Y Combinator’s Female Founders Conference: A Glimpse Of The Future

Today I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of what a world with more female engineers and startup founders would looks like, and saying that I’m completely impressed would be a huge understatement!

Over 1200 women applied to be part of the Y Combinator Female Conference today at the Computer History Museum, and I was one of the lucky few who made it to attendance. The speaker list included some of the most inspiring women in startups:

  • Jessica Livingston, Founder of Y Combinator
  • Adora Cheung, Founder of Homejoy
  • Julia Hartz, Founder of Eventbrite
  • Elli Sharef, Founder of HireArt,
  • Kathryn Minshew, Founder of The Muse
  • Diane Greene, Founder of VMWare
  • A Fundraising Panel:
    • Danielle Morrill, Founder of Mattermark
    • Ann Johnson, Founder of Interana
    • Jamie Wong, Founder of Vayable
    • Michelle Crosby, Founder of Wevorce
  • Elizabeth Iorns, Founder of Science Exchange
  • Jessica Mah, Founder of Indinero

As one woman (jl) posted on hacker news, it was a magical event:

I was blown away by both the depth and quality of the presentations. There was a degree of openness that I’ve really only seen at a YC dinner (which are all off-the-record). This was one of those magical events, like the first Startup School in 2005, where everyone there was realizing as it was happening, that this was something unusual.

Here is what made the Female Founders Conference stand out from all the other events in tech for me:

Honesty

Every single woman who spoke on stage was someone we could all relate to. They spoke very honestly about what it’s like to be a founder of a startup and to get to that success point.

The founder of Homejoy, Adora Cheung, actually got a job at a cleaning agency to learn more about the inefficiencies in the business. For months, she worked as a cleaner during the day, coded at night, sleeping in her car to save time commuting between San Francisco and Mountain View.

Indinero founder Jessica Mah actually earned an IRS accounting license (passing the hard exam), so she would be qualified to do other people’s accounting.

During the fundraising panel, Wevorce founder Michelle Crosby shared how an investor told her he wouldn’t have invested in her if he knew she was planning on having a baby. Vayable founder Jamie Wong shared how some VCs were surprised that she was a women – her mom gave her a boy’s name so that she could get job interviews / meetings. She also shared some of the edge cases where VCs were very inappropriate toward her.

At a lot of conferences I’ve been to – even at Startup School – it’s all about the glamour of running a startup. The founders give lessons of their success like they know everything and we should listen – they talk down at the audience. In this conference, the speakers didn’t have any fluff. They told it how it is, and they spoke to the audience, relating. The audience listened, cheered, and laughed and was very engaged as each founder told her story.

Quality of Attendees

I cannot overstate how impressed I was with the other women at the event. Over 50% of women in attendance were engineers, and almost everyone I talked to was a founder. I’ve never attended an event with so many impressive women.

The thrill of being part of an event where every single woman was so high quality was felt throughout the conference. When Jessica Livingston said that 2014 could be the “tipping point” for female founders, we all felt it in the room. Usually it just feels like talk – especially when most events are mostly males – but actually being there and actually seeing the reality in the women all around us has made it real for each of us.

Community

At a lot of events I go to, some people are there with a very specific purpose of networking. They say hi, decided if you’re important, and then move on to the next person once they decide you’re not. The networking at the Female Founders Conference just felt so real and refreshing. Everyone I talked to was honest, genuinely¬†interested in whatever you were saying, and I barely saw any phones out during the networking! People who were there were really there, which is very rare these days.

Another cool thing that happened was that the speakers mingled with the attendees during the reception. Usually, at events like these, all the speakers have some kind of VIP event afterwards where they don’t bother talking to the commoners. The speakers being part of the conversations just made this newfound community of incredible women just so much more real.

If you missed it, make sure to check out the talks from the conference, even if you’re a guy! You’re going to learn a lot of the reality of running a startup outside of the watered-down Techcrunch version of overnight success and flare.

Looking forward to next year already!

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  • Lily

    I can’t sleep too, and I just retweeted your post, as I feel what you wrote. The honesty and humility is what make it so special. Those are real stories, real struggles. No ego, no hyping things up. I am the founder of @thinkdirty. Check out and would love your feedbacks.

    Cheers,
    L

  • It was nice to meet you in the conference. Nice writeup. Like you said, I thought the conf. would be swimming in the sharks’ tank. But it wasn’t. Good luck on your @thecodepath demo.

    • Hi Imju, it was awesome meeting you. Funny story. Yesterday, I was googling around for a solution on a KIF issue I had, and your picture popped up in one of the Github issues!

  • Vanessa

    Hi Natasha, thanks for your article. I stumbled upon to your page and definitely enjoy the stuff you write. I myself am a female and have started a tech startup. I recently applied for this year’s female founders conference, but have yet to receive any sort of confirmation of the event. I was wondering what the process should be like and if this means that I didn’t get accepted into the event? What was your experience with the appilication process last year? If you could provide any sort of advice it’d be greatly appreciated. Thanks!