Are you a woman in NYC Tech and interested in participating in this series? Make sure to read the whole article…
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 chat with serial entrepreneur Tina Hedges, CEO and founder of LOLI Beauty, an organic and customizable skincare startup. Spending her career disrupting the luxury and consumer distribution markets at L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, and LVMH, Tina embarked on her entrepreneurial journey in 2005 by founding a celebrity hair care brand and developing the Bravo TV reality show BLOWOUT. Later, Hedges shifted her attention to the hangover prevention space, making it onto Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 100 Most Brilliant Companies. Now Hedges is all in on LOLI Beauty, the next-generation skin care company that provides personalized skin care that you can blend at your home or at on one of their popup blending bars.
Tina Hedges, LOLI Beauty
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
My foray into the NYC tech ecosystem began with a serendipitous sequence of events. In my wildest imagination, never did I envision myself sharing space with some of the most brilliant tech founders in our city. Why would I? I began my career in the world of big beauty over twenty years ago and I can still remember the debates in the 1990’s about whether selling luxury personal care on-line would ever be “a thing”. Flash forward, several successful startups from hair care to beverage later, and here I am part of Grand Central Tech’s class of 2017/18 with my newest venture being LOLI Beauty. To earn my spot, I had to overcome several stinging hurdles – like the time I was told by a judge at a NYC tech startup pitch competition to “go home” as I wasn’t thirty, a recent grad of Stanford or Harvard b-school or pitching tech. Sometimes I wonder what that judge would say to me now that I made it through GCT’s rigorous vetting process.
What I do know is that the NYC tech community is not as welcoming and supportive of female founders as I would wish, even less so for those of us over a certain age threshold or dipping their toe into tech from a CPG or fashion background. As one VC investor plainly put it, “the chances of you creating a unicorn are slim to none”, despite the fact that during the past few years beauty brand traded for 12X multiples at price tags of $1.2 billion+.
It’s daunting enough to be female founder, much less to be pushed aside because I’m not an engineer working on big data in the cloud. Every day, when I go up the escalator at GCT, I mutter a mantra of gratitude under my breath to its founders and managers for their vision and ability to see beyond the surface. I’m proud to take my seat at the founders’ table and to share a different perspective on building brands, cultures and successful business solutions.
There are many advantages to being a woman in tech, but in my case, it’s hard to disentangle which are due to my sex versus my years of business experience. The most obvious asset is my lack of attachment to any particular posture within the community. I don’t need to impress anyone or continually sing the refrain of “crushing it”. I’ve had successes and failures in my career, and am well aware how close to the sun we are continually flying. Instead, I always assume everyone in the room knows much more than me, which makes it easier to be receptive to helpful advice or critical insights. I’m also not afraid to show emotion – fear being the most frequent – with my fellow founders and this has helped break down boundaries. The last few weeks, six months into the program, we’re stopping at the coffee machine and giving each other hugs versus high-fives. That’s a breakthrough.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
It’s important for us to always remember what it’s like to be on the outside trying to break through. To honor our up and coming sisters and to bolster the bonds of our tech sisterhood. Even when we’re super busy, we need to take a pause to help someone out. That request always comes at most inopportune moment, so it’s easy to dismiss and excuse with the thought of “next time”. The moment is now. No excuses.
There are some terrific women-in-tech email communities which are already making a huge difference. When a request is posted, the responses are immediate. It also would be great if women within the tech community would pay-it-forward and establish mentorship programs within their own eco-systems and beyond.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
We should reshape our overall approach to diversity and extend our inclusive support beyond sex. Let’s welcome those who don’t fit into any stereotype like professionals in their forties and beyond, those from outside traditional tech career paths and minorities. This may be a reality far sooner than we think with the newfound consciousness and fearless advocates like Emily Chang, the author of Brotopia.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
Grooming women for key leadership roles is not just a question of gender equality – it fundamentally encompasses the essence of equal opportunity. 50% of the internet startups in China are run by women which is a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. But it goes further than just having women in leadership roles, we need to also foster and groom women within the ranks. Wisdom requires experience and experience has to be cultivated. When you couple experience with the benefits of female leadership, it’s a powerful combination. Just consider that research has proven women have been proven to be better leaders in competencies like leadership effectiveness, taking initiative, developing others, driving results and self-development. If we don’t foster female leaders in tech and help them evolve into senior management roles, we’re losing out since women are a driving force for innovation and execution.
What’s your experience been like fundraising as a woman? Any tips you can offer to your fellow female founders?
When I began fundraising for my business, LOLI BEAUTY, I had a triple shock. The first was when I encountered the preference for male founders in tech and that was, in itself, upsetting. Then I came across a sub-text of ageism, too. Many investors didn’t believe that someone over the age of 35 could conceivably build a “unicorn” – much less so, a woman. The last hurdle was convincing investors that tech-enabled beauty, especially in natural/organic personal care was worth consideration. If I took every “no” or “naysayer” to heart, I wouldn’t have raised $1M and assumed my place in Grand Central Tech’s class this year. Each “no” just made me double-down and try harder.
It’s statically proven that women-led companies are more successful than their male counterparts. Why do you think they still only get 2% of funding available for new ideas?
Inherently, there is a bias as people like to invest in their comfort zones. When you’re pitching, as a female founder, to an audience that has no visibility or understanding to your company’s particular solution, you have to work twice as hard in a few minutes pitch. Eagerness or the desire to share everything also can work against you. There have been so many times when a room full of make investors have jumped ahead, grabbed our product and unboxed, just to say “I don’t get it”. I’ve learned to control the experience as much as I do my words. Keep your power in the room. Hold some things back. Don’t be too eager to please.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
Grand Central Tech is an incredible tech community that is super supportive of female founders and women in tech in general. Project Entrepreneur is also fairly new but definitely working to help bolster female founders.
How much do you think casual sexual harassment and misconduct affects a woman’s career?
Unfortunately, sexual harassment is still something most women encounter at some point in their career. Every day there is less of a stigma attached to the victim, which will help diminish this type of behavior. By having the courage to speak up and share our experiences, we are empowering others to do so, too.
What can men do to support this movement and/or participate in this discussion?
Creating an atmosphere of trust and confidence is so important to helping eradicate any type of unwanted behavior. We all need to keep our own watch, and step in if we see anything that seems untoward. It requires an entire community, not just a few brave individuals. When this year’s class of GCT kicked-off, the management team made it super clear that any type of behavior that ostracized anyone in the cohort was not allowed and that the entire class was responsible for maintaining the atmosphere of inclusiveness.
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.