviews/month in content.