Women Do Tech

Cross-posted from Mozilla

This June, two of my worlds collided beautifully when my employer, Mozilla, announced its sponsorship of a prize for the most privacy-respecting Women Startup Challenge finalist in the EU. On the side, I’d been volunteering with the organizers, Women Who Tech, for three years. So how did this all come together? And why?

When I joined Mozilla in 2011 to help run WebFWD, I was excited to support open source startups and their founders. The role was a great marriage of my experience with venture and startups, along with my desire to support innovation globally. As my role at Mozilla has evolved, my passion to support technologists globally has grown; today in my day job, I get to help our own developers around the world be more productive; and I’m still helping others “outside” Mozilla, as a mentor with WXR Fund and Hackers/Founders.

In 2015 when I met the organizers on a shared dist list, they were (and have since remained) focused on solving one big, persistent problem: less than 2% of all venture funding goes to women-led startups. Note that’s in the U.S.; the EU is a bit better, at 11%, but still far from ideal.

Compelled by the scope (and maddening nature) of the problem (and the tenacity and skill of the Women Who Tech team), I raised my hand. First, I helped recruit some online event panelists, including Julie Wainwright and Rebecca Eisenberg. Later, I helped design the startup challenge and have acted as an online and in-person judge. There I saw firsthand the caliber of the participating teams, which made me further lament the wasted opportunity that the current funding environment poses — not only for women founders, but for all the people they could serve if they only had the funding. Everyone loses.
Judging the first Women Startup EU Challenge in May 2017 @ London City Hall

When a broad mix of humans are behind technology, it leads to better outcomes, both in product and people. And, if you read through Mozilla’s Manifesto, you’ll see that Mozilla cares deeply about not just technology, but how technology impacts humans. While funding is hardly the only disparity between men and women in tech, it is significant, as it determines who will be driving what solutions for our future. For all of these reasons and more, I’m thrilled to see the visions of Mozilla and Women Who Tech come together.

Being Open about Being Open

Last year WebFWD (the accelerator program I run for Mozilla) had the privilege of hosting a few events with Black Founders, a fantastic organization doing great things for tech entrepreneurs. At one of the events I had the pleasure of meeting Chad Whitacre, chief promulgator of Gittip, a radically open organization seeking to change how value is exchanged. Gittip brought along their partner Balanced, a payments processing, escrow and payouts service.

Fast forward a few (or maybe 9) months or so and we all reconnected when Balanced came up with the idea of exploring how “open” extends not only to code, but to business practices. Balanced help us frame the topic with a quote from Eric Raymond, author of the classic work The Cathedral and the Bazaar:

“I expect the open-source movement to have essentially won its point about software within three to five years (that is, by 2003–2005). Once that is accomplished, and the results have been manifest for a while, they will become part of the background culture of non-programmers. At that point it will become more appropriate to try to leverage open-source insights in wider domains.”

I then had the pleasure of moderating a discussion of this with our 4 panelists:

  • Chase Adam, Co-Founder/Vision, Watsi
  • Jaisen Mathai, Co-Founder, Trovebox
  • Matin Tamizi, Co-Founder/CEO, Balanced
  • Chad Whitacre, Founder, Gittip
  • The ensuing discussion was rich, partly due to the broad range of perspectives of these panelists. For example, where Chad shared how he does not pay his staff, Matin stated that he embraces open as simply “good business practice” with a focus is to maximize revenue, margins and shareholder value. For Jaisen, operating in the open is a key vehicle to gain users’ trust: “It’s impossible to stab our customers in the back.”

    What ‘open’ looks like also varied among the panelists. Matin was careful to point out that many people hesitate operating openly out of a misunderstanding of their core value proposition and competitive advantage is. Typically this is NOT the product roadmap (which Balanced publishes), but it IS the brand, customer relationships and the culture.

    Most did agree that operating in the open – sharing product plans, rationale for making key business decisions, etc. – takes a lot of work. It takes energy, time and focus to ensure that these things are communicated in the proper channels, and questions are addressed. Nonetheless, “we’ve never had a debate that was not worth having,” says Chase. However, “it is a challenge to build mechanisms for ingesting all of the information” he adds. Example: Watsi exports all o ftheir quickbooks information (with key user information anonymized) onto their website – before it is audited. This means they got lots of feedback on what is not correct or needs fixing. The benefits of corrected accounting offset the cost of managing all of the feedback.

    Jaisen also shared that his definition of “Free Open Software” is less about offering software at no cost and more about offering a range of choice for software. Trovvebox has over 100 contributors to its source code and many offer strong opinions that help the team continually consider its choices in direction.

    What in summary would these panelists advise others considering running their businesses more openly?

  • Do it early. This was a common theme. It’s harder to open up elements of your business later on, when more stakeholders need to be managed.
  • Be committed. As mentioned earlier, it’s a lot of work to manage an open community and it will take a lot of energy. So be committed to supporting this at the outset, knowing the investment pays off later.
  • DianeGrillsPanelists

    Grilling is fun!

    The Yin-Yang Bang

    It’s that time of year again. Yes, the decorations and trees and sales abound…but what I really mean is…it’s that time of year when we hear 2 familiar ballads.

    Of course, I’m talking about “Happy XMas (War Is Over)” and “Wonderful Christmastime.” Both Christmas songs, both written in the 70s, both written by Beatles, and both tunes that stick to you like a snowflake on a Chrysler.

    That’s where all the similarity stops. As a die-hard Beatles maniac growing up, I became enamored myself with the characters behind the music, and if anything could describe Lennon-McCartney, it would be “yin/yang.” The former raised largely by a single parent and a rebellious child of social services; the latter formed by prestigious education and organized religion. The former cheating on his first wife to marry a modern artist, the latter living 30 monogamous (so we think) years married to an establishment debutante.

    For me, however, their differences are most poignantly illustrated by these two songs. The first is brooding, political, and social in significance and unpleasant to ponder (as was its writer in 1971, the year it was written). And the second? A jingle: catchy, light and easy on the ears…precisely like its writer the year it was written.

    And despite all these juxtapositions, when they collaborated, these two musicians penned perhaps some of the greatest tunes of all time. It’s a nice reminder to me when my yin is countered by a yang. Rather than dissect what is “wrong” with that yang, I have instead learned to intentionally study the strengths that can be had when these forces combine.

    All that said, don’t you think it’s sort of hard to take this dude seriously?