Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector. 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, Connie Connors gives us her views on working in the tech industry. She certainly speaks from experience: for more than 25 years, she has worked with both startup- and Fortune 500- consumer technology, media and education companies in public relations and marketing, business planning and product development, investor relations and growth strategies, as well as overall branding. She is a futurist and positioning expert in new media public relations, having been instrumental in the launch of many brands such as Amazon, Priceline, Lending Tree, RealNetworks, Overture, 24/7 and Vonage, and helped many well known brands to transform their businesses online or into other product lines: Disney, Nordstrom, National Geographic, NYTimes.com, Sega Toys, Smithsonian Education portal, Sony WebTV and others. Connors built her firm, Connors Communications, from 1984 through 2008, at which time the firm transitioned to search optimization and ultimately became an Internet company, HitTail, which is operational and profitable today.
Connors Communications was highly regarded, both domestically and internationally, as the top public relations firm specializing in consumer technology and new media.
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as a female entrepreneur?
I remember one of my first client meetings. It was 1984 and I was sitting in a boardroom with the entire management team of this company and I was the only woman. The CEO looked at me at one point and said, “Connie, what do you think?” I think it was the first time I realized that I could hold my own and it gave me the confidence I have today.
One challenge I did have was in raising money for my SEO company, HitTail. To this day, I am convinced that if I had a front man – a cute, 22 year-old with Justin Beiber hair and dressed in a hoodie — I could have raised the money.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
What is being done that you like presently?
As an advisor to Springboard, I am thrilled with the number of women we have helped by challenging their business models, ripping apart their investor decks, teaching them how to ask for more money (women really have an issue with this, I think) and how to present. I personally mentor a number of women-run companies and again, all you need to do is ask someone for help; the worst case is they say no, but there is no ill will or reputation risk.
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship? Or, do you do anything personally to help promote women in technology?
As above, I have been involved with Springboard for more than a decade. I also like what Nelly Yusupova, CTO of Webgrrls is doing to teach women not only how to use technology, but how to talk to programmers when you’re not a techy.
Do you feel investors have a different mindset when it comes to investing in a woman-run company?
The life-balance issue may not always come up, but it’s certainly on everyone’s minds. I remember flying to SF with one of my employees – when we were still a small shop and I was single – who announced she was pregnant and I cried. I knew that I would ultimately lose this star-player to family. At Connors, we did offer a lot of flex time and short work weeks and most of the time it worked, but it’s tough to manage.
I remember when I was pregnant with my first child and my accountant actually told me that I would probably make less revenue the following year. Of course, that challenged me to double the revenue! My kids spent a fair amount of time in the office. I remember having a pretty important meeting, with one of my kids asleep in my arms in the conference room.
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than their male counterparts?
Yes and no. When you think of all of the scandals that many male CEOs in this industry have been accused – and found to be guilty — of, I would say that scrutiny is equal. Carly Fiorina used to travel with a trainer, a personal stylist, makeup person and more, I think. Also, I remember reading an interrogation of an S1 that stated that the woman CEO had chartered jets to return to New York in time for a date. In conclusion, I would say that even if Sheryl Sandberg were a man, I’d still ask who was running the company while she is was busy writing a book and doing a massive PR tour for something that has nothing to do with her company. (I’m also not a fan of the book, for the record. I believe that there simply are a lot of women who actually don’t want to work.)
Do you have a hero and if so, who is it?
Madonna. First of all, we are the same age and when her first single came out, I taught her aerobics (my transition from dancing to technology.) But no one has been a better brand builder than her. But, for a “real life” here, it is Kay Koplovitz (founder of USA Networks and founder of Springboard, not to mention the many board positions she holds) who has been a true mentor, cheerleader and supporter of me.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
I’ve also believe that the ecosystem is in constant flux and therefore I can’t quite answer that question. I embrace change and have many companies I dabble with in addition to some hobbies that don’t really make money (my flower business, CocoTribeca, for example.)
I’m doing some PR consulting again for companies who are truly changing the way we live, learn and work. It’s fun to re-discover a craft that, at one point, I was pretty good at. In the meantime, I’m trying to get a new startup off the ground, The Divorce/by Data Project whose first product is Knot or Not. But as we all know, finding good people to work with you is always a challenge. Entrepreneurs have a strong – and perhaps, crazy – work ethic and it’s hard to remember that the majority of people really do like a 9 to 5 job and that’s okay!