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How Four Female VCs Triumphed in Male-Dominated Silicon Valley

by Bani Banerjee
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How Four Female VCs Triumphed in Male-Dominated Silicon Valley | Womopreneur

Can women make good coders? Can women stand the cut-throat industrial competition? Can women take aggressive and often harsh decisions? Can women take charge of the male-dominated world of venture capital in Silicon Valley?

Award-winning journalist Julian Guthrie offers an inside look at the true meaning of grit and ingenuity through her book Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took on Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime and upends the myth that it is only men who create, build and run tech companies.

Alpha – denotes the dominant person or animal in a group aka the Alpha Male, but one never says Alpha Female. Well, Guthrie decided to break the stereotype through the book with an unforgettable story of four female VCs, who helped build some of the leading companies of our time. She explores the complexities of their lives, tracing back to how they’ve dealt with the wins and losses, the juggle between work-life balance, keeping up with family’s expectations, coping with the blatant sexist behaviors, and still manage to reach at top of the business hierarchy, making it amongst the first investors and founding board members of start-ups that would go on to become the giants of Silicon Valley.

Meet The Four ‘Alpha Girls’

During the significant, fascinating, and enthralling journey of the book, it takes the reader into a part of Silicon Valley’s history that has been overshadowed for far too long. It shows the struggles and achievements of Magdalena Yesil, Mary Jane Elmore, Theresia Gouw, and Sonja Perkins – The Alpha Girls.

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She left Turkey with $43 and landed in America to achieve her Bachelor of Science degrees in Industrial Engineering and Management Science and Engineering and a Master’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, all from Stanford University.

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She founded some of the first companies to commercialize internet access with Broadway Angels and helped Marc Benioff build Salesforce by becoming the first of the investors. She has been active in Silicon Valley for three decades and has been an early investor in more than 30 companies including theRealReal, PicsArt, Zuora, Socialcast (acquired by VMWare), Catch (acquired by Apple), Freshplum (acquired by TellApart and Twitter), Dotomi (acquired by ValueClick), 3Ware (acquired by AMCC), WebAction, Valicert (IPO), 128Technology, Securify (acquired by Kroll), iEscrow (acquired by eBay), and counting…

Mary Jane Elmore, was one of the first women venture capital partners on the West Coast, joining the venture capital firm of Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), Menlo Park, California in 1982.

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She began her career in Silicon Valley working for Intel Corporation in marketing. She served as a General Partner in eight IVP funds and on the Board of Directors of numerous private and public information technology companies. MJ has been an investor in early-stage start-up companies as well as in companies that are raising expansion capital. Currently, she is an advisor to the IVP funds and a private angel investor and a member of the Sand Hill Angels. 

Gouw earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Brown University, graduating magna cum laude, and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. She began her career at Bain & Company and left it to become a founding member of Release Software.

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Her investments included Trulia (TRLA), Imperva (IMPV), LearnVest, JasperDesign, and Kozmix. She has been recognized 8 times on the Forbes Midas List for her great achievements.

Sonja grew up in Virginia and graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia. After working for TA Associates in Boston as an analyst, she graduated from the Harvard Business School. In 1994, she began working as a venture capitalist at Menlo Ventures on Sand Hill Road in Menlo, California.

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At age 29, she was the youngest-ever general partner to join Menlo Ventures where she worked for 22 years before starting her own firm, The Perkins Firm. Her investments have included Acme Packet, F5 Networks, and McAfee Associates. She has served on the board of directors of over 50 companies. Forty percent of the angel investments made by Sonja Perkins have been in companies started by women.

Behind the Idea of ‘Alpha Girls’

During a Forbes interview with Samantha Todd, Guthrie said, “I was on tour for my last book, How to Make a Spaceship, spending a lot of time with entrepreneurs and engineers. I began to ask myself: Where are all the women in these really important and dynamic industries? Although I’d worked at the San Francisco Chronicle for 20 years, I didn’t know there was such a disparity as there is today. I started to look into tech for some kind of hidden figures, some really dynamic women who had great narratives and whose stories hadn’t been told. I came across this figure that 94% of all check-writing VCs are men. But who is the remaining 6%, who are the women? I wanted to know what the world looks like for them, what it’s like being pretty much the only woman in the room, the only woman chasing after certain deals.”.

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The 4 Lessons Learnt From the ‘Alpha Girls’ of Silicon Valley

  1. Work-Life Balance

As part of Salesforce, Magdalena Yesil helped to rescue the company during the dot com bust when it was on the edge of bankruptcy. But, when Salesforce went public in June 2004, Magdalena was at home, tending to her son, who at that time wasn’t well.

She should have stood next to Marc Benioff (Founder, Salesforce) during that historic moment when he rang the bell on the New York Stock Exchange, to celebrate the company she had helped build and bring to life.

  1. Humor as a Way to Level the Power Dynamic with Men

As a partner at IVP in Silicon Valley, Mary Jane Elmore, 28 years old was tasked with firing a male founder twice her age whose company wasn’t doing too good, and he was in an intimate relationship with one of his employees. She called for an urgent meeting, and told him, “You’re fired.” He opposed it and said, “I’m not going to be fired by a woman!”

Elmore looked to her right – Left – Behind. Then with a slight smile, she said, “Well, I don’t see anyone else here, do you? You’re fired.” She used humor to diffuse a tense situation that could have escalated. This clever style impressed her male peers; representing how women might handle such a situation in a better way than expected.

  1. Being Liked is a Currency

Never miss a chance to participate, when the opportunity comes. Even if you do not win, you will learn better tricks and if you are lucky, you will gain well-wishers.

Sonja Perkins was 20 years old when she became a partner at Menlo Ventures. She was invited to a banking boondoggle held by Thom Weisel, the founder of Montgomery Securities, and Thomas Weisel Partners.

Looking at the brighter side, she was one of only a few women other than wives or girlfriends to be invited. But destiny has some adventures written in her fate.

Weisel signed up Sonja for a skiing race being held that afternoon. She soon caught a frozen leg out of mental impressions of being defeated by the professionals like former Olympic skiers and Navy seals. These were the people Weisel liked to recruit to turn into bankers. When it was her turn, she took off down the hill, focusing on slow and steady. When she reached the bottom, Weisel gave her a thumbs-up.

That night, Sonja got the most sought-after seat in the dining room. The place where all the sharp-elbowed bankers wanted to be—right next to Weisel.

  1. The One Male Ally

Keep one of you with the enemy to know their secrets (We also love using humor !!)

Theresia Gouw was a successful woman, which was not acceptable by ambitious men as she was stealing all the thunder. So, rumors were spread about her flirting or sleeping her way to the important deals. She heard these rumors in different client meetings and conferences but didn’t believe them until VC Jim Goetz at Accel Partners walked in one day, closed the door, and told her that some guys in the Valley are hinting bad about her character.

She was sad to hear that but realized manslaying was a problem in the minds of men. And that she is not going to let these rumors create hindrance in her success.

Despite the setbacks, the family pressure, the homemaker’s soul, there is still some alpha left in all women. Alpha girls can fight the juggle of work and family, the struggle of unequal pay, and sexism prevalent in Silicon Valley to rise and rewrite the destiny of the male-dominated industry. 

So what are you waiting for, because, Who runs the world? Girls !!

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