Technology startups are rarely helmed by women. But one of high tech's pioneering female founders offers some compelling insightsinto what she thinks makes women effective entrepreneurs.
To be sure, thereis much further to go in getting women into the driver's seat of tech startups. According to BloombergBusinessweek, "Technology entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly male, and fewer women than ever are entering the field. In 1985, 37 percent of computer science majors were female--by 2012 18 percent were."
Though in a minority, Sandra Kurtzig is a resoundingly successful entrepreneur.
After earning a degree in math from UCLA and an MS in aeronautical engineering from Stanford, she worked for GE and started ASK Computer Systems --a maker of manufacturing software--in 1972. In 1981, ASK became the first female-founded company to go public. Kurtzig left in 1985 to spend more time with her family and came back as CEO in 1991--selling ASK to CA Technologies in 1994 for $310 million.
Sixteen years later her Hawaii neighbor, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, talked her out of retirement. And in 2010, she founded Kenandy--named after her sons Ken and Andy--to deliver manufacturing and financial management software over the cloud via Salesforce.com's Force.com platform.
Like ASK, Kenandy sells to businesses. And that means that the company needs to hire a salesforce that can convince companies to buy--a time-consuming process. But SAP and Oracle require companies to incur significant cost and time to deploy and manage their bulky upgrades.
Kenandy wins customers from these incumbents by delivering speed and higher productivity. As Kurtzig explained in an August 6 interview, "When companies make acquisitions, they want to integrate the target quickly and we can get the acquired company's systems integrated fast."
The productivity that Kenandydelivers frees up clients'employeesfor more profitable activities. "We also free up the time of IT staff which lets them spend time doing things that boost a company's financial performance. One of our clients' Chief Information Officers came up with a clever new product idea that utilizes his [newly-liberated] people to boost revenues," said Kurtzig.
Her reputation enabled her to raise capital from the likes of Kleiner Perkins and Salesforce.com and she counts Kleiner's Ray Lane as a board member. So far, Kenandy has raised $45 million and its customers include Del Monte, Helix Linear Technologies, and Merrow.
And Kurtzig plans to take Kenandy public. As she explained in an August 6 interview, "I'm not really sure when but we will go public on the NYSE this time."
Kurtzigdescribed three traits that make women better entrepreneurs.
1. Women are nurturing.
Kurtzig believes that women are more aware of peoples' feelings than men. "Women are more sensitive about human resources issues--sometimes to a fault. They have a nurturing gene," she said.
Nurturing people can be a big advantage for a startup--especially given the fierce competition for talent among technology ventures. If this nurturing gene can enable a startup to attract, motivate, and retain talent--the startup will have an advantage.
After all, given the cost and time to recruit talent, if Kurtzig is right, a woman-led startup may be in a position to bring in talent that a less nurturing man-led venture expels.
2. Women get people to play well in the sandbox.
Making individuals feel good is an important skill for a leader. But so is getting individuals from different departments to work together to achieve a shared goal--such as winning new customers and keeping them loyal.
Noted Kurtzig, "Women are better at getting people to compromise and play in the same sandbox."
Here again--if Kurtzig is right, a woman-led startup would enjoy an advantage. After all, if talented people from different departments spend most of their time fighting for resources instead of working together, the venture will take too long to develop new products and bring in new business.
So a company that excels at teamwork will get things done faster--and with higher quality since the pieces will fit together better.
3. Women are more conservative.
Should a startup spend heavily even though it has no revenue? The answer is only if that heavy spending can be guaranteed to lead to more rapid revenue growth.
But Kurtzig believes that a better policy is to keep spending in check depending on revenues. As she explained, "Women are more conservative. I would rather lend money to a woman because she will pay it back. A man will be more of a daredevil in pursuit of growth. But I don't want to spend before getting revenue. I am pretty conservative on spending."
If Kurtzig is right, chances are good that investors in women-led ventures are likely to see their capital allocated more wisely. The question is whether they will drive sufficiently fast growth to yield an attractive exit for those investors.
Perhaps one reason that there are fewer women leading startups is that many of them step out of the workforce. As Kurtzig said, "Many women with professional degrees drop out of the workforce at 27 to 30 years old. But too often they make this decision without realizing what they will be missing."
Kurtzig thinks that women should know ahead of time that being a full-time mother for, say, 18 years may not be the best option. "While changing the first or second one might be fun, the charm is gone by the thousandth diaper. Women should find a way to do both [work and family]."