This is a guest blog post by Thomas Korte, Founder and Managing Partner of AngelPad, a San Francisco based startup mentorship program. He founded AngelPad in 2010 with a team of fellow ex-Googlers. In just one year, AngelPad has helped to launch some 37 companies.
I was invited this week to judge the Women 2.0 PITCH Competition. I blocked out the day with one goal: give a lot of feedback and advice to entrepreneurs. And I am glad I did.
The conference was unlike any I have attended in recent years. 1000 women-tech entrepreneurs, many of them not from Silicon Valley, skipped Valentine’s Day to listen to the learnings, inspirational and success stories of fellow women entrepreneurs. 99% of the audience were women and Dave McClure, Naval Ravikant,Jeff Clavier and myself were the only men on stage.
But why was this event so different than other tech/startup events?
Yes, I know what you are thinking: “Maybe because you were only a handful men in a room with 1000 women?”. I am not denying that this it was nice, but I also think women act in such a different way than men that it gave the whole conference a very unique vibe. It was very insightful for me and I observed a few things that I think us – guys – can learn from.
Lesson #1 – Don’t fear and share; no one wants to steal your idea.
Throughout the day I noticed that everyone was incredibly collaborative. At one point I told an entrepreneur that I had just spoken to someone with a similar business idea and that they should get together, only to find out they had already met and were planning on a collaboration; this happened twice that day.
Lesson learned: Guys, just having an idea or a prototype does not make you successful – sharing ideas and collaborating make better ideas and businesses. So don’t worry so much that someone will steal your idea and use the opportunity to share and get feedback (with the right people).
Lesson #2 – Waiting is a chance to learn.
After speaking at an event, I like to linger around to give people a chance to talk to me (without having to do so in front of a large audience). Usually a small line forms with people waiting to talk to me. I spend a minute or two talking, exchanging cards and turn to the next person.
At Women 2.0, there was not line forming, but rather a circle around me. Everyone was listening to the conversations I had and chimed in. Soon there were multiple new conversations happening all around me and I was quickly not the focus point, but a participant in a larger discussion.
Lesson learned: Guys, the person on stage is interesting to talk to, but the person next to you might be just as insightful. Rather than wait to speak to someone, use the time to also talk to the person next to you.
Lesson #3 – Simple common courtesy goes a long way.
It took me a long time to be able to smoothly end a conversation without being rude (and I still have progress to make). You know, the conversation you think is over, but the other person does not think so and keeps on talking. I often have to cut short conversations but at Women 2.0 I did not have to. Everyone was very aware and respectful of other people wanting to speaking to me too. Most conversation ended with a polite “I don’t want to take too much of your time since there are others who want to speak to you” – I was a bit shocked as this has NEVER happened to me.
Lesson learned: Guys, being driven is one thing, pushy can be too much, learn from the women and know when to graciously step back.
Lesson # 4 – Know what you want from your interaction.
One of my favorite thing to ask is: ” So what can I do for you?”. When I ask this, I really mean it (not in the way the Avis employee asks when it is your turn to get a car. One of these days, I’m going to ask back “ Well, what do you think you can do for me?”). Anyway, when I ask male entrepreneurs, they often do not know that to say. At Women 2.0 *everyone* had a concrete question for me – without hesitation, like they knew I was going to ask them.
Lesson learned: Guys, when you’re in line to talk to someone, make sure you know what want from them and just ask. Conversation is interesting, but getting things done is what entrepreneurship is about.
Lesson #5: It’s not always business all the time.
Ok, it was Valentine’s day but there truly was a friendliness and sense of connection in the air. People made eye contact, smiled and talked to each other. Maybe women are just better at this then men, but everything was much friendlier and more collaborative than I usually can observe at events. Even the excitement when Rebecca Lipon (the rock-star MC for the PITCH Competition) announced that cupcakes and wine were served in the lobby, was very refreshing.
Lesson learned: Guys, it is OK to let the guard down a little during the day and not just when everyone meets at the bar in the evening. It is not just business all the time.
This event made me realize what an important role Women 2.0 plays in promoting women in tech entrepreneurship and I hope many more people get involved to make it an even bigger success. I have always been a firm believer in women in technology and I am already looking forward to next year’s Women 2.0 PITCH conference.