Over the past few months I've renewed my relationship with Women 2.0's Founder Friday on the first Friday of each month. In that time, I've had a lot of different experiences but one thing remains the same for me - they are a place where I can refill the tank and be inspired by the diversity of humans and also the tenacity and creativity of how they go at what they are trying to do - exactly as I am in my life. And the fact that they support women in getting out there to create amazing things.
Let’s visit with just a few of the people that I met last month so you can begin to understand what makes this event such a unique experience.
My evening in May started with a wonderful conversation with one of the Bluxome Winery staff – the home of SF Founder Friday for the past few months. As we chatted he explained that he was part of the team that runs the winery, which sells a variety of wine by the glass and has the casks artfully displayed creating an inviting ambiance but also proving that they are a working business. He told me how they work with the casks and make sure that acidity and pH are constantly controlled for the best fermentation, pointing out the open laboratory in the back of the room. For me, that just adds a little spice to an already interesting situation.
Then I fell into conversation with Annika Dubrall who is fascinated by sustainable sourcing for clothing manufacturing. She had started in ecommerce and then the non-profit world before deciding that to pursue her passion she needed to be working in larger, corporate clothing enterprises. The biggest challenge was finding a story that showed the relevance of her non-profit work in a corporate environment. She found a good fit with Gap Inc and is enjoying the process of understanding the broad complexities of worldwide sourcing. I was inspired by her experimentation and returned to my own storytelling with some new ideas.
One conversation I've been having fairly frequently at Founder Friday gatherings is about how to get comfortable with having an online presence in social media. It's fascinating to hear which platforms make sense to each person and which don't. As someone who has become enamored with Twitter and Instagram, has a strong working relationship with Flickr and YouTube and doesn't use Facebook except to watch others feeds, I'm always listening for how people come up with their own strategies for moving through these worlds. Annika finds Twitter to be a time sink and have to do in her week so we agreed to meet in person to see if we couldn't find the fun.
In the midst of the conversation with Annika I discovered that her husband, Jigar Mehta is also an entrepreneur who is in early stage development on an integrated social media platform called GroupStream. It creates an intriguing storytelling experience by pulling existing updates from FB, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to tell cohesive stories on a certain topic over a specified period of time. With his background in journalism and digital storyteller in many forms, it'll be fun to see where the company goes.
I find the intermix of husbands/wives, dating couples and business partners of different skills in this world to be fascinating. It's a returning theme throughout the night.
Then I saw a woman who I first met at the January Founder Friday, Kisha M. Richardson. Kisha has quickly become one of my favorite people as I so admire her programming and business building ability. We've met many times over the past few months to cowork and keep our sense of humor well charged in our constantly changing lives. She was excited to announce the alpha launch of her newest endeavor - The Seed Project. This is a stunning project that allows bootstrapping entrepreneurs to earn seed money to fund the early stages of projects without equity or debt obligations, so they can build teams and traction faster, and also build a track record that allows them to potentially find angel or venture funding down the road. Wow!
This is exactly the type of person you meet at Women 2.0 Founder Friday.
At 7 pm each Founder Friday there is a presentation done by women founders from the area. They tell stories of the adventures of starting up, as a woman, mother, wife, partner and soloist. These are always inspiring to me, and one of the big draws to this event. There's a real feeling of, "if I can do it, so can you."
Over the past few months we've heard from:
- Julia Hu - CEO/ Founder of Lark
- Tracy Lee - Founder/CEO of Dishcrawl
- Leah Busque, Founder & Chief Product Officer- TaskRabbit
- Willo O'Brien, Co-Founder & VP of Marketing -Stitchlabs
My good friend Willo has happily found a home at Stitchlabs where they make the world easier for all of the independent craft and small product folks with a set of great services.
- Michelle Zatlyn, Co-founder & Head of User Experience - CloudFlare The biggest company you've never heard of and an interesting story of finding and growing an amazing technical niche.
- Julia Hartz, Co-Founder & President of Eventbrite
Julia told a funny set of stories about growing a baby and a startup all at the same time.
- Susan Gregg Kroger, Co-Founder of ModCloth
It's always fun to hear a "I started it in a dorm room" and kept it going for a long time in my house story. Very inspiring to see a great idea come to life.
- Jessica Scorpio, Founder and Director of Marketing - Getaround
This was an intriguing talk because she pointed out how they got their start and how they eventually hit a wall until they got a great insurance provider and actually went out and started getting new laws in place making their business possible.
The rest of the night was a pleasant string of intriguing folk:
Across the crowd I spied Kathie Green, an old friend of many an event and cafe hangout and delightful product person working in go-to-market and social media storytelling. Kathie has an amazing way of connecting with people, remembering them and introducing them to others.
This night was no exception as she introduced me a young Russian entrepreneur she was talking to Zhanna Sharipova. Along with her wonderful description of the company she co-founded - Dish.fm. I was very impressed by her how willing she was to jump in to talking to people, this being the 3rd day in the US. I was even more impressed as I explored her experience on her LinkedIn profile. I feel so lucky to get to meet such smart, engaged women!
Then I had a stimulating round of back and forth with a product developer named Sonia Rodriguez. We had a lot of fun talking about her newly developed physical prototype, how to market test and develop strategies for getting to market and financing.
This is what it's all about for me at these events. People actually creating and trying things out. I look forward to seeing and hearing more about the product if she brings it to Founder Friday to do a little testing on her idea. I'd definitely love to see more people showing me what they're working on at Founders Fridays. To me it's the perfect place to try out your ideas - in story or physical form.
Then Kathie pulled me back in to have another intriguing conversation with Sian Morson, the owner of Kollective Mobile. We had a spirited discussion about "selling" native apps and discovering what tough clients "really" want by letting go of what we're trying to get them to do. Since this is the space I work in, this got my brain firing and a whole new direction with one of my clients was implemented the next day as a result of this conversation.
As someone who is thoroughly uncomfortable with “cold” networking, I find the friendliness and quirkiness of the other people in the room at Founder Friday SF to be the perfect antidote to my uncertainty in crowds. I find focusing on one person at a time to be a wonderful way to keep myself grounded.
I also make sure I take in a conscious practice – listening more than I talk, telling a simple, clean story, talking to anyone who looks more lost than I do or meeting the tallest people in the room.
It's important to find people to talk things over with - to find a passionate community of practice. I certainly know the isolation of doing cutting-edge and stealth projects. Finding "your" people is a real challenge until you start to find that everyone has things to offer. Realistically, the more different they are from you the more valuable the conversation. Not connecting? Try a new and different story. This is a great place to practice.
For a person who is in a deeply quiet and creative phase - practice and focus are both critical. I'm so grateful to have a warm and welcoming place like Founder Friday to do just that - check and see if they have one near you. Come experiment with us – we love iteration and you never know what you’ll discover next.