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Amy Schrier

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Surfing + Entrepreneurship: Women Making Waves

Posted: 03/ 7/2012 12:01 pm

Many years ago as a young girl, I wanted to go surfing. It was a rare thing for a girl at that time, in my community at least. The beach that I frequented in Long Island was then very male-dominated. If you don't know much about surfing, you might think... a girl who wants to learn to surf! Why, wouldn't she be welcomed? Well... no. At that time and in my experience many surfers (interestingly, not unlike many venture capitalists) tended to be territorial and gender biased. I quickly learned... unless you really know what you are doing, you will do best to... stay out of the way. Instead of fighting the tide, I took my surf desire to Indonesia, where I learned to surf amidst far more friendly Indonesians. (As you can imagine, the warm water and $5/night bungalows helped too!) Once I had it all figured out, I found my place on my break back home.

That was about 15 years ago. Today, if you go to that same Long Island beach on a sunny summer day you will find so many girls in the water, that you can hardly see the waves! It's wonderful and makes me very happy. Those girls will only go to Indo for fun surf trips, not for solo learning quests like I did. Time passes and things change for the better.

Two weeks ago I wrote a post and asked the question, "Has a Woman Ever Founded a Billion Dollar (Revenue) Company?" This post got a lot of attention, both positive and critical. From Twitter responses I learned about Cher Wang, who co-founded HTC in Taiwan, with more than $3 billion in annual revenue, and Diane Greene who co-founded VMware in Palo Alto, also over $3 billion in annual revenue. All this is fantastic, yet nonetheless, few women generate the superstar entrepreneur status of Richard Branson, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. But surely they are on the way.

Some of the feedback came from a current in the women entrepreneur circle that feels, we should not ask these kinds of questions. We should focus only on the positive progress of the many woman-founded companies out there that are indeed making great strides. I think we can do both and it is positive to ask big questions! To refrain from asking "Why aren't there more billion-dollar companies founded by women," is akin to not asking, "Why has a woman never been president?" (there are, after all, women in Congress). I find the most difficulty answering this question when it is my nine-year-old daughter doing the asking.

I used the phrase "affirmative action" in my post and this was poor choice of words and a mistake. I did not mean to imply that lower caliber companies might be chosen by VCs just because they were women-founded. In fact, there are plenty of high caliber women-founded companies out there simply without VC support. One of the most relevant insights on this came through Twitter from a board member of Golden Seeds, an investment firm focused on women entrepreneurs... it was a report from The Wall Street Journal that cites " "homophily" is the tendency of people to associate with others similar to them in the world of investing... angel investors are more likely to invest with founders of the same gender." So part of the problem lies not with the women or their companies but the demography of the investors themselves. Groups like Golden Seeds, ASTIA and Springboard are doing much to change this.

In any case, my point is not to argue but to bring simple ideas to light. I look forward in my lifetime to seeing so many billion-dollar company women entrepreneurs swimming around that you can hardly catch the IPOs they will be coming in so fast. Surfing and starting companies are two of the most fun and most challenging things I know of, and we should all be collaborating to see as many women as possible doing both.

 

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