Randi Zuckerberg has a new gig, and it's more than just a day job. As the only woman investor on HSN's new reality show American Dreams, the entrepreneur and Facebook alum will be diversifying her portfolio to include more consumer products, but she hasn't left her love for tech behind.
I caught up with Zuckerberg to discuss the show, as well as her top advice for today's emerging entrepreneurs. Check out the edited version of our conversation below.
So you have a new job, American Dreams. What are you going to be doing?
My first onair date is in September, but before that, I'll be working with entrepreneurs to get them ready for HSN. The interesting thing about this show is the entrepreneurs have never been on HSN or on TV. This might be the first time they're selling their product. So I'll be doing everything from helping get products manufactured to walking them through the whole retail process. And as I'm getting to know them and their products, I'm investing my own money or taking on an advisory role.
My big passion is paying it forward to other female entrepreneurs. I spent a lot of lonely years in Silicon Valley being the only woman in the room, and I think the best thing other women can do is to pay it forward. I always wonder what I can do, whether it's investing in women entrepreneurs or having them on my radio show. When HSN asked if I wanted to work with women on the show, it was a no brainer.
What kinds of businesses are you hoping to invest in?
People expect me to be all in on tech, but I actually have a few different categories in my portfolio that I tend to lean toward. One is media content for Millennials. Millennials are engaging with media in a very different way than older audiences, but they are not being well served with things like financial content and a host of other areas. Another, especially with the HSN show, is physical products--stuff that make the modern woman's life easier. The modern woman is an expert multi-tasker and an entrepreneur. Whether she knows it or not, she's probably CEO of her family, or she's freelancing. We need products that make life easier, more fun.
When you hear about a new business idea, are you ever smitten right away? Or does it always take getting to know the founder before you'll sign on?
The way in which an entrepreneur comes to me is just as important as the idea. You want to catch an investor when they are receptive to an idea, not after a one-hour speech when they are running to catch a plane. A pitch coming in through a personal connection is great, it's an endorsement.
And the entrepreneur is just as important as the idea. I can work with them to change or tweak a product. But when I meet them I'm thinking, 'Do I want to be in business with them for 10, 15 years?'
You've said before that you refuse to speak down to women about tech--how do you think the industry is doing that?
The industry is improving, but a lot of content that talks about tech is either very in-the-weeds or super dumbed-down. It's time we grow up. Tech media coverage is no longer about newfangled things for the geeks, it's about every person's lifestyle. It's time we speak in an intelligent way, but with with empathy.
Who are some other women or organizations you think are doing really great things to further opportunities for women in tech?
There are so many, I could go on and on. I love the organizations that focus on girls and coding: GoldieBlox, Black Girls Code, Code2040, Girls Who Code. That's why I have a children's show called Dot that's coming out about a techy little girl. There's a lot of excellent stuff happening for girls. Then there's the 30-, 40-year-old woman who is more tech savvy than we give her credit for, but she's a little overwhelmed. We need to talk to her, too--in an aspirational, but not intimidating, way.
Nonprofits are one way to support women and girls, but I think the more important way is to put your money where your mouth is and invest in them. There are not enough people giving money to help women change their lives, get jobs and create jobs.
Who's been a mentor to you, and what's an important mentoring moment that sticks out in your mind?
I'm lucky, I've had a lot of mentors. But too many of us place too high a value on having a high-in-the-sky mentor--someone who is six steps above you who will help you figure out your career. Instead, focus on your peers--your friend group and co-workers. I've had a lot of support from women who are in similar positions as me.