How can we do a better job of supporting women in technology? Women-owned businesses tend to hit a lot more roadblocks than their male-driven counterparts. Nicole Yeary is the Founder and CEO at Ms. Tech, a company focused on advising women on how to start and scale companies. She talks with Josh about the challenges of fundraising and why she created an inclusive group for women to talk about those pain points.

The beginnings of Ms. Tech – 00:28
Only 3% of VC funding goes to women-owned companies – 01:26
Creating a bridge between women in business and women in technology – 04:26
On partnering with 1871 – 06:09
Why community and mentorship are important – 09:50
Women approach business differently – 11:41
How to get involved in Ms. Tech – 16:05
Resources and organizations to keep in mind: YWCA & Women’s Business Development Center – 17:26
Learning strengths, perseverance and community building – 18:50

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Josh Barker:  Today, I’ve got with me, Nicole Yeary. And she is the founder of Ms. Tech. Welcome.

Nicole Yeary: Thank you so much for having me.

JB [00:22]: Well, I’m so glad you’re here. I’d love to hear a little bit more about Ms. Tech. How did you come up with this concept? And this startup?

NY [00:28]:  Well, it really evolved out of a pain point. I tried to build my own startup over 10 years ago and started a Facebook group out of just kind of wanting to create something that was different. I’ll kind of give you an overview of what we do, and then we can dig into that. Ms. Tech helps businesswomen with tech and tech women with business. It really is a
community that evolved out of this Facebook group. We were really servicing needs that we had and found that there is a commonality of a lot of people that were laid off back in 2009. A lot of smart people who are trying to build something new, and learn how to code and various different things. There wereno coding schools 10 years ago. I actually learned through iTunes University and Stanford’s program. I know it was really cool. But it’s neat to see, now, you can actually go online and get real-time feedback. And rather than just building sandboxes out of nothing and watching a caterpillar go across the sky,

JB  [01:23]:  What are some of the things that Ms. Tech does?

NY  [01:26]:  Throughout time what we had learned is that there was a real need for information and access. So, community is big for us, really bringing out the benefits of activating that community as well as I personally discovered and this as my pain point that only 2.7% of venture-backed startups are female-founded.

JB  [01:46]:  Wow, that’s a really low number. I didn’t even know that.

NY  [01:48]:  Yeah, the Diana Project out of Babson College, came up with this report and from that, after I had tried to raise money myself, unsuccessfully. I worked for another startup and saw that that founder raised $3 million and didn’t have a whole lot of structure to it. It was kind of like we have an idea of what we want to do. But we really don’t know. I’m like if he can do it, I can do it, right? So I went down that road, try to raise money for healthcare company startup after working for a healthcare company, and realized that there are some pain points here. But we really don’t know what the challenge is. Is it access to a network? Is it information? So we started doing classes and courses and we offered a membership to keep us sustainable so that I could do that full time, then that really evolved into a 16-week curriculum that we’re able to now offer to incubators or universities or companies where someone could take an idea and
actually take it through product-market fit all the way to pitching the idea to
raise money for capital to start their company or to scale it.

JB  [02:55]: That’s awesome. So I assume customer development process, lean startup?

NY  [03:02]:  Very much so. Yeah, Steve Blanks stuff.

JB  [03:03]: Right up my alley. Right in my heart. That’s awesome. You know, going through this curriculum, is Ms. Tech designedfor women?

NY  [03:11]: One thing that I learned is that there are specific challenges that we have that aren’t really addressed, like wanting to go to an accelerator means that you can’t really just pick up and leave your family behind. If you can create something that they can go to once a week and receive that and still have that same access, learn how fundraising strategies are created, learn how to financial model like a boss. Some of those things, we really wanted to do that and do it in a way that was conducive to their lifestyles. And I also learned that because we have specific challenges or we have experiences that really are unlike what men go through. The Me Too
movement really bottomed out. When you’re an environment we can have this what we call an informal confab, where they discuss the greatest challenge and also like, share a victory of that week. And those are just some examples of some of the programming we created that was designed to kind of really make them more confident in what they’re doing.

JB  [04:10]:  That’s really neat. My sister is actually in a coding boot camp. Oh, so she just graduated. It made me think as I was going into this, I was like, oh, man, that is so important. Getting more women in technology. And I think that’s just near and dear to your heart.

NY  [04:26]:  Yes. And something else we do. Speaking of, you know, young women, we recognize that there’s a lot of coding schools for kids. Big focus on Girls Who Code and things like that we do a lot of stuff for Women Who Code. But then there’s this group of people who are in college and they’re not really certain, yet, what they want to do. They kind of have an idea and they’re in school because their parents want them to go for a certain degree. But they’re like, ‘Hey, I’m interested in maybe possibly being
an entrepreneur, or what is this all about?’ Like, yeah, I’m learning how to be
a software engineer, but how can I apply it in business, partner with other
people build to something cool, and actually think from their perspective? So we started with one of our former interns, she took Ms. Tech to her college campus, and she started Ms. Tech. Purdue Collective which is a college campus approved club. Most clubs on campus can only be like a business school club or tech school club. But this was designed so that any student from any school in the university could join, men or women, and they can work together. But most importantly, after they learn, come to a city like Chicago, see the opportunities we have here, tour different tech companies, and get excited about learning more about both business innovation and technology.

JB  [05:39]:  That’s really cool. I think that’s so important because I think a lot of people think of technology and software as scary. And it’s kind of a black box, right? You look at it and you’re like, I don’t know what goes into it. It’s too complicated. I can’t do it. So to allow them to interface with this new world that might not have been privy to before and say, “Oh my gosh, I can do this, this is cool and I like this.”

NY [06:00]:  And there are people doing it that look like me.

JB  [06:02]:  Yeah, they look like me. Exactly. Oh, that’s really cool. And how long have you been doing this?

NY [06:09]: So we started out as a Facebook group back in 2010. But we became an official entity in 2014. That’s when I realized it was becoming a job running this group. We’re very adamant about making sure that
there’s no promotion, and we stick to a very Q&A type of forum. So it
became an official entity. Really, it was four years ago that we partnered with 1871 and had this official, “we’re going to try this.” The first cohort was completely different than the second, after that it became a little bit more refined. Sure, it was nice to see that we could do that. So really 2014 is when we really kind of stomped into the ground, and we’re going to make
a business out of this.

JB  [06:46]:  Yeah, that’s awesome. And what does the future hold for you guys, as you’re looking towards? You’re building this curriculum and you’re getting is it more partnerships, or what does that look like?

NY  [06:56]:  We were a vendor company with 1871. So that was a really strong Strategic Partnership for us a lot of the prove out what our product was, as we look ahead, one thing that we realized that there is a lack of is data and information. And as you may know, like most of us need to know, kind of prove out what it is that we’re doing. If we’re going to go ahead and get out there and scale it. The data that’s out there shows as of January, I think it was in Forbes, that it went from 2.7% in 2010 to 2.2%.

JB [07:29]: It went down

NY  [07:33]: It went down. So it’s like all this awareness and all these organizations that focus on women yet, we have less women that are getting funding. So what are we doing? And for me, I’m like, okay, my lifetime is limited. And I want to make an impact on this. And what
can we be doing to make a greater impact as an organization and still be
different from the other women’s organizations that are out there so that we’re not overlapping but more enhancing and activating those other groups too? So I think that both through pursuing grants and more of a nonprofit type of sector, specifically for the college women and then taking what we’ve been doing and looking at possibly, do we raise a fund? Do we create an accelerator here? You know, we don’t have those answers yet. But we’re going to collect the data and our own data. Because I had a conversation with a really well-known investor. And he said, I think that data is wrong because 40% of my companies are female-founded, but I think there’s a discrepancy between having one female founder and your team and calling it a female-founded company. Versus, you know, there, there’s a woman who’s actually raising not the man on the team. And that makes a big difference. And we can’t really assess the problem and create real solutions that make the impact without knowing what that problem looks like.

JB  [08:45]:  Yeah, that makes sense. And so are you setting up shop here in Chicago? This is like your home base?

NY  [08:50]:  This has been my home base. Recently moved to Cleveland.

JB  [08:53]:  Sure. Oh, nice and exciting adventure.

NY  [08:56]:  I don’t know it’s home. So anyway, back home to family. But I realized that we don’t have to be in one specific place. We have a huge presence here in Chicago. It’s been kind of our stamp and Chicago is the world’s capital, they say, out of all the tech hubs Chicago has the largest amount of female founders 34%, and the average is 18%.

JB [09:19]: So that’s a lot. That’s a lot bigger, actually.

NY [09:21]: Yeah. With that, we know that, that the community that we have, and the other communities that exist for women here have only just tremendously propelled that forward. Now, it just goes back to money
still. So, like, yeah, how many are getting the funding they need to see
something that’s really high tech, high growth exists without someone else
coming into the market and taking that idea and scaling up faster?

JB  [9:41]:  Yeah. What are some ways that you think that? So obviously, some of the ways are training right with women of how do we increase that number from 34%?

NY  [09:50]:  So you’re saying the number of founders? I think the biggest thing that we have had here in Chicago is that we have a community where women are talking. I mean, I don’t know if you were around when there was a technology conference that was here in town for a long time? There were some things that happened in the stir upping communication amongst those women who were in tech or startup founders. We were communicating. And then we got to talking about we’re having more meetups and more, kind of just that, that element where people are talking to people face to face, and we’re creating opportunities to elevate the profiles of women and what they’re doing. So that allows other women to say, hey, if she can do it, I can do it. Right. I’m really interested in that. And I never really thought about myself doing that, but I like her, and I like what she’s doing. And, and/or like, she’s, she’s someone who I can go to and trust with this question. And have mentors that are really not just the label mentor, but someone who’s going to help them.

JB  [10:48]:  Raise them up.

NY  [10:49]: Yeah! And also make introductions for them.

JB  [10:51]:  So inspiring confidence. That’s a big thing.

NY  [10:53]:  I had a conversation with an entrepreneur here today. That was in one of my cohorts before and she said she went into the Miami market with her company and she said the greatest thing I got out of that experience was the confidence. And she said, ‘Before I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur, I saw myself as a hustler.’ She said, ‘but now I’m running with Titans down there and I have it all to thank for the program
that I went through.’ So it was great to hear that.

JB  [11:16]:  Oh, yeah, that’s always good to hear. I mean, it sounds like Ms. Tech is making it a big impact.

NY  [11:22]:  My goal is to do that, but I think that constantly learning how we can make a greater impact with this small amount of resources we have, but how we can gain greater resources to make a bigger impact or partner with others.

JB  [11:35]:  Right. What are some of the things and I think I know some of them, but I just had a curiosity about why the low number?

NY  [11:41]: I have assumptions. I just need to prove them out. From my experience working with these other cohorts, especially as a woman who tried to raise money before, no one wants to say that, you know, it’s because we’re women, right? We don’t want that focus. But I do think there’s a difference in how we approach business. And one thing that I’ve noticed that, you know, a lot of founders who come into the sessions that I have is that they don’t know what they don’t know. They are experts in their industry, but they aren’t experts at being entrepreneurs. They don’t know what an executive summary is to send out to an investor before they get a chance to pitch. And instead, they might be sending out their pitch deck and losing the opportunity to pitch in person. That’s just like one small variable that makes it feel like a big difference. Learning what needs to go in that executive summary and what’s going to pique interest for an investor. How do you secure that meeting? How many meetings do you have to have? And that’s the other piece, I think that many of them will have 25 to 50 meetings with an investor for a pre Series A round. But then, you know, the successful entrepreneur I’ve talked to has about 150 meetings, and they’ve gone to both coasts to do it. So, I think, yes, the investor has a lot to do with it. But the entrepreneur does too. And if that’s within our control, I want to see whatever we can do in our control to teach other entrepreneurs as quickly as possible that these are the things to do. This is what I’ve learned. This is what I know has been successful. Here’s how we share that information quickly and help those women set themselves up for success.

JB  [13:13]: Right. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, it sounds like a lot of education. It’s just educating them and empowering them with the right tools.

NY  [13:24]: Yeah. And learning development. Yeah, I think it’s interesting that, you know, in the past have found myself in these training and learning development roles and companies. And then my company ends up being an education company, but never really planned on it.

JB  [13:38]: That gives you a lot of experience. Well, it’s good.
Yeah, that’s good. Two or three years from now. Like if you could forecast the future, what does the Ms. Tech look like?

NY  [13:46]:  So ideally, I would like to have a fund in the future. I think that might be five years from now. Yeah, but two to three years from now. You know, having a goal to go to different cities is kind of on our radar right now, where we have events, build a community in each of these cities, and then really expand from there, really kind of just like looking at what, what is needed. Because every community is different. We’ve learned that so what we need here is and be different from Detroit, even just my experience going to like Ljubljana, Slovenia, and seeing that there’s a lot of tech talent there. You know, what is it that we can provide? You know, they have so much tech talent. And here we’ve got a lot of marketing and sales talent. How can we work together for, you know, to help these people raise money?,

JB  [14:33]: Right good. I mean, that’s really exciting. So Chicago, that’s your focus, but you want to go to other cities as well?

NY  [14:40]:  Yeah. Before we can really go to that level of where we’re going into Slovenia, or whatever bringing it online so they can access it because they wanted me to bring it there. But really looking at, you know, what we’ve
done well here, and what we know that will work there, but the only way to find out is to meet people.

JB  [14:58]: Right? Right. Connections are big. Yeah, yeah. What would be the next cityor two? Are you guys planning for?

NY  [15:05]: We’re going to focus on the Midwest because we don’t want to

JB  [15:07]:  Scatter everywhere.

NY  [15:09]:  Yes, because obviously each coast has a lot of like, great resources and access for those women there. And we know what works here in the Midwest, and I think a lot of like the tertiary cities, you know, the ones that are overlooked, we find that there’s a lot of women building companies. Yeah. And really great opportunities. And seeing also like, kind of the companies that have done well over the last couple years, where have they come from, what do they look like? How do they get started? And I like to see that they didn’t come from an Ivy League school, because that’s the easy, easier route, because they have the network. I don’t want to make assumptions right there. But definitely a lot better network than someone that’s going to come from a commuter school, for example. But still seeing that they are building great ideas because they are experiencing different problems.

JB  [15:57]:  Yeah, that’s very true. Now what can someone do, women listening or anyone listening? How can they get engaged with Ms Tech?

NY  [16:05]: Yeah, that’s a great question. So a number of ways if they would like to start a community reach out to us and see what they can be doing to lead a collective in their city, we can be found on ms-tech.co, we have a
request to be invited to our private Facebook group, which is closed off. But
we would love to have anybody in there. It’s free to join. And they can ask
questions and not feel silly about not knowing tech or vice versa.
Entrepreneurship. They can also find jobs on our job board and things like
that. When get engaged in that way. We actually have a page that says how to get involved. Yeah. And those who are really kind of made it, where they’re at in their career. And if they’re listening now, like we need your knowledge and we need to share because it’s not just what we know, we actually believe in activating people. So, the women who are running service based businesses in their city, like How can they get involved and get business for themselves but share their knowledge in a way that is giving back. But what we found even like with the past accelerators we’ve done is that those women go back to the women they learn from to give them business. And that’s really important for every ecosystem.

JB  [17:15]:  You know, another question that comes to my mind is, are there organizations like Ms. Tech that you’ve aligned yourself with that have a shared vision or that that are you’re moving towards with or is this very unique thing? There was a gap in the market?

NY  [17:26]:  You know, we find ourselves similar to other organizations a lot. But we do work with other organizations to help propel things that they’re doing to support what we’re doing an example is like we have done an annual conference called the Fear Paradox. We partner with organizations like the YWCA. They do a Y Shop Pop-Up, and we knew that if we can get all their women in the room and do a pop up shop at our conference, so both like send them business, create awareness for them, and it’s just really great alignment. And Dorri McWhorter who runs the Chicago YWCA is just an awesome friends and also mentor of mine.
But yeah, there are lots of organizations, we are looking to partner with more, of course and see where we can align. The Women’s Business Development Center is another example. There, you know, they don’t have a lot of tech focused programming, but have discussed with them and you know, kind of aligning with their innovation funded by the SBA educational opportunities for our women to go to their, you know, classes or sessions. How we can just take the access that we have as far as people, we have about 5000 community members here locally, and then just sharing information with them about opportunities. That whole word of mouth, obviously is important. And if they hear it from a source that they trust.

JB  [18:44]:  Yes. So, as you were starting Ms. Tech, and as you’ve been doing this, what are some things that you’ve learned through this process?

NY  [18:53]:  So much. Do you have another hour? You know, I think that not giving up, persevering through and reminding why you started yourself why you started sometimes I think that you can get caught up in like, Okay, I need money I need funding, like, where do I go to get that and that can really pull you away from your WHY? Your personal why. And if you
don’t believe in that and have that drive and that excitement, you won’t get up in the morning. Right. So, I think that’s the greatest, you know, takeaway for the last 10 years and we’re working on this. But you know, also that people are really the conduit to everything and having relationships. I mean, I would say that if there’s anything that is a strong suit for me would be just being relatable to other people and bringing them together and being a connector that has always then you know, provided that reciprocity as well. So, the things that I am not good at, recognizing what I’m not good at is also a very important lesson I’ve learned over time and not trying to do it and wasting the time to do it, but again, reaching out saying I need help. Because the moment I asked for help, all these people I’ve helped in the past are like, hey, how can I get involved? or What can I do to support that?  building a good team and team doesn’t have to be people on payroll it Yeah. Advisors, mentors, partners, and community members.

JB  [20:17]:  Yeah. What are some things you’ve learned about building? You know, because this is  a very interesting one of building strong community. Yeah, right. How do you how do you build a strong community?

NY  [20:27]: Have you ever seen that video? The First Follower? It’s a great video, YouTube it, but that was one I watched before. Because I don’t think that like you can just build a great community. It’s something that’s done with other people. But the one thing I tried to lead with is like an authentic voice. And when I need to get something done with the group, and if I’m
uncertain what direction to go, I ask them. So early on, you asked about the
name Ms. Tech. Early on, we found out that we had, like, I think I called it
Girls in Tech or Women in Tech and it was already taken obviously. Yeah. So, how can we create something that’s unique? We crowdsource the name someone picked it. You know, you can probably find the thread somewhere in our Facebook group. So I mean, I didn’t pick it, it was a group crowdsourced name. Everything that we do is starts first with checking
with the organization in the community because they’re the ones who know whatthey need. And what they’re going to pay for right and return to support us and volunteer for they’re the voice that I listened to, because I have my own experiences, but they’re really those who drive the organization.

JB  [21:38]: Oh, that’s great. Really empowering others to rise up to say, hey!

NY  [21:43]:  Exactly. And when you’re genuinely inquisitive, you don’t have to create a community it creates itself.

JB  [21:49]:  It creates itself, it’s just organic. Yeah, that’s good. Yeah. You don’t want to contrive something that’s not there. Right?

NY  [21:55]:  It’s funny when you see other people that want to try to create a Facebook group that’s really active and involved. I mean, sometimes I’m like, I can’t keep up with these things. But it’s a good problem to have. Because the other part of it, I would say that was really important to me was knowing what I wanted from the community that was speaking to something that I needed that wasn’t out there, which was, there were all these other groups on LinkedIn and Facebook that people were like posting their jobs to or their events too. And they were like, come to this event. We really moderate whether or not you’re allowed to share that sort of information. We do not allow event marketing in the group, and we don’t allow people to post their jobs to the group. We have a job board, you can pay us for it. If you believe in our cause, you know, and then we will share one post every Wednesday called ‘Work it Wednesday’ of all the job
postings, and we’ll post it on our other social media channels. So, we still
want to answer to their needs, but in a way that serves them first. And then
pays second.

JB  [22:55]:  Thanks, Nicole. I really appreciate your time

NY  [22:58]:  Thanks for thinking of me and reaching out. Y

JB  [23:00]:  Yeah, it’s a real awesome effort. I mean really awesome initiative. Yeah,I love it. I mean, I think we really need more women in tech. I’m totally on board. So I want to talk to you afterward about how we can get involved

NY  [23:10]:  Great. Thank you so much.

 

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