I cornered Eric Ries after Startup Lessons Learned Conference yesterday. Many things he said in the course of the day resonated with me, but only one was never elaborated upon and I felt driven to ask a follow-up question.
Eric said that this was a “minimally viable conference.” They set a date and the topic, found a venue and let people start signing up before they knew exactly what it was going to be. This is exactly like what we did with the SF Ruby Outreach Workshops for Women. I know, that’s an entirely different topic, but the technique was the same. We came up with what would minimally work (we each would teach a maximum of 20 students in a couple of corporate conference rooms), then we posted the event, and received a huge outpouring of both demand from students and support from volunteers and it became much more than we had envisioned. Pretty cool, huh?
Eric has been much more successful in getting press attention than we have. So, I asked him about his techniques. Basically, he said that he just talked to everyone he could about it. He developed a core group of bloggers who were interested. In retrospect, perhaps it was a dumb question: the primary tactic he chose to create change was communication, our tactic is the more direct one of simply teaching the skills to people who are interested. Eric had to work much harder to communicate his message and stimulate interest and has a less well-defined curriculum.
Then Eric asked me a good question. You are being successful. You are having the impact you sought. Why do you care to get press? I suppose if I had a better answer to this, I would have been more driven to get the word out to a wider audience. I always argue that my strength is not PR or marketing; however, I didn’t start this year with many skills in large event planning, and I didn’t let that get in my way.
In trying to answer his question, I cited a recent NYT article: “Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley” which is a great article that highlights many successful women. The journalist, Claire Cain Miller, does a good job of presenting why anyone should care about this problem and illustrating a bit of why things are, but it comes off as rather bleak. I fear women (and girls) will read it and think: I don’t want to go there.
I think an alternate loop is forming in Silicon Valley. Our Ruby Workshops are not an isolated phenomenon. New organizations and events are springing up, like Women 2.0, DevChix, Girls in Tech, Girl Geek Dinners, and She’s Geeky to augment the work of long establish groups like the Anita Borg Institutute, SWE, WITI and others. Technical women and women founders are out there and with the predominantly male networks hard to tap, women are creating their own. At the same time, there are women and men with experience and connections who are working to acknowledge and reach out, as individuals. There are organizations, such as Springboard, Astia, and Golden Seeds or newer incubators like Springworks, which help women obtain angel and VC funding [*].
Note: at the conference on Friday, there were only three women on stage, all on panels. Eric admitted that he had a tough time because he had to rely on his personal network in this first conference, but he did pull in additional women as mentors and hopes to have more women speakers next year. I wasn’t planning to mention it, but I appreciated that he brought this up, non-defensively in our conversation.
Yes, there are fewer women starting innovative, high-growth companies and fewer women in tech, but there are more than we read about, more than we notice. Change is tough. It happens one person, one event, one moment at a time, but it is happening.
If you are a journalist or are a blogger, and want to have a conversation, let me know: sarah _at_ ultrasaurus (dot) com. There are a lot of great stories that I think more people would like to hear.