Is it challenging to be women in tech?

So in the midst of all the craziness in the world, I had the chance to sit with brilliant minds of the tech industry in Indonesia. I shared the stage with Crystal Widjaja (yes, to those of you wondering: THE Crystal Widjaja from Gojek). She’s the co founder of Generation Girl (the Kpop band is Girl’s Generation, so completely different). It’s an NGO that’s focusing on encouraging young women to pursue STEM to improve participation of future women in tech. Prior to that, she was the Chief of Staff and SVP of Business Intelligence and Growth at Indonesia’s tech darling, Gojek. My data scientist, Faris described her as the rockstar of the data world.

And then there was also Melisa Irene from East Ventures as the other panelist. I mean, she’s a powerhouse in the VC space in Indonesia. She was the first female partner of East Ventures and at the time when she was appointed, she was the youngest partner across SEA!

I mean, my resume and track record look like a potato next to these women. When Plug and Play sent me the invite, I thought: a) they must have mistakenly sent the email to me when they intended to send to some other-more-awesome Nadia, and b) what else can I add to this panel that these ladies won’t be able to cover?!

That’s when I realised that this is one of the tendencies most women (myself included) have: to downplay our capabilities and feel that we are not ready for opportunities in front of us. Immediately (well, maybe after a few mins receiving the email to seem cool), I said “yes let’s do it!” And I was so glad I did!

I learnt so much from them and shared some of my experience dealing with “gaps” being a female founder too. Here are some of the key points I noted down from our discussion:

  1. It is a vicious cycle for women in tech

    Lack of funding for female entrepreneurs can stem from the fact that the pool of female founded businesses in the tech space is already very small to begin with. The lack of funding then discourages new/emerging female founders. This chicken and egg situation sucks but we need to see what are the roles each and every one of us can play to tackle it on the supply side as well as the funding side. For example, Irene shared that when she became a partner, she noticed the communication style between male and female founders are very different. And she used that understanding to level the playing field for female founders and listen to them in a different way compared to male founders to derive at the necessary conclusion as an investor. This way, female founders are not just brushstroked with the same evaluation style as our male counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, it does not mean that the bar is lowered for us, it just means that they way investors evaluate the same judging criteria is now more personalised for different type of founders.

    And since we know the pool of female entrepreneurs are smaller, we need to find ways to increase the numbers. Crystal (via Generation Girl) and I (via Inspiring Orchid) both started female empowerment groups to create that support system for women to push boundaries within the tech space. And in each of our personal capacities, we mentor other female founders to encourage them to try and help them thrive in this industry. Eventhough it seems small but together we create small ripples that can eventually create bigger waves that can benefit all women across the industry.
  2. General founders’ traits that investors get attracted to are a mystery

    Before you think I am going to share yet another checklist that include “perseverance”, “graduated from Stanford/Harvard”, “superstar coder”, etc; let me just tell you there’s no absolute formula for this as investors are different. Some will say they like certain companies because all their co founders are from the top tech companies previously, some say they like the founder because he/she is passionate like passionfruit with the problem they’re solving, some will say they like the space the business is in, and 10000000000000001 more different combinations of things that got investors cutting the cheques.

    BUT…..

    There are some key things that you can do to find out what is the tune that these investors usually dance to. And this means doing research about their portfolios, personal preference, industry they’re actively involved in, talk to founders these investors invest with, try to get some insights and if possible get them to recommend you to the investors. Cold emails may work like 5% of the time but warm intro will almost guarantee you the first call with the said investors.

    Although I said the general traits investors find attractive are a mystery but give this article by East Ventures a read. There are many like it out there, so try to find which ones you resonate most with and match those strengths you currently have with the investors who value those things. If there are gaps, and the investors you want to get actually value those gaps more when they decide, then find ways to address it before meeting them.
  3. How to start a business is not to actually start as a business

    Oxymoronic, I know. But when you are thinking about starting something, aim to solve a problem first and then build a business around it. If the problem affects enough number of people and they are willing to pay for the solution you’re building, then you have a business. But if you are solving a particular problem but not enough people feel the pain or not painful enough for them to pay then perhaps it’s a passion project and not a business. And you won’t truly know which one is which until you try it out. Just be curious about solving the problem first rather than trying to make it a business from day one.
  4. You will never have all the chips but the most important thing is to just start

    If you want to wait until you have the best team, the richest investors, the greatest idea the world have ever seen and for Elon Musk to become your neighbour only then you will start working on your idea then I can safely tell you, it’s a hard bar to reach. Start with what you have. Of course, each founders will have different starting points as we all have different advantages to begin with. Some may have the track record from their past employments, some may have the network of investors around them, some may have a crazy revolutionary idea, some have deep pocketed family members to help them start, some have combinations of the above, etc. Find what are your advantages, and get to work. Use all of them and find new advantages by acquiring team members that have different advantages to add to the table, getting people to help you, hustle on your own, whichever you think will help you get to the next milestone. But most importantly, just start.
  5. Societal expectations can be the toughest challenge to beat

Irene, Crystal and I have had our fair share of people telling us how to be/not to be because we are women. Like I have had people telling me that at my age I should be building a family instead of building a company. And I think it can be quite hard to go through (on top of the other generic founder struggles to raise money, try not to run out of money, hire a team, manage the hired team, do sales, unclog the toilet, etc) if you don’t have support system that you can lean on. It’s going to take a long time before society can truly overcome this but within our personal capacity, we can create that environment where our female peers can just share their struggles and get some words of encouragements. There are a lot of female groups popping up globally and most are virtual so you can just post your queries/dilemma and even opportunities to share with other women in that community. One of it that I’m a part of is Elpha.


I hope these help to provide some encouragements to fellow female business owners and those who have the ambition to start something on their own. It’s a scary journey for sure but if you truly believe this is your calling, it will be worth it. And for all you know, if you start and halfway through it you feel that this journey is not for you, it’s okay too. We just need some courage and support to explore our curiosity and see where it takes us 🙂

Love,

Nadia

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