What do women entrepreneurs have to do with your Christmas shopping list?

Dec 16, 2013
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Women in Tech

What are you buying the little girl in your life for Christmas?

Paul Papadimitriou moderated a panel at LeWeb 2013 consisting of three very successful entrepreneurs who happen to be women. Papadimitriou was oozing with European class as he brilliantly lead the ladies past the awkward Women in Tech discussion into a constructive conversation, pulling out a few great points along the way.

During the conversation, Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox made an important statement.

“…As women, we often pitch products to people who could never be the end consumers for those products…This is a challenge….”

This can be a frustrating problem for anyone, but especially for women. How can women design and pitch products to men, and how can men truly develop products for women? More importantly, what are some of the lessons we can teach the younger generation that will enable them to thrive in cross-demographic business scenarios ?

Shoe designer Christian Louboutin famously once said,

“High heels are pleasure with pain … If you can’t walk in them, don’t wear them.”

The detriment to society today, is that we are letting sadists design products for us women.  Fortunately for men, they aren’t all as brazen as the lovely Mr. Louboutin, but the truth of the matter is, products are designed with the projections of the artist. Even in tech, so many start-ups that design products and services for women, in fact, have no women co-founders. Why is it then that more women aren’t designing for women? I cannot help but think we would be much better at ideating and innovating for the very products and services we use every day.

This is the real problem. A critical absence of women in key product design and development roles. Instead, the discussion around Women in Tech or Women Entrepreneurship has resulted in token panels on the topic at key conferences, when in fact, the discussion is considerably deeper.

As women, we’re only just at the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible in this era of technology and are focusing on obvious gender-centric challenges, such as beauty, fashion etc. Birchbox, for example, a woman-founded company, originally started out in the beauty business. No doubt, the beauty industry is huge, ripe for disruption and an obvious choice for women founders. Birchbox encompassed everything a modern-day society pushes women to be.  Beautiful.   Yes, we are beautiful and any woman who does not enjoy being called so is lying.  However, there are bigger, bolder and more important frontiers for women to have an impact on.

How should society create the conditions for the next generation of women to take on these bigger, bolder and more important frontiers? I’ll attempt to answer this through an example of how my parents raised me.  *Waves hi to mom and dad*

My parents were from Berkeley and Cornell.  My first toy was a Godzilla toy.  They showed me old Lon Chaney movies, which made me a fan of the phantom way before Andrew Lloyd Webber got a hold of it, as well as movie monsters in general.  When I was eight, my dad made me stand out on the street and hand him spark plugs while he and I worked on his 1966 Thunderbird.  I got my first Barbie from a friend at the age of twelve and I played naked Barbies.  (Shut up, EVERYONE plays naked Barbies).  Star Wars is my absolute favorite movie.

Today, I run a multi-million dollar e-commerce business in Tokyo, Japan with 17 employees.  I bootstrapped it on my own.  How?  Because I was taught no limitations.  No gender, no culture, no color, no anything.

If we want more women entrepreneurs taking on big challenges, we need to start at home.  I won’t give you some customary crap about not giving your girls Barbie dolls because playing naked Barbies is CLEARLY crucial in the development stage of your child.  Instead, I’ll talk about some new, wonderful things you can give your girls and teach them they can do anything they want.  In the sport of the Christmas season, I’ve come up with my dream list to give my little girl.

To conclude, the things we buy our little girls and the conversations we have with aspiring women leaders are often a product of our own limitations and the limitations of our society. If we want to truly enable young women entrepreneurs, let’s look for the insight in the pivotal moments of the lives of successful women entrepreneurs and figure out a way to scale those lessons. If we teach aspiring women entrepreneurs that they have no limitations then they’ll break all the ones society imposes upon them in the course of taking on those big bold challenges.