Female Entrepreneurship: Observations and Opportunities

Credit: Wikipedia
Credit: Wikipedia

I’ve been generally skeptical of whether we would see a rise in Female Entrepreneurship, much of which was because looking at the data (female-led companies are more likely to succeed, male-led companies are more likely to fail) it wasn’t clear to me whether more women should be starting companies… or just fewer men.

However there are some trends that make me think that this may change, and a couple of opportunities that I think women are more likely to capitalise on.

Trends

Some of the current coolest companies have non-technical founders (including: Pinterest, Kickstarter, Etsy). I see this as a willingness to accept less technical credibility even when founding a tech-based company. This is great for women, as even women who are deeply technical are viewed as less technical.

Lots of startups come from ex-employees of a small number of “Pedigree” companies, which seem to skew towards new grad hires (see the average ages on the released demographic data sets). Many of these companies are new enough that we’ve yet to see the exodus of women, but because women drop out within 10 years, unless they are very different (and again, the data suggests they are not – if they were, the numbers would be better) it will come, and these women will be looking for their next thing to do.

There’s been a massive increase of female focused programs. I know people have mixed feelings about this, but the thing about programs focused on encouraging minorities is that they (when done well) make it clear that there is a space for them. I think a big part of this is making women apply. Women tend to judge their abilities more harshly, I remember hearing that university scholarships for women were beneficial because women just weren’t applying to scholarship funds for “everyone” (although I can’t find data to back this up), and I’ve heard recurring stories from companies trying to hire women, and universities recruiting that convincing women to apply to them if the first step.

Services like Kickstarter provide an alternative to women (women led campaigns are more likely to succeed, especially in tech which is 2/3:1/3 female:male success), make bootstrapping more viable (since it’s advance sales for a product you are making, and also tests your market – if people will buy it before it exists, it’s a good sign that people will buy it once it does).

Increasing commoditisation of platforms – cloud is on the trend to zero, so this massively reduces start up costs (no need for data centres). Mobile app development has reached sufficient maturity that there are lots of great Open Source libraries, which can massively reduce development time. I think this is good sign, as women are much more likely to bootstrap.

Women are the dominant users of social media (long been the case, infographic from 2012), and the drivers of consumer spending. I’m convinced that the current small pockets of successes that capitalise on that trend (notably, the non-tech founder companies listed above) is only the beginning.

The tech bubble has caused living costs in tech hubs to spiral and makes the economics of living somewhere cheaper (and making less money) much more compelling.

Opportunities

I think there are major opportunities created by greed and arrogance, which is great for women because we are socially conditioned to be less greedy, and less arrogant. There are countless examples of techies building things that exploit the less technical (this about on-demand workers, is just one example), but what if we built things to empower the less technical instead?

Other opportunities are created by the lack of empathy that is a feature of the tech industry. For example the problem of online harassment is outsourced to a (very profitable!) start up in the Philippines. Or, Education start ups are a big thing, but many of them just provide a more structured way for people to teach themselves to code. This is understandable, because this is how most techies themselves learned to code, but I remain unconvinced that it will work for everyone.

Of Course…

I could be totally wrong! But I really hope I’m not wrong about the outcome, even if I’m off on the reasons why.

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