Saturday, January 11, 2014

Paul Graham is MOSTLY correct about #FemaleFounders

Adora Cheung with her co-founder brother. (SJ Merc News)
Paul Graham has addressed the issue of why more women founders aren't given a chance to thrive -- and particularly why his YCombinator accelerator program doesn't have more women graduates.  What he writes is worth reading and well thought out, except for one thing. Women can run businesses without being geeks and many startups are run by non-geeks.

But let's read what he wrote. He pulls the problem apart carefully and brings up the girl geek problem -- they're definitely are not enough women geeks.

I realize though that with female founders, efforts at our stage are not enough. We could in principle have fixed the problem for young founders by ourselves. If we funded enough young founders who went on to succeed, both investors and other would-be founders would learn from their example. But it would be naive to assume we could get the percentage of female startup founders to 50% so long as the percentage of female programmers is so much lower than 50%. Though this is less the case than it used to be, many startups still have a big technical component, and if you want to start that sort of startup your chances of succeeding are higher if you're a programmer. Adora Cheung is a programmer, for example. Software eating the world is still software.

So how would you cause there to be more female programmers? 
That's an important question which he continues to address and I say, good, yes, there need to be more female programmers. But seriously, are all start-ups run by technical CEO's? Seems to me, no one is faster than the VC's to remove a geek CEO and replace them with a person who's background is in Sales or Marketing or Finance. It's the classic story, how the poor little geeky founder gets pushed aside and the company is run by a BUSINESS PERSON.

So that said, are there really not enough women business people to run start-ups? Are there not enough female business majors at colleges or MBA programs to run 50% of all the startups founded? Obviously most VC's have already cast their ballots about having business people in CEO, CMO and CFO slots in startup companies. They make sure their business buddies are put in those places. That's what women business people are having trouble with. We see what goes on.  We know how it works.

To say we need to go back to age 12 and become better girl geeks is pointless. Yes we should all support young girls in getting tech skills now.  But women in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's and beyond need opportunities to use their excellent business skills to run companies. We need to be given a chance to be Entrepreneurs-in-Residence at fancy VC firms (jobs I've seen given to men with very thin experience) now.  We need to be that buddy who's put into place to run a startup when the geek founder is floundering, now. We need to be the CEO or CMO or CFO now when we might have 20 years better experience than some 25-year-old kid who was given the gig over dinner because he is the VC's son or nephew.  We need to be on actuals boards and advisory boards of startups now to get inside these positions of power where we can help decide if other qualified women are considered for jobs.

Let's get real. These jobs are very lucrative. The experience is very valuable. As they say about the lottery, you've got to be in it to win it.  And women are outside and not invited in.  And there are many ways they can participate in the tech community with the skills they have today if they were considered for VC, CEO, CMO, CFO, board seats, advisory positions, EIR gigs, just to name a few places where the ratio of men to women is laughable.

So let's have an honest debate. Getting into the tech community in a position of power and wealth, is like having a big bunch of candy and some men don't want to share the candy. But it's time to share the candy.

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