As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Suggest a mega-company female founder name, please!

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Sitting half-alert in eighth-grade civics class,  I once had a moment that rocked me to the core.  The teacher was sharing stats regarding the representation of women in US government. The tiny percentages took my breath away. I could not believe that in a relatively modern era, 50% of the population was just plain missing in every form of government.  I was not shocked on a personal level–I had the full blown optimism of youth that things would be better and different for me.  My reaction was a practical one.  I could not understand how our country could be so short-sighted as to not tap the talents of half the population.

Fast forward to today, and I find I can’t easily forget an equally disturbing experience.

In April I attended a deeply impressive tech conference in Tokyo.  The CEO of Rakuten had assembled a killer-great “who’s who” of prominent tech founders, representing Skype, Twitter, Pinterest, AirBnB, Evernote, Android, Line (fastest growing social network in Asia), Fab, Uber and Square.  It is impossible to imagine such an assembly of modern luminaries together in a room in the US.

At the after-party, I was introduced to the Ambassador to Japan, accomplished tech lawyer John Roos.  We marvelled over the caliber of the event, but then he leaned over to me and said, “But I couldn’t help but notice there were no women on stage.”

That night, at dinner across from Rakuten’s CEO Mickey Mikitani, I passed along my conversation with the Ambassador.  I said, “Mickey if you do this again next year, and there are twelve speakers on stage, two of them should be women.”  He immediately and enthusiastically agreed, and said, “OK who should they be?”

And that’s when the air went out of the room for me, like when I was 13.  I could not think of a single female founder of a hot, contemporary company that an international audience would automatically know.  Not one.  Four months later, and I still can’t.

I can think of One King’s Lane and TaskRabbit.  But would a Tokyo audience really know these companies, like the above company names?  I don’t want the first women on that international stage to be any less qualified.  Or, even worse, from an “old” company.

I really can’t believe the world of high-stakes entrepreneurship is no different than government was when I was a girl.  I MUST be forgetting at least a couple very well known companies with female founders still at the helm.  In any event, I am taking suggestions.  It is crazy to finally be in a seat of influence with nothing to offer.  I am really disappointed with myself, and the world if that is the case.

13 Responses to “Suggest a mega-company female founder name, please!”

  1. sarah

    I couldn’t agree more. I have attended a few tech conferences around Europe and it is the same picture here.

    One woman you might want to put on your radar goes by the name of Tine Thygesen (Denmark) of Everplaces. She is dynamic, energetic, articulate, smart and has built up good experience with a few businesses under her belt.

    I think what’s important is that as long as there are women out there in the world who share the goal and have a desire to make a significant impact in business and keep slogging away with tenacity and relentless persistence, you will see more women on panels like the one you attended in Tokyo. Give me 10 years and I hope to be sitting there next to you!

    • julespieri

      Sarah, Thanks for suggesting Tine Thygesen. I had not heard of her. And…I hope to see you on stage in 10 years…or how about less? 🙂

    • julespieri

      She is a strong suggestion Ann. Wish the product were more universal, for the obvious reasons. But a great business nonetheless.

  2. Jeff Bussgang (@bussgang)

    How about – Rent the Runway (Jenny Hyman), LearnVest (Alexa Von Tobel), Birchbox (Katia Beauchamp). Another would be cofounder (not CEO but Chief Product Officer) of Open English (Nicolette Moreno). Rakuten’s English language initiatives may make this company particularly of interest and they have become a huge brand name in Latam.

  3. julespieri

    Thanks Jeff. I was setting a bar for international reach and awareness–not sure these three would make that cut. (Despite their general worthiness. I like their importance as real innovators, no matter what.) I do admit that Uber probably did not qualify for that “internationally known” cut either but I would argue the others who assembled in Tokyo did.

    It’s actually hard to be sure, sitting in Boston, to know which US businesses have broad consumer/tech community awareness in Tokyo, but I will find out.

  4. Kim Scurry

    How about Angie Hicks of Angie’s List or Adi Tatarko of Houzz? But i get your point – not enough women in high places in the tech world. I’m fresh off of reading Lean In which is a real manifesto for women out there!

  5. Gayle

    Its hard trying to pick what to if anything, needs to be changed, is linkbuilding still
    Shared on Digg, they would find this useful!


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