Women In Tech: Up & Coming Female Entrepreneurs
May 19, 2010
The shortage of female entrepreneurs and executives has long been lamented by business and academic leaders. As Harvard researcher Vivek Wadhwa told BusinessWeek in February 2010, there has never been a female Wall Street CEO. According to Dun & Bradstreet data from 2004 (the most recent available), only 19% of the 237,843 firms founded that year were primarily owned by women – including only 3% of tech firms.
Ultimately, Wadhwa contends, the relative lack of female tech entrepreneurs reflects a “societal failure.” But others, like Illuminate Ventures CEO Cindy Padnos, hold that female-led tech firms earn higher revenues using less capital. Today, Grasshopper examines several female entrepreneurs who will, as Padnos predicts, “lead the next wave of growth in global technology ventures.”
Caterina Fake is best known for co-founding online photo sharing giant Flickr in 2004. Fake started the company with the help of then-husband Stewart Butterfield and the free service rose to popularity in a breathtakingly short time. By March 2005, Flickr was acquired by Yahoo! for a reported $35 million price tag.
Flickr made important contributions to the “Web 2.0″ revolution both before and after the acquisition, including social networking, photo tagging, community open APIs and photographic algorithms. Fake remained on board following the buyout until June 2008, heading up Yahoo’s Technology Development group and continuing to influence Flickr’s evolution.
But despite her tremendous success with Flickr, Fake is far from an entrepreneurial one hit wonder. Fake currently sits on the board at Creative Commons, social commerce website Etsy and various other ventures through her role as an active angel investor. Her most ambitious project to date is Hunch, a decision making engine that, according to its website, “gives customized recommendations and gets smarter the more you use it.” Hunch launched in June of 2009 and, according to some analysts, is frighteningly accurate. CNET‘s Caroline McCarthy, for instance, reported that “it took 39 questions for the Hunch Twitter Predictor to make a wrong guess about me.”
Thirty-two year old Mena Trott made headlines in 2001 for co-founding Six Apart, the company responsible for the Movable Type and TypePad blogging platforms. Like Caterina Fake, Trott started Six Apart with the help of her husband Benjamin. In fact, the name Six Apart derives from how Mena and Benjamin (both pictured above) were born six days apart on the same year.
The company began as a spare bedroom hobby that got off the ground while Mena and Benjamin were both unemployed and wanted a better way to blog. But as TED explains, “investors were knocking on the door” by the time TypePad was ready for launch. Under Trott’s business leadership, Six Apart grew from seven employees to fifty by 2004.
By 2005, the company had acquired LiveJournal (which it has since spun off to Russian media firm Sup) and later introduced Vox, a blog and photo sharing platform that served as a natural extension of Six Apart’s existing businesses. In addition to serving in a management role, Trott also works as an interface designer, maintaining an active role in the look and feel of Six Apart’s various web properties to this day.
All told, TED finds that Six Apart has played an undeniable role in helping to “lead the social media revolution.” The Economist, a British publication, remarked that “like Ms. Trott, Vox is unpretentious and accessible” and also that “she increasingly has the attention of elder statesmen who are baffled by the rise of blogging.”
Sandy Jen & Elaine Wherry
While some say the instant messaging market is old news, don’t try telling that to Sandy Jen and Elaine Wherry. Together, Jen (far left) and Wherry (fourth from left) have co-founded Meebo, the web-based instant messaging service that lets users chat on virtually every IM network conceivable – from one screen. Described as “the web’s fastest-growing IM tool” by FastCompany, Meebo (founded in September 2005) had already racked up over forty million users by February 2009.
Today, Meebo’s website boasts that this number has since skyrocketed to 100 million users. The free service solved the long-standing problem of people behind firewalls – such as corporate employees and college students – not being able to use standard desktop IM software. As a web-based service, Meebo bypasses most firewalls by virtue of using the standard HTTPS port. By April 2008, Meebo had built up enough momentum that Sequoia Capital invested $25 million for corporate expansion. Meebo, in turn, grew its operations beyond the desktop web by launching smart phone apps for the Android and iPhone, as well as the iPod Touch. The San Francisco Business Times also ranked Meebo as one of the Bay Area’s “Best Places to Work”
Gina Trapani has become one of the most widely-heard female voices in tech during the last decade. She is best known as the founding editor of Lifehacker.com, a wildly popular blog which spawned the best-selling book Upgrade Your Life. Since its creation, Lifehacker has become an ongoing authority on all things tech, including being nominated for Blog of the Decade.
More recently, Trapani has taken over as project director at Expert Labs, a think tank concerned with persuading the federal government to get behind important technology initiatives. In essence, Expert Labs attempts to query the scientific and technological communities for answers to questions from federal policy makers.
Trapani’s work in these capacities have been profiled by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other media outlets. She is also a highly-sought keynote speaker, having headlined such events as the Web 2.0 Expo. In recognition of her past achievements and future plans, Fast Company magazine ranked Gina Trapani as one of the Most Influential Women in Technology for both 2009 and 2010.
Another woman to be honored among Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Web 2.0 is Leah Culver. The 27 year old made her first splash with Pownce, a social network that enabled its users to swap media files large and small without system crashes.
In December 2008, Pownce was acquired by Mena Trott’s Six Apart and subsequently shut down. But Culver’s influence has hardly diminished. As Fast Company explains, Facebook and Twitter’s photo-sharing site TwitPic each took “a leaf out of Pownce’s book”, as did various other social portals. Currently, Culver’s blog states that she works as a software engineer on the Django web framework.
While Culver got her start as an art major at the University of Minnesota, she soon found that her true passions lied with computer programming. Upon graduating in 2006 with a degree in Computer Science, Culver honed her Python coding skills at Bay Area startups Instructables and iLoop Mobile. Before long, however, she decided to strike out on her own. Leaving iLoop gave Culver the opportunity to create Pownce from scratch, and she has strung together an impressive technology resume ever since.
Unfortunately, an exhaustive profile of all the exciting up and coming female tech entrepreneurs is beyond the scope of this article. A few, however, do merit a passing mention. Meg Hourihan, for instance, is the co-founder of Pyra Labs, which launched Blogger before that company was acquired by Google. MIT named Hourihan a Young Innovator Who Will Create the Future in 2003, and PC Magazine named her one of that magazine’s “People Of The Year” in 2004.
Louise Wannier has quietly become one of the most successful women in online retail, founding MyShape.com from her kitchen table in 2004. Wannier told SocialTech in 2009 that because “only five or six percent of bodies fit the fit model that most people design clothes for”, MyShape saw the opportunity to develop a patent-pending algorithm that matches professional clothing to your exact body shape, fit and preferences. These and other top businesswomen prove that female tech entrepreneurship is both here to stay and on the rise.