Archive for October, 2012

Women And Entrepreneurship: My Statement

Cover of "In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms&...

Cover of In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms


The topic of women and entrepreneurship has been getting a lot of attention of late.Vivek Wadhwa has been leading the charge from TechCrunch. Yesterday, I read an article by Penelope Trunk on TechCrunch that argues that you cannot be an entrepreneur and bear and raise children, have a successful relationship, and have a balanced life.


I generally avoid commenting on this issue, but Vivek has often egged me on to say things, at least in private discussions. Vivek is a good friend, and I believe that he is trying to do something meaningful to help move this debate forward.


So, today, I am going to say a few things on the topic.


First, this is a very complex issue. Each woman needs to make her own choice, and it is no use saying things like “You should have children” or “You should be an entrepreneur” or “You should have children and be an entrepreneur.”


The choice is personal. Individual. It needs to meet the needs of the “person.”


I have often invited women to the Entrepreneur Journeys series and asked them to share their perspectives on the topic. Let’s revisit what some of them have said.


In my conversation with Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, we discussed the issue of identity crisis:


SM: I am personally, philosophically, against people staying home as moms because I think it leads to a huge identity crisis. It sounds like what you are doing is mitigating some of that. There is a book on the bestseller list right now called ‘In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms’. I was cringing when I saw that. [Dr. Laura Schlessinger], who wrote that book, is the top women-focused talk show host on the radio.

SS: It is really a challenge. I always try not to be a judgmental person. I can’t be in everyone’s shoes. The statement that it is best for women to stay at home is something that is just not possible for many families, particularly now. I do have friends who have chosen to stay at home with their kids. I know that they struggle with it.

SM: What do they struggle with?

SS: Giving up their adult identity, the ability to interact with other adults on an intellectual, problem-solving level. You are certainly working with your spouse on a daily basis dealing with your kids. You are certainly working with your kids on a daily basis to solve problems. However, you are missing a part of yourself that is constantly challenged. I have friends who say they have not used sentences with more than four syllables all day long. I really think it takes a toll on your brain and certainly on your identity. For me, being a professional woman is not just about being a professional woman. It is about making a greater contribution to society and being a part of the working world.


You can read Sara’s interview to get more of a sense of how she has applied her creativity to come up with a solution to the juggling mothers problem.


In addition, Julia Hartz, cofounder of Eventbrite, discusses the role her husband has played in her career as an entrepreneur.


And Therese Tucker, CEO of BlackLine Systems, talks about how she screwed up her marriage by trying to juggle her startup and her children, but she has remarried her husband and got the balance back. It’s a moving story of a remarkable woman.


Finally, Judy Estrin, one of the most successful and widely admired women in technology, and a through and through serial entrepreneur, says:


SM: I have never even thought of myself as a woman. I have thought of myself first as an entrepreneur and a professional.

JE: I thought of myself as a technologist first. When I became a leader and manager I thought of myself as a business person first and a woman second. Now when I meet young women I will go out of my way to help them, but that was never my cause. Some of that is because my mother was a very strong feminist. When I went into the workplace I probably downplayed that part because I watched my mother so actively. In her generation she had to be in order to get where she was.


Judy and her ex-husband, Bill Carrico, have founded seven companies together, including Bridge Communications, which was the essential piece in the rejuvenation of3Com, a story you have also read here in my interview with Eric Benhamou.


All four women are successful entrepreneurs, and all of them have children. They have each figured out ways to manage the process, and each has struggled.


But they have not failed.


I saw my friend Marylene Delbourg-Delphis at a dinner party last night and spoke with her briefly on the topic. Marylene has also raised a child – Sophie, an immensely talented budding opera singer – and has had a successful career as an entrepreneur. She writes the blog Grade A Entrepreneurs, and she has a passion for the Women and Entrepreneurship issue, as well as the artist as an entrepreneur topic.


As for my own experience, I have chosen not to have children. I like the freedom and control I have over my time. My husband and I love to travel, and we share a variety of other passions including the arts, cuisine, and culture. I am balancing an entrepreneurial career, a writing career, and I still make time to dance, something that has remained important to me throughout my life.


You see, there are several key factors that we balance in this equation of life: our personal needs, a relationship, a career, and children. It is not easy to balance all of these needs, so each of us does our best to tailor a life that fits our particular priorities. For me, freedom and control over my time came out well ahead of having children. In fact, as I ordered the various items, my entrepreneurial career, my writing career, my relationship, my personal needs, my parents, friends, and extended family in India, my husband’s family and friends in Europe, our passion for travel, cooking, arts, my need to dance – all of that came out well ahead of children and the loss of freedom that entails.


I accepted, in my mid-thirties, that I will not be able to do it all, and the trade-offs I would have to make to have children are not worth my while.


Some people will tell you that you are not a complete woman if you don’t have children. I have heard this many times.


I think it is bullshit.


So, my message to women who are trying to get your arms around this issue: Do what works for you. Have the courage and the conviction to ignore the peer pressure that will definitely come your way.


Be yourself, be authentic, be who you truly are.


The rest will sort itself out.


PS: Vivek has a new post on the topic on TechCrunch: Men and Women Entrepreneurs: Not That Different. I agree. Here’s a video I did for Women 2.0 a while back, saying the same thing. Bottom line, the rules are the same whether you are a woman entrepreneur or a man. So if you really want to be successful, focus on learning the rules of the entrepreneurship game. If you are interested, try the One Million by One Million (1M/1M) program through which I have pledged to help a million entrepreneurs reach a million dollars in annual revenue by 2020.


India vs. Silicon Valley: A SaaS-y War

Image representing Salesforce as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase


Software as a service (SaaS) probably grew in popularity as quickly as it did thanks to The customer relationship management (CRM) giant made the lives of sales professionals much easier, and the platform soon gained traction as a handy tool for non-sales professionals as well. But wasn’t—and still isn’t—affordable for everybody. Enter Zoho, a bootstrapped, India-based company that offers a hosted CRM solution that competes directly with Salesforce’s offering but at significantly lower price.

With Salesforce, very small companies of five or fewer users can get a 30-day free trial. If they decide to stay, Salesforce charges $5 per user per month. For the complete professional CRM package, it costs $65 per user per month. Zoho, on the other hand, offers its CRM package for free to startups and entrepreneurs with three or fewer users. For the complete professional CRM package, it costs $12 per user per month. Regardless of the size of your company, that represents a huge savings.

What’s most important about Zoho and other India-based companies that go head-to-head with Silicon Valley powerhouses like Salesforce is that there’s no fear that the you-get-what-you-pay-for monster will rear its ugly head. On the contrary, these companies are offering quality products and services at affordable prices. Although the cost of advertising and customer acquisition are the same, the overall cost of doing business is not. Companies with operations in India have lower overhead costs and can pay competitive salaries that are still considerably lower than what a company like Salesforce would have to pay for talented employees.

The phenomenon doesn’t stop with Salesforce and Zoho, obviously. There are other companies in India that compete directly with Silicon Valley companies and do quite well, although they are far from achieving the exact same levels of success. For one thing, some of these Indian companies are newer than their closest competitors. And when you charge less, you, naturally, earn less overall. But again, in India, what seems like a drop in the bucket to a U.S.-based company, is a tidy sum. Let’s take a look at another comparison

Zendesk was founded in October, 2007 in Copenhagen, Denmark. After 8 months of toil by the three founders, the company raised $500,000 in private investments. By 2009, the company had moved to Boston, raised two rounds of funding, and recruited almost 1,000 customers. The Zendesk team decided it was time to move closer to their investors and shifted their operations to San Francisco. And then things started getting interesting. In 2010, Zendesk announced across-the-board price hikes of 300 percent, stirring up a serious customer backlash on social media sites. The company later acknowledged that the move was ill-considered, and rolled back the price increases for existing customers. But in India, one entrepreneur following the controversy on the discussion portal Hacker News took the controversy as a cue to start innovating.

Girish Mathrubootham, the vice president of engineering at the ManageEngine division at Zoho, figured that a cloud help desk solution with the right features, at the right price, might be able to compete against Zendesk. He also felt that existing SaaS help desk software lacked the perfect blend of aesthetics, functionality and wallet-friendliness, and that there was a lot of room to improve the usability of such systems.

Shan Krishnaswamy, the technology architect at ManageEngine, shared Girish’s passion and enthusiasm. He and Girish had built multiple successful on-premises software packages together, including at least four specific help desk solutions. In June 2010, they founded Freshdesk with Girish’s life savings.


After a year of development effort, Freshdesk was launched to the public in June 2011. Within the first 100 days, Freshdesk crossed an impressive milestone of 100 customers.  Since then, the company has won numerous awards and recognitions including the Microsoft BizSpark Startup Challenge. In December, 2011, Freshdesk raised its first round of funding from Accel Partners, firmly establishing its position as a strong competitor for Zendesk.

Let’s look at how Freshdesk and Zendesk—with its four-year head start—compare. It took Freshdesk only 12 months to acquire 1,000 customers;  Zendesk took 19. It took Zendesk eight months to raise $500,000 in seed funding, but it only took Freshdesk four months to raise twice that amount. All told, Freshdesk has raised $6 million compared to Zendesk’s $85.5 million.

Freshdesk enjoys a mix of both worlds with a base in India blended with years of experience working in, and building software for US customers. Over 90 percent of Freshdesk’s employees have directly built, marketed, and sold software to global customers.

As a trend, it is interesting to see how Indian SaaS companies are giving heavily funded Silicon Valley startups a run for their money. Today’s booming environment in Silicon Valley has created a talent war, driving salaries of engineers, product managers, and other talented team members high. In contrast, India (and some other geographies like Latin America, Eastern Europe, East Asia) maintains cost advantages when it comes to talent.

Innovation, consequently, is happening everywhere. The software that the challengers produce is rich in functionality and innovation, not just substantially cheaper. Thus, while they still have to spend similar amounts in terms of customer acquisition investment, the cost structure advantage often results in better products at lower prices.

This is a relatively new phenomenon. I expect, the trend will develop over the next few years, and companies from India, Malaysia, Brazil, Romania and elsewhere will pose a significant challenge for Silicon Valley companies. Of course, a reasonable response is for Valley companies to avail themselves of the cost advantages by also using offshore workforces.

But software prices will be driven down through this competitive dynamic, and in the end, the customers will emerge as the winners.

This story has unfolded through the ages. It will unfold again.




Meeting expectations

In many settings, happiness and success are measured in terms of whether or not expectations were met (or exceeded).

From the stock market to tech to what’s under the Christmas tree, we let expectations determine whether or not something good has happened. Not whether it was useful or kind or productive or delightful, but whether it beat our fantasies.

There are two things you can do with this truth:

1. Spend a lot more effort managing expectations, and

2. Focus on the wonderful instead of the exceeded.

Brands and stocks and careers that are here for the long haul do both.


I'm Just Sayin'

Okay. Pretty much every single “binders of women” joke has already been done — so why not just pile the hell on? I never claimed to be original or anything. If you want original humor, dig up Andy Kaufman. 

If you saw the second Presidential debate — and I know you did — you were, like me, struck by several things. First, those two men really dislike each other. Second, as FOX News angrily reported, the moderator, CNN reporter Candy Crowley, proved that she was firmly in the Obama camp by pointing out a blatant falsehood made by Mitt Romney on the subject of Libya. Shame on her! Shame!

The argument was about when was the first time that Obama called the Benghazi attack an “act of terrorism.” Obama said that he had used the term in a Rose Garden speech the day after the attack and Romney said that…

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Poll: Debate watchers thought Obama won

CNN Political Ticker

(CNN) — A new poll of those who watched Tuesday’s presidential debate shows results largely in line with the CNN/ORC International survey of debate watchers conducted the night of the matchup.

Gallup found debate watchers thought President Barack Obama performed significantly stronger this week than he did in his first debate. In a 13-point split, 51% said Obama won and 38% gave the win to Republican challenger Mitt Romney. One in 10 said neither candidate won.

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20 Bad Habits Holding Good People Back

A change in bad habits leads to a good change in life…

Here are twenty bad habits many of us repeatedly struggle with:

  1. Expecting life to be easy. – Nothing starts easy; everything begins at some level of difficulty.  Even waking up in the morning sometimes requires notable effort.  But one beautiful thing about life is the fact that the most difficult challenges are often the most rewarding and satisfying.
  2. Overlooking your true path and purpose. – What really matters in life is not what we buy, but what we build; not what we have, but what we share with the world; not our capability but our character; and not our success but our true significance.  Live a life that makes you proud – one that matters and makes a difference.  Live a life filled with passion and love.  Read A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
  3. Chasing after those who don’t want to be caught. – Do not chase people.  Be you, do your own thing and work hard on your passions.  The right people who belong in your life will eventually come to you, and stay.
  4. Not asking for help when you know you need it. – No matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong road, you can always turn back.  Be STRONG enough to stand alone, SMART enough to know when you need help, and BRAVE enough to ask for it.
  5. Letting one dark cloud cover the entire sky. – Take a deep breath.  It’s just a bad moment, or a bad day, not a bad life.  Everyone has troubles.  Everyone makes mistakes.  The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.
  6. Holding on to things you need to let go of. – Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but rather accepting that there are things in life that should not be.  Sometimes letting go is what makes us stronger, happier and more successful in the long run.
  7. Spending time with people who make you unhappy. – People can be cruel, and sometimes they will be.  People can hurt you and break your heart, and sometimes they will.  But only YOU can allow them to continuously hurt you.  Value yourself enough to choose to spend time with people who treat you the way you treat them.  Know your worth.  Know when you have had enough.  And move on from the people who keep chipping away at your happiness.
  8. Not making time for those who matter most. – When we take things for granted, these things eventually get taken away.  Too often we don’t realize what we have until it’s gone.  Too often we are too stubborn to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”  Too often it seems we hurt the ones closest to us by letting insignificant issues tear us apart.  Appreciate what you have, who loves you and who cares for you.  You’ll never know how much they mean to you until the day they are no longer beside you.
  9. Denying personal responsibility. – You’re getting almost everything you’re getting right now based on the decisions you have made; and you will continue to receive the same things until you choose differently.  You always have some element of control.  There are always other options.  The choices might not be easy, but they are available.  You will not get a different result until you exercise a choice that forces you to grow by habit, by action, and by change.
  10. Letting everyone else make decisions for you. – Never allow someone or something that adds very little to your life, control so much of it.  You’ve got to stop caring about what everyone else wants for you, and start actually living for yourself.  Let go of the people and things that continuously hold you back and no longer serve you, because you only get one shot at life.
  11. Giving up who YOU are. – Remove yourself from any situation that requires you to give up any one of these three things:  1) Who you are.  2)  What you stand for.  3)  The goals you aspire to achieve.  Read Quitter.
  12. Quitting as soon as things get slightly difficult. – An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward; and such is life.  When life is pulling you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to eventually launch you forward in a positive direction.  So keep focusing, and keep aiming!
  13. Doing too much and pushing too hard, without pausing. – Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never find it, but because they never stop long enough to enjoy it.  Sometimes we are so focused on what we want that we miss the things we need most.
  14. Discrediting yourself for everything you aren’t. – STOP discrediting yourself for everything you aren’t.  START giving yourself credit for everything that you are.
  15. Running from current problems and fears. – Trust me, if everyone threw their problems in a pile for you to see, you would grab yours back.  Tackle your problems and fears swiftly, don’t run away from them.  The best solution is to face them head on no matter how powerful they may seem.  Either you own your problems and fears, or they will ultimately own you.
  16. Constantly mulling over past hardships. – You’ll never see the great things ahead of you if you keep looking at the bad things behind you.  To reach up for the new, you must let go of the old.  You are exactly where you need to be to reach your goals.  Everything you’ve been through was preparation for where you are right now and where you can be tomorrow.
  17. Denying your mistakes. – Remember that most honorable people of all are not those who never make mistakes, but those who admit to them when they do.  And then go on to do their best to make the wrong things right.
  18. Expecting your significant other to be perfect. – Remember that you will never find a PERFECT partner to love you in the exact way you had envisioned, only a person who is willing to love you with all that they are.  Someone who will accept you for who you can and cannot be.  And although they will never be PERFECT, finding a partner like this is even BETTER.  Read The Mastery of Love.
  19. Focusing on the negative. – Positive thinking isn’t about expecting the best thing to happen every time, it’s about accepting that whatever happens is good for this moment, and then making the best of it.  So stay positive, and hold on to what’s truly important.  Let your worries go.  No matter how you look at it, some outcomes just don’t make sense right away.  Choosing to carry on with your goals through this uncertainty is what matters.
  20. Never allowing things to be good enough. – We are human.  We are not perfect.  We are alive.  We try things.  We make mistakes.  We stumble.  We fall.  We get hurt.  We rise again.  We try again.  We keep learning.  We keep growing.  And we are thankful for this priceless opportunity called life.
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