Women Should Do Startups

December 12, 2011 holman

Yesterday Penelope Trunk wrote a guest post on TechCrunch that told us all to “Stop Telling Women To Do Startups”.

Pardon me while I do just the opposite.

Startups don’t need to suck

Trunk’s article has a lot of arguments that just aren’t relevant to the problem of getting more women in startups. Most of them are an indictment against startups in general, and startups simply don’t have to work that way.

[Women] are complaining about the lack of jobs with flexible hours. And I don’t see anyone on TechCrunch addressing that when they address women.

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but hours are bullshit. You don’t need to enforce 9-5 hours at a company. You don’t even need a full 40 hour work week. Companies like GitHub, Heroku, Square, Simple… we’re still in the minority, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s okay to be successful without working 90 hour weeks and forcing everyone to come in at arbitrary hours.

But I can tell that all three times I’ve done it, raising money for a startup has been hell, so I think we should really be asking why anyone would want to try to convince someone to do it.

Yes! Definitely! That’s why I argue “women should join startups” and not “women should join startups and then try to raise a lot of VC money”. Raising VC is important for some companies, but the number of companies that need VC is plummeting each day. For web startups, we have open source frameworks, technologies, and methodologies with decades of investment thrown into them. It’s easier than ever to bootstrap a business. VC doesn’t need to be a limiting factor anymore.

Straw men

There’s some crazy statements in Trunk’s article. Indulge me.

Whoever started the TED Women’s conference is pathetic. Which would you rather say you spoke at? TED? Or the TED Ghetto?

I’d be thrilled to speak at (and attend!) TEDWomen, and I think it’s horseshit to call it a ghetto. TED decided that the topic of women in tech is so important that they devoted a conference to the topic to try to help solve issues of diversity, exposure, and to perhaps help counter close-minded guest posts on sites like TechCrunch.

The people trying to give solutions are as lame as the people pointing to a problem.

Pro tip: if you ever see an argument disparaging both raising awareness and presenting solutions, then something is wrong with the argument.

Try that for a few years, and then tell all the other women you know, who are out-earning the men they know, or taking care of kids, to trade their life for startup life.

That’s an appropriate argument if everyone were money-driven. Startups do offer decent money compared to non-tech industries, but the vast majority of people I know in the industry do it out of love and passion for technology rather than money. We do it to build products, to change the world, and to have fun. If money were our motivator we would have studied asbestos case law.

Everyone should do startups

I want more everyone — including women — to be exposed to the idea of working at a startup or founding a startup. I think it’s one of the best careers on earth. More than any other industry, we’re able to work on interesting problems, create new things, maintain flexible hours, and impact lives across the entire world minutes after we launch a product.

I worry about girls and boys in middle school and high school who are turned off from our industry entirely because they’ve been influenced early on that programming is only for white, middle-to-upper-class, geeky boys. It’s important to raise visibility to everyone — especially young women — that our industry can be both fulfilling and accessible to everyone.

Women should really do startups

I think, for certain women just as much as it is for certain men, that working in a startup can be a wholly positive experience in their lives. That’s why we should encourage more women to join startups. But as much as that’s a nice, benevolent gesture, I also want this for entirely selfish reasons: I think having more women in tech will improve our products, improve our work environments, and improve our industry. Today, startups mostly have a singular (and male!) perspective. On top of that, it’s hard enough to find good talent lately. Hiring for tomorrow means we need to snatch up all of the killer talent that both genders can provide.

Gina Trapani gave a wonderful talk at CodeConf last year about the importance of community in open source software. One aspect was diversity. If you only surround yourself with like-minded individuals, you’re going to end up with solutions that suit that minority. It’s hard to change the world that way. By adding different perspectives to your project or company, you’re able to position yourself to better address the needs of a broader public.

I think it’s harmful for such a visible publication like TechCrunch to suggest we shouldn’t encourage women to join the startup world.

I think we should all be telling women to do more startups.