Gender and Entrepreneurship at SXSW

Among thousands of people, marketing activations, BBQs and cocktail hours, SXSW 2015 helped promote key discussions on the future of work dynamics and the issue of gender in entrepreneurship. These topics were the subject of thought-provoking conversations throughout sessions and keynotes, one of which – UpGlobal’s panel on Women in Entrepreneurship at Old School on 6th Street – I had the honor of being a part of.

IMG_0001 2

Joined by my fellow panelists Anjali Kundra (VP and co-founder of Partender), Amy Millman (President, Springboard Enterprises), Kate Shillo (Director, Galvanize Ventures), and moderated by Lisa Brooks (Turnstone), our group had a dynamic discussion in front of an audience of male and female entrepreneurs alike about how to scale a venture while taking gender into consideration. The group was composed of investors, an entrepreneur and marketers. A few key themes emerged:

From keynotes by Jack Welch and Gary Vaynerchuk to our Startup Oasis panel, the questions of who serves as professional mentors and why continued to come up. For Jack Welch, he finds mentors from every part of his business life. He mentioned Jeff Bezos, Gary Vaynerchuk and others as people to whom he looks for advice. RZA, of the Wu-Tang Clan, counts Jim Jaramusch and Quentin Tarantino as mentors who taught him about becoming a filmmaker. For many of the women on our UpGlobal panel ¬– including myself – mentors of both genders were found through previous job experiences. Though our backgrounds and mentors differed, one thing on which we all agreed was that it’s the responsibility of the mentee to make mentorship happen. If we want to learn from someone, it’s up to us to ask for advice and forge the relationship.

Is HR The Answer To Address Gender Imbalance At Startups?
HR was a hot-button issue that came up in many sessions and conversations. It was clear that enacting company policies and taking over the duty to ensure a workplace that’s equal for both men and women falls upon an HR person. But when and how this hire is made is subject to broadly differing views. For some, HR should be one of the first hires at a startup, while others think HR is an expensive, non-revenue driving investment. This is particularly true for companies at a critical stage where every contributor makes or breaks the growth trajectory of a company. It’s unclear if there’s a “right” answer to this conundrum, as I’ve seen companies try both ways with success. What is clear is that there is no foolproof way to solve for gender imbalance.

Advice For Female Startup Entrepreneurs
During our panel, Lisa asked each of us the one piece of advice we’d give to other female entrepreneurs. We all noted that conviction and confidence are imperative when we’re presenting our ideas and trying to sell a vision to investors, clients or internal staff. Whether male or female, conviction and confidence are ways to keep ahead in the ultra-competitive startup environment in which we work.

Lastly, kudos to UpGlobal for hosting a rich conversation and event at the Startup Oasis; it helped to bring together entrepreneurs from around the world to have an important discussion on the future of gender in the workplace. Now it will be interesting to see if progress happens, or if we’ll still be having the same conversation on this topic at SXSW 2016.


TIL How to Use Reddit for PR

Most have heard of but probably haven’t ventured much into the world of Reddit. A website with over a 174 million users and hundreds of thousands of communities called subreddits, Reddit is a nexus for social sharing, creativity and fun. And it could also be a great tool to leverage for a PR pro.

The self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet” has in the last couple of years picked up steam and has stepped into the arena of mainstream media. And if not in its own right, it’s done so via websites and blogs like Buzzfeed, Gawker and Huffington Post. In fact, it was such a good source that controversy arose from how often stories were being pulled from the boards of Reddit without proper accreditation. It got so far that Huffington Post was actually banned from Reddit late last year for sourcing its news from the site without giving proper attribution. And if not in the form of original content, users regularly post trending pieces of news and current events.
Reddit’s notorious user base, often thought of as cynical and merciless towards overly self-promotional content, has also drawn its fair share of attention in the public eye. Take Nissan, who earlier this year failed miserably to gain the response it sought from Redditors through a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), an open thread for users to “ask anything” to high-profile celebrities, personalities, or companies. Instead of positive recognition, Nissan only gained the accusations of Reddit regulars for dodged questions as well as convenient questions asked by suspiciously new accounts. Fortunately, Reddit did not ultimately see any foul play, but the backlash was bad news enough.

It’s seems daunting but Reddit can be a great place to reach your clients’ audiences if leveraged correctly. To avoid having what happened to HuffPost or Nissan to you or your client, here are some guidelines on using Reddit the right way:

Rule #1: Follow the rules. It’s simple and can save you a lot of trouble. Take a deep dive into the site and explore several subreddits; users don’t care for misplaced content. Try to understand how each community works and how Reddit as a whole choses to interact among itself. What leads to more upvotes? What material is okay for what subreddit? Who are influencers within the community? What will get you booted? If you don’t know the rules, you could end up off Reddit, just like Huffington Post.

Rule #2: Do an AMA. It might not sound appealing considering what happened to Nissan, or the likes of Morgan Freemen and Woody Harrelson for that matter (considered two of the worst AMAs of all time). But appropriately leveraging an AMA can be a huge win for any business or person trying to gain exposure on the Web. The key is to understand that Reddit users can smell a sham from a mile away, so it pays to be genuine. Remember, people are interested in people, and not always what’s being sold to them.

Rule #3: Tap into the ultimate focus group. Social media and trending news on the Web can often make one feel awash in a downpour of information, but Reddit’s vastly diverse user base makes it a tool that can help your client stay afloat and tuned in to the right conversations. Instantly, you can have access to top tier professionals and experts in every field from astrophysics to gaming. In some cases, it’s appropriate to establish your own subreddit, much like Highwire’s social virtual reality client AltspaceVR did. Imagine having the biggest and most diverse focus group on every subject on the Internet only a click away – that’s what Reddit is. More than a place to gain exposure, Reddit is a place to see how people are reacting and discussing anything from shower thoughts to world news. Gain insight and participate in a discussion that can help you and your client down the road.

Rule #4: Be a real person. It’s often hard to take our PR hats off, as we swim through a sea of buzzwords and industry jargon. But Reddit is place where a clever handle and a subreddit can lead you down a rabbit hole of jokes and heartwarming stories that can get you all teary-eyed. Be real. It’s plain and simple. Don’t push a product or unprompted information onto others unless they can genuinely benefit from it. If not, be ready because if Morgan Freeman can garner Reddit’s contempt, what makes you special?

Written by Erik Martinez, Content Associate in San Francisco