Category Archives: Startup Fever

Mega Startup Weekend

Everyone Has A Voice When It Comes To Tech And Sexism [VIDEO]

This blog post isn’t about the endless, circular argument on the lack of women in the tech industry.  Instead it’s a slice of my life  that I wanted.

I received an email this morning from Chris Yeh who was one of the judges for the event letting me know he’d blogged about the incident with the startup that pitched their social photo event discovery idea using women in bikinis and I was moved to share my experience.

Update: I’ve uploaded a video of the pitch.  You can watch it below or click through to YouTube.

This weekend I was in Mountain View for MEGA Startup Weekend.  It’s an amazing event where people gather to build amazing things over the weekend.  Developers, business people, designers, product people and anyone who wants to roll up their sleeves and experience the feeling of awesome on 54 hours.  There were people from all over the world including Brazil, Hawaii and Denmark.

The Pitch That Needed One More Voice

Chris Sey speaks up at 00:06:10 in the video.

Wow, what just happened?  Did this team just flash flesh on stage for points?

After the guys were done pitching, the judges asked questions about the startup’s business model, customer acquisition strategy, competition and so on.  But Chris Yeh, one of the judges and more importantly a prominent figure in Silicon Valley due to his being a VC investor, Standford and Harvard graduate, entrepreneur and all that awesomeness, spoke up about the bikini slides.  In fact, he addressed that first before he asked his question about their business:

“Hate to be a buzz kill but I’d warn you about throwing up pictures of bikinis .  This is what gives our Silicon Valley a bad name.”

My jaw dropped.  The audience roared with applause.

Was this guy standing up for me?  Was he standing up for us?

Wow and I don’t even know him.  As I write this now in the hotel room in Mountain View, tears are falling down my cheeks because the acknowledgement meant so much to me.  I didn’t realize that it would have such an impact on me but it did and I want to share that.

I waited with baited breath to see if the guys from the team would acknowledge Chris’ statement in their answer.  They didn’t and I felt disappointed because this seemed like one of those movie moments with a happy ending.

You can hear in the video that when they’re asked what sets them apart from competitors, they actually say, “bikinis”.

I was sitting in the front row next to the Elizabeth who pitched the first idea, 500>, which was about creating a network to improve the effectiveness of medical devices in developing countries.  I’d seen her and her co-founder pitch the first night.  I turned to her, said something positive about what Chris said and we nodded in agreement about the power and impact of what had just happened on stage.

A lot was going on in these few minutes when I realized I had another new feeling – As an attendee and representative for my company was that I felt like I belonged and that the guys on stage were out of place.  Amazing!  Because of this, I had the courage and better yet, the sense of entitlement, to march right up on stage and thank Chris after all the pitches were done.  And that’s what I did!

I was there on behalf of the company I work for because we’re global sponsors along with Microsoft, Google and others.  I’m a developer evangelist for SendGrid.  I talk with developers about how to integrate and leverage our API.  I embrace my inner nerd and am becoming a social geek, especially through conferences.  This is my third Startup Weekend.  The first one I attended last May in San Francisco was a phenomenal!  Steve Blank spoke about entrepreneurship, testing your assumption, failure and being memorable.  That event gave me a data point to work from to explore and identify the intersection of passion and purpose.

So basically, I’m a Startup Weekend fangirl.

Now at first I was thinking, “Is this sexism?”.  I mean isn’t usually thought of as you feeling uncomfortable about statements, images or inferences?  Well, it turns out sexism also includes the context of reinforcing stereotypes.  From Wikipedia:

Sexism, also known as gender discrimination or sex discrimination, is defined as:

  1. prejudice or discrimination based on sex
  2. conditions or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Sexism can also be defined as a process of disempowerment.  That is, removing power or ownership from a person.  It turns out that before 1875, women were not even considered people in the United States.  This blocks you from owning and amassing things like property and wealth.  In Chile, a woman’s property automatically will be the responsibility of her husband upon marriage.  Weird!  I still remember in old Twilight Zone episodes where these sorts of old laws and societal expectations pop up like women not being allowed to own bank accounts or go to the local pub.

I’ve felt frustrated about the use and objectification of women in slide decks at tech conferences and blogged my thoughts on it.  But this time was different.

So how was I going to tell this judge that I really appreciated what he said?

Approaching people who were on stage is an uncomfortable thing for me but I realize that most people feel uncomfortable about it and if you want to make progress, you need to step out of your comfort zone.  I ‘ve been making it a goal of mine to approach speakers after events on the regular.  For example, I went up to Alexis Ohanian in NYC after his moving presentation at Ignite about how we all can make a difference in making the world a better place.  Not only to congratulate him on his message and delivery but let him know how his company has made a difference in my life.  When you meet people that you know of but they don’t know you, it’s a crap shoot on how things will go.  This is why it’s so powerful when a mutual friend makes the introduction.  Alexis recognized me and I asked for a coffee meeting.  We met a few days later at that delicious bakery to chat about technology.

Friday, another powerful thing happened on the Startup Weekend stage.  Sponsors were being introduced and talking about their companies.  Sharon Vosmek, the CEO of Astia was asked to go up and talk about the company.  She immediately did something that made me (and everyone else) take notice – The guy before her had stepped up near the podium on the left side of the stage where the organizers were and talked about his company sponsoring Startup Weekend.  Sharon on the other hand took the mike and then walked to the center stage and said, “I don’t do side stage, I do center stage”.  Wow!  Seeing Sharon own her power, the audience attention and the moment like that was epic!  I saw her speak last year at BlogHer Entrepreneur on the very same stage at the Microsoft building.  Afterwards, I approached her to share how her actions and statement made me feel empowered.  It felt amazing and I felt solid about making a connection with her.

My takeaway from all of this is acknowledgment.

Thank you for acknowledging my experience
Thank you for acknowledging my power
Thank you for acknowledging my pain
Thank you for acknowledging me

Intent is often a big discussion point when it comes to this type of thing known as sexism.

  • Did he or she mean it in this way?
  • Did they intent to hurt someone?

The better question to ask is one of awareness out outside of the self:

  • Will this alienate anyone?

After the event, I talked with one of the guys from the team and told him I would have liked it if they’d acknowledged what the judge had said.  He explained they didn’t mean to show the bikini photo three times but only twice.  My friend Kimberly Dillion who participated as well this weekend, has an MBA and a marketing background said that once for the shock value and laughs would have been more understandable from a marketing perspective but using it several times and leaving it up for QnA made their product look weak like it couldn’t stand on it’s own.

We all get offended by things.  Dave McClure made this point over and over in his presentation on Friday and put in a disclaimer slide (in Comic Sans).  I get that as well and enjoyed Dave’s presentation 102% Fuck you! (you had to be there)

I see why they put in the bikini slides.  One of the guys on the team likes the ladies.  He made this clear with his pitch on Friday night called, “Where The Honey’s?” which would have users take photos and you could judge how fun the scene was.  As you can see, this pivoted into their pitch app, SnapMo.  He likes women, I get it.  He thought other guys in the audience would identify with him on this.

Overall, I feel the Startup Weekend community handled it really well.  We addressed it, acknowledged it and moved past it.

It’s important that people go to events that can change their lives.  Stories bring people to these events.  Look at the success of Burning Man by word of mouth, photos and video.

In fact, the job I landed was through networking and introductions at a previous Startup Weekend event.  When Frank and Ahmed, c0-organizers of the Bay Area chapter heard I was working at SendGrid, they both made positive comments about how cool it was I came to an event, I mentored and now I was working for one of the sponsors.  It felt great to close the loop and be a part of this successful effort.

  • Could I have stood up from the audience and said something?
  • If there was a woman on the panel of judges could or would she have said something?

The important thing is someone spoke up in real-time.  Let’s make a pact to speak up in the moment when we see things we disagree with vs grumbling about them afterwards.

techcrunch-fired-michael-arrington-9-7-2011 7-06-44 PM

End of TechCrunch? Michael Arrington Fired?

There is certainly a bit of “disruption” going on over at Techcrunch but it’s not about next week’s conference.  The dispute is about the new venture fund that was announced last week called, CrunchFund, and has created problems for TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, causing him to be fired from his own company.

Will this bring Techcrunch to a screeching halt?

Will TechCrunch writers go on strike or walk out?

And to stoke the fires a bit more on the subject, a cartoon has surfaced on YouTube from Next Media Animation,

Summary from the LA Times Blog:

recap: Arrington is the colorful personality behind TechCrunch, the mini media empire that he sold to AOL last year. He told us Thursday that he was starting a $20-million venture fund. He said his new title at TechCrunch would be founding editor and writer. In that role, he said he would not exert editorial control and would fully disclose his investments in blog posts on TechCrunch.

Arrington also told us he would continue to break news. He even inserted a clause in the venture fund’s limited partnership agreement that gives him carte blanche to report on anything he learns except as an investor.

But on Friday AOL began putting out the word that Arrington no longer works for TechCrunch. Instead, AOL says, he works for AOL Ventures as a professional investor. In that role, he could contribute unpaid blog posts to TechCrunch.

Now that is pretty much what AOL has said all along. But its CEO Tim Armstrong told the New York Times on Thursday “TechCrunch is a different property and they have different standards.”

I’m personally not a big fan of Arianna Huffington to begin with.  Constantly micro analyzing the world of politics and publishing a new post every time someone farts (or holds it in) is not my kind of news.

MG Siegler, one of the main editors and writers at Techcrunch (also the owner of the following title, ” Kick Ass Pool party coordinator” explained in a piece on his personal blog why the New York Times had it all wrong on the internal workings of TechCrunch:

So gather ‘round everyone, to learn how TechCrunch actually works.

First and foremost, the concept of an “editor” at TechCrunch is essentially just a title and nothing more. Generally speaking, neither Mike nor Erick (TC’s two “co-editors”) are overlords that dictate what everyone else covers. With a few exceptions (mainly for newer writers), no one person even readsposts by any other author before they are posted.

Traditional journalists may be appalled to learn this. But this is a big key of why TechCrunch kicks their ass in tech coverage. We’re fast and furious in ways they can’t be, because they’re adhering to the old rules. Are there benefits to those old rules? Sure. But in my opinion, the benefits of the way we work far outweighs the benefits of the way they work.

If you want a more objective take, simply look at the number of tech stories we’ve broken over the years versus the number any old school publication has. Our system works.

Next week’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference ought to be quite interesting given the recent upset within the company.  See you there!


TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in San Francisco: Register Now And Get Free Admission To The Conference!

Do you have an amazing idea for that would benefit companies, consumers or government?

Is there an existing technology you use but feel it’s a bit lacking think you could fill in the gap?

Well bring your coding, design and biz dev skills to the second annual TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon happening September 10th and 11th, 2011 in San Francisco!  Unleash your creativity and collaborate with other passionate, driven developers, entrepreneurs and designers to give birth to new and disruptive technology.

What is TechCrunch Disrupt?

TechCrunch Disrupt is a twice yearly event now held in San Francisco in the Fall and NYC in the spring to showcase new startups, concepts and of course, disruptive solutions in the technology space.

There are Keynotes, fire side chats, exhibitors, sponsors and parties but the main attraction are the companies with these new ideas.  Last year there was everything from guitar games to social badges to a visual encyclopedia and several medical / health related startups…plus so much more!  Attendees include VC investors, business analysts, reporters, other startups, developers, bloggers and general media.

It spawned out of TechCrunch50 which was a co-branded event between TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis (Mahalo, This Week In, Launch, masterful poker player).  TC50, as it was known, was created to offer an alternative to DEMO which was (and still is) a big name conference focused on helping startups launch with traction through exposure.  That said, Michael and Jason had a falling out, dissolved TC50 and both launched new conferences.  After watching for two years in row from Minneapolis, I knew I would attend TechCrunch Disrupt last year and made that a reality.  It was amazing and I’m attending again this year!

Where are they now?  GroupMe – Techcrunch Disrupt Hackathon, NYC 2010

GroupMe was one of the many products created at last year’s hackathon and the founders just closed a deal and were acquired by Skype (Now owned by Microsoft).   Another solution, which may have won the hackathon demo had to do with a mobile app that gave you the ability to alert people that you were in danger or trouble.  As they say, it’s quite common for people to create things they need in their own lives or workplaces then they come to find out that others have the same need too!

TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Details


Dates: September 10th & 11th, 2011

Who can attend: programmers, coders, designers, artists, creatives, business development, marketing people and really anyone who’s passionate about creating something new, useful and of course…disruptive!

Agenda: (From the site)

Saturday, September 10th

1 pm Registration opens (come fed or bring a brown bag lunch, beverages served)

dedicated area for people to network to form hack teams

2 pm Hacking Kickoff

3 – 9 pm API workshops scheduled in 30 minute intervals

7 pm dinner

midnight food and snacks

Sunday, September 11th

7 am breakfast served

9:30 am hacking concludes and hacks submitted to wiki

10 am general public welcome to enter to attend hackathon presentations

10:30 hackathon presentations begin

approximately 2 pm hackathon will conclude with final awardsand recognitions will be provided by the judges. The final awards may be held earlier or later depending on duration of hack presentations

Is a Hackathon Right For You?

Gathering together to build something amazing and useful would be the simplest description of a hackathon.  It’s actually not about hacking computer systems!  Hackathons usually focus on a specific programming language or around a vertical like government but hackathons can also be used to build control interfaces to physical devices like some folks at Google did with their robot hackathon.

People usually get together on a regular basis and it seems meeting weekly is pretty popular here in San Francisco.  A hackathon can also be a one time event over a weekend.  Before arriving at one, you may or may not know anyone else.  For the Ruby on Rails study group I’ve been attending, it will now be converted to a weekly hackathon where we come together to work on our on projects.  A few benefits of participating in hackathons inlude:

  • Ability to connect with other people who share your interests
  • Learn new skills or alternate ways of completing tasks
  • Increased accountability for project progress
  • Get help for your project
  • Share ideas and help others and contribute to the community

What happens?

At a hackathon, you show up with your laptop, a project idea and a willingness to be flexible.  From there, introductions are made, there’s usually pizza and beer involved and a meet and greet.  There is usually some sort of method to help connect people and help them network because let’s be honest, most programmers and geeks are socially awkward, even I am (although many people who meet me just don’t believe the inner geek battles I have with reading social cues), and so ice breakers are a must for a hackathon.  From here, there may be a relaxed or formal schedule to check in with progress, a resource area and a final presentation with or without feedback.

Wikipedia describes a hackathon as:

hackathon, a hacker neologism, is an event when programmers meet to do collaborative computer programming. The spirit of a hackthon is to collaboratively build programs and applications. Hackathons are typically between several days and a week in length. A hackathon refers not simply to one time hacks, but to a specific time when many people come together to hack on what they want to, how they want to – with little to no restrictions on direction or goal of the programming.

Launch A Lean Startup.

If you live in San Francisco, chances are you’re into technology one way or another.  If you’re working in the field, nursing along a side project on the weekends or find your calendar full of events, sign up for the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon.

Attend TechCrunch Distrupt For Free

In addition to having a great time, meeting new folks and working on something cool, you’ll get a free ticket to attend the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.  If you don’t know already, tickets to this event are $2,000 so participating in the hackathon is a great way to gain access to this conference without coughing up what most people would consider a few mortgage payments!

See You There!

I’ve signed up this year to take part in the hackathon as part of my ongoing quest to learn to program.  After doing Startupweekend in May, I’m certainly a believer of rapid, group iteration spurring powerful new ideas that can gain traction.  I’ve decided to agree the new measurement for success is rapid user adoption and saw several companies last year do just that after launching at TechCrunch Disrupt like CloudFlare, Badgeville and Storify.  I’m also attending TechCrunch Disrupt with a press pass to cover emerging companies and capture great video interviews with Jeffery from Geekazine.

Been to other hackathons?

Have you been to a previous TechCrunch disrupt hackathon?