hackNY Summer Series: Joanne Wilson (a.k.a. Gotham Gal)

In this post 2012 hackNY Fellow Cheryl Wu describes the hackNY Summer Series lecture by Joanne Wilson (a.k.a gotham gal).

Thank You for Existing

hackNY had the pleasure of having Joanne Wilson speak to us two weeks ago. Immaculately dressed and articulate, yet brutally frank, Joanne is an indispensable angel investor in the New York tech scene who’s helped many startups take off. Even though she’s a shrewd businessperson who doesn’t take any bullshit, she invests and mentors startups without the extreme self-interest of others in the angel and venture capital field. She’s also an inspiration for all women.

Joanne gave us incredible information about different ways of raising capital as well as personal case studies of startups’ early-stage problems. She spoke honestly about what is required in creating a startup (blood, sweat, and bulletproof legal documents) as well as her experience as a businessperson. This is especially cool because we’re all ambitious, inexperienced young adults and therefore highly exploitable. Her work ethic is amazing; being an angel investor is her 18th career, she’s a wife and a mother, and yet she mentors every startup she invests in and helps set them up for success by assembling an advisory board and even helping with documents. Unlike other investors who invest in many billion dollar ideas, hoping for one success and disregarding all others, Joanne isn’t predatory in her investments. She funds businesses of all levels, and she wants every startup she invests in to succeed, rather than building in failure.

However, more formidable than her sheer accomplishments and knowledge is her position as a female in the male-dominated business and technology worlds. She proves that being a powerful woman and operating in a still-inequitable space need not be the ordeal that it currently mostly remains. Joanne is a remarkable role model to any woman with interest in entering “boys’ clubs” such as the two she’s professionally affiliated with, business and technology. With her successes, she validates (and reiterates) that women in these fields don’t need to sacrifice their femininity nor succumb to male paradigms such as bro culture. Nonetheless, she doesn’t buy the sophistry of saying femininity is the only selling point of women entrepreneurs. We can be strong alpha females without needing to be subordinate to men. On the other hand, we do not need to be scared into only working in “feminine” or “ladylike” spaces, such as building only for other women like marriage or fashion sites. While these are vital, important communities for the women involved, we as a gender do not need to be pigeonholed into these limited ambitions. It’s important that we are women, and it’s important that women bond together, but it’s no longer relevant for us to ONLY be noted for being women. Women may think differently than men, but that should be viewed as valuable, not dismissed as “women being women” or supplanted with period or kitchen jokes.

As an aspiring entrepreneur and a woman myself, I don’t want to conflate the two anymore. We need recognition in the tech world not just for having two X chromosomes. The whole “oh cute look at this girl doing tech things awww that’s adorable” perspective that women are faced with nowadays comes with incredibly painful condescension that is really not needed or appreciated. We don’t need to be coddled nor even treated better: women just need to be treated equally to men, without any preconceptions. I think Joanne believes in the same dream—that women can have it all, someday—and she is a shining, valuable example that this ideal is possible. Thank you, Joanne.

hackNY Summer Series: Jonah Peretti

In this post 2012 hackNY Fellow Samuel Stern describes the hackNY Summer Series lecture by Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed.

Last week the HackNY fellows got to hear from Johan Peretti, founding member of The Huffington Post and current CEO of BuzzFeed.  I thought this was an awesome talk, so I decided I’d write this week’s HackNY blog post and talk about what I took away from the experience.

First of all, the most interesting part about Jonah was that he is not a hacker in the traditional sense.  He never (to my knowledge) built any world-changing software or took down a famous website.  Instead, he is a social hacker with an incredible understanding of how to properly utilize technology.   Jonah led off with a story about how a snarky email exchange he had with a Nike representative went viral, and how this lead to his fascination with internet epidemics and the power of social media.   He proved that these events are not random, but rather predictable given the right set of conditions.  After his accidental Nike fame he successfully experimented in engineering viral stories and was even able to teach others (graduate students) how to do the same.

This is how Jonah became a vital part of the Huffington Post.  He understood how to prioritize the articles and photos that would have the largest impact on the web, and how to do so with empirical testing rather than the guess-and-check methods employed by most media websites at the time.   While everyone and their sister wants to make a social experience now, Jonah understood the potential of social over a decade ago (that’s a long time in tech years).

After from his incredible ability to bend the web to his will, the second most interesting thing discussed at the talk was his advice about raising capital.   I have no experience raising money for a startup, but I always thought that it’s all about getting meetings with the right people and making a convincing pitch.  Jonah posited that an even more important factor in meeting with investors is concurrency.  Investors will be more likely to buy into your idea if they know that you are simultaneously in talks with their peers due to the competitive nature of the industry.  He said that as an entrepreneur looking to raise money the goal is not only to get many investor meetings but also to get them all at once.

Overall this was a great tech talk, and it got me thinking about my future in startups.  Jonah’s advice for an idea was to find something that can be done right now that couldn’t be done without modern technology (social or otherwise) and take it to the next level.  That’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about going forward.