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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.
Today we speak with Fatima Yusuf, cofounder of Tressle. After quitting her job in management consulting and moving to NYC, Fatima immersed herself in the home furnishing/decor industry, the city, and the tech community to build the all-in-one platform for home furnishing. Fatima dedicates her time sharing her knowledge and supporting other women in their efforts to build a stronger Startup community.
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
The entrepreneurship bug hit me in college when I cofounded a non-profit organization in Toronto that served as a platform for emerging designers and performing artists in the city. That was my first experience building an organization from the ground up. It gave me an understanding of what it meant to identify demand, establish a vision and successfully align others toward it. After graduating I was recruited by PwC’s management consulting practice. I wanted to learn more about how large successful organizations establish their strategic goals and operate at scale so I focused on strategy and operations engagements across a variety of industries. I was fortunate to work on some incredible projects and develop a network of colleagues and mentors that were supportive of my growth. After a few of years in consulting, I had the urge to start building something from the ground up again. My former cofounder and college roommate Juliana called me up around the same time having done some research on the home furnishing industry. I decided to take a leap of faith and moved to NYC on my savings later that year to build Tressle. Since teaming up again we immersed ourselves in the NYC design scene to understand the industry from the lens of both suppliers and consumers. One of the great things about this city is its easy access to both sides of the market. Though we’ve now been funded primarily from the west coast, we’re adamant on building our company here and contributing to the growth of the NYC tech community.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Women are the most powerful consumers in the world. Who better to understand and help create products for female customers, than females themselves? There’s a clear advantage in knowing your customer well and understanding how they might use and interact with your product. No matter what industry your product is in, the female consumer is always relevant.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
In my opinion, the funding landscape is an important piece of the equation. There is a palpable difference in the fundraising process on the east vs. west coat particularly for early stage companies. West coast investors tend to be more open to ideas early and seed funding flows more freely. On the east coast, there’s less money going around which leaves less appetite for risk and so fewer players are willing to place bets on companies before others do. For this reason, many entrepreneurs will gravitate towards the west coast seeking better terms and earlier investments. Combine this with the relative lack of funding toward female-led Startups, and you have quite a few barriers standing in the way of a female entrepreneur looking for funding in NYC.
I don’t think there’s a shortage of incredibly capable women with great ideas. I think a big piece of promoting more female entrepreneurs is having more early-stage funds emerge and invest in NYC. More specifically, we need more folks in pre-seed and seed on the east coast willing to take bets on first-time female founders.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
To me, diversity is about people of different backgrounds and experiences having a seat at the table to inform decisions and ultimately build better products and companies. Makers of products should be a reflection of the people they are creating for. Diversity needs to be an intrinsic part of a company’s identity and culture though, not just a quota. In Startups, a company’s identity begins with the founders. Diverse founding teams create inclusive products, breed diverse culture and build diverse companies. It needs to start there. The other side of the equation is funding, we need more investors committed to funding diverse teams. The good news is there’s definitely a few out there already and conversations like these are making more of them pay attention. We’re fortunate to be backed by Precursor Ventures, a pre-seed fund that is committed to supporting a diverse group of founders. Funds like Precursor that are placing early bets on diverse teams will play a large role in changing the narrative in the coming years as we see some of their funded companies take off.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
I think developing female leaders is fundamental to the growth of any organization and its people. Good leaders know how to build strong teams and bring the best out of every member. I think women are naturally skilled at this and have knack for nurturing and growing talent. More women in leadership roles will not only build better more inclusive products and stronger teams, but also encourage more female talent to enter the industry. If we want more females to study engineering or tech in school, they need to see that there’s a place and a future for them in this space. That puts the responsibility on organizations as a whole to create an environment that allows women to develop into senior roles and have greater visibility in the tech community.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
I think to rise you need to set yourself up for success by building a strong foundation, and that often starts with connecting with the right people. Build a network of supporters, mentors, and advisors that are aligned in your values and are supportive of your vision and growth. Juliana and I have always been adamant on value alignment since day one. Staying accountable to this has meant turning down money from investors that didn’t share our values. A few of the right people in your corner can open up networks that will help propel you forward, whether that’s through a new job, an investor check, or a key hire etc. The more we do this as a community the faster I believe we’ll see more women rise in the ecosystem.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
I am a big fan of the Anita Borg Institute and the work they do to promote women in tech globally. Their studies and initiatives have been cited regularly to demonstrate the impact of diverse teams on innovation and overall organizational performance.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Men have a large role to play in ensuring there’s female representation across senior leadership since they currently hold majority of executive positions within tech. They need to be a part of creating and committing to equal opportunities for growth and visibility throughout their organizations. Both men and women in leadership roles have to be a part of the conversation and work together to encourage more females in tech and truly diversify our industry.
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.