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 Stacy Horn, a New York-based author and internet pioneer who founded EchoNYC, an internet salon/social network in 1990. Horn later decided that Echo stood for “East Coast Hang Out. And it’s still up and running. Her first book, Cyberville: Clicks, Culture and the Creation of an Online Town (Warner Books, 1998), is still used in courses on the sociology of virtual communities.
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as an female entrepreneur?
I incorporated in 1989, and it was a whole different world. I couldn’t get financing, but that was partly because I was a woman, but also because I was starting a social network (although we didn’t call it that then) and at a time when few had even heard of the internet. It was a struggle. Every breath I took, every word, felt like a challenge. It was also exciting. With every step we broke ground.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
I spend more time writing books these days, so I’m not in this world so much anymore, but now that I’m older, looking back, I see more truth in the cliché: power is not given, it’s taken. We have more power than we know. I had more power than I knew!
What is being done that you like presently?
I don’t think this is what you mean but I have to say, what I like is the number of women who seem to know the power they have and are using it. I love the attitude, the accomplished geek-level so many routinely have, the unapologetic girl-a-tude (or that they would never even conceive of being apologetic).
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship?
No! Don’t hate me! These days I’m trying to get everyone singing (the subject of my most recent book). But thank you to the people who started and who support these organizations.
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?
I don’t know. How many investors are women these days?
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than their male counterparts?
Yes. Change is slow. I’ve been spending a lot of time conducting research at the Municipal Archives (where much of the City’s historical records are kept). On the one hand, change and progress is undeniable, and it feels so great to hold the evidence in your hands. On the other hand, I come across records indicating discrimination at every level. Even though they are decades and in some cases centuries old, they feel like they could have been written today. But change is inevitable, and it will keep getting better, and never quickly enough.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
I started Echo (the social network I founded) in 1989 and opened it to the public in 1990. I’m using the same exact software I selected way back then. So, very retro. But we’re still around. I like to refer to Echo as the dive bar that has hung in there even though the neighborhood all around it has changed. The nice thing is, when I started Echo, I did everything I could to get women online because there were so few women on the internet back then. That is no longer a problem! Women’s voices, which were scarcely heard in the tech community 24 years ago, are everywhere. Loud and clear and funny (my favorite part).