Silicon Valley Cracks the Glass Ceiling

Ada Lovelace may finally have reason to smile.

Groundbreaking accelerator 500 Startups recently announced the 500 Women Fund, an AngelList syndicate dedicated to funding startups led by women in entrepreneurship. 500 founder Dave McClure commented to PandoDaily, “Smart women entrepreneurs are not getting the access to capital they could.”

An estimated 25 to 30 percent of teams currently funded by 500 Startups include at least one female founder, double the US average of 13%. (500 also invests substantially in international teams, bolstered by its Geeks on a Plane initiative.)

The 500 Women syndicate is a new program designed to further encourage women to become founders, and to support them with a deep network of investors, mentors, and peers.

Meanwhile, fellow incubator YCombinator prepares its first conference focused exclusively on female founders. The incubator turned an about-face in December 2013, after comments from an interview with YCom founder Paul Graham went viral. During the interview, Graham remarked:

I’m almost certain that we don’t discriminate against female founders because I would know from looking at the ones we missed. You could argue that we should do more, that we should encourage women to start startups.

Even for an industry structurally dominated by male-biased investment patterns, YCombinator stands out from the crowd: over its eight-year history, 96% of YCombinator founders have been men. It appears, however, that the tides of patriarchy may be waning. Commented PG (as he’s often known) in a subsequent essay:

More thoughtful people were willing to concede YC wasn’t biased against women, but thought we should be actively working to increase the number of female founders. As one put it, instead of being a gatekeeper, we should be a gateway…

We fund more female founders than VCs do, and we help them to overcome the bias they’ll encounter among other investors. In the current YC batch, 16 out of 68 companies, or 24%, have female founders.

I realize though that with female founders, efforts at our stage are not enough.

Pivoting from a previously laissez-faires attitude towards the gender gap, YCombinator appears ready to assume a proactive role in catalyzing social change. Complimenting his two provocative essays on the subject, Paul Graham’s wife and partner, Jessica Livingston, will soon co-host the Female Founders Conference.

Taking place March 1 at the Computer History Museum, the conference will feature an impressive series of talks from accomplished women in technology, including industry leaders Diane Green (Founder, VMWare), Julia Hartz (Co-Founder, EventBrite) and Jessica Mah (Co-Founder, InDinero).

But is it enough?

All these efforts, while commendable, overlook the growing gender gap afflicting the tech field as a whole. In 1984, for instance, 37.1% of US computer science degrees went to women; today, the same figure is 12%, less than a third of the rate three decades ago.

Women face similar discrimination at all levels of organizational leadership — only 19% of American CEOs are women, for instance — leading to the widespread, if controversial, notion of a “pink ghetto.

Reasons for such a participatory decline may vary, but the scarcity of role models — women in technology with name recognition approaching Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or, more contemporarily, Mark Zuckerberg — may likely play an inhibiting role in encouraging more women to enter the field.

Efforts by YCombinator and 500Startups may play only a minor role in reversing a long-standing sociotechnical trend, but even the longest journey begins with a single step — and in this case, it’s a step in the right direction.

Can Silicon Valley Save Journalism?

Journalism is dead. Long live journalism.

In August, 2013, the Washington Post made waves when it announced its sale to Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO of Amazon. The purchase, coming at a time of historically low print circulation, led Daily Show personality John Oliver to quip, “There are now more people buying newspapers than there are people buying newspapers.”

Bezos sees things differently, foretelling a “golden era” at the WaPo, where he intends to introduce a new, startup-inspired culture of risk-taking and experimentation.

In 2012, another old media property fell into the arms of a Valley darling. This time, Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who led President Obama’s online organizing efforts in 2008, purchased The New Republic, an influential magazine reaching progressive audiences in politics and culture.

Hughes, who now serves as Editor-in-Chief, seeks to expand the publication’s digital footprint — particularly on next-generation tablets and e-readers — while preserving the high-quality journalism for which they’re known. In the eighteen months since the acquisition, New Republic print circulation is up by 20% and web traffic has tripled, following a doubling of staff and an expansion into a New York Office, branching out from the company’s traditional Washington, D.C. headquarters.

Now, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is jumping into the journalism ring, too. Omidyar’s new media venture, First Look Media, “seeks to reimagine journalism for the digital age, combining the promise of technological innovation with the power of fearless reporting.”

Since launching less than a week ago, the venture’s first in-house publication, The Intercept, stars former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, whose series of articles about the NSA, based on documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, ignited a fierce and ongoing debate about the limits of government surveillance.

With founders now donning the mantle of Editor-in-Chief (as Hughes has done), it’s no wonder that a reverse migration is happening, too. Consider Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, the magnetic duo formerly behind AllThingsD, the flagship digital publication of the Wall Street Journal. Their new venture, Re/code, places them in competition with other tech-focused news upstarts, including PandoDaily and TheVerge.

Even Bill Keller, former Executive Editor of the New York Times, is joining a new venture after a 30-year career at the so-called paper of record. His new role will make him Editor in Chief of The Marshall Project, a newly-formed nonprofit that raises critical awareness about the American criminal justice system, which, in Keller’s words, “is bizarrely horrible and weirdly tolerated.

Despite fears of an eroding press, journalism bustles with activity and innovation. New outlets are springing up regularly, while those in the old establishment await a new, experimental culture inspired by a surge of founder-driven acquisitions. The future of the media may be brighter than we once imagined.

Twitter CEO Wins Crunchies, Crappies

The power of Twitter lies within his chin.

In what might be a Silicon Valley first, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, won two startup awards on the same night, highlighting both the achievements of his role at the company’s helm, and the controversies created in the process.

Inside the Davies Symphony Hall, Costolo won “Best CEO,” the Best Actor equivalent of The Crunchies, Silicon Valley’s lavish annual award ceremony co-organized by TechCrunch, GigaOM, and VentureBeat. Costolo’s newest accolade emerged from fierce competition, in which he edged out Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer, and runner-up-winning Travis Kalanick of Uber.

“This is really a team award,” said Costolo, in a gracious and brief acceptance speech. “It’s just such a delight to be able to get up in the morning and come to work with such enthusiastic, and creative, and courageous people. It makes it fun, it makes it exciting, and it never gets old, so thanks very much — I really appreciate it.”

Today marked the seventh year of The Crunchies, and the first of another event: The Crappies, organized in protest by the San Francisco chapter of Jobs With Justice. Playfully adorned with hand-written, paperboard signage, The Crappies organizers “awarded” individuals and companies for actions deemed problematic and harmful to the city and its myriad communities.

Dick Costolo was among the dubious cast of Crappies prizewinners, receiving the award for Best Tax Evader. The award references the company’s decision to relocate to the city’s Mid-Market neighborhood in the now-termed “Twitter building.”

In agreeing to the move, Twitter accepted a payroll tax credit pioneered by Mayor Ed Lee. The credit, misleadingly called the “Twitter tax break,” in fact extends to any company that relocates to the Mid-Market neighborhood, a trending district that incorporates areas of Civic Center and the Tenderloin, along with stretches of SoMa from 6th to 10th Street.

In guise of the real Costolo, local nonprofit worker and activist James Chionsini, playing a rather convincing Fake Dick Costolo, accepted the award. Chionsini’s last tweet, dated from almost a year ago, rings today with newfound prescience:

The Crappies have followed a wave anti-gentrification protests across the Bay Area, where private buses transport Google workers to and from the company’s Mountain View headquarters. The protests, widely covered in both tech and mainstream press, highlight the tensions rippled by the wave of a tech economy that fails to lift all boats.

“San Francisco is in a crisis,” decries Jobs With Justice. Median rental prices recently topped $3,000 for the first time in history, situating the City by the Bay as the country’s single most expensive place to live.

New Photos from #TechDrinkup

New York’s smash hit startup party, #techdrinkup, arrived in San Francisco for the second time last week. Check out the amazing photos on Mike Gold’s Facebook page!

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Founder Stories: Razvan Roman & Radu Spineanu, Co-Founders, Amber.io

amber.io is an API that places orders on ecommerce platforms. App developers or publishers can allow their users to order millions of products from 3rd party retailers without leaving the app. Co-Founders Radu Spineanu and Radu Spineanu join us to talk about their company, the vision, and the process of building companies both in Romania (where they’re from) and Silicon Valley (where they’ve moved).