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Women in NYC Tech: Karen Lau of Furnishr

 

Are you a woman in NYC Tech and interested in participating in this series? Make sure to read the whole article…

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 women in tech 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 speak with Karen Lau, cofounder and CTO of Furnishr. Starting her career in computer science, Lau decided to follow her passion for interior design before founding Furnishr. Furnishr, the turn-key solution for furnishing your home in one day is an ecommerce platform that has a collection of room designs to choose from and has the backend logistics infrastructure set up to deliver and set up all the furniture in the purchased room design in the customer’s home in one day. Karen is a proud and active member in the NYC Startup Ecosystem and is currently a mentor for Startup Institute helping new tech entrants find their ways in the tech industry.

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Karen Lau of Furnishr

What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?

After graduating with a Comp Sci. degree, I started my first corporate job as a programmer and shortly after became a project manager. I spent 5 years solving engineering and people problems in complex technical environments. While hating my 9-to-5 job, I decided to attend night school to pursue my passion in interior design. As I learn more about the interior design industry, I realized that this industry, as well as any industry related to furniture, needs a lot of automation to simplify the operational complexities. However, nobody has been able to make the process of delivering a room design to a customer’s home easily. My technical background allowed me to quickly determine a few problems in the typical furnishing process that can be solved with technology. The determination to bring interior designs to homes easily led me to start Furnishr as the CTO.

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely path. Nobody truly understands your business and your challenges other than a handful of people, many of which are likely your colleagues. Being part of an entrepreneurial community definitely makes you feel that you’re never alone. Being a female entrepreneur is harder than being a male entrepreneur simply because the community for women is smaller. As a female CTO, the odds of finding another female CTO are even smaller. In many occasions, I often feel like I’m trying to fit into a boys’ club.

That said, being the gender minority does help you stand out. And since NYC often has female-centric events that let women connect with one another, there is a relatively big and connected ecosystem for female entrepreneurs in NYC and members of this ecosystem are more engaged in helping one another.

What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?

First, continue to organize women-centric events for women to connect with one another. Additionally, Invite the men to join the women-centric discussions, especially when the topics are uncomfortable for men. It would also help to continue to celebrate the milestones for female-founded companies

What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?

There is certainly an increasing number of female-founded companies getting funded and getting the right attention. I’m also glad to see that there are many events and celebrations for female entrepreneurs.

Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?

There needs to be more women representations in senior positions to normalize the terms like ‘women in tech’ and ‘women founders’. Future generations should not have the perception that working women are the minority in any industry.

How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?

Diversity in gender and race lets us learn about one another and be more knowledgeable and worldly as a team. The knowledge about diverse cultures and environments helps us understand our users and customers better and thus make better solutions to solve their problems.

How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?

Women should keep doing what they do best, ie. Deliver what they determine to deliver and the results will speak for themselves. Supporters of women entrepreneurs should keep promoting these women’s work.

KAREN LAU QUOTE Furnishr.001

Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.

XRC Labs – an accelerator focusing on retail tech and a keen supporter for women founders.

What can men do to participate in this discussion?

Men should be the advocate for women-founded companies and join discussions about women-centric topics.


 

The team at AlleyWatch believes it’s important to have an inclusive discussion around the challenges facing women in tech along with highlighting the work of the female entrepreneurs that have made NYC one of the best places for women in tech according to some recent studies. That’s why we are running this series that showcases women in tech in New York.

If you are a female founder in NYC working in tech and interested in participating in the series please visit this link or click on the image above.

Please feel free to pass this on to any women in NYC that you feel should be considered for the series. Thank you.

About the author: AlleyWatch

AlleyWatch is the destination for startup news; opinions and reviews; investment and product information; events reported, experienced, seen, heard and overheard here in New York. But it’s who we are that makes us different: we’re the writers and the entrepreneurs; the investors and the mentors; the lawyers and the marketers; the realtors and the recruiters – the people who work in the industry.

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