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StartOut Spotlight – Highlighting LGBT leaders in business
Written by Adam Sandel | Powered by StartOut
Wall Street is one of the last bastions of old school boys’ club machismo. So when he was fresh out of Harvard, Ryan McNally did not feel especially at ease as an Analyst and Associate at Bear, Stearns & Company.
“I was surrounded by jocks and I could tell people were making fun of me,” he says. “No one was gay in ‘89 on Wall Street. And I didn’t like investment banking. It’s a bit soul-less with all the focus on closing the deal.”
Venture capital and private equity were more appealing to him, so three years later McNally joined, and served as Vice President of, Daniels & Associates, a boutique investment firm which raised private capital for growth-stage companies in the media, telecom and tech sectors.
In 2000, along with business partners Brian Rich and Chris Shipman, McNally co-founded Catalyst Investors (www.catalystinvestors.com), a New York-based private equity fund making growth-stage investments in tech-enabled services and digital media companies.
McNally remains an anomaly as an out gay man in the investment business. “I know only one or two other gay partner-level venture capital professionals,” he says.
“I made a conscious decision after my first year at Bear that I didn’t want my sexuality to be the one thing that defined me. I’d get people to know me as a person before mentioning my sexuality. Straight people don’t start of by saying they’re straight.”
The same year that he co-founded Catalyst, McNally met his partner Paul Bowden. “We got married in 2010, as soon as it was legal in New York, and we’re celebrating our 15th anniversary this year.” The two live in SoHo and Bowden, who is retired, is dedicated to non-profit and charitable causes.
McNally notes that a lot of gay professionals avoid unfriendly corporate environments by starting their own firms and services. “At Catalyst, we have a wonderful corporate culture and spend a lot of time together,” he says. “I’m incredibly lucky and blessed.”
The impact of being out and gay in business is something that he describes as being a neutral to a positive factor. “All of the people I deal with don’t really care, and I talk openly about my husband. People respect honesty and openness, and they respect authenticity.”
In the workplace, he neither shies away from nor leads with his sexuality unless it’s relevant to the business. Being in the business of evaluating and investing in other people’s enterprises, he appreciates and is especially sensitive to authenticity in others.
“We get to know the people we’re going to work with, and people can always sense if you’re trying to present yourself as something other than what you are.”
The first national network of LGBT entrepreneurs is here to help you accelerate your ideas. We’re StartOut, a national nonprofit with a network over 12,000 strong — and growing. Connect with your community and experience events in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Austin (with more cities in development). Visit StartOut and sign up for our events newsletter and let us help accelerate your entrepreneurial goals! Join the LGBT startup network StartOut.org.
StartOut Spotlight – Highlighting LGBT leaders in business
Written by Adam Sandel | Powered by StartOut
Although he grew up in a rural Kansas town of 2,000 people, his coming out during his freshman year of college was met with surprisingly little conflict. “I was super-lucky. All of my friends and family were very supportive,” he says. “My family is religious, but they’re also reasonable and just.”
After getting his degree in Finance from Topeka’s Washburn University, Walrod headed for San Francisco, where he worked as an Audit Associate for Deloitte & Touche, and then worked his way up to Senior Business Analyst at Coverity, building a circle of both work and gay friends along the way.
“One of my best friends, Josh Seefried, called me and said he was being fired from the military for being gay,” says Walrod. “He was a recent Air Force Academy graduate and I couldn’t understand how anyone of his caliber could be fired. I learned about the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and started reaching out to my San Francisco network.”
That led him to activist Zoe Dunning, and then Tom Carpenter, who had been fighting to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In 2010, Walrod and Seefried co-founded OutServe, a network to support active duty but closeted LGBT service members.
“It was an underground network that grew very quickly,” he says. “We published the first ever hard copy and online LGBT magazine for active duty personnel: http://outservemag.com. As a civilian, I could be identified, but we knew they needed a voice, so we brought in a PR firm and spokespersons Jonathan Hopkins and Katie Miller.”
Capitalizing on the groundswell of support for the repeal of DADT, OutServe contributed to the policy’s ultimate repeal, which became official in September 2011. After that historic event, Walrod handed the organization over to the active duty service members for whom it was created.
In early 2012, along with his former Coverity associate Rutul Dave, Walrod co-founded Bright Funds, www.brightfunds.org that combined his skills in finance with his passion for giving back.
The company provides a platform for charitable giving, used by individuals and companies to help facilitate workplace donations. It manages curated charitable funds that users can donate to through payroll deductions, PayPal, or credit cards.
Bright Funds’ wide variety of charitable categories include education, human rights, environment, poverty, animals, disaster relief, health, and veterans causes, among others.
While Rutul Dave serves as Chief of Products and Marketing, Walrod serves as CEO, focusing on the business, sales, and investor relations. “We’re using technology to make giving easier,” he says, admitting that his career has now come full circle: from finance, to giving, to a happy combination of the two.
As Co-Founder of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Startup & Tech Mixer, which promotes networking among tech professionals, Walrod has found yet another outlet for his passion for building community.
By Nellie Bowles
At last night’s StartOut gay entrepreneurs demo event, queer tech founders competed for venture capital attention in a warehouse in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood.
Entrepreneurs from 10 startups pitched to VCs including Dave McClure from 500 Startups and Andy Wheeler from Google Ventures. No one was granted money that night, but organizer Chris Sinton said the exposure to venture capitalists and other founders — nearly 200 showed up to watch — would help get the ball rolling for the companies.
StartOut and other minority affinity groups have grown this year, as more tech entrepreneurs, frustrated with the venture capital old boys’ networks, are looking to cultivate their own.
Michael Witbrock, who sits on the board of StartOut, watched from the back of the room. The next step in gay activism, he argued, will be through helping the gay community in Silicon Valley become richer and more powerful.
“There are things money can do that nothing else can,” said Witbrock, the vice president of research at artificial-intelligence company Cycorp. “This is a means for us as a community to empower ourselves financially. It’s about building people who have the resources to defend the community, who have the resources to buy those who would discriminate.”
So advancing gay rights is about money now?
“We don’t just need a place at the table,” Witbrock said. “Sometimes you need to buy the table.”
“Ready, Set, Grow”, headed up by Ernst & Young, is a competition for high-potential entrepreneurs with young companies around the world. Created for talented and ambitious young CEO’s and Presidents, finalists will
get the chance to fly to Monacco to showcase their product at the Entrepreneur of the Year event in June 2014.
Accepting entries until March 15th, 6 finalists (including 1 by popular vote online) will be picked for this once in a lifetime experience. Applications for the program are available at www.ey.com/rsg.
Past winners who have gone on to huge success include: Howard Schultz of Starbucks; Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google; Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster; and Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner of Linkedlnm, Inc.
Jared Polis’ passion for innovation in business, education, and leadership has taken him from entrepreneurship to philanthropy to the U.S. House of Representatives.
While still in his early 20s, the Colorado native and Princeton graduate founded the online greeting card company bluemountainarts.com with his parents Steven Schutz and Susan Polis Schutz. Three years later he sold the company to Excite@Home for $780 million.
In 1998 he founded the online floral giant ProFlowers.com. The company expanded to become Provide Commerce, Inc., which was acquired by Liberty Media Corporation in 2006 for $477 million.
Now in his third term representing Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives, Polis recently took time to share his thoughts on being an openly gay entrepreneur and politician.
“In the business world, the topic of sexual orientation doesn’t usually come
up,” he says. “The key to being an entrepreneur is taking real risk. Having the right idea is usually easy, but the execution of that idea, and building the right team to do it, is the challenge.”
The seasonal nature of ProFlowers.com posed just such a challenge. “On our first Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the demand was enormous. We did more business in two to three weeks than we did the rest of the year. So building a system to support that was our biggest obstacle.”
In 2000, he turned his attention from business to social entrepreneurship, creating the Jared Polis Foundation, with a mission of “supporting educators, increasing access to technology, and strengthening our community.”
In addition to sponsoring the Teacher Recognition Awards, and refurbishing and donating more than 3,500 computers a year to schools and non-profits, Polis founded two charter schools with multiple campuses across Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, and the New America College for at-risk students.
“In founding the schools, I became frustrated by the federal laws behind education, such as No Child Left Behind,” he says. “So I decided to run for Congress to do something about it.”
While many LGBT political hopefuls are concerned about being an openly gay candidate, Polis claims it was never a problem for him. After a six-year term on the Colorado Board of Education, he handily defeated opponents in 2008, 2010 and 2012 for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“When you run for office, you’re happy if voters remember your name, let alone your sexual orientation,” he says. “Some voters had concerns about my support of same-sex rights and marriage
equality, but those would’ve been the same for a straight candidate.”
Polis admits that the demands of being in Congress pose the same challenges on his relationships with his partner Marlon Reis and their two year-old son Caspian as they would for any Congressman. “It’s a very busy job with a lot of travel and work, and there’s not a lot of predictability. I spend about half of my time in Colorado and half in D.C.”
In addition to championing causes from education, to LGBT equality and immigration rights, Polis has brought his entrepreneurial expertise to Washington as well, founding the bipartisan Innovation and Entrepreneurship Caucus and the National Startup Day Across America, to get Members of Congress and State and local officials to visit startup companies to learn about the impact of entrepreneurship.
“This country was built by entrepreneurs, who take a chance and go for it,” he says. “And it’s always the execution that makes the difference.”
His advice to LGBT entrepreneurs is the same as it is for aspiring politicians. “Having an entrepreneurial and business background is great, because it keeps you in touch with the real world. It helps you focus on job creation and growth. And it’s always important to give back to your community through public service.”
There is a lot of talk in entrepreneurial circles about the need to develop a business plan.
And while I agree that a business plan is important for defining your strategy and the key deliverables for all stakeholders – including staff, investors, and strategic partners, I believe that way before you delve into the data, projections, and planning required of a full-blown business plan, it is important to crystallize your business idea. The best way to do that is to create a Business Concept Statement — a one-page document that defines the great idea that you’re turning into a business.
Your Business Concept Statement should include the following elements:
1. A brief description of the Business Concept – a sentence or two that captures the essence of your product or service.
2. The Market Need. What is the void in the marketplace that your business idea is going to fill? There's something that's missing, something you believe the market needs. There is an opportunity for a new idea – your idea!
3. The Solution: how your business idea is going to solve a marketplace problem and why you are the person to make it happen.
4. The Business Model, which is how you are going to make money. Are you going to charge your customers a subscription or membership fee? Will you charge a set fee for a given service or charge by the hour? Will you sell a product outright? Will you sell ongoing and/or maintenance contracts? Or will your business bring in revenue using a combination of these approaches?
5. Why anyone should buy your product instead of buying something else? When you can answer that, you have your Value Proposition. Explain what's new about your idea. Which unique attributes will your business will bring to the table: customer service, technology, a special process, better taste, lower price, faster delivery, or a combination of things? Even something as simple as more attractive packaging could make the difference for many consumers.
6. To really be sure that your new business will fill a market need, you must consider the Competition. Ask yourself who else is providing products or services that could meet your potential customers' needs. Keep in mind how big your competitors are in terms of annual revenue; estimate, if you have to. This can give you an indication of both the market size and market potential. Are there many or few companies vying for the same customers? Even though the number of competitors may be greater, coming onto the scene as one more of many similar products often can be easier than trying to break into a market dominated by giants.
7. Marketing your idea will be critical for success. How will you spread the word about your new business?
Want to learn more about how to develop a Business Concept Statement? Read more about it in Forbes and complete Step 1 of the 10-Step Startup Roadmap at Wicked Start. Once you have finished your Business Concept Statement, you’ll have a useful document to share with advisors, peers or mentors. They can use what you’ve written to understand what you want to do and thus more easily give you the help you need to proceed.
Bryan Janeczko is a StartOut cofounder and founder of Wicked Start, the startup incubator with online tools to plan, fund and start a business.
Originally posted on Bloomberg Businessweek.
By Ashlee Vance
September 26, 2013 12:49 PM EDT
As a 22-year-old marine, Ramona Pierson spent most days stuck in an office at the El Toro air station near Irvine, Calif. She excelled at math and was doing top-secret work, coming up with algorithms to aid fighter attack squadrons. Pierson enjoyed the covert puzzling. She was also an exercise addict: After clocking out each day, she would head off for a 13-mile run. Her male counterparts were impressed enough with the workout regime to nominate her the fittest person on the base.
At about 4 p.m. on a weekday in April 1984, Pierson finished her work, went home, leashed her dog, Chips, and set off on her usual run through a suburban neighborhood. She stopped at an intersection, bouncing in place as she waited for the light to change. As she started across the street, a drunk driver ran the red. Chips got hit first and died instantly. The car plowed into Pierson and then ran her over as the driver kept going. Both of Pierson’s legs were crushed; her throat and chest were ripped open, exposing her heart. Her aorta sprayed blood, and she sputtered as she tried to breathe. Just before everything went black, Pierson says, she felt “my life’s blood emptying out of my neck and my mouth.”
Passersby saved her life. One massaged her heart to keep it beating; another used pens to open her windpipe and vent her collapsed lung so she could breathe. The crude handiwork kept Pierson alive long enough to get her to a hospital.
She spent the next 18 months in a coma, being fed through a hole in her chest. Then one day, to her doctors’ surprise, she woke up. Weighing 64 pounds, she was bald, with a cubist face, metal bones, and a body covered in scars. And she was blind. The one part of her that wasn’t ruined was her mathematical mind.
As a kid growing up in Waco, Tex., and Southern California, Pierson discovered she could do math in her head. Rather than pulling out pencil and paper, she’d use techniques akin to meditation and visualization to process equations. In high school in Huntington Beach, Calif., she was a standout athlete (field hockey) determined to get a free ride to college. Plan B was an academic scholarship. After flying through high school, Pierson enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley at age 16. She didn’t get the scholarships, though, and had to pay for school on her own. Her goal was to become a cardiologist.
Declara has essentially built a software simulation of Pierson’s mind. “I learned to create a cognitive map of the world, sort of like The Matrix,” she says.At Berkeley she scored so well on a standardized test that her results were flagged by on-campus military recruiters. “The Marines showed up at my dorm room,” says Pierson. They found a savant who could barely afford to eat and offered to pay for her two remaining years of college in exchange for enlisting. Pierson took the deal. In 1980, at 18, she joined the Corps and was soon writing algorithms to help calculate the position of Russia’s nuclear silos and guide F-18 fighter missions. Four years later, she entered that Irvine intersection at just the wrong time.
The blindness was terrifying. But it also forced Pierson to expand her ability to solve puzzles in her mind. As she listened to her doctors and other people, she began to “see” them as what she calls “glow globs,” patterns of light with different properties. Then she recognized patterns within descriptions others gave her—such as how items were arranged in a grocery store or how the figures on a spreadsheet interconnected. “I learned to create a cognitive map of the world, sort of like The Matrix,” she says. “I see the world in my head.”
On Sept. 26, Pierson, now 50, unveiled a technology company called Declara. The year-old startup, based in Palo Alto, has essentially built a software simulation of Pierson’s mind. It’s a type of social network that links everyone in a company or an organization. With the help of algorithms developed by Pierson and others, including top engineers from Google and Microsoft, Declara’s system learns how people interact, what types of questions they’re looking to answer, and who can best answer them. The company has raised more than $5 million in funding from investors, including Peter Thiel, the billionaire who first backed Facebook.
A flurry of business-oriented social networks have appeared in recent years with a similar pitch. Microsoft, for example, spent $1.2 billion last year to acquire Yammer, which lets companies create private networks among their employees through an interface that looks almost exactly like Facebook. Box, Dropbox, and Jive Software are among the dozens of other companies that have received billions of dollars in funding to become the “collaboration platform” of choice for modern companies.
Declara does something different, say Pierson and Nelson González, the startup’s co-founder. Declara’s software flags people who seem to excel at certain tasks. Someone at a biotech company, for example, might want to know which enzymes seem promising for curing a particular disease. Declara will scour the company’s social network to identify the people others turn to most for information about that disease and who have the most up-to-date research at hand. Pierson and González describe Declara as a kind of automated consulting firm—except that, where the fees from a McKinsey or Bain can run into the millions, Declara charges $15 per employee per year. “We’re flipping the equation so that people can become their own consultants,” says González, who used to work as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. “And we help people keep on learning, instead of leaving them with little more than a pretty-looking PowerPoint deck.”
Pierson and her longtime partner, Debra Chrapaty, a technology executive, live in Menlo Park. Whenever possible, though, they head south to Carmel Valley, where they have a spread so implausibly perfect it could be the set for a Cialis commercial. There’s a hot tub nestled among some trees and a pair of lounge chairs that look upon the rolling hills and rambling estates where Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger live. The house is part Mediterranean villa and part art museum. A George Rodrigue Blue Dog painting dominates the airy, tiled living room, and a John Lennon original drawing hangs in the hallway.
Although Pierson prefers not to talk about the accident, she’s not shy about it when asked. During an interview in her kitchen, she walks over to a storage cabinet and takes out a few plastic bags. Some are filled with horrifically long screws that once held parts of her limbs together; others contain gruesome photos of her many operations. There’s a black-and-silver contraption that a doctor once bolted to the outside of her leg. “They left a piece of a saw in my leg for a few years,” Pierson says. “I was walking up a hill when the stupid thing snapped. The bone had become necrotic.”
In the 18 months following the accident, Pierson went from a trauma hospital to a series of VA hospitals and then National Jewish Health in Denver. None of her doctors expected her to live, and she’d been only minimally put back together. She didn’t have a nose so much as an aerated mass of flesh. She’d become a “gomer,” an unpleasant medical profession acronym for a hopeless case: Get out of my emergency room. When Pierson, then 24, finally awoke from the coma, she couldn’t begin to take care of herself, so in the fall of 1986 the doctors decided to send her to a home for senior citizens in the small ski country town of Kremmling, Colo.
“It was bittersweet,” Pierson says of the rehabilitating in the seniors’ home. “They were declining every day, and I was getting better because of them.”
The seniors took Pierson on as a pet project. They taught her how to speak, cook, and get dressed—with results that veered between hilarious and near disastrous. For lunch one day, the men decided to educate the still-blind Pierson in the art of barbecuing. They left her alone for a few minutes only to return and find that she’d sprayed lighter fluid around the yard and singed the grass. The women, meanwhile, put Pierson in floral gowns and gave her perms and other hairstyles befitting an 80-year-old. “It was bittersweet,” she says. “They were declining every day, and I was getting better because of them.”
She had few visitors. Pierson’s friends from before the accident had moved on and likely had no idea where she was. Her father, an electromechanical engineer, died of a heart attack when she was 12. Her mother, a lawyer, would sometimes run away for periods of time and “struggled with alcohol and other things and could not be a parent,” Pierson says. Her two brothers had their own challenges. They fell in with the wrong crowds and bounced around, living on other people’s couches. Her sister got married at 18 “to a husband that beat the crap out of her,” says Pierson, and the two no longer talked.
Without any close family or friends, Pierson lacked a confidante who could help her face up to hard questions, such as, “What do I look like?” Pierson never asked anyone about her appearance directly; she didn’t need to. “I was in a grocery store with one of the ladies, and I hear this kid ask his mom, ‘What happened
to her?’ When the mom replied, ‘Shhh,’ I knew I must look really f----- up.”
Over time, and more than 100 surgeries, Pierson’s body improved. She had procedures to fix her eye socket, nose, and teeth. “One of my doctors did Wilt Chamberlain’s nose,” Pierson says. “My face seemed to come together well. Part of my butt is in my face.” Her skills improved, too, and she realized it was time to try and leave the home. “I just kept moving forward,” she says.
We’ve all met people who seem to make more of their years than the rest of us. They become experts at whatever they try and collect friends wherever they go. Driven, in part, by a maniacal fear that she had fallen behind the world, Pierson became one of those people.
The hallways of her house tell many of Pierson’s stories, reflect her many tribes. Photos show her exploits as a blind rock climber and cross-country skier. At the end of one walkway are several framed newspaper clippings covering the year she spent tandem-bike racing through Russia to qualify for the Paralympics. While popping handfuls of pills a day to deal with the pain, she set some records, then joined a regular, i.e., not disabled, USA Cycling masters team, grabbed a silver at the National Championships, and was named cyclist of the year in 1995. “I never thought I’d be living that long, so I figured, ‘I am going to wear this s--- out,’ ” she says.
The people goading Pierson into many of these adventures were the young friends she made at school during her recovery. After leaving the senior citizens’ home in 1989, she enrolled in a community college, hoping to figure out if she could handle going back to class. She could. Then, with the help of a guide dog, she spent two years studying psychology at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. Following her undergraduate work, she got a master’s degree in education from the University of San Francisco, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford University and Palo Alto University, and attended the Danforth educational leadership program at the University of Washington.
During all this, Pierson still felt like a collection of component pieces. Her legs were different lengths. They ached. Various bits and pieces between her heart and throat needed tending. She volunteered for all the riskiest procedures—the latest and greatest in cadaver bones, cow ligaments, and carbon fiber—in her resolve to get somewhere near normal. “A lot of this stuff failed, but they would move my life forward incrementally in a way,” she says. “Some of the surgeries were great, and I would really take off after them.” After 11 years of being blind, Pierson regained the sight in her left eye in 1995 through another radical operation.
Determined to help people suffering from her own level of trauma, Pierson worked for the military during the first Gulf War. The U.S. Army discovered that desert sand was destroying not only planes but also MRI machines. Soldiers would get shot in the head, and the doctors trying to operate on them would have to work off grainy images caused by malfunctioning equipment. Pierson solved the problem by developing a series of algorithms that sharpened the images. In 1997 she went to work at a brain research center in Palo Alto, again to aid soldiers coming back from the Middle East.
That job set Pierson’s life on a new course. She decided to team with the Department of Veterans Affairs and study how well returning soldiers learned skills and remembered things. Pierson wanted to develop a solid means of assessing the soldiers and turned to local educators to see how vets measured up against their students. “I was shocked to walk into these classrooms and see that they were so antiquated and similar to what our grandparents and parents would have experienced,” Pierson says. She had expected to find systems that kept track of how students performed over time and responded to different teachers and materials. Instead, she found a black hole. “I saw this as a data problem,” she says. Pierson got her teaching certificate and won a fellowship funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to begin building data collection and analysis systems for Seattle’s public schools.
From about 2003 to 2007, Pierson developed software called The Source and served in a variety of roles, including chief technology officer, within Seattle’s public school system. Using The Source, parents could log on to a secure website and check their kids’ performance, seeing not just grades but test scores, attendance records, and notes from teachers. The technology grew into a massive database that helped illuminate patterns in performance of both the students and the teachers, and it connected to repositories for new learning material such as videos, podcasts, and blogs. The Source remains in use today.
As the performance of Seattle’s students improved, Pierson wondered if she could take the data-driven approach and turn it into a business. She formed SynapticMash, an educational startup. Three years later the British interactive learning company Promethean World acquired SynapticMash for $10 million. “All of this data was being left behind when teachers would scribble notes and put them in a binder or the students left their papers in folders,” Pierson says. “The end grade would be recorded, but not the process of how people were learning. We tried to digitize that and fix it.” Pierson went on to become the chief science officer and head of policy at Promethean, until she left last year to start Declara.
The Declara office is in an industrial part of Palo Alto, not far from an electric motor supplier and a robot manufacturer. It’s a single large, high-ceilinged room with a dozen or so desks. Pierson sits at the back of the room with Dave Matthews Band music playing and her dog, Tanqueray, sprawled on a red beanbag.
Pierson looks more normal than you might imagine. She wears her reddish-brown hair on the shorter side, parted to the left. Other than a noticeable scar on her lip, her face is surprisingly unmarred. Her nose was rebuilt with a plastic prosthesis where cartilage used to be; the only way you’d notice she’s had work done is if you compare the new nose to the old one in pictures. She often wears Bono-style glasses with yellow lenses to protect her left eye. Chrapaty teases Pierson about her bushy eyebrows. (“We did a DNA test, and it came back saying she’s got a lot of Neanderthal genes.”) And her voice sometimes gets hoarse—her throat muscles tire easily. A crosshatched pattern of scars on her chest is visible when she wears a V-neck, and the scars on her knees and feet look like rivers with many tributaries. Pierson has the broad shoulders and build of the athlete she became again. She’s a hugger, too.
The Declara team is a mix of engineers and designers who’ve spent the past year working in relative secrecy with governments and companies to refine the startup’s technology. Chrapaty, who’s worked at Cisco and Microsoft, is about to join the company. Pierson says large banks and biotech companies such as Genentech have signed on as customers. The agreements she talks most freely about, though, are with the Australian and Mexican governments.
In Australia, which has recently moved to have a single nationwide public school curriculum, educators from Sydney to Perth have digital access to the same lesson plans, tests, and all other classroom materials. Thousands of the country’s teachers have been given early access to a private network built by Declara called the Scootle Community. It’s a social network that will eventually link all 280,000 teachers in Australia and allow them to form groups around topics. “In one week, we saw about 50 groups set up, and the discussions amazed us,” says Susan Mann, the chief executive officer of Education Services Australia, a nonprofit owned by the Australian education system. “They were all about developing curriculum, teaching new technologies, working with disadvantaged students—and on this very serious, professional level.” Using Declara, teachers can pull up graphical displays that show hot topics among their colleagues, click on something like “8th grade math” and find tests and videos that other teachers have recommended, and, most important, reach out directly to their peers all over the country. “It’s like having a huge staff room,” says Mann. “People are getting answers to things that the other teachers in their school didn’t know.”
Declara’s technology watches all these interactions. It learns whom people tend to turn to for, say, complex physics questions, and which teachers seem to produce high test scores quarter after quarter. The software can search and catalog all the digital material collected during the past 15 years by the Australian school system. So, if you need to find advice on teaching gifted children, you type “gifted children” in a search box, and up pops all the available documents on the subject, along with some guesses about the experts in the area you might want to contact.
Declara makes it possible for these organizations and companies to operate in two modes—private and public. The Australian teachers, for example, can keep chats within their own network to themselves but also have an open area where companies with interesting technology or specialists in certain fields can participate. Pierson describes this as a kind of permeable membrane. “There are countries in Latin America and the Middle East that are industrializing and improving their judicial systems and moving into spaces they have never been before,” Pierson says. “They need to seek experts among themselves and outsiders.”
It’s on this last point that Declara can challenge the big consulting firms, she says. The software studies interactions on Twitter, can see which people have frequently cited academic papers, and, with permission, scans chat sessions for verbal clues about people who know what they’re talking about. (Companies such as IBM have released similar software for finding internal experts.) “In Australia, there is no McKinsey team or Harvard school telling the teachers how to develop the world’s most innovative curriculum,” says co-founder González. “They’re doing it themselves by learning from their peers.”
When Pierson turned 50 last December, she and Chrapaty threw a three-day-long celebration in Carmel Valley. The couple had been through a lot, including a series of bungled leg surgeries that left Pierson near death once again. “The doctors gave me an infected bone implant,” Pierson says, adding that she’s never sued. “They had to cut that out of me and start again. Debra and I almost broke up. She didn’t really sign up for all this.” By the time her birthday rolled around, Pierson was as healthy as she’d been in years, and it was time to party.
On the last day of the event, everyone gathered in a banquet room at the Carmel Valley Lodge, down the hill from the house. Pierson has picked up friends all over the world, and here they were spending hours chatting and reminiscing together. One of the more memorable moments came as Pierson gave a bear hug to Naomi Hoops, an octogenarian former school custodian who got to know Pierson at the community college in Colorado. “I thought she was going to squeeze the life out of me,” Hoops says. “She is that same old Ramona I first met.”
Another attendee that evening was Stan Chervin, a screenwriter working on a movie about Pierson. “People who dismiss It’s a Wonderful Life as being too hokey should have been in that room,” he says. “Person after person stood up and said, ‘This is how
Ramona Pierson changed my life.’ The cliché is the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Well, it ain’t a cliché with Ramona.”
The founder of a wine app discusses her first year as an entrepreneur and some of her experiences with all-male meetings.
By Carla McKay (CEO & Founder, Crushed Wine App)
When I decided it would be fulfilling to be my own boss, I chose my first love; wine.
Entering the wine industry in my mid-40s, I had fewer options of places to start. but after completing intensive wine courses and traveling to many wine regions, I began my new career as a wine consultant. I was surprised by the lack of useful applications available for my clients, friends, colleagues (really anyone that I came in contact with). There was nothing available to them that helped easily organize the wine industry, which can be overwhelming (and pretentious) at times.
So many of the folks who had interest in trying new wines also lacked the basic tools to keep track of what they were drinking, making it nearly impossible for them to refer back to their favorites and make a better decision in any setting – grocery, wine store or restaurant. There also wasn’t anything readily available that allowed wine fans to learn and share with friends what they liked.
The wine industry is shifting. People are more interested in what their friends are drinking and liking than the stodgy ‘100 point’ wine scale by experts.
And so Crushed Wine App was born. Early on, it seemed like a fairly easy undertaking. But once underway, I knew that I was in for a wild ride, especially working in the ever-evolving industry of mobile application development. After hiring a female friend who is a designer and has experience in app design, we went from concept to app wireframes, in just a few weeks.
With that done, we began the process of researching and meeting with development firms to build the app. Of the six firms that we met with – virtually and in person – all were represented by men. No women – none! As I said to my designer, “couldn’t they at least find one female to join the meeting?” It obviously never occurred to them that two females would not be ‘fine’ meeting with and being sold to by a bunch of men.
One in-person meeting that we had with a development firm had us feeling about two-feet tall while two men, the lead developer and sales manager, lectured us on the ‘process’. We went into each meeting with the development firms having done our homework and with a budget. We also knew the going rate for developing a more complex app like the one we were interested in building. We were not asking for anything out of the norm and we were met with resistance and made to feel like we didn’t know what we were talking about. Two of the development firms delivered proposals to us that were close to $100K over the budget that we agreed in our meetings! Was it because we were female?
Enter Cloudfour. We found Cloudfour on the PhoneGap referral development network. I practically had tears in my eyes when I read the firm’s bios – a female lead developer/founder and half of the firm was female. After a few discussions it was clear that they would become our partner to support the development of the Crushed Wine app. Our first in-face meeting was an all-day planning session for the app development. What a difference it was for my designer and I to be sitting with three women and one man. The working relationship that we have with Cloudfour is one of the most collaborative that I have ever experienced. Discussions are always thoughtful and everyone’s opinion matters on every subject. This bodes well for a great product.
A year after we began this process with a ‘concept’ to develop a social mobile wine application — we are two months from launch. We launched our new site last week and are busy with the app development, business development, public relations, social media marketing – anything and everything to successfully develop a great app in the crowded world of food and wine apps.
I have loved the experience and learned more in this last year than I have in my entire life. I would never have had the opportunity to become the CEO of my own business if I didn’t have the confidence to get going and keep going when things got rough along the way. I credit two crucial mentors – my sister in-law, who is on her third business, and another female CEO that I was connected with as part of the Startout for gay and lesbian entrepreneurs. They took me under their wings early on and supported me when times got challenging. Now, I want to be a good mentor for other women.
About the guest blogger: After more than 20 years in business development and sales positions for big corporations and startups, coupled with eight years of toiling on the weekends for a winery in Sonoma, Carla McKay (@drinkchik) made the leap to the wine industry by creating the Drink Chick consulting firm in 2011.
Reposted from http://women2.com/one-founder-discusses-the-challenges-she-had-with-all-male-meetings