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 we hear from Linda Holliday, founder and CEO of Citia, a New York-based startup that’s using an interactive card technology that not only work on any screen and across devices: it’s bringing 3D to the 2D online world and allowing marketers to deliver as much – or as little – information as they choose, on the fly, where and when necessary. Prior to founding Citia, Holliday was a member of the New York Angels.
What was/is the biggest challenge facing you as a female entrepreneur?
Linda Holliday: Being a female entrepreneur is one thing. Being a female entrepreneur in technology is another thing. You have to work your butt off. You have to be competitive. And you have to take risks. Not many men or women do that.
Any entrepreneur is really asking people to buy into their future accomplishments. With “low information” on the future, humans are prone to make judgments based on optics. If young men in hoodies have hit jackpots—it can look like being a young man in a hoodie is a predictor of success. A track record of success is a much better predictor of success than a hoodie.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurship in New York?
If you want to be an entrepreneur, work for an entrepreneur first. There’s a lot of energy out there going into telling people that they need to quit school and start making things. I’m not even going to criticize that. But I will say that it’s probably prudent to practice on someone else’s money. Entrepreneurs must be good at many things, balance many things, and take a very specific stance on decisions that I call “option preservation.” I learned this from some brilliant entrepreneurs like Ed Snider and Chuck Dolan. If I had to learn it all on my own, I may never have. I certainly wouldn’t have learned it as well or as fast.
So, internships are huge. I try to give people complicated projects that they are entirely responsible for. Sometimes, some women could use a little extra coaching in how to ask for things and how to take credit. Entrepreneur always have to be selling themselves, too!
What is being done that you like presently?
We just hired an amazing woman out of General Assembly. She was elbow to elbow with the entrepreneur want-to-be’s. I think that was a great experience for her. It demystifies things. It levels the playing field. You get to benchmark yourself. She also has the wisdom to know that she wanted to go work on things already in motion – where she can learn from some more senior, experienced people.
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 teach at the School of Visual Arts in the design masters entrepreneurship program. I don’t do it for the money (but it is a good place to hire from!). The classes tend to skew female. I also try to speak frequently. Putting myself out there and not being afraid to tell my story personally. I think it’s helpful, too, for anyone, including women, to see that the path to entrepreneurship is very individual. I really do want to see more businesses started by designers of both genders. Businesses conceived of and run by creative people — I believe — have the possibility to be more human, original, and impactful.
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?
All women are different and all investors are different. I’m sure that some investors are thinking about that, but most are too sophisticated to say anything.
Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book urging women to “Lean In” and give it all you’ve got. Arianna Huffington just wrote a book called Thrive, telling women to save something for ourselves. There is no doubt that being an entrepreneur is a high energy, high impact sport. So is being a mom—particularly of young kids. If you really want to make both of those things work, you can. And you have to convince investors you can. This may be unpopular advice, but I would address it head on. But of course, everyone gets to decide how to handle this her way.
Do you think that women in top roles at major tech companies are scrutinized more closely than their male counterparts?
Everyone at top levels in companies gets scrutinized closely. It’s the assumptions that stink. Maybe if a man is out, they think it’s a meeting, and if a woman is out they think childcare problem. Most entrepreneurs I know are always on – or at least we give the appearance of being always on. Luckily, you can now do that from your phone from anywhere. Again, this might be tough advice, but succeeding in a big company is competitive. You have to be attentive, look attentive, get a lot of stuff done, and get some of the credit for it. I’ve found that most companies are playing to win and if a woman is one of the top players, they, too, get the big jobs.
My father was an engineer at General Motors — which had a very male engineering culture. When I told him I was applying to Wharton, he asked me why. I said, maybe a little defiantly, so that I could be president of General Motors. He told me a woman would never be president of General Motors.
Well, Mary Barra is president of General Motors.
Do you have a hero and if so, who is it?
I’d like to give a shout out to Madonna and Hillary Clinton. Both of them have been so independent and so fierce in defining themselves and their lives that they created giant brackets for the rest of us to operate inside of.
Where do you and your company fit into the ecosystem?
Citia is a SaaS, multi-tenant, cloud-based system for distributing and displaying atomized content cards across the entire fragmented device and OS ecosystem. The no-coding-necessary, push-to-publish platform gets content in circulation overnight for a fraction of the cost of custom tech. We’re a New York based, self- and seed-funded team of 11. We help brands tell big stories in small pieces. It’s a privately-held startup and has been featured in The New Yorker, TechCrunch, The New York Times, The Atlantic and PandoDaily and of course, AlleyWatch.