Where Sexism Comes From


I was reading Heidi Roizen’s blog post about trying to raise a series B round on Sand Hill while five months pregnant [1]. The firm that was going to lead the deal backed down, citing concerns about her role as an expectant CEO.

Maybe that was sexist, but I kind of empathize with them. In fact, they were probably thinking exactly what I was thinking: How is this woman going to run a company between morning sickness and cravings and contractions? Is she gonna have mood swings? What if her water breaks during a board meeting?

I have never been pregnant, nor have my friends, so the entirety of my relevant knowledge derives from TV and cartoons. Shows how little I know, because Roizen did a fine job as co-founder and CEO of T/Maker as a new mother.

My uninformed perspective is much the same as that of males in the tech industry. Is it possible for a girl to code while crippled with menstrual cramps? Can their delicate minds comprehend abstract concepts like thread synchronization?

How would guys know without firsthand experience?

fainting couch

During the Victorian era, it was widely believed that women were fragile maidenferns, and homes were built with fainting rooms to accommodate their frequent dizzy spells.

At the time, knowledge was propagated via literature primarily authored by men, who depicted female histrionic displays as attractive and feminine. Real-life women were not particularly disposed to fainting but did so anyway, because their literary heroines did.

It wasn’t until the post-Victorian age that the Brontë sisters began writing (under male pen names) a new era of propaganda. They preached not just to men but to their own sex, exposing that ladies are in fact strong creatures with the ability to control her own sensibilities.

Man, as man always will do, taking woman at her own valuation, had held upon the whole that these soft emotions proved irrefragably a kind of kinship with the angels… And so the interesting creatures swooned, and screamed, and wept, and sobbed from generation to generation, harrowing the hearts of their lovers and reducing their husbands to despair. It was only when women herself took up the pen, and began basely to open men’s eyes to a sense of the ludicrous in this particular situation, that man began to revise his position. [2]

Current biases against the technical and leadership abilities of women largely stem from a lack of knowledge. How can the tech industry appreciate our talents if they don’t know that we can be talented? The men of Silicon Valley we accuse of sexism likely have not spent much time around women, and that makes me very sad for them.

1. It’s Different for Girls –Heidi Roizen
2. Stephen Gwynn. The Decay of Sensibility, 1899.
Yes, it was written 115 years ago, but it’s still relevant today.

The Best Way to Succeed is to Not Die

I enjoy reading stories about people who fail miserably in life. Maybe I’m a horrible person and it makes me feel better about myself, I don’t know. More importantly, I learn more from reading about the losers than the winners.

mistakes demotivator

In amateur tennis, 80% of the points are lost. Meaning a player gets nothing but net or hits the ball out of the park or… whatever, I don’t play tennis. You beat an amateur by screwing up less than the other guy. You beat an expert by first not screwing up, then executing expert moves.

The same is true for wrestling, chess, and investing.

And companies. The best way to build a successful startup is to not make a suicidal mistake.

Runaway success stories don’t teach you how to avoid amateur mistakes. They present expert moves in singular threads that happened to avoid fatal flaws. In telling the tale of Apple, it’s easy to focus on Jobs’ brilliant design, but then overlook the part where Apple *doesn’t* blow all its cash on marketing.

Besides, one data point is an anomaly; two is a coincidence; three is a trend. Go find three successful companies that followed the same formula. You won’t. But it’s easy to find multiple companies that followed each other to failure.

And then look at all the companies that became wildly successful, only to wither away. Groupon. Yahoo. Dell. Sun. Blockbuster. Kodak. And so on. One sure way to fail: Rely on the same successful technique forever.

Once we’re past the point of not doing things wrong, only then is it possible to start thinking about doing things like an expert.

The Startup Bubble Has Only Begun

I asked a couple of angel investors last week about the current state of the startup bubble. Sentiment was mixed:

Most of the companies getting VC funding generate a small amount of ad revenue, at best.

But many get acquired. As far as investors are concerned, these companies are highly profitable, even if they don’t generate revenue.

If these startups are highly profitable for their investors, is it really a bubble?

A bubble arises from unreasonable expectations of indefinite future growth. There has certainly been explosive growth in seed funding and acquisitions:

Seed Investing Activity

It used to be that angel investors wrote off their investments as charitable donations. But now, seeded companies are getting their Series A financing in months. The expectation is that Yahoo and Facebook will keep buying these pump-and-dump startups, just like AIG kept buying toxic credit instruments from Goldman Sachs back in 2007.


Who will get burned this time?

In 2001, it was the stay-at-home daytraders. But this time, nobody is going to feel sorry for accredited angel investors. So who are the unwashed masses who will ultimately get burned? Maybe it’s the kids who work long hours at crappy seed-stage startups for chump wages and 0.001% equity. Nothing’s cooler than a job at a hot Silicon Valley startup, right? So they work in indentured servitude, hoping to be forever remembered as Employee #X of the Next Google.

Bring in the sheep!

Crowdfunding for startup investments has only just begun. If the JOBS act goes into effect later this year as expected, even non-accredited investors will be able to put seed money into startups. And sites like Wefunder will be right there to help funnel cash from the masses. If this becomes a reality, then the real bubble can begin!


See Also:

There’s A Lot Of Sickness In The Startup World Right Now –BusinessInsider

Obama To Name New SEC Chair, Crowdfunding May Finally Move Forward –TechCrunch

As Crowdfunding Takes Off, SEC Greenlights AngelList’s Investment Platform –TechCrunch