Talks from startup founders Pooja Sankar of Piazza and Claire Hough of Citrus Lane show true grit.
By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0)
“The last time I talked to you – Piazza was spelled with three Zs, your last name was Nath, and you weren’t pregnant!” someone exclaimed to Piazza founder and CEO Pooja Sankar.
The Silicon Valley startup ecosystem is a small world, made even more accessible to early-stage women entrepreneurs with events like Founder Friday Silicon Valley. Two powerhouse startup founders shared their stories last Friday night.
Piazza founder and CEO Pooja Sankar spoke first. At seven months pregnant, she is a sight to see addressing the large crowd in a clear, articulate voice. The former Facebook engineer turned startup founder told of quitting Facebook for Stanford business school, then quitting Stanford business school to take her startup idea to the next level. She spoke of measuring success not by total number of registered users, but by the number of times these registered users actually log in daily.
Pooja exuded the attention to detail and passion for product that great startup CEOs are known for. She rattled off user numbers and charted Piazza’s growth over the past few years, never even mentioning the votes of confidence from Sequoia Capital, Felicis Ventures, Kapor Capital and SV Angel – these venture capital firms have invested a $1.5M seed round of funding in Piazza last year.
She recommended building a product in 10 days and then iterating rapidly. She talked about the perks of being a woman entrepreneur – that her cold pitches to professors were met with very few closed doors. She talked about prioritizing her husband over her startup, and being able to have a baby years after founding her startup – now that they have traction and she has confidence in her team of 9 to execute on their shared company vision.
Piazza was the startup idea that wouldn’t go away. Pooja recommended following your passion and the idea that won’t go way – this is how you know what startup idea to pursue.
Citrus Lane co-founder and CTO Claire Hough spoke about being an accidental entrepreneur. She was a rising star in engineering, having worked in the Silicon Valley in engineering management roles – of increasing responsibility and seniority at companies like Netscape, Napster and NexTag.
Today, she is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Citrus Lane is now run out of a Mountain View office instead of that Palo Alto basement. Citrus Lane has raised $5.1M Series A from dark horse GGV Capital and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock Partners last month.
Claire admitted that the subscription e-commerce space is growing (and growing crowded) but believes that the quality of curated products offered by her company and quality of customer service will make the difference.
She thanked Women 2.0 for being there to support women, noting that every woman who has been hired at Citrus Lane has negotiated either her salary or title up!
During the Q&A portion of the evening, Claire was asked about work/life balance. She talked about her teenagers at home, one of whom is autistic. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Claire inspired the crowd with her grit and everyone laughed when she said her nickname used to be “bulldozer” because she is such a kind, passionate person. She stayed after the talks at Founder Friday Silicon Valley, answering countless questions from the audience and then networking with the community.
The crowd gathered at the Palo Alto Founder Friday didn’t differ greatly from the crowd I normally meet in San Francisco. The women are startup founders, students at Stanford and Berkeley, startup employees with varying degrees of curiosity about starting up their own venture, and many early-stage entrepreneurs either with an idea or looking to be inspired:
- At Founder Friday San Francisco, a stylish ModCloth co-founder Susan Gregg Koger and expressive Eventbrite co-founder Julia Hartz inspired a crowd and Azra Panjwani was inspired by Molly Agarwal.
- At Founder Friday Silicon Valley, Cheryl Marquez was inspired by Larry Chiang.
- At Founder Friday Orange County, Debbie Mercer Cifone was inspired by Sepideh Nasiri who declared “paying it forward pays off”.
- At Founder Friday San Diego, Liz Hedstrom was inspired by Felena Hanson.
- At Founder Friday New York, Kathleen Warner was inspired by Cheryl Yeoh who talked about “grit, grace and gumption” as key traits of an entrepreneur.
Angie Chang co-founded Women 2.0 in 2006. She currently serves as Editor-In-Chief of Women 2.0 and is working to mainstream women in high-growth, high-tech entrepreneurship. Previously, Angie held roles in product management and web UI design. In 2008, Angie launched Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners, asking that guys come as the “+1” for once. Angie holds a B.A. in English and Social Welfare from UC Berkeley. Follow her on Twitter at @thisgirlangie.