“I do have fear. I just don't have fear of the usual kinds of things.”
We’re not quite ready to let International Women’s Day go yet.
We spend so much time writing about the bro-forces trying to keep women out of the tech world. This week, we wanted to honor a few of the backstories of some of our favorite badass women we’ve interviewed over the years.
Ann Miura-Ko, partner Floodgate
AMK: I remember there was a point in time when my mom said that I should learn to sew. She brings out her sewing machine. I refused to do it, but I said I wanted to take it apart.
My dad actually took it apart with me and showed what was inside, so that I knew what was going on when a sewing machine sewed. My dad bought us a PCjr when I was probably six or seven years old. The first thing I wanted to know was what was inside. He just took it apart for me, so I could see what was inside.
I remember, one of my very first memories when I was in third grade, I asked my dad why there wasn't a Japanese font on the IBM PCjr. He said, "Well, why don't you make one?" He and my neighbor, generally, showed me what I needed to do. It was like a really horrific way of creating a font, but I got to see what the process was. I did it as a project.
These are all things that I've forgotten overtime, but I've gone through some family photos fairly, recently. I've come across these photos of me doing these things.
I can recall just the bet that my parents took on a fairly chaotic lifestyle where I would just asked all these questions. They were always game for trying to help me figure out the answer.
SL: Were you an only child?
AMK: No. I have an older brother. He was the older brother who had lots of friends and figured out how to navigate school. He was always the kid who got into these gifted and talented programs. I was the kid who didn't.
It was really interesting. I was in this Woman in Science and Engineering program when I was at Stanford getting my PhD. There was a bunch of PhDs and Post-Docs who spoke about their experiences. It was 5 to 10 of us who get in a room every Monday, and talk through our experiences.
One day, someone brought up the fact that they had trouble in elementary school getting into these gifted and talented programs, because they didn't test well. It turns out, half of us, all PhDs in Engineering and Science had exactly the same experience. We all had an advocate. In my case, it was my mom who would just make a total pain of herself with the school administration saying, "I know she didn't test well this year, but I swear she's gifted and she's talented."
The administrators are like, "Well, the test scores show she's neither gifted, or talented." She'd just say like, "Just one more year."
I really credit my Mom with just being like, "I'm not going to accept the facts that my child is not this special flower." In this day and age where all parents are like that, I can only imagine what school administrators must go through.
I'm totally the same way. My partner, [Mike Maples], describes me as the dragon mom at times, and it's probably true. I want to hold my kids to a high standard, but at the same time I also want them to know that I have their back.
Sheila Marcelo, CEO Care.com
SM: [When I moved to the US} I felt [like a] really tiny, small, little Asian girl. So it was intimidating, but it actually taught me a lot about flexibility and change and adaptation. When I went back to the Philippines, my parents put me in a provincial school for one year because I'd forgotten the language. So I went back to this little town called Candelaria, Quezon for about a couple south of Manila.
My parents put me in this parochial Catholic school, and I had to go learn the language all over again. That was probably one of my toughest years in life.
I was in fifth grade, and my teacher was my mother's best friend. So she made me stand up every day and read in Tagalog and it forced me to speak the language all over again. And that was very important for my younger brother and me, for my parents. But that's also a time where I grew up and I saw a lot of diversity, and learned about the culture all over again.
Everybody in the classroom scrubbed floors. We had to clean our classroom actually with coconut husks as well, and we had to polish it shiny clean. I know how to clean floors. I can go clean up the floor right now.
My parents were entrepreneurs. They did inherit land from my grandparents. My parents were actually elementary school sweethearts. They eloped three times. They got caught, and then they went away again. There are all these stories of my father in this motorcycle going after my mom because they locked her up in this Catholic school, and in the rain. They're beautiful stories. Of course, I learned about it from my aunts and uncles years later, and they never talk about it.
My parents got married in their teens, and became entrepreneurs. They inherited property. They had to learn to go run their own businesses. Whenever I used to complain at different times when I was doing my JD/MBA, and I was telling my mother my life was really hard, she said, "Honey, when I was in my early 20s, I had 6 kids, so let's not complain."
She said, "You can handle that. That should be OK."
My mother's a tiger mom. I love her to death, but she definitely was assertive. What's interesting about the Philippines, Sarah, is that I didn't grow up with gender stereotypes. My mother was the tiger mom, aggressive in the business. My father was the teddy bear dad.
They both ran the business, but they split everything 50-50 at home. My mom did all the bills. My dad did all the cooking. At work, it was the same thing. They split everything. My dad was the great people person. My mother was the accountant, strategist, and...
SL: The hard-ass.
SM: Yeah, the hard-ass, exactly. My sister and I talk about it a lot, that we learned that both sides from my parents at a young age, and didn't hold us back. The Philippines, actually -- a lot of people don't know this -- it's the only Asian country in the top 10 lists for the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report that has the narrowest gender gap of the Asian countries.
It's been on that list for years now. You scratch your head, and you're just like, "Why?" Even pre-colonial times, women were allowed to be priestesses. Women were allowed to own land and property. This was even before the Spanish influence, became a colony.
If you look at government, many women in government, many women in business. Lots of entrepreneurs in businesses, on boards. We have more girls in STEM than boys. We actually have difficulty trying to encourage boys to stay in school.
It's a very strong matriarchal society, very strong. Women are just expected to take charge, to run the family, to take care of everything. It makes a little easier for men.
I didn't actually experience discrimination until I came to this country. I didn't grow up in the Philippines experiencing it.
It made me even more aware, because I went to Mt. Holyoke, which was a women's college. I read a lot of feminists books, and things like that. I remember working, and I was a VP here in New York in one of my jobs. I was an executive.
I slid into a meeting late, and was commenting, and asking all these questions about this important software that we were interested in. An older gentleman said, "Little lady, I don't know if you know anything about the recruiting industry."
I just proceeded to ignore his commentary, and I just kept asking the questions. I think he realized I was the decision-maker that was going to buy his software. Certainly, he changed his tone at that point.
Michelle Zatlyn, Cloudflare co-founder:
MZ: I started out as a scientist, really, so I do, I have a technical background, but more on the science side. I really wanted to be a doctor growing up. I spent a lot of my early part of my career preparing for that. I studied chemistry at college, or university, did a lot of summer internships working in hospitals, doing research projects, which was all amazing.
Ultimately, it led me to technology, where I am today. Really, the catalyst was...I remember it really crystal clear, where I remember thinking to myself...I loved science. I absolutely loved it. Then the question was why did I want to be a doctor so bad, and the answer I kept coming back to was because I really wanted to help people.
Basically, the way I fell in love with technology, and ultimately computers, is that in technology you can also help people, as well. That's what really got me, this idea of being part of a company, you could really make a huge impact in the world if you assemble the right team and work on the right product and the right service.
That's really how I got hooked, and that's what led me to start Cloudflare, where I am today.
SL: Now, you talked about being really into science when you were growing up and wanting to be a doctor. We hear all these stories of girls who feel, like, not comfortable in math and science classes. Did you ever experience that?
MZ: I didn't. I saw my dad, we have three girls in my family, I have two sisters, I'm the middle child, and I saw my dad last week. I said, "Dad, something I've been meaning to ask you." I asked him this question, I never felt like this. I think back, and when I did chemistry at college, I was one of the very few women in the program. But it never dawned on me, I never felt like that.
I asked my dad, it's like, "Did it ever cross your mind, did it ever come up?" It was interesting, he said, "No, we always thought of you, all of you girls as being able to do whatever you wanted in the world, and we supported you in doing that. That was always our message."
I love math, I love science, I thrived in it. I did a lot of summer programs. I loved it. I would make up math quizzes for my friends on the weekend. I thought it was fun, maybe they didn't think so as much. I really liked it.
I like that there was always an answer, and I love science, because there's always a reason for everything. I think that's what's so great about technology option when it comes to computer science. If something is not working or some sort of bug, there's always some root cause. I find that very, very satisfying.
Even though I was in the minority, I never felt like that. It's only really since I've been in 30s that I've had these aha of like, oh, wow, it's not everyone has the same experience as me.
SL: You tend to be a pretty low profile woman in the Valley, considering how big your company is, that you're technical. Do you feel like you should be more high profile? Do you feel an importance of being a role model for other women? Or do you like not having to engage in all that?
MZ: I want to win. What do I mean by that is, I feel like I'm really lucky to be in the position I am in. I absolutely want to encourage and inspire the next generation of women or men. It's not just, anyone who wants to pursue their dreams to go for it.
Because again, I think that, where I started in Saskatchewan, Canada, this was not a likely outcome. A lot of things had to happen and line up and it was a lot of hard work and all these sorts of things that came together for this to happen. I love sharing my story, because I want to inspire the next generation.
Susan Lyne, BBG Ventures
Lyne: We are an early-stage venture fund, investing in women-led tech companies. We launched in September 2014. It was clear to me and my partner, Nisha Dua, that there was both a huge hole and additionally a big opportunity there. I had started working for a company called Gilt Groupe, back in 2008.
It was founded by two women, who came out of Harvard B-school. While I was there, partly because the smartphone created a really fertile launch-ground for women to start thinking about building businesses and services, lots of different kinds of women, not just women coming out of engineering schools.
A lot of them found their way to my office. I saw all the teams of women who were building what were the first generation of this new wave of female founders that have come out of New York City, BirchBox LearnVest, PaperlessPost.
To a person, they talked about what a challenge it was raising money. Despite the fact that they had interesting backgrounds and they had great ideas, they just had a hard time getting male VCs to believe that they could build a dynamic business.
I heard that not 5 times, not 10 times. I heard it 50 times, 100 times. I assumed that it would change pretty quickly as male VCs realized what the opportunity was, but it didn't. It still hasn't. There is no question that this new ecosystem of female founders is building really interesting strong companies. You're starting to see funds like ours, that are popping up in different parts of the country.
It's incredibly exciting. It's great to be around people who are rethinking particularly different parts of home life and work life, and just saying, "I can make this better."
Lacy: You've had a very up-and-down career. You had this job at AOL where you running some of the sexiest brands, but it was still AOL and struggling to turn things around. You greenlit all these amazing series for ABC, but then they came to air after you were gone. Gilt Groupe was reinvented commerce but then struggled to get public. Have you experienced some of that as well?
Lyne: Yeah. I don't think of most of those as being something that was really because I was female. But there's no question [about] the ABC experience where I was replaced literally two weeks before we were announcing a schedule that included "Desperate Housewives", and "Grey's Anatomy", and "Lost", and we had recently launched "The Bachelor". Two of those shows are still, 14 years later, a key part of the lineup for the network.
My boss had been fired. My immediate boss had been fired about three months, two months before all of this came down. There were three or four guys at the company who had been reporting to my boss as well who got together and realized that if I was gone they could split the baby in a way that gave them significantly more power. Despite the fact that initially Bob Iger said he was going to give me much more, they were able to convince him that he shouldn't go that way.
I was too much of a girl at the time to fight it. I saw it to some extent, and I had more than one person come to me and say, "Hey, this is happening. You’ve got to fight it. You have to rally your troops." I said, "I'm not going to do that. Bob's told me he's going to give me X, Y, Z, and I'm just going to trust that it's going to work." Obviously, it didn't.
It was a really good lesson that you can't sit back, and be passive, and assume that by being the good girl, you're going to succeed, that sometimes it takes a fight.
Lacy: I think there's a macro interesting story throughout your career whether it's Disney, whether it's Martha Stewart, whether it's green-lighting shows like everything from "The Bachelor", which you could argue depicts women in a negative way to something like being one of the first people to put Shonda Rhimes on air, which has been so empowering.
From Disney through "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives", have you wrestled with how women are being depicted in media?
Lyne: I would say yes to all of that. Honestly, I knew The Bachelor was going to be successful, or I had a pretty good sense that it would. We had a fantastic woman running alternative series at the company at the time. She was really the person who championed The Bachelor, and not only The Bachelor, but things like "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" and "Dancing with the Stars". She just put a lot of these lasting shows onto the air.
I was mortified by it at the time. Even though I was probably in my late 40s at that point or early 50s at that point, I was afraid of what was going to happen when my mother saw it.
It's so incredible. We were also able to really shift the way that we thought about developing shows.
You have to go back to this time, which was the 2002, 2003, 2004, when every single television network had essentially decided that the only shows that were going to be successful were these procedural shows, that men would not watch shows for women, but women would watch shows for men, which meant that the vast majority of television development was targeting a male audience.
The 2003-2004 development season, I walked into a meeting that was underway where my head of comedy was just bemoaning the fact that "Sex in the City" was going off the air. She said, "All my shows are gone."
It was that "my shows", the shows that she and her friends would get together and either watch together, or they would talk about afterwards, "Ally McBeal", and "Melrose Place", and certainly Sex in the City. They just were no longer being made.
Out of that came a real focus on developing girl shows. We launched a couple of them out of that season. That was Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy. We probably made another half dozen pilots that were, again, looking for that must-watch girl show.
One of the things that I think is really interesting and that is a tiny legacy I left behind is that ABC has really stuck with that. They have become the network, and it's largely because of Shonda, but they've become the network that has pioneered powerful female characters, great storytelling.
They're not always perfect characters. They're not always likable characters, but by god, they're great characters.
Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, Soul Cycle founders
SL: I understand a friend set you guys up on a blind co-founder date.
EC: It was crazy. We really joke that it was the best blind date -- I never went on one -- but it was the best blind date either one of us had ever been on.
JR: I've been on quite a few.
EC: Really, when you have that kind of connection with somebody and you almost can hear what they're going to say before they say it and what they're saying you know is so true and you're really connecting to that message. It was fantastic.
We kind of immediately started finishing each other's sentences, and, "What about this? What about that? What about this? What about that?" The conversation has continued on for these eight years. It's been a really, it's been an incredible experience for me, and I know for Julie, too.
SL: How quickly after meeting did you know you guys were going to do this?
EC: It was immediate. That was the whole thing.
I remember when I met my husband. My best friend's aunt was like, "Well, you know, it's OK if you haven't known him that long, because when you find a good handbag, you don't have to go shopping for a new handbag. You know you have a good handbag."
It was like we found a good handbag in each other.
JR: No, literally, we left lunch, I remember before the door of my cab had even closed my cell phone rang, and it was Elizabeth, and this was what she said to me. She said, "OK, here's the thing. I'm going to look for real estate, and you research towels. We'll move on Thursday."
I was still working in the movie business, and I thought, OK, well I better. I went back to my desk and I googled towels.
I do want to get back to sort of those early days and the risk of building this, because you guys didn't raise money. You didn't have the cushy sort of you can still take a salary and there's a soft landing if it all didn't go well.
Tell us about that. It was 2006, so it's a couple years before the huge recession, which was way worse for New York than it even was for San Francisco, and your husband was working at Lehman, so that was going to be difficult.
SL: You guys have lunch. You decide you're doing this. You're doing towels. You had a baby. You guys both had babies?
EC: We both had babies. I had two. I had two babies. I had a three-year-old and a five-month-old. I did not expect to have that entrepreneurial urge at that particular time. But I had it and so did Julie. It was kind of awesome that we did.
SL: How old was yours Julie?
JR: She was five months old.
SL: What caused that urge?
JR: We were thinking, "How do we get out of here?"
EC: Honestly, men have babies too. It's just what you decide as a family. For me, I just felt a strong urge to do it. I just also felt like, if I'm not listening to my own voice, then what am I even listening to? Why would I not do this?
Although I never expected, to be totally candid, that it would ever be this much work. If I had really known that, I probably would have thought about it twice. I'm sure Julie would have been fine. But I'm not sure I would have.
With the two kids and then the Lehman meltdown, that was really an epic couple of years. I don't know. We work with so many women. They have little kids and they bring it every day and it's very creative. You multitask. What's that saying? The busiest people get the most stuff done.
I was talking to my daughter the other day. She's 12 now. I was saying, "What is it like for you just having a mom who works so much? Are you OK with that?"
She was like, "Are you kidding me? I go to school and all the boys say only boys are CEOs." She's like, "Uh-uh, my mom's a CEO."
JR: You have the baby. All of a sudden what's important to you changes. It really gives you a moment to examine, "Did I love what I was doing? Was it something that really fed me?" You have this child now. Now it really becomes a choice.
For me anyway, to leave my kids and work the way that we work, it really had to be for something that I was super passionate about. The one thing I can say is great about being an entrepreneur and being a mom is that you can work 18 hours a day.
But you can still go on the class trip. You can still figure it out. It might mean that you have to work a little later at night.
We're very lucky. We have four girls between us. They're all sort of close in age. I have a little one, but we bring her along. One thing that's been great is that, in the beginning for us, something that was super stressful was work-life balance.
What we really found was work-life integration. It's been amazing. Our daughters come with us to open up new cities. It's so exciting. They were behind the front desk giving water to customers when they were three, four and five years old.
To Elizabeth's point, they're really proud. They were part of this business, they really, really were. In the beginning, we didn't have a lot of help and a lot of sitters. I remember when I was the publicist, if a reporter called and wanted to write something and I didn't have a sitter, that kid was coming with.
These kids have really been a part of it. It's been pretty amazing for them to sort of grow up. They really understand it. They're in our office all the time. They're in the studio all the time. My kids still wake up on Saturday morning and want to know which studio we're working at.
Margaret Atwood, author and legend:
SL: You are the most prolific woman. You operate in every medium. I think Crake has created you. I don't think you're real.
MA: You think so? There you go.
SL: How involved are you in these TV adaptations of your work?
MA: I'm a consultant. I get to read the scripts. I'm not going to say the ideas that I nixed. I get to make comments. As you know, when you sell an option to a book, the author doesn't have veto rights.
There's a very good reason for that. The very good reason is, if somebody's put multi-million dollars into something, they can't have a situation where the author comes along and says, "I hate that tie. I'm canceling. You can't do it."
SL: Is that hard for you, or do you have enough detachment from your work?
MA: When I was younger, a long time ago, before you were born, I worked in television and film scripts. In fact, I wrote my first film script with a director called Tony Richardson, who old people will remember directed "Tom Jones." Remember that?
Now that nothing goes away anymore, you can see all of this online. I worked with him, and that was very instructive. Then I did other things when a lot of television was still black and white.
I understand that films are not books, that films are very visual. Books are made of words, and that limits what you can do in either of these media. I've also written opera librettos. That's different, too, because the conventions are different.
In an opera, you can sing at the top of your lungs, and we all pretend that nobody else onstage can hear you, because it's a soliloquy. You can't do that in a film unless you're Bergman or somebody like that. Each one is different. Each one has got its strengths, its weaknesses, and its limitations. Each one can do something the other ones cannot do.
SL: Is this why you love experimenting with so many different forms?
MA: Probably so, because I always have done that since I was quite young.
SL: Is there a form you haven't done yet that you would like to do?
MA: Thinks hard. I don't know. We'll see. I've never written a musical. No, I take it back. I have written a musical.
I wrote the world's first and only home economics operetta, 1956. I sang some of it in an elevator once to the director of the Canadian Opera Company, and he said that I had ruined Hoffman's "Barcarolle" for him forever because that was the tune I used for the song about laundry.
This was an operetta about fabrics, so of course there was a washing song in it about laundry.
SL: I was going to say, you've been involved in several startups. Is there something that you've noticed with the ones that tend to make it and succeed, and the ones that can't ever either get enough momentum, or a business plan, or whatever the problem is?
MA: I haven't been involved with that many. I'm a fan of Wattpad. Wattpad is a user-content-generated story-sharing digital site. In other words, you can write stories and post them on Wattpad.
It has a social media aspect in that people following your story can say, "Hey, great story," things like that, "tell me more." It's quite positive, and has, I would say, quite an appeal to young writers, teenage writers, people trying it out. There's a very simple reason for that, and that is that you can use a pseudonym.
When I was a young writer, you could publish in this high school yearbook under your own name. That's why what appeared there was always "My Summer Vacation," and it was never "My Steamy Vampire Story."
You knew that you could not publish your steamy vampire story in the high school yearbook or your teachers, your parents, and your peer group would either be shocked or make fun of you. You can publish on Wattpad and call yourself Flaming Wingsome Silver or whatever, and nobody will know it's you. It does have a large number of users, and it's free.
In countries and places where they might not have a library, they might not have a school, you might not be able to afford books, there's going to be a cellphone there somewhere, and you can read and write on your phone.
I know the people who started that. They were two digital engineers originally from Hong Kong, and they're in Toronto. That's where Wattpad is.
They both had the idea of reading and writing on your phone back when you couldn't actually read and write on your phone. It only would handle one line. They built the platform and flat-lined for a number of years.
Then when the technology got to the point where you could do lots of things on your phone, it went like that, the usership. It's in 25 different languages, and I view it as an encourager of literacy.
That's why I think it's a good thing.
SL: There are a lot of people in your profession who see technology and tech companies as the enemy in some format. Either kids aren't reading because they're on social media, or short attention spans, or Twitter destroys the human language because of the character restriction.
We now know the narrative has come full circle. Amazon didn't destroy books after all.
MA: Digital didn't destroy books after all, as it turns out.
SL: Did you ever get stuck in that fear cycle, or did you always love embracing the new? One of the things that strikes me about you is you're so on top of your game and so powerful in an old world publishing system, but you seem to have never had any fear about all the new at the same time.
MA: Let me put it to you this way, Sarah. One of my early boyfriends tried to teach me how to drive once. He said, "I can't do this because you have no fear."
I do have fear. I just don't have fear of the usual kinds of things.