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January 26, 2011 / TechFemme

Dafina Toncheva’s Impressive Journey from Communist Bulgaria to Silicon Valley

Dafina Toncheva, Partner, Tugboat Ventures

There are few women working in tech and  even fewer women working in Venture Capital. And women partners at Venture Capital Firms focused on technology? Fewer still.  But that’s not all that makes Dafina Toncheva (Partner, Tugboat Ventures)  extraordinary.  From her 1550 SAT score to her co-authoring multiple key patents while working at Microsoft,  there’s no denying her intelligence.   Now she’s using her brains, tech background and business acumen to help Tugboat Ventures

“help the highest potential entrepreneurs bring their dreams to life.”

TechFemme: How on earth did you get from Bulgaria to Silicon Valley?

Dafina Toncheva: I left Bulgaria when I was 18.  I grew up in communism in a country that was very isolated form the western world.  No one in my family had ever left Bulgaria.  My parents were doctors that made $150 per month.  They worked hard with prestigious jobs but the returns weren’t there.   So I explored opportunities abroad.

TF: How did that bring you to the USA?

DT: I sent handwritten letters to 100 colleges asking them how to apply and they all responded with standard application forms.  So I took the TOEFL, SAT, SAT2 in the capital, which was a 3 hour drive away.  I prepared for the tests with a 15 year old test prep book that I checked out of the library.  Because the tests were so expensive, I could only take them once.  I worked so hard to make sure that I did the best I could with that one chance.   I applied to 50 schools, asking them to waive the application fees, and got accepted into 13 of them.

TF: How did you get into technology?

DT: In 1998, I started at Harvard, majoring in Computer Science. It was a huge change for me.  Everyone around me had 10+ years of programming experience and it was my first time owning a computer.  I was there on full scholarship but everyone else was so rich, and so smart.  In my 3rd year, I got an internship at Microsoft and went on to work there full time after graduation.  I was a developer for 2 years and a program manager for 2 years.

TF: How did that path take you to the Venture Capital world?

DT: I decided to get an MBA because I wanted a solid business foundation.  I decided to go to Stanford, thinking that I was going to join a startup.  I took an entrepreneurship class in which all students that wrote business plans got paired up with VC’s.  Mine offered me a job.  The offer was a 2 year position to shadow and learn with  Ray Rothrock at Venrock.   Then last year, Dave Wharton at Tugboat Ventures offered me the rare opportunity of becoming a partner.

TF: What do you like best about your job at Tugboat Ventures?

DT: I love meeting entrepreneurs.  Every one of them knows more than I know.  I learn from them all the time.

TF: Approximately how many of the entrepreneurs that you meet are women?

DT: Unfortunately there aren’t enough.  I meet very few female technology entrepreneurs through my work.

TF: Any ideas why?

DT: I think it’s a broad social issue.  We can’t identify just one or two reasons why things are the way they are.  I don’t know why more women aren’t interested in becoming entrepreneurs.  But there are certainly many opportunities for women if they want them.

If Dafina says it, then I believe it.  So now, it’s a matter of  figuring out how to expose girls and women to these types of opportunities.  I refuse to believe that women don’t want them.  It has to be a matter of letting women know that entrepreneurial ventures , especially tech ones, are worth exploring, if they’re interested.  And that there are resources and opportunities to help them along their entrepreneurial journeys.

January 18, 2011 / TechFemme

Build, Test, Launch Your Web Idea – No Programming Experience Necessary

LaunchBit Classroom

Elizabeth Yin and Jennifer Hsieh are at it again.  The founders of DressMob and ShinyOrb are set on sharing their expertise to help us non-programming folks launch our web businesses no matter what.    Their upcoming venture, the LaunchBit classroom is an online course for programming newbies designed specifically to help us launch web businesses.

The awesome ladies behind the course are kind enough to offer a 10% discount of the course price to TechFemme readers – get it here.  And get excited – thanks to Elizabeth and Jennifer, you’re about to be a Web Entrepreneur!

Course details include:

  • Step-by-step online lectures to launching a web business
  • Ideal for busy people — it works around your schedule
  • Tutorials and homework result in your first launch

Class starts the week of January 24, 2011 but you can do the lectures on your own time.

Curriculum:

Week 1: Online and offline market & competitor research
Week 2: Paper mockups & customer feedback
Week 3: Building a basic landing page
Week 4: Driving basic traffic to your landing page
Week 5: Analyzing your landing page results
Week 6: Case studies: Building your web prototype
Week 7: Tools to analyze your web prototype
Week 8: Case studies: Building your web prototype (cont)
Week 9: Discussion: Prototype results analysis
Week 10: Discussion: Prototype results analysis (cont)

If you do all the weekly homework, by the end of the course, your web venture will be launched!  Let’s get this party started – sign up quick – class start next week!!

January 5, 2011 / TechFemme

Vanessa Hurst, Destroying the Female Programmer Stereotype

Vanessa Hurst, Co-Founder, GirlDevelopIt

Vanessa Hurst (Co-Founder, GirlDevelopIt & Data Fiend, PaperlessPost) is someone I would have liked to know when I was taking my introductory programming classes while getting my Electrical Engineering degree.  I’m certain I would’ve stuck with programming.   I’m ashamed to say that at the time, I considered programming boring and for awkward, anti-social people who wanted to work on a computer but not solve any real problems.  I was wrong.  So very wrong.  But there was no one to show me otherwise.  Vanessa’s incredibly insightful take on programming:  The inherently exciting thing about programming is that you’re getting rid of things that are boring.  Besides being a significant contributor at, Paperless Post, a startup in NYC, Vanessa has also taken the problem of the lack of women programmers into her own hands.  Along with Sara Chipps, she founded GirlDevelopIt, an organization that teaches women how to create (program) their visions on the web in a supportive, comfortable environment.  They currently offer beginning courses in HTML, Javascript, Databases, Ruby on Rails – some of the building blocks for making awesome websites.

TechFemme: How did you get into a career in Technology?

Vanessa Hurst: I worked on computers with my father, handing him parts while he was building computers.  I didn’t think I’d do anything with computers as a career. I always thought I’d be a teacher or in medicine.  At UVA, I started in biomedical engineering, thinking I might be a doctor until I took my first computer science course.  I realized I could graduate and have a career, start making a difference, in a short period of time.  It seemed like a logical and secure career – and I enjoyed it.

TF: What’s your specialty in the Tech field?

VH:  I got into the database niche while at UVA through Systems Engineering and since graduating, have found many opportunities with databases.  Most businesses aren’t really using data to the fullest extent.  But they’re becoming really interested in learning through data, taking data points from users and from their behavior and learning from that information.  I was a dedicated database engineer at Capital IQ, which was intellectually challenging and a great job.  I wasn’t really passionate about finance, but there were great people there and it was a really good learning opportunity.

TF: What did you do after Capital IQ?

VH:  I wanted to shift out of finance so I went to The Ladders, where I got into business intelligence. It was a cross between my experience with a lot of data and working with more people and more user-related data. Harvesting that information can have a significant monetary impact on a business, so I think it will be huge very soon. I also found myself volunteering more and more.  I used my tech skills to help out Catchafire, a non-profit that matches skills-based volunteers with non-profits that need their help.  I also discovered the #1 need for non-profits is IT and other tech skills.  It’s a huge void in their organizations, so I started Developers for Good to help developers network and find ways to help.

TF:  How did you get involved with Paperless Post?

VH:  I went to a breakfast called ‘Hot and Bothered: Time To Change the Ratio of Women in Tech’ and met one of the co-founders, Alexa Hirschfeld and we got to know each other.  I don’t usually go to these types of events.  I like coding better than networking, but I love the product and wanted to meet her.  It turned out that they needed someone to help manage their business intelligence and the scaling of their database.  I’m a database and analytics engineer now and it’s a great fit.  I’ve only been at Paperless Post for a few months, but startup time is on a different continuum and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot.

TF:  How did you get involved with GirlDevelopIt?

VH: I met Sara Chipps through a friend and decided that what we really want to do is teach a class to make programming accessible.  We started teaching things we know:  HTML and CSS and core object-oriented principles.  We started in July and just keep doing and getting feedback for future courses.  The main goal of the courses is to teach enough programming to make it accessible to people who’ve never programmed before.

TF:  I wish I was in NYC to take advantage of this incredible offering – what do future growth plans look like for GirlDevelopIt?

VH:  We plan to expand outside of NYC in 2011.  We’re trying to find good teachers and students and since we need highly engaged students, we won’t do online learning until we get better at this.  We’re not really ready for that possible disconnect yet.  We like to incorporate social, in-person interaction when we can.

TF:  You’re obviously very involved in helping solve the lack of Women in Tech.  What’s your take on why the gender gap exists in technology?

VH:   I did a thesis on Women in Computer Science, so I’ve confronted the facts.  There is a gender gap in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) fields and it’s wider in Engineering and even wider in Computer Science.  The gender gap in medicine is almost gone now, but it’s just not happening in computer science.  In 2008, even though 54% of bachelor’s degree earners were women, only 17% of computer science degree earners were women.  Assuming that over time, the gender gap will magically disappear is not going to work.  There are many components to this problem, but a huge element is that young girls need role models.  Encouraging them to program only works as much as there are role models that share their stories and experiences in programming. There are many successful Women in Tech leaders, but the key is for aspiring young people to see them and know that tech is a viable, and wonderful, option.

TF:  How could we get more young girls interested in Technology?

VH:  We need to disengage from stereotypes.  I never did any stereotypical engineer-type things.  I talk a lot.  I don’t really tinker with machines just to see how they work, but if I need to use something I will figure it out. I want to help people, which is why people recommended going into medicine to me.  But isn’t it OK for programmers to be caring too?  You shouldn’t have to be a complete renegade to be a good female programmer.  What you’re doing is important for raising awareness.  Visibility is a huge part of solving the problem – thank you!

There’s no doubt that  Vanessa is successful.  Thankfully, she’s one of the Women in Tech leaders that hasn’t forgotten about the importance of giving back to the community that desperately needs her guidance and inspiration.  I feel privileged to be able to start off the new year with a profile on her.  It’s perfect for launching 2011.  Let’s all resolve to increase awareness, close the gender gap and change the ratio in the wonderful world of Technology.

December 22, 2010 / TechFemme

Sarah Allen is Creating Women Programmers, One Free Ruby on Rails Workshop at a Time

Sarah Allen, Co-Founder & CTO, MightyVerse and Ruby on Rails Guru, Railsbridge.org

Sarah Allen, (Co-Founder and CTO, Mightyverse, Owner, Blazing Cloud) has accomplished more in her tech career than entire teams of programmers do in their lifetimes.  And she’s nowhere near done.  She is currently a co-founder of Mightyverse, an online and mobile app video translator that lets you hear (rather than just read) how something is said.  She also runs leads a tech consulting group, Blazing Cloud.   Yes, her impressive tech resume and numerous speaking engagements and awards are more than enough to merit a TechFemme profile, but it’s one of her current ventures that seems the most significant  for Women in Tech.  Through RailsBridge.org, a friendly and inclusive Ruby on Rails community, she, along with Sarah Mei, teaches free weekend Ruby on Rails programming workshops for women and their friends, aimed at introducing more women to programming, as well as to the Ruby on Rails programming community.    Thankfully, it’s working.  Through this workshop, Sarah is reaching out to women who are interested in technology and bringing them into an incredibly supportive tech community.

TechFemme: How did you get into computers?

Sarah Allen: When I was a kid, my mom was laid off as a public school teacher and decided that computers were the next big thing so she decided to sell them.  She was actually one of the first women to be an official apple retailer.

TF: I was introduced to computers in a similar way.  My mother was laid off from her real estate job when I was a kid and made a similar observation.   She took a programming course and then spent the next 35 years of her career in network programming.  At what age did you you start programming?

SA: When I was 12 years old, my mother bought an Apple II computer and it arrived on a day when I was home from school.  I opened it up and it came with a BASIC programming manual.  So I taught myself BASIC from that manual. After that, my mom would bring home applications and ask me to learn them and then teach them to her.  Eventually, I helped develop a curriculum to teach computers to other teachers.

TF: What kind of programming did you do as a 12 year old?

SA: I wrote programs and games in BASIC.  I also learned a little Pascal.  I thought it was fun – like a toy.

TF: Did you always know, since then, that you wanted to have a career in technology?

SA: Not at all.  As a teenager, I saw myself working for a non-profit, solving world issues, not sitting behind a computer.  I went to Brown University to study linguistics.  I was mostly interested in communications and spoken languages but I double majored in Visual Arts and Computer Science.  But I still didn’t think I’d be doing programming as a career.

TF: What did you do after Brown?

SA: I worked at a multimedia publishing company that some friends started.  It was eventually bought by Adobe, after we developed After Effects.  I gained some respect there for what I could do with computers.  At one point, someone told me they didn’t realize that computers were capable of doing the things that I was making them do.  But I thought it was obvious.  That was when I started going down the path of being a software developer.

TF: How did you become a co-founder on Mightyverse?

SA: A mutual friend introduced me to Glen Janssens and Paul Lundahl who came up with the idea.  It suited me perfectly because I’m a programmer with a strong linguistics background.  So I was definitely intrigued by the project but didn’t want to co-found a company with people I just met so we started with an initial small project together. I not only love the idea of Mightyverse, but work well with the team, and believe there is a compelling business model, so I agreed to join as co-founder and CTO.

TF: How did you get involved with teaching programming to kids?

SA: I volunteered to teach programming to my son’s 4th/5th grade class a few years ago.  I believe all kids should learn to program, for the same reasons we teach them about photosynthesis and chemistry.  We don’t expect all of them to become scientists, but they should know how the world works.  Today software is a very real part of our world embedded in our phones and even our cars.  The school didn’t offer programming classes, so I created a pilot program and ensured that at least one class got a chance to learn.  Around that same time, RailsBridge was founded and I volunteered to lead the TeachingKids project .

TF: What has the RailsBridge TeachingKids project been doing recently?

SA: At the last Ruby conference, we created a kids track, inspired by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH).  We hosted the activities for kids at the conference.  We taught them things like processing to make graphics , soldering and programming simple web games using a new game development language that I’m working on, called Pie.

TF: And you also teach Ruby on Rails programming to women.  Tell me about that program.

SA: The goal is to get more women involved in the Ruby programming community.  Sarah and I teach a weekend workshop for women, or for men who bring a female +1 to take the workshop as well.  There are two options – one for those who have programmed before and one for those that are completely new to programming.  It’s a Friday – Saturday workshop and by the end of the day on Saturday, everyone has built a web application using Ruby on Rails.

TF: This is a phenomenal initiative to introduce Ruby on Rails to women and get them started learning it, but how does this get them involved in the community?

SA: They’re not going to learn everything in one day.  So the community is there to help them develop and grow as programmers. Ruby is a good place to start programming because you can do a lot when you only know a little.

TF: It’s widely known that the Ruby community is supportive – what makes it special in that way?

SA: It’s incredibly supportive – not all technologies have a community, especially one that’s so helpful.  I think it’s because Ruby is open-source so the community is used to giving back.  In a good way, people feel somewhat obligated to give back.  And many members of the Ruby community are successful so the money is there to give back.  It’s also  a young, progressive community.  Guys are tired of being seen as part of the problem (the lack of women in programming) and some of them want to do something about it.

TF: Why do you think there are so few women in programming?

SA: Most people don’t realize how fun it is because of the media stereotypes of what programmers do and what programmers are like.  But most of the first programmers were women.  One example is the ENIAC, which was one of the first computers built to support the war effort.  The hardware was built by two men, but it was programmed by women.  Programming was considered a support role at this time, so they weren’t widely recognized until later.

TF: What advice would you give girls and/or women trying to get into computers and technology?

SA: The main thing is to discover what you really want to do.  Embrace your passion.  From there, seek out role models – of any gender.

Sarah’s personal statement:

I believe that software should be fun. Software should enable someone to do something meaningful that they couldn’t do otherwise.

I agree with her.  This is the only way that women, en masse, are going to get into programming.  We don’t want to code just for the sake of coding (although that’s cool too).  We want to learn to code in order to do something with it, build something we want to see in the world and contribute in ways we couldn’t without programming.  Sarah Allen is helping us get there.

December 8, 2010 / TechFemme

Dogs (and Humans) are Saving the Environment With Padma Pandya’s Help

Padma Pandya, President & Founder, EcoAdepts

Luckily, I got to meet Padma Pandya, (President & Founder, EcoAdepts) in person.  Most of my profile interviews are done over the phone as there are so few Women in Tech entrepreneurs in Miami.  As soon as you meet Padma, you feel like you’ve found a cool new friend.  She’s warm, smiling, laughs easily and cares as much about what you have to say as you do about what she has to say.  But then as you talk to her for a while, you discover that your cool new friend is very intelligent, entrepreneurial and to top it off, environmentally-conscious.  EcoAdepts is the parent company to GreenDoggieBags and GreenTrashBags that, after tons of research and uncovering the truth about so-called ‘Green’ plastic bags, offer a legitimately biodegradable way for us to do our part for Mother Earth just by taking out the trash.

TechFemme:  Tell me about your path to Green Entrepreneurship.

Padma Pandya:  I got my Undergrad Degree in PR  from Boston University, a second degree in Fashion Design at the Art Institute and then my Master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Florida International University.  I had another online company that was a wedding portal that helped South Asian brides plan their weddings and learned a lot of my entrepreneurship lessons the hard way during that time. I learned from every mistake I made.

TF:  Where does your passion for saving the environment  come from?

PP:  As a child, I was obsessed with whales.  I wonder if I was a whale in a past life.  I even adopted one through a conservation society when I was a kid.  As I got older and did more research, I read about how whales were dying by consumption of all the plastic floating in our oceans.  Then I uncovered more disturbing stuff about the five gigantic permanent floating landfills in our oceans.  One of them, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be anywhere between  the size of Texas at its smallest to larger than the Continental USA at it’s largest.

TF:  Where did the idea of Green Doggie Bags come from?

PP:  I knew I wanted to build a company that I was passionate about so being ‘Green’ was important to me.  I researched that the pet market is recession-proof and dominated by women, who are both conscientious and early adopters as a group.  So I started to look into biodegradable bags and found out that there is so much we’re not told about how people are using the term ‘biodegradable’.  Converting corn to plastic has a 30 % higher carbon footprint.  There are no pesticide regulations for industrial vegetables.  This stuff only biodegrades in industrial composts.   I wanted to offer a truly biodegradable plastic bag option that biodegrades in landfills as well as composts.

TF:  What does your product roadmap look like?  What other products will we be taking out of our floating landfills?

PP:  Next we’ll be focusing more on our building business for our private label GreenTrashBags.  A large part of our business is wholesale.  We’re thinking about kitty litter liners too.

Below is a chart taken from the GreenDoggieBags website outlining the benefits of the biodegradable technology vs. other supposedly Earth-friendly materials.  Makes me think twice about how certain marketing techniques touting ‘biodegradable’ have been tricking me this whole time.

  GreenDoggieBags Cornstarch Oxydegradable
Biodegrades in Landfills (Anaerobically) Green!    
Biodegrades in Composts (Aerobically) Green! Green! Green!
Can be Recycled with Regular Plastics Green!    
No Expiration Date Green!    
Does NOT Degrade with Heat Green!    
Does NOT Degrade with Moisture Green!   Green!
No Harmful Chemicals left behind Green! Green!  
Produces Methane: used as a Renewable Energy Supply Green!    

My relationship with Miami is hard to describe.  Between the 10+ types of Latin food, watching LeBron James doing his thing for the Miami Heat, and the phenomenal weather, I love it here, no doubt.  But one of the things I detest about my city is that the ‘going Green’ initiative has taken forever to get here.  Let’s look at the 3 R’s:

Reduce:  You must be kidding me.  This is the land of rampant consumption and excess and filling the landfills with everything once we’ve grown tired of it.

Reuse:  Advise most Miamians to do this and you’ll be met with a blank or incredulous stare.  After all, why reuse something when we can buy a brand new, shiny one?

Recycle:  This mindset is completely non-existent here.  I see bottles and cans thrown into trash bins all the time, even when clearly-marked recycling bins are right next to the trash bins.

But Padma is helping change this culture and I’m hoping there are others like her in Miami.  I’m hoping that they’re starting businesses to like hers to get the word out and help us all do our part.  And even if they’re not starting environmentally-friendly businesses, I’m hoping that at least, their voices get louder, their actions are spreading and others are starting to notice.

November 30, 2010 / TechFemme

Eden Godsoe is Helping Women Make Millions of Dollars of Buying Decisions

Eden Godsoe, Co-Founder, Skinny Scoop

Being a working mother is difficult and time-consuming on it’s own.  The good news for Moms (and Women) everywhere is that Eden Godsoe, (Co-Founder, Skinny Scoop) decided to throw being an internet entrepreneur into the mix of  her life activities in addition to raising her kids.  Eden and her co-founder, Erin Crocker, created Skinny Scoop – a Q & A website filled with the valuable info that Women everywhere search for regularly to make daily decisions.  It’s amazingly useful because it’s based on a principle that we’ve all been taught since birth:  Moms know everything.

Now that Eden and Erin have brought us Skinny Scoop, Moms can also share everything they know too.

TechFemme:  How did you start your career in technology?

Eden Godsoe:  I majored in Economics and Philosophy in undergrad and was an investment banker in NYC for a while.  Then I went to Stanford Business School for my MBA and since then, I’ve always been around technology.  I was always working for tech companies, spearheading sales and marketing teams.

TF:  So although you didn’t do actual technical work, you were still majorly  involved in tech.

EG:  Definitely – it’s possible to address a customer’s technical needs and articulate technical requirements without being an engineer or knowing how to code.

TF:  How did the idea of Skinny Scoop come about?

EG:  We had thought about the ‘Mom’ space for a while.  Some of my classmates at Stanford dropped out of the workspace to raise kids.  Moms, and women in general, are key decision makers in the home.  Skinny Scoop is a tool that captures all the valuable info that women and moms typically share through email.  It was created to enable women to influence millions of dollars of business.  We want Skinny Scoop to be anywhere women are making decisions.

TF:  Was it difficult making a transition to being a tech entrepreneur?

EG:  I’ve always worked pretty long hours so it was a fantastic transition.  I’ve never worked longer hours or harder but now I’m doing something I’m passionate about.  This kind of transition will be different for different people.  I come from a design background so I did the design of the site and because of my past experience, I was easily able to communicate the site requirements to engineers.

TF:  How do you think moms can expose their young daughters to technology?

EG:  I was raised in a gender-neutral environment.  I’ll give my kids the same exposure.  They’re already exposed to what I do so they know that I work on a website.  But women don’t have to have careers to be good role models to their kids.

I think it’s a safe bet that Eden is doing a fantastic job being a good role model for her kids.  (I hope to take pointers from her if I’m lucky enough to be a mom one day.)  She and Erin have built a business that provides easy-to-find valuable information that women already actively search for and share with each other.  Now they can do it easily and with many others that are eager to find and share the same type of information.  The value of that combined data is priceless.  Women in all types of family situations have lots of daily decisions to make but not a lot of time to make them and this makes Skinny Scoop is a woman’s online best friend.

November 22, 2010 / TechFemme

Attn Fellow Non-Programmers: Elizabeth Yin and Jennifer Hsieh Are Going To Help Us Start Our Internet Businesses

Elizabeth Yin & Jennifer Hsieh, Co-Founders DressMob and Shiny Orb

The story of Elizabeth Yin and Jennifer Hsieh (Co-Founders, DressMob & Shiny Orb) reads like a modern day women tech entrepreneur fairy tale.  While most entrepreneurs with tech startup ideas struggle to find the proper technical expertise to turn their ideas into real businesses, both have been building websites since childhood.  Best friends since they were 12 years old, Elizabeth and Jennifer built websites together throughout middle and high school.  Although they went their separate ways for college (Elizabeth to Stanford for Electrical Engineering and Jennifer to Harvard for Chemistry and Physics), they met back up at MIT while Elizabeth was getting her MBA and Jennifer was working on her PhD.  It turns out the timing was perfect for them to do what they said they would do years earlier – start and build web businesses together.  Now they’ve co-founded Shiny Orb, a social shopping website for bridal parties that makes finding, sharing and comparing bridesmaid dresses easy and DressMob, a similar website for all other kinds of dresses.  Now they’re starting Launchbit, a new venture that’s the answer to tech startup entrepreneur prayers from Silicon Valley to everywhere there’s a non-programmer with an internet business idea.

TechFemme:  When did you first start becoming interested in computers?

Jennifer Hsieh: When I was in middle school, my parents sent me to computer camp between 5th and 6th grade.  We were making websites, using Photoshop, learning HTML.  We made fan websites.  I made one for my collection of Rubix Cubes.

Elizabeth Yin: In 1st grade, our teacher splurged on some Apple 2GS’ out of her own pocket.  We played Carmen Sandiego and Reader Rabbit on them and it was fun.  Then we started building websites in school and my parents sent me to a computer workshop where we learned how to make desktop apps.  I thought it was amazing that you could make something that could reach a bunch of different people at the same time.

TF:   So your parents exposed you to computers early on?

JH: We went to an all girls’ school for middle and high school that was really interested in putting technology into the curriculum.  Everyone had to learn how to make web pages.  Like we would have to make a series of web pages instead of a simple book report.

TF:  Would you agree that early exposure to computer and technology is instrumental in developing interest and skills in these areas later in life?

EY: The earlier the exposure, the more confidence you have on the computer.  Then the more confident you are, the more comfortable you are with using it.  And it becomes fun.

TF: How did the idea for Shiny Orb start and develop?

EY: I got married in the summer of 2009.  All my bridesmaids lived all over the place and while coordinating bridesmaid dresses,  there were too many emails and links and it became difficult to compare dresses.  Weddings are social, so we created a social site to solve the problem of making bridesmaid dress shopping easier.

JH:  On Shiny Orb, you can choose dresses you want to share, add them to your online dressing room and then share them with whoever you want.  You can even add private comments to dresses that you can share only with people you want to share them with.

TF:  How did you get the idea for Launchbit?

EY:  We met Angie Chang and our initial conversations were about how we can go about encouraging women in tech entrepreneurship.  We discovered a huge problem.  There are all these women who really want to start Internet businesses but don’t have the tech skills to launch their ideas, don’t know how to write a technical spec to hire someone to help or can’t find a technical co-founder.

TF:  How will Launchbit help address this issue?

EY:  LaunchBit is a toolkit that will allow non-programmers to add interactive and dynamic features to their websites such as search capabilities, a membership login system, forms, etc.  This toolkit will be geared towards people who have minimal familiarity with HTML.  We’re still working on it but will begin beta testing in December. For entrepreneurs who are completely unfamiliar with how to get started building a website, we are going to begin offering an online class to get people started.

JH:  We’re using the platform-as-a-service model.  Different business ideas have different needs.  We’re providing the magic behind the curtain, the website functions they need for their business.

EY:  We’re navigating the details now, speaking to people starting Internet businesses to see what needs they have.  We want to make sure it’s super easy to use.

TF:  There’s some sentiment in the tech community that startups that focus on helping non-coders create websites without learning to code fail because they don’t have the customization that they need for their specific businesses.

EY:  It’s true that at some point every business will require customization.  Our service addresses the pain point for the very early stages of the Lean Startup model.  Launchbit is for entrepreneurs to use to prove out their product.  The idea is that if you can prove your product is viable, then you can hire developers to build out your site.

It’s impossible to overestimate how valuable this toolkit is going to be for those of us who don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to code things like a login function or feedback request form.  Elizabeth and Jennifer are going to be saving us time, frustration and futile efforts related to the initial technical aspects of our startups  so we can focus on the areas of our businesses where we can have the most profound and significant impact.  It’s clear that these ladies can build any Internet business they want.  And they’re choosing to help us build any Internet business we want.  I plan on being first in line to thank them after the Launchbit toolkit launches.

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