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 Yuli Ziv CEO and founder of Style Coalition, a premium influencer marketing platform focused on beauty and luxury. After immigrating to the US in the early 2000’s, Yuli landed a job as 360i’s first Creative Director. Destined to start her own business, Yuli launched Style Coalition in 2008, with no funding, to manage influencer-driven campaigns that increase brand engagement. The company now works with the some of the largest brands in the space. A notable influencer herself, Yuli is a best selling author of three books and founder of the very first Fashion and Tech meetup group (Fashion 2.0) in NYC.
Yuli Ziv, Style Coalition
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I discovered the NYC tech scene in its very early days. Back in 2006-7 I was working for one of the hottest NYC digital agencies, 360i, as their first Creative Director – a dream job for a new immigrant! But deep inside my brain was full of entrepreneurial ideas, thinking how to capitalize on the growing trend of social media. Eventually I quit my dream job and decided to give one of my ideas a real shot. Even though that idea never turned into a big business, it lead me to a spin off, which turned to be worth millions of dollars. My current company, Style Coalition, is one of the first influencers marketing platforms, launched back in 2008.
I remember attending one of the first NY Tech Meetups, to find myself as one of the very few women in a room of 200 men. At that time female entrepreneurs weren’t as popular as they are today. My first startup was focused in the fashion industry and that created even more disconnect. Realizing I don’t fit into the “male techie” stereotype, I decided to create my own meet up group, called Fashion 2.0, which brought together fashion / tech entrepreneurs for the very first time. Over the years it grew to include 3,500 members, hosted 100+ events and became one of the most prominent meet ups in the NYC tech scene. It allowed me to build my network, which was invaluable for my business. Until today I meet people who remember our early panels and it makes me proud to help develop the fashion tech industry in NYC to what it is today.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
I’m not going to lie – it’s been mostly challenging being a woman in tech. Through the years I’ve been stereotyped, rejected and underestimated countless times. My company was called “a nice lifestyle business”, investors wanted to run my ideas by their wife first, because they were in the “female vertical”, my tech knowledge was questioned because I had a creative background and most importantly, I “needed a male co-founder” in order to be taken seriously. So far the only advantage of being a woman was that I could get anyone’s attention, but not always for the right reasons.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
We need more positive examples of successful female founders so they can inspire other women. And you need the entire echo system to help lift them up – from press features to funding. We need to celebrate more the women who attempt to break barriers and succeed, no matter on what level. For me, the rejection during my fundraising attempts was instrumental in driving my ambition. I decided to prove that I can do it on my own and build a multi-million dollar business without any funding.There is this myth that you are dependent on VCs to build a business, while in reality most business out there never took any funding.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
There is definitely more conversation around diversity, thanks in part to recent events and individuals who bravely decided to speak up against any type of discrimination. To me diversity is about an open mind, and I think in NYC you have people who are more open to diversity because we live in a melting pot. It’s the only place where for example being an immigrant and having an accent perceived to be unique and interesting. But when it comes to men and women, unfortunately we still are facing lots of stereotypes in the tech community.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
As an employer and a manager I see a huge responsibility to help promote women and inspire them to be more ambitious, especially within small organizations like startups where you have so much opportunity to grow, and very quickly.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
The more women get involved in tech fields, the more it will challenge the status quo. It will bring different perspectives into product development, marketing and management and will create a more inclusive environment, for both the team members and even product users. Sometimes you see female centric apps and services, development entire by men in a vacuum, and they just miss the mark.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
Women should be less shy about asking other women for help and advice. They should be also more creative in seeking alternative ways to get where they want – whether it’s funding or building their tech. There isn’t one path to build a business and it’s certainly not controlled by VCs.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
Actually, I believe in spending my time and effort to become involved in events and organizations that are not defined as women’s. I think it’s more important to have female presence at male dominated events where you can make an impact and change perspectives. I insist to speak on mostly male panels and being quoted alongside male experts. To me that’s the best I can do to create change.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Open their mind, be aware of the diversity issue and consciously seek more business interactions with women, across the board.
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.