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 New York-based women in the industry 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 Allyson Downey, cofounder (along with her husband, Jack) of weeSpring, a site that helps new and expecting parents collect advice from their friends about what they need for their baby – and it’s a TechStars New York Class of 2013 company. Her entrepreneurial spirit dates back to elementary school, when she had a face-painting business for birthday parties, and it has carried her through roles with Random House, Eliot Spitzer, and Credit Suisse.
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as an female entrepreneur?
I think it’s fair to say that recruiting, developing, supporting, and retaining top technical talent is a major challenge for all entrepreneurs, not just female entrepreneurs. I definitely think that would be easier if we had more women engineers based here in New York City.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
There’s the old adage that “women are judged on their performance; men are judged on their potential.” I don’t think it holds true universally, but lately, I’ve heard a bunch of people say, “I invested because I just knew he was going to succeed.” The most tenacious and fearless people I know are women. I’d love to start hearing that sentence with a feminine pronoun: I just knew she was going to do great things / make me a ton of money / change the world.
What is being done that you like presently?
There are women in New York City who are deeply, deeply committed to supporting other women. Kathy Wylde from the Partnership for New York City has been an incredible mentor to me for nearly ten years and has never hesitated to open her (vast!) Rolodex to help me when I’ve asked. Carley Roney from the XO Group moved mountains–on very short notice–to attend our TechStars Demo Day and introduced me in front of an audience of 500 investors. I’ve been very lucky to have access to a pool of women who are dedicated to “paying it forward,” and I do everything I can to do the same.
Are you involved in any organizations that help to promote female entrepreneurship? Or, do you do anything personally to help promote women in technology?
I’m still on the receiving end of a lot of the programs that promote female entrepreneurship; we just started Springboard last week, which is an incredible program bringing together women who are running start-ups with successful entrepreneurs who can help them “spring” to the next level. Rachel Sklar and Glynnis MacNicol have built an amazing community of women tech entrepreneurs on TheLi.st, and I try to contribute constructively there whenever possible.
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’ve always understood that if you want something done, you ask a busy person — and there’s no one busier than an entrepreneur with a child (or children). God help the investor who asks me about how “work/life balance” would impact my ability to run a company… I’d be out the door in about 15 seconds.
Your Co-Founder is your husband. Have you found that there is a bias against husband-and-wife teams?
Being a husband/wife team is absolutely a deal-breaker with some investors, which I–of course–think is foolish. Jack and I are lot more invested in the longevity of our relationship than the average start-up co-founders. We’re also good at disagreeing constructively, which is a really tough thing to do. I can reel off a list of companies that were huge successes, and I do that readily when asked about the husband/wife “thing”: Cisco. Flickr. Goodreads. Buddy Media. Eventbrite. XO Group.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
weeSpring is delivering a true social shopping experience to users, allowing them to collect and organize trusted advice about what they need for their baby. We’re taking new and expecting parents’ existing low-tech behaviors–making Excel spreadsheets to keep track of the essentials, or dragging their best friend to BuyBuyBaby to help them register–and making them digital. We’re disrupting planning for parenthood by making it simple, social, and fun… and we’re growing with our user base into the categories they care about, from toys and books to apps and travel.