Adventures in LadyTech: Techstar's Yifan Zhang
There’s a big problem out there in tech-y technology-land: there just aren’t enough women participating. People can spin it any way they like, but the bottom line is there aren’t enough women co-founders, there aren’t enough women VC’s, there aren’t even enough women in incubators or women that call themselves entrepreneurs. What’s up with that, world?
The problem can probably be traced partly back to the fact that there just aren’t as many lady programmers as there should be, and as a result of this, young women in college and high school are not being exposed to enough women technologists or entrepreneur role models in the media.
The media is full of gender stereotypes. Think about it – what were all the women in the movie ‘The Social Network’ up to? They were crazy-eyed, present-burning current girlfriends, one-night-stands, nerd groupies, sorority party girls, or bitchy ex-girlfriends. The only lady who got any respect was the lovely Rashida Jones character, legal eagle Marilyn Delpy. Seriously, why can’t we be none of the above…or better yet ALL OF THE ABOVE!??
In the meantime, us ladies have to stick together and support each other as much as possible, and seek out amazing stories of women in technology and women entrepreneurs and encourage the media to feature these women any chance they get.
We have been featuring women social entrepreneurs in our girltank series, and now we will also feature amazing “ladytech” entrepreneurs – wonderful women who have not always behaved well, and who have not always colored between the lines, and who have often risked it all to create amazing products that they really believe in and that could some day change the world, like our lovely co-founders here at hellogiggles.
Yes, there are many women in technology, like Gina Bianchini (Ning), Caterina Fake (Flickr), and Marissa Mayer (Google), but a concerted effort should be made to feature them and offer them as as role models to the next generation of young women.
First in our series is bad ass Harvard woman Yifan Zhang, co-founder of Gym-Pact.com, an app and platform that helps you commit to actually doing exercise by using cash incentives. She’s currently participating in Techstars, a world-famous incubator in Boston, and is fresh out of Startup Chile. This is her story.
Tell me about Gympact – what does it do?
GymPact rewards you with real cash for checking in at the gym, paid for by those who don’t exercise!
How did the idea for Gympact come about?
The idea came from my last behavioral economics class at Harvard, where our professor let us explore applications of economics principles in the real world.
When you first thought about being an entrepreneur, was anything holding you back?
I’m a pretty risk-averse person, so I almost went into the ultimate conservative after-graduation industry of consulting. I am so glad I didn’t!
What got you to do it?
I got into the Harvard Business School 2+2 program, which meant even if my startup completely failed I would land back in business school. Knowing this gave me the push to jump straight into startups. We started GymPact by working with local gyms in Boston. One of our users loved it so much that she recommended us to the Boston Globe, and suddenly we had people around the country asking for GymPact. That’s when my co-founder Geoff Oberhofer and I both jumped full-time onto the project.
What’s it like being a woman in the tech field?
I never felt like there was a big gender difference before I started Techstars, since doing a fashion nonprofit was an entirely different experience. But Techstars was the first time I was one of 2 women in a group of 30+ founders. I have not felt like being a woman has put me at a disadvantage, and being able to run my own company means I get to create the culture I want at GymPact. But needless to say, women-led companies definitely tend to hire more women than all-male companies!
Why do you think there are fewer women tech entrepreneurs than men?
I definitely think there needs to be a push to make programming sexy for women. I’m not a developer, but I wish I majored in CS in college. It’s such a useful skill and even though I loved math and the AP computer science class I took in high school, the popular image of what you could do with CS skills didn’t appeal to me. I never realized that CS could help me create products and companies that could touch so many people’s lives.
What are 3 important things a young woman can do RIGHT NOW if she wants to get into a startup? How about if she wants to co-found a startup?
1. Start following the blogs and Twitter handles of entrepreneurs and companies that you think are interesting. Get to know them! 2. Evangelize for your favorite startups – post about them on your own FB, Twitter, Tumblr, etc, use their product, get your friends to use their product, give them feedback, participate in their campaigns or challenges. 3. Reach out to your favorite companies – it’s amazing how easy it is to get coffee with the co-founder of a small startup!
If you want to co-found your own startup: 1. Figure out the top 3 assumptions you need to test about your startup idea, and figure out quick, ideally non-build ways to test them. 2. Get advice from others in your industry. For most startup ideas, getting feedback is much more valuable than protecting your secret. 3. Find a co-founder, if you don’t have one already. Look for someone who complements your skills, and with a personality that means you won’t kill each other even if you spend 99% of waking hours together.
In one words!
What’s your favorite website right now?
What’s your favorite app right now? other than your own!
Uber – it saves my life!
What’s the favorite thing in your closet right now?
My new Techstars jacket
(Image via David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images)