Folks, I am an angel investor in tech startups in the US (Silicon Valley, Seattle, San Diego, Utah and other cities), Europe and India as well as emerging markets. I have been eagerly investing in companies for the last 5 years. To date, in any of these cities/countries, I have ‘rarely’ had a woman investor in the investment forums globally. In fact most of the forums have a few women investors but typically they are not very involved. So, what gives?! Seriously , fellow female investors: Why are women not at the table in investing? Women are a massive ‘buying-power/force’ in the global economy, BUT, not at the investment table.
As a result, most angel groups are men, and VC firms are comprised of ‘male’ investors. More importantly, as over the years the number of women have not increased, the ‘male’ investing community globally has not learned how to work with women investors. When we look at investments, we form due diligence teams. I would love to have a few fellow women investors in these teams but it is extremely rare. And of course, when investments are made, board seats are allocated, which as a result of there not being enough women at the table, the boards are comprised of men. No surprise there! Hence, I am often a solo woman investor and the only woman on the due diligence team and on the board. To make matters worse (this really deserves a blog on its own), the bigger problem that we simply don’t have enough women as startup CEO’s or in startups, period! See the pattern. This is 2012, and I never thought I would be having this conversation.
As a result the environment is not terribly inviting and the pattern gets deeper. Hence I see where Dave McClure is coming from. Frankly, an unreal sight: An all male investment team, investing in an all male startup company…Where the hell has my gender disappeared to? We have enormous talent in women execs, technical and talent across the board. Women CFO’s are phenomenal and totally get finance but are not present at the investment scene. The fact that women are not at the table is not a matter of not having the talent (which women do), but a matter of choice and decision.
A huge contributing factor I have found is that startup investments are all about risk. Huge risk. You place a bet. With that comes uncertainty and the possibility of failure. Women often shy away from financial risk (even women with huge net worth) and the possibility of failure is not comfortable. Fear of failure is much more personal for women (as an investor or startup exec) than it is for men. I believe that this has been a stumbling block for women. Not a matter of intelligence, finances, or capability: A sheer matter of risk-tolerance!
There are some fantastic all female investment forums such as Golden Seeds, Seraph Capital Forum and others, who not only are mostly women investors but have great women participants and do invest quite a bit in women led companies. For me it is critical to change the playing field and integrate. Perhaps part of the problem is that we (women) try to hard to separate into groups. While we have female-centric investment forums, I don’t know of forums that are male-centric. I think that we (women) perhaps separate more than integrate, shy away from intimadation and need to hugely up our risk-tolerance ( if we are inclined to invest) and get in the game. As for barriers, our lack of participation has accentuated the barriers. I look forward for us to play harder and be more at the table. I would love to hear your thoughts!
Fellow innovators, I was extremely delighted to read Christine Comaford’s 7/26 Forbes article about the necessity of innovation. Right on! While Christine and I have not met nor have we discussed these elements, we are significantly aligned! As an active disruptor and provocateur, I work with large enterprises to revitalize innovation and grow the vibrant culture of Disruption which is the culture of innovation. I call this the CofD phenomenon. This innovation culture within companies is essential to think actively and deliberately about disruption and innovation. This is the fundamental first step.
I also agree with the other 3 pillars that Christine lays out which discuss the process of assuring that innovation succeeds in a company. However, what I think is perhaps lacking in this article is the fact that we need all levels of a company to be part of the culture of disruption and innovation. While this article discusses the necessity of the rank and file to be encouraged, stimulated to innovate, it is key that the management and all executive layers also have the same plan, drive and motivation. Why do we expect innovation to come from the engineers and not CEO’s and VP’s? I think we need to approach innovation from a ‘total’ company perspective and have the culture be corporate-wide at all levels. The true culture of innovation has everyone involved and engaged in innovation actively.
Secondly, we need a reward system which recognizes and rewards ‘innovation’ as it does ‘delivery’. Not just by a weekly innovation recognition award, but also by creating a culture which blends in innovation performance as it does delivery performance. When my clients ask me what the major obstacles to innovation are and how to create a stronger culture of innovation, I remind them that not only do they yet not have reward systems in place, in some instances, employees feel that they will be reprimanded for innovation as that may be viewed as a loss of focus!
To truly and genuinely create a culture of innovation, we need to involved all levels and recognize and reward the spirit of innovation. We also should remember that innovation is by default ‘experimentation’ which can fail! That failure leads to new ideas and innovation. More on this as we continue the discussion of the culture of disruption and innovation. Let’s keep these dialogues alive and strong!
- Why Disruption is Not Just About Innovation? (lindabernardi.com)
- Ten Ways to Inhibit Innovation (blogs.hbr.org)
- Innovate Or Become Irrelevant: 4 Ways to Use Social Enterprising to Drive Innovation (forbes.com)
Where and how we do we start disruption and innovation?
Disruption and innovation is fairly straight forward in startups. No legacy to deal with. Come out with a great idea, build an offering and off you go. Today with the as-a-service model, this is all super simple to do.
However, disruption and innovation is a bit harder in companies that have a customer base. My formula actually contends that the longer the company has been in business the slower the rate of disruption and innovation. The formula looks something like this:
Length of Time in Business = Slower Rate of Disruption and Innovation
So why is that?
For a number of reasons. Two key reasons are inertia to change (resistance) and the fact that you have a long tail of existing clients that you need to think about when you disrupt existing business models. The latter is directly related to incoming revenue streams that folks don’t want to mess around with.
However, it seems that at some point we need to be willing to bring the disruption in big time! This does mean to be willing to change things around and yes, there is a risk. However, the risk of incremental revenue loss is minimal compared to not staying in business long term!
So, how do we do this? I am finding that the best way is to identify the areas of disruption and innovation which are core to our business and starting a genuine side project to start building the innovation, with a clear intention to change the direction of the product. At the same time preparing the market that things are changing.
If we do not do this and try to stick to our legacy business, things will fail. Think of RIM. In the smartphone revolution RIM missed the mark because if felt that the loyal RIMers (such as myself) would never abandon Blackberries and cross to the i-Side! Shortsighted. Think of how far RIM would have been if it elected to start a project looking at new phone designs instead of continuing the blackberry story… many examples like this. So we need to be willing to bring innovation in , even when painful.
Secondly, the resistance inside needs to be dealt with. I find that this is where the core of the problem lies! Folks that are not willing to change their views and their lens! In the How-to-ProVoke, we talk about how to overcome this inertia and resistance and be on the path to innovation.
Here is the huge surprise…Many time my clients will tell me that if they change there will be an uproar from the market. That is totally false. The market ‘wants’ disruption and innovation. Look at how the global market has embraced Apple, Google, Facebook and others. Claiming the market will not tolerate change is a convenient but irrational excuse. In fact the same ‘market’ will fail a company who refuses to evolve. Think of Motorola, Nokia, Kodak and many more examples.
Would love to hear your thoughts…What do you think?
In ProVoke, we talk about disruption as the necessary element in order to innovate. I think we all agree that major innovation has happened because we have not accepted status quo, but have punctured it, taken risk and created what was deemed to be impossible. Look around you, everything that you see at some point had someone say “that is just impossible!”, “it will never happen”! And yet we have innovated beyond belief and continue to do so.
However, the discussion is not limited to technology alone. Disruption is the key to change and evolve all processes and situations. In any aspect of our life, we get set in doing things a certain way. We become good at it. We become comfortable. Eventually, we get so set in our ways or a way of doing business, that we resist change because we believe that things cannot change.
This applies to business processes, how companies are run, policies and politics. Nothing can evolve unless we recognize everything can and must change at some point.
I recently had a business discussion with a group who told me this is how business is done in our country! It was a deadend statement not inviting any input. Of course, their business model can not change IF they are dead set in believing that it cannot change. Turns out, the business model has to change or else it will fail. It is only a matter of time.
Flexibility in attitude and determination is key to recognize that everything around us is going to be disrupted and will change at some point. Resistance may prolong the process a bit but change will come. The wise approach I have learned is to be flexible and not so dead set in our ways to make the change so painful. Look at everything as if it were fluid and not made of cement. Barriers in communication are formed when one party believes their way is the right way, no matter what that is.
In global business there are cultural differences. These are simply differences not barriers. When I do business in China, India or South America, if we are focused on the end goal in mind, we can succeed. Barriers that are set by us can also be removed by us, independent of cultural differences. In ProVoke, I talk about global disruption and innovation. I firmly believe that global is local in today’s world. To succeed we all have to be flexible.
Would love to hear your thoughts. I am learning each day that to evolve I have to allow things around me to be disrupted and that mindful disruption is the key to progress. You?
It used to be that tech conferences were where customers went to hear about what is new, learn about innovation and network with new ideas, new people, new possibilities.
Today, the majority of tech conferences are ‘vendor-fests’. Great ideas are being presented but for the most part, the participants are other vendors. More and more I am seeing panels made up of vendors/tech providers and the audience made up of the same. Hmmm….something is missing! Where is the customer?
When I ask my enterprise customers why they don’t attend, their answer is as follows:
“These are mostly vendor events for vendors, events are over-priced and frankly I already know what is being presented. And if I want to meet with a vendor they will come to me, so why do I have to fly across the country to San Francisco, Vegas or London to hear what they have to say? And, oh yeah, my budget is totally slashed so I can’t justify going or sending anyone to events.”
Let me qualify and say that I am referring to general technology events and not ‘user group events’. There were over 60,000 people at Oracle’s annual user conference in October 2011 and many (not all) were users/customers. These events are geared towards large established user communities and are most valuable.
However, across the globe each week there is a conference about open source, Cloud, Big Data, Analytics, Social Media, Digital Media (to name just a few). This is where the future is discussed. So, this is where we need actual customers in the room!
I say let’s change the game up big time: let’s make panels to include customers presenting case studies so we are not hearing about a piece of technology from a vendor but hearing HOW customers ACTUALLY use the technology. Then, more customers will come.
The ideal participant make up should be over 50% of the presenters being customers AND 70-80 of the audience customers/users as well. Yes, vendors are key and exhibits are awesome. But let’s have customers speaking with vendors in the exhibit hall rather than a massive vendor fest!
Once we change the game up, increase the learning factor, end-users/customers can justify coming to these events. At a price tag of over $1500 per event plus travel, one needs to justify WHY going to the event is important. It is a matter of time and money.
And it would be even better if event organizers were less focused on getting ‘sponsorship’ dollars from vendors, and instead creating such great substance for the conferences that they are profitable based on attendance fees. Now that will be a great win!
Having said the above, I still believe that there are some great conferences intending to bring great value to the participants (disrupting the norm!) These are the ones that attract my attention. I will be at CloudFair 2012 in Seattle next week and at DoD Enterprise Architecture conference in Miami, FL April 30 – May 2. I look forward to great learning and sharing of ideas in these conferences and look forward to identifying great other ones to participate in
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.