Want to Succeed? Start with Confidence

Business team

Every time I read an article about what women need to do to get ahead in the male-dominated tech world of VCs and startups, I cringe. The prescription feels simplistic, but this is not a simple problem.

Fiona Murray’s recent Boston Globe Magazine piece, “Playing by the Rules,” recommended wearing a uniform, speaking confidently, networking and watching sports to get ahead. Don’t get me wrong — I am sure these tactics can help, and the research is fascinating (she found that “companies pitched by men were about 40 percent more likely to receive funding than those led by women”). But should we all just become avid football fans? I, for one, will take a thoughtful David Sedaris essay in The New Yorker over football any fall Sunday.

At the heart of Murray’s recommendations is the fact that women need to take action today while we work on solving the broader education, political and economic issues we face. Here are the bleak facts we already know:

One of my favorite VCs once said that it’s just as important to be convincing as it is to be right. Confidence breeds success. We need to do a better job at mentoring women in confidence strategies. In a piece for Forbes, Dr. Candida Brush wrote, “In contrast to young men, young women are less likely to see opportunities, have a higher fear of failure and therefore, less likely to engage in entrepreneurship.” HSBC USA Chief Executive Irene Dorner echoed this when she talked about the problem of the “sticky floor” in The New York Times.

But confidence is teachable. It’s not something anyone is born with. When I quit my job to start InkHouse, my business partner and I would joke that we were faking it until we made it. We weren’t faking our knowledge about PR campaigns. We were faking the confidence of a much larger organization as we asked clients to take a bet on our nascent agency.

I won’t pretend to know how to solve this very large problem, but in my small microcosm of the business world, I have seen the following tactics work for the women who succeed. As female entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility to foster the next generation by teaching them to:

  • Speak up and speak confidently. Don’t save your ideas for post-meeting emails to your boss. If you have a seat at the table, show that you deserve it.
  • Walk into a room like you belong there. Smile, hold your head up, make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, and don’t mess with your outfit. First impressions are made in seconds, and they are based predominantly on non-verbal cues.
  • End thoughts as statements, not questions. If your voice goes up at the end of a statement, it sounds like a question and conveys uncertainty.
  • Eliminate the words “I think” before a recommendation. “I think” is a subliminal disclaimer that your idea might not be a good one. State your recommendation as though it is fact and others will consider it more seriously.
  • Become comfortable with silence. After articulating a recommendation, let the idea percolate. Be comfortable letting your audience thoughtfully consider your point. Don’t fill that thinking space with chitchat.
  • Be present. Listen first, and then formulate your response. Pay attention to the people in the room. Are they confused, interested, distracted? Base your next statement on their cues, not the thought you’ve been waiting to blurt out.
  • Find a way to say no by saying yes. We’re accused of taking on too much, and never saying no. There is an eloquent and productive way to say no. It could simply be that saying yes means you must put another project on the back burner. Lead with the yes, and follow up with the caveat.
  • Practice speaking in front of a large room. The only way to keep that warmth from coming up your neck and into your face when you present is to do it over and over again. Eventually, it will become second nature.
  • Do your research first. Lead with the facts. Knowledge inspires confidence. And knowledge confers authority onto your recommendations.
  • Use your personality to your benefit. Do not try to morph yourself into a man, or someone else’s vision of a successful career woman. Even if your boss is dictating the points you must make in a critical meeting, say them in your words. Only then will you deliver the message well.
  • Seek feedback selectively. If the meeting felt good to you, it probably was. Asking for needless feedback is not something a confident man would do. In the business world, no news is often good news, so take it as such.
  • Don’t default to apology in the face of scrutiny. Apologize only when you have done something wrong, not because someone doesn’t like your idea. You only have to own the mistakes you actually make. In all other scenarios, listen to the other person’s point of view respectfully, and calmly present your challenge.
  • It’s okay to say you don’t know. Find out the answer and come back with a solid recommendation. Of course, you should make sure that you know the answer nine times out of 10.

I will end with some good news. For every 10 men starting a business, there are eight women who are doing the same. Let’s make it 10 for 10.

Beth Monaghan is principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing, a PR and content marketing agency with offices in Waltham, MA and San Francisco, CA. She blogs at InkLings and you can find her on Twitter @bamonaghan.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What Rapt Media’s Erika Trautman Learned From Pitching 200 VCs


We expect a lot out of our content these days. We’re inundated with ads, articles, pictures, Tweets, status updates, email, and YouTube. And that’s just online.

It takes something special to really catch our attention, much less make us want to share the content with others.

Emmy-award winning producer Erika Trautman understood that when she decided to produce a video-based, gamified web series. As she and her husband–a game developer at NAMCO–played with the technology, they had an epiphany.

This could really help other people online, too.

So, the couple sold their Bay Area house, used the profits to move to Boulder, CO, and started Rapt Media. They hired their first engineer with personal money and no guarantee anything was going to work.

When Rapt Media was accepted to the 2011 class of Techstars Boulder, things began to look up. World class accelerators, great mentors. Surely the business would only be successful, right?

Well, except the Demo Day for that year’s batch happened to fall on the same day as the debt ceiling crisis.

“Investors were just getting up and leaving,” Trautman told me over the phone.

Despite the stressful Demo Day, Rapt Media ultimately raised all the money they needed, though it came in dribbles instead of one, fully subscribed seed round.

Trautman recently talked about her experiences raising capital as a woman in a post on Entrepreneur.com.

“I think there’s an inherent challenge for women telling the “Billion Dollars or Bust” story, or at least there was for me…Don’t get me wrong. I want nothing less than to reinvent online video to make it richly interactive. And I want Rapt Media to lead that billion-dollar expedition.

But the process of building a company is iterative and I focus on the next set of milestones and the next risks to be mitigated. If the guys are great at describing the view from the top of the mountain, then I’m the one focused on putting one foot in front of the other to get to the next ridge.”

Despite the challenges of raising capital as a woman, Trautman made it happen. She believed in her company and its ability to change how video is done.

I asked her if she ever felt nervous or uncomfortable, pitching a room full of male VCs who were used to hearing male CEOs tell those great stories. She laughed and referenced her background in journalism.

“No investor was a drug lord who could order a hit on me, so I would probably be okay.”

Rapt Media is a company that, by common wisdom, “shouldn’t” work. They moved from the Valley when so often companies move the other direction. They have a woman CEO in a male-dominated industry.

But with clients like NBC Universal, HBO/Cinemax, Maybelline, and One King’s Lane, they are working. And their innovative videos are proving valuable to clients, a feat other forms of video have never done.

While Trautman recognized that being a female CEO created some challenges, she has never really felt that it hindered her.

“It’s about taking your individual style and strengths and applying that to strategy,” she said.

And that’s true no matter your gender or location.

Do Women-Only Initiatives Really Help Women?


women in technology

Recently I’ve noticed an uptick in “women-focused” pitches in my inbox. It seems in the last year there has been a lot of momentum in the “women-focused” space. Women accelerators, women incubators, women crowdfunding sites, women angel funds.

We’ve covered some of those initiatives here and here at Nibletz, but I have to admit I’ve been a little ambivalent about doing so. Take this line from a recent pitch:

Women need all the help they can get.

Wait. What? I need all the help I can get just because I’m a woman? That’s news to me.

I’ve been told all my life that I can do anything I want to do, that nothing can hold me back except myself. I’ve been told that I’m smart and creative and most likely to succeed. And no one ever felt the need to add, “for a girl.”

Because here’s the thing, y’all:

Women in 21st century American cities are the privileged of the privileged.


We are more educated than we’ve ever been in history and more so than many of our male counterparts.

Our mothers and grandmothers did the grunt work by forcing our inclusion in the workforce in general, and now we have the option to “opt out.

No longer expected to pop out babies every year, we are having children later and later. Or never.

In a recent interview with PandoDaily CEO Sarah Lacy, she told me, “People get mad at me for saying this, but I don’t believe Silicon Valley is inherently sexist. I raised $3 million, brought my baby to meetings, and didn’t have a cofounder.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s true for everywhere else now, too. Are there sexist and biased individuals out there? Of course. Are there systems still in place from a sexist past that need to be revamped? Sure, and the flood of educated, successful women will eventually take care of that.

But there’s something wrong when we treat half the population like a minority or special interest group. Women don’t need all the help we can get because we’re women.

Just like the men around us, our intelligence and creativity and hard work earn us the right to ask for the help we need.

However Niels Bohr was right when he said, “The opposite of a great truth is also true.” While women as a whole may not need focused efforts, there are subsets of women that can benefit from programs that reach them specifically.

One interesting take on the women-focused front is a group called Bella Minds. They are currently running a crowdfunding campaign, and they are interesting because they focus education efforts on women in rural areas.

Women in these areas are watching their way of life die around them, and without immediate connections to big cities, they may not be aware of their options. Bella Minds hopes to offer the kind of mentorship and education urban women take for granted, a specific mission that will open options up to women who are smart enough and driven enough to take them.

Another subset of women that could benefit from focused attention is entrepreneurial women in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. These women are fighting years of cultural oppression and live in societies that are truly patriarchal. They are still the outliers in their cultures, and any support they can get will help drive both them and entrepreneurship in general.

It’s a nuanced issue, for sure, and a blog post will never solve the world’s problems. Ultimately, there are situations in which special help for women is actually needed.

But based on my inbox alone, I fear those initiatives are getting lost in the noise.


Fortune Names the 2013 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs


At Nibletz, we love to hear and tell stories of awesome women entrepreneurs. People often think that women are getting the short end of the startup stick, but when you look around, it’s easy to see female-led companies excelling in almost every space.

Fortune agrees that it’s important to celebrate women entrepreneurship. Since 2009 they have come out with a list of the 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs of the year. Women like Susan Koger of ModCloth, Sheila Lirio Marcelo of Care.com, and Rashmi Sinha of Slideshare have all been on past lists. In order to be considered, companies must have revenue in the $1 million to $25 million range. They aren’t necessarily household names (yet!), but the Fortune panel believes they have created innovative solutions that will become global.

This year’s list includes a woman making the construction industry more “green” and the founder of ticketing company Eventbrite. Many of the women have built companies around problems they themselves encountered in every day life. Frankly, if Sari Davidson had invented the SippiGrip when my kids were babies, my life would have been totally different!

What I find interesting about this list, though, is the age of the women included. We usually think of startups as a youth-only space. Hoodies and all-night hackathons are for 20-somethings. However, the youngest woman in the group is 31, and the average age is 43. For the most part, they aren’t building tech giants, but they are solving real problems in innovative ways.

The ten women on this year’s list will be honored at the 2013 Most Powerful Women Summit that starts today in Washington, DC. Here are the women included:

Find out more at the Fortune Conferences website.


3 Ways Women Can and Should Have It All

Women entrepreneurs, startups, startup tips, guest post, yec

A generation after many prominent feminists encouraged women to “have it all,” we continue to decry the absence of women in politics, business, and other positions of power. At the same time, even though there is more opportunity for women now than ever before in history, some professional women argue that we can’t or shouldn’t want to have it all.

But is it really too much to have a prominent career and a family? Must we make just one choice to tip the balance of power?

I don’t think so — women can have it all, and here is how:

1. Define what “having it all” means to you. Like many women, I didn’t want to work so hard for someone else that I wouldn’t have time for a family. Not only did I want to have a successful career and a family, I wanted the freedom to do the kind of work I pleased.

Yet working for a branding firm in Manhattan, I found myself staying late and coming in on weekends to represent products and companies I didn’t believe in. I was frustrated. I realized that what I wanted most was more control over my hours and over the people, companies and products I worked with.

2. Strike out on your own — gradually, if needed. If you want to avoid what Anne-Marie Slaughter calls the “time macho” of male-dominated corporate culture, why not start a business or a freelance career?

Like any major transition, owning your own business can be a gradual process. After several years of working for a company, I had enough confidence in my work as a graphic designer to strike out on my own and start freelancing. While freelancing, I developed relationships with businesses, potential clients, and other entrepreneurs who wanted to partner with me.

I developed an interest in branding and eventually in how alternative forms of cause marketing could alter the marketplace (and people’s lives). Slowly but surely, I found my way and gradually built a life of freelancing into a business.

3. Make your own rules. Maybe you can accomplish the same amount of work in 50 hours that others can in 90 hours. Maybe you work better from home; maybe you work better at night. Maybe you are more creative if you get enough sleep and spend time with your family. Maybe you want to measure success by results rather than how much time you have logged. Or maybe you think your employees will do better work if you treat them well.

In a world where you set the rules and the measure of success, it is possible to create an alternative culture. It is possible to stop asking to be part of the game (or trying to fit into the game) and start your own game instead.

Over time, I was able to choose clients and associates who shared my vision of a business in which success would be measured by more than revenue, a business that would help make the world a more humane place.

I still work hard, but I choose my own hours, and all my work fuels a vision I have for my new company Maiden Nation — a community devoted to the idea that women can live the lives they imagine for themselves.

You can live the life you imagine, too. The first step is knowing what that looks like.

With degrees in Anthropology from Columbia University and Design from Parsons, Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown represents a brand development vanguard uniting global, technological, and social concerns. She has introduced leading international brands, like Sony Ericsson, into the North American market. Additionally, Elizabeth has founded many sustainable branding initiatives including Choose Haiti and launched this Fall, Maiden NationShe is the co-founder of Maiden Nation and studioe9.com.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.



David Tisch On The Biggest Bullshit VC’s Tell Women Founders & Entrepreneurs

David Tisch,Women entrepreneurs, women startups,techcrunch disrupt,alexia tstotisAlexia Tstotis sat down with a pretty powerful VC panel at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC 2013 on Tuesday morning. The panelists were Mike Abbott (Kleiner), Aaref Hilaly (Sequoia), Naval Ravikant (AngelList) and David Tisch (Box Group, former Techstars NY).   Tstotis asked some great questions of the panelists and overall the panel shed a lot of light on the world of VC, especially for young entrepreneurs and startups.

Tstotsis final question revolved around women in technology, startups and entrepreneurship.  Everyone wants to know what will help even out the amount of venture capital going to women founders, as their male counterparts.

Overall the number of women involved in VC and angel backed startups has been increasing. Lot’s of attention lately, has been focused on women run, and founded startups. We even feature a “Bad Ass Start Up Chick” on a regular basis here at nibletz.

At the panel though David Tisch, who’s known for speaking his mind and off the cuff, got applause from the audience when he talked about one of the biggest problems women face when in the meeting, pitching the VC.

“VC’s that tell a woman founder, let me ask my wife…It’s total bullshit” and he’s right. For years there have been women led companies, women focused brands, and women focused technologies, this is nothing new. Tisch felt it was off-putting and a total cop out for VC’s to say this, but as he points out, it happens all the time.

Check out the video clip from this morning’s panel below.

Check out more of our TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 coverage here.


When VC’s Hear Entrepreneur They Think “Man”

Women Entrepreneurs, Clayman Institute, Sexism,startups

(image: womenentrepreneurshq.com)

A new study from the Clayman Institute for gender research at Stanford suggests that there is still a major gender bias in how Venture Capitalists view women entrepreneurs. While we love to celebrate entrepreneurship among women, and have done so with our recently launched“Bad Ass Startup Chicks” feature and by having women focused panels at everywhereelse.co The Startup Conference, not everyone is quick to recognize the female entrepreneur.

Business Insider has an advance of the study which says that women only receive 4.2 percent of venture capitalist fuunding.

At the heart of the study was a project where the researchers created identical executive summaries for a startup. They then modified the education and gender of the fictional entrepreneur and asked participants to rate the venture’s likelihood of success and their impression of the entrepreneur.

The three key takeaways were:

– Women with a technical education and background raised the confidence in the VC’s and their willingness to meet and potentially invest.

– Women without a technical background received “significantly lower” ratings. Even if they had business degrees, which often help men, they were harmful for women.

– Network ties were incredibly critical for women.

“What we found was that having a technical background helped both men and women,” said Stanford’s Andrea Davies Henderson. “But it helped women more, in terms of likelihood to invest a higher percentage, and likelihood to schedule a meeting with an entrepreneur.”

“Not having a technical background hurt women — it hurt their chances of securing a meeting and securing funding,” Henderson continued. “But it didn’t hurt men.”

Women in startups, entrepreneurship and business have been a hot button topic since the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. The Clayman Institute was the academic partner for the book.

Find out more here and here.

Check out these stories on women founded startups.

Kick Ass Female Founders From Everywhere Else At everywhereelse.co The Startup Conference

Sarah Ware, Markerly, Women Entrepreneurs, everywhereelse.co The Startup ConferenceGirls Rock, Right?

If you’re a regular reader of nibletz.com, the voice of startups everywhere else, then you know here we celebrate startups across the country and around the world outside the valley. We call this “everywhere else”.

Startups from “everywhere else” are typically “grittier”, and work harder. After all, startups that raise money outside Silicon Valley know that their investors actually expect to see the money back, and that’s of course if you can score funding in the first place. There are lots of other factors that entrepreneurs deal with in entrepreneurial pockets across the country and around the world that you don’t find in Silicon Valley.

Sometimes startups elect to build their companies in their home town and they may be located in a town that’s more familiar with health tech, ed tech, or logistics. There are a number of verticals depending on what town you live in, that may not mesh with what you’re team is working on.

Talent is one of the other big issues that startups everywhere else face. It’s harder to attract or keep talent in different cities across the country and around the world. A lot of talented designers, engineers and hustlers often times move to Silicon Valley or other high density metropolitan areas looking for higher paying jobs.

Now take all of those challenges and add into the mix that you’re a woman with a great idea and you may find that things get even tougher for you.

At everywhereelse.co the startup conference we’re holding a panel discussion on Monday after lunch highlighting some “kick ass female founders from everywhere else”. Women who’ve been able to push on no matter what came their way. We’ll hear from established entrepreneurs who’ve had major success with their companies. We’ll hear from great startup founders like Sarah Ware from Markerly, Brandy Wimberly from Buyvite, Natalie Novoa from Teachmeo and severeal others who’ve launched startups in the last year.

This panel discussion will be part panel and part town hall session for the over 500 women who’ve bought tickets (as part of the 1790 tickets sold so far). For the Q&A part, Memphis entrepreneur Danielle Inez will help field and select the questions. 25 year old Inez has her own Memphis PR company and launched a startup of her own at the Upstart Memphis 48 Hour Launch in December. When it comes to startups Inez is wet behind the ears and still soaking up every bit of knowledge she can get, but she has the attitude, energy and perseverance that many of these other women have. We also have a special guest that will speak about her trials and tribulations in building a huge company.

Tickets and Startup Village booths, for the nearly sold out everywhereelse.co The Startup Conference can be purchased here. We’re almost to the 2000 capacity mark so hurry!

Founder Of Memphis Startup Mentor.Me Crowdfund’s In Person For Everywhereelse Booth

mentor.me, Memphis startup, upstart memphis, women entrepreneurs, startup,startups,startup pitch video, crowdfundingThis weekend was a big weekend for Memphis entrepreneurs, specifically women founders and entrepreneurs. Upstart Memphis, the latest initiative by Launch Memphis, officially kicked off with the 48 Hour Launch, women’s edition.  During the 48 hour period four women CEO’s from Memphis built 4 exciting new startups; Care2Manage, AfocusED Path, Pink Robin Avenue and Mentor.me.

Throughout the weekend the women were rushing to gain as much business knowledge as they could, test their idea out and validate it with customers, and work on their pitch deck. They were also competing for a free booth space at the upcoming “everywhereelse.co The Startup Conference” event being held in Memphis in February.

The three day event is bringing entrepreneurs, founders, and investors from across the country and around the world to Memphis for three days of startup knowledge. A smorgasboard of panels, discussions, fireside chats, networking opportunities and parties. There’s a huge list of nationally known speakers as well. (here’s more info on the event).

Mentor.me is solving a big problem for non profit groups that are linking mentors with mentees. Until now the systems used by most mentoring non profits has been flawed.

For instance Brittany Fitzpatrick said in her pitch that a few people she knows that connect mentors and mentees have to go through thousands of applications and then they link mentors with their mentees by looking at a simple sheet of paper. This paves the way for bad connections and relationships. We also learned that most mentor relationships dissolve in six months or less and that’s actually worse for the mentee than not having been mentored at all.

Check out Mentor.me’s Friday pitch:

And here’s Fitzpatrick’s Sunday pitch:

Fitzpatrick’s web based platform will allow both mentors and mentees the opportunity to build a much more robust profile with likes, interests, needs and goals. This way both the mentor and the mentee have a better chance at vetting each other out to see if they’re likely to be compatible.

When the judges convened after hearing all four pitches on Sunday evening it was a very close call between Mentor.me and the startup that won, Pink Robin Avenue.

Undeterred, once Fitzpatrick realized she wasn’t the winner she started approaching the folks in the audience with a simple proposal, help me get my startup into the conference.

Very quickly Fitzpatrick got sponsored to the beat of $265 and at that point I kicked in the last $30 to get her startup into the conference.

Hopefully both Fitzpatrick and the winner Danielle Inez, will wow the investors the way they wowed the judges this weekend and raise some venture capital.


Check out Upstart Memphis here

Check out “everywhereelse.co The Startup Conference” here