Where Them Girls At?

This post originally appeared on Bostinno, an awesome blog about Boston startups, digital culture and city news. If you’re thinking about joining a startup and want to learn more about what’s up in Boston, you definitely want to check them out. Or better yet, submit a guest post yourself :) 

I envision this possible scene from not so long ago: In a presumably messy Back Bay apartment, three 20-something guys gather around a case of Bud Light. Between chatter about sports and whatever the hell boys talk about when girls aren’t around, conversation turns to the future of media. From the collective genius of all three “bros,” a profound, ground-breaking conclusion is reached: Newspapers are effed. So they were all, “let’s do a media startup.” 2.5 years later, they have 1.3 million in funding and 20 people working for them. Their humble blog gets nearly 500,000 pageviews a month and has expanded to two other cities.

It’s not like they had degrees in journalism or years of reporting experience. They just had the wherewithal to pull the trigger on an idea and figure it out along the way.

Why don’t more twenty-something chicks do this? And should we give a crap whether they do or not?

Many say your twenties is the best time to start a company. For lots of young professionals, the post-college life means a low burn-rate and few significant personal responsibilities. Despite your lack of experience, your lifestyle offers you the freedom to take a risk. Even though there is a plethora of “women in tech” blog posts, I haven’t any other from the point of view of a 20-something woman other than this great post from Kinvey’s new Marketing Manager Kelly Rice. So I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.

It Starts in School

Right now, most founders have computer science backgrounds. More men choose math and science focused college majors, like computer science. I don’t think it’s a result of little boys playing with science kits and being praised for their smarts versus little girls playing “school” with their dolls and receiving accolades for their looks.  I think it’s more a matter of education.

Math education sucks. A lot of schooling does this, but I think math education in particular rewards mindless repetition more than strategic problem solving and successful application of concepts. A talent for the latter is a better preparation for programming and metrics-focused marketing and product development. It’s better preparation for entrepreneurship. My real concern is that a lot of people, women included, are turned off by the idea of a computer science education and other quantitative disciplines because their interest isn’t ignited and their confidence isn’t built by the current system of standardized testing. I’m not saying everyone should get a participation award for an algabra test. I’m saying that more time should be spent building skills in finance, data processing and even programming than on the same algebra tests we’ve been using since Prohabition.

But not everyone is going to be a computer science major. And that’s ok. Many founders and early stage startup employees include people with business backgrounds – like PR and marketing for instance. But not a lot of guys choose PR majors. If they do end up in PR, they come in as a business major – which often includes classes like management, strategy and entrepreneurship. They’re more exposed to the world of startups, and therefore more likely to enter it as “biz side” people than their female counterparts. Most communications and PR majors are women, and they’re encouraged to join agencies after they graduate. Trust me, agency life is hard work! It’s different than a startup, though. Agency culture often prompts young people to focus on their specific role and the responsibilities that accompany it. Once that is mastered, then they can move on to higher level projects. Paying your dues is a frequently communicated concept as young professionals build their skills.

This is a lot different than the reality of startups, where early employees are involved in a little bit of everything – from the high-level strategic decisions to refilling the company Peapod order.

The point is, even if they aren’t computer science majors, more 20-something men than women choose to begin their careers at startups because their educational backgrounds and entry-level experiences encourage it.

It’s About a Lack of Perspective

We’re in a bubble. Not that kind of bubble, but I mean a bubble when it comes to our perspectives on founding teams.

This is the gender breakdown of TechCrunch readers from Shareaholic.

gender breakdown of techcrunch readers

Apparently, women don’t care about tech as much as men. And actually, that’s ok. It’s even ok if they care more about makeup and fashion, and it’s ok if they pursue an education in either one. A cultural change needs to happen where entrepreneurship and tech are presented as options for pursuing a career in the field you’re passionate about. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently told marketers at the recent ANA convention to “put a little Facebook in everything you do.” We should put a little startup in everything we study. This point is admittedly utopian, but it’d be pretty cool if the next online marketplace for cosmetics came from a founder who knows that industry and customers. It’d be nice if there was an actual healthcare or insurance professional on the founding team of Cake Health - regardless of whether that person is a man, woman, gay person, Latino, Jewish… you get the point.

We should focus less on female founders and more on female consumers, as well as other untapped and growing markets. If we do that, female founders and founders with different backgrounds will come. A venture fund or grant focused on healthcare startups or fashion startups, or an incubator along the same vein could be solutions. Those, plus more entrepreneurial, problem-solving and technology-focused experiences for all high school students would be great.

Getting more perspectives in on the ground floor benefits us all. People with different professional and educational backgrounds are exposed to different industries. They follow trends and experience inefficiencies that could be more interesting business opportunities than yet another social/local/mobile/daily deals app, social media marketing tool, or marketplace where you get recommendations from your friends for blah blah blah. It’s to our economic advantage to re-imagine the entrepreneur as not only a computer science major or Harvard MBA (although they’ve done some pretty cool stuff!), but to include people with different educational and professional backgrounds. We’d see business ideas that appeal to new markets and have more perspectives on the ground floor building those ideas into job-creating companies.

If those business ideas come from a 20-something lady, then all the better. After all, sometimes a female touch can’t hurt. Clearly a chick wouldn’t have named a tablet the iPad. And obviously no woman was around when they named Kaggle, Kaggle. Please. We’ve seen that Sex and the City episode. Twice.

Data As An Asset for Startup PR

I’m always learning new things about PR. I like observing what other companies are doing, and it seems like some tried and true strategies still work: Ride a trend, do a survey, predict yearly seasonal coverage (holiday gift guides anyone?) and insert your story into that… etc etc. But one strategy I’ve seen more and more is using your own company’s data to get coverage.

Boston startup folks at Runkeeper generated some buzz by sharing how getting featured in the Android Marketplace increased downloads by 637%.

I also loved what they did with their fitness stats for an infographic back in September. This got covered in The Next Web.

That’s a good B2C example.

For a B2B take, admittedly Social Bakers is an analytics company by nature so leveraging data for coverage isn’t that much of a stretch. But their presidential candidate Facebook stats infographic is a fun take on numbers and a good example of inserting your message/brand into a current topic of conversation.

(AND HOW CUTE IS THIS INFOGRAPHIC?)

This got them in TechCrunch.

I personally love a good infographic. But while fun, infographics may eventually wear out their welcome. As I’m learning about what works for other companies, thinking about a fresh way to present data is also something I’m considering for when I pull the trigger and use data (there’s a lot of it…) for our own marketing.

Data is particularly huge right now. Products and consumers generate and process tons of it. It’s overwhelming sometimes. And for some companies, this might not even work as the data may be confidential and inappropriate for a PR strategy. But in general, when it comes to data, I think marketers who are technically inclined enough to digest it, but also have the communication skills to promote it, will increasingly become assets to their companies. It’s two skillsets I’m definitely looking to enhance this year.

What data does your company have that could be an interesting pitch? Have you tried this before? Let me know in the comments!