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.

Crowdsourcing the Race to the Bottom

postmates flowers

I just received this email from Postmates advertising flower delivery in San Francisco. Within the hour. For $19.95. Delivery and tip included. That’s pretty darn cheap.

Yesterday, Warren told me about another startup, BloomThat, that also delivers flowers. Ridiculously fast.

You should really be wearing a helmet, sir.
You should really be wearing a helmet, sir.

Why are they doing this? What problem are they trying to solve? Did your wife come home from work in the middle of the day and catch you in bed with the housekeeper, and now you need to send flowers, Ridiculously Fast, before she storms back to the office?

Exactly how big is this market, anyway?

As for the $19.95 flower delivery, they can’t possibly be turning a profit, or even breaking even. Operating at a loss to build hype is the same strategy employed by every failed business that ever patronized Groupon.

As of Monday, startups can publicly solicit funds from investors. You can gauge the quality of these crowdsourced startups for yourself on sites like AngelList. Yes, investors are actually putting money into these things.

You see, this is what half a decade of Zero Interest-Rate Policy does to the country. Thanks to Bernanke, we now have USB-powered sex-toy startups closing multimillion-dollar rounds.


These are all real listings on AngelList. BillMeLater for subprime credit? That’s a winner!

Hire the Engineers without Pedigrees


One of the biggest challenges of a technology startup is finding star engineers. There are plenty of them in the Valley, but we have to compete with companies like Google and Apple who dangle six-figure starting salaries in front of their prospects. Not to mention other employee perks and benefits.

Silicon Valley is a dog-and-pony show where pedigrees command a premium. In the last 3 years, 80% of the startups funded by the top five VC firms had team members from one of either Stanford, Harvard, or MIT.

But apart from investors, who cares?

McKinsey consultants began advocating the War for Talent in the late 90s dotcom boom. With no real metric for measuring talent, managers deferred to the US News rankings of the applicants’ alma maters. This standard has persisted into the present.

McKinsey also advised Enron to recruit the best and brightest. Remember Enron?

Emboldened by the mantra of A players, Enron created an undisciplined, narcissistic company that believed it was too talented to fail.

Enron succumbed to a culture of dishonesty because no A-player was willing to admit failure in a company that was too talented to fail.

Startup employees need to be ready to fail. And they need to be honest when something fails.

The highest-pedigree employees are particularly averse to failure. They probably haven’t had much practice at it. Nobody goes to Stanford for a PhD in Computer Science because they want to embrace risk.

Star engineers don’t even necessarily make the best employees. Intel hired me because I’m a stellar circuit designer, but I spent most of my workdays watching cartoons or hiding in the bathroom. No amount of pedigree can make up for a lack of motivation.

In a startup, anything less than committed passion is death. Will that Stanford PhD you hired remain loyal in your startup’s darkest hour – even with Google recruiters knocking on his door?

Last week, Seth Godin made a case for having a war for attitude, not talent. Motivation and honesty trump skills and talent any day. Cal Newport says that the ability to focus will be the superpower of the 21st century. These three things are all harder to find than an Ivy-League diploma.

You don’t need a degree from Harvard, Stanford, or MIT to be able to focus and yield a positive attitude.

There’s a good argument against purchasing pedigree dogs – they come from a limited gene pool and are often inbred. The same applies to hiring pedigree engineers – get all your employees from the same three universities and your company becomes inbred, narcissistic, and diseased.