a slightly different look at start-ups vs. Penelope Trunk

picture taken from Alexia Tsotsis http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/12/stop-telling-women-not-to-do-startups-in-paris/

Penelope Trunks post titled "Stop Telling Women to do Startup"s made the rounds this weekend.  This is not the first time that we have heard from Penelope and I am sure it will not be the last. 

As I sat down to write my thoughts on her post and others comments I chuckled to myself as I read the Editors note:  Her opinions are her own.  Well…they sure as hell are.

She does get one thing right from the very beginning of her post;  Clearly, women have a choice.  That is absolutely right, we do. 

We have all read the statistics, many women leave the workforce to raise their children.  I am a victim of that myself.  I left the workplace because I left one career that I had no interest in ever returning to again so it was timing more than anything else.  I spend those years at home with my kids trying to figure out how to get back to the workplace under my own terms.  I was lucky because I figured that out but not every woman is and I know many who wish they could.

I am not going to waste my time going off on Penelope’s inane myopic rambling of a blog post that contradicts herself throughout and is certainly looking at life through a 1940’s lens so I am going to write about why women should do startups.

Women should do startups because the only way to change environments that are relegated to a 9-5 day is if the changes come from outside corporate America.   Women are fantastic managers and multi-taskers…they get shit done.  They take their responsibilities seriously.  Most women want to have their own identity that is separate from their kids and family.  They want to use their brains and make a difference.  As Margaret Thatcher once said “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

More women should start their own companies for several reasons besides the ones I listed above.  Women tend to build companies that fill voids in their lives and it ends up that many of those voids change all of our lives over time.  Here are a few of those things; Kevlar, the Apgar test, circular saw, cooking stove, refrigerator, ironing board, dishwasher, Scotchgard, fire escapes, liquid paper, the windshield wiper, the life raft, ZipCar and the first software for computing. 

I love supporting women entrepreneurs for many reasons but here are a few more.  Women tend to be entrepreneurial as it pairs well with a multi-tasker.  They are self-starters.  If every woman started a company and those companies ended up having market caps from $100K to $1 billion we would not have only changed the ratio, we would change the economy.  We wouldn’t only change the economy financially we would change the way people work hence creating communities.  We would have more women CEOs who would hire more women and understand the flexibility needed in womens lives.  So if a call had to be made at 9pm, so be it.  If a woman could only get to the office 3 days a week, so be it.  So be it because we all know no matter what the work week needs to look like for a woman to be successful in her work life and her personal life, the job will get done.  These companies are good for family, community and the economy.  I feel honored every day that I am able to be involved and support the many women entrepreneurs that I have met because they are doing just that. 

Don’t discount women’s intellect and drive.  If there were environments for women where they could have a better balance between life, family and the workplace, call me crazy but I think most women would stay at the work table under terms that would allow them to have it all.   There need to be more options (childcare) and women entrepreneurs can create those options.  Doesn’t mean that some will never opt out and work 24/7 while others will just make the choice to stay home yet the brain power we are losing out on because those options aren’t readily available is overwhelming.  I am still trying to figure out a company that could help every women get back into the workplace under their own terms particularly women of my generation who so badly want to return and don't know how to get back.  But that is for another post. 

As for Penelope’s expectation that women would run at half-speed because they have children is utter bullshit.  Have she met Tereza Nemessanyi of Honestly Now or Joanne Lang of About One or Amanda Steinberg or Dailyworth or Amanda Hesser of Food 52 or Erin Newkirk of Red Stamp…I could make a huge list but that gets my point across.  All of these women including others are paving the way for our next generation of daughters (and quite frankly sons who support these women and their killer businesses). 

I have one last comment, I only hope that my daughters are able to create their own business using their brain power daily while being an amazing mother to their children at the same time.  If Penelope had her way she wouldn't have the opportunity to write a column that would be posted on Techcrunch and she might as well not send her daughters to college because they should just stay home and bake brownies.  You know what, I still bake brownies and get a lot of shit done every day in the startup world….and I love that I can because why shouldn't I. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. whitneyjohnson

    A stirring speech, a rallying cry. Thanks Joanne. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks whitney…i am woman hear me roar.

      1. Rohan


  2. Thabo Hermanus

    Boom! Well said…

    1. Gotham Gal

      interesting post. i like what you said here: * A woman going for a job interview should be judged on her skills and experience relevant to that job *. Agreed with that.

  3. Andy Ellis

    “You know what, I still bake brownies and get a lot of shit done every day in the startup world….and I love that I can because why shouldn’t I.”!I love this, I’m certainly not a woman raising kids but I have other obligations that keep me from operating in traditional 9-5 hours, maybe that’s why this blog resonates with me so much.Also, the interview on TNW sounded like a good time, I really like the folks there.

  4. Tereza

    What a post — one winning paragraph after another. Just awesome, Joanne. You’re the best.I spent Wed/Thurs w Golden Seeds portfolio companies, women-owned/led. One has groundbreaking treatment for Alzheimers. She lives in a tiny apt across from her lab and is on a personal mission to “save the memories” in the face of a growing Alzheimers epidemic — meaning helping us all not lose the historically and emotionally important memories these patients have. Another a breakthrough chemo-dosing technology. And 20+ more like this.I spend Sat night with Jennie who has the top baby-naming website and Dr. Jen a national expert in child abuse who blogs and has 30k followers and oh BTW is an inventor of developmental toys too. She was bummed out bc WorkingMother did a piece on her, and a commenter came out with pitchforks criticizing her bc she has a nanny that helps out at home. This is a woman who has dedicated her life to saving children who have no one else to advocate for them.This dinner was one where — mind you — I showed up with a big pot of rockin’ Chicken Paprikash and Spaetzle (learned from my mom) and taught the others how to do it, Dr. Jen had her rockin’ sweet/sour meatballs (which her kids rolled up), and Jennie brought her rockin’ lemon pound cake. We also conceived a business deal and on Sunday Dr. Jen blogged our recipes.That’s how women get shit done. Oh, and BTW, the husbands and kids had a great time too.

    1. Gotham Gal

      nice tereza…can i get that recipe for the chicken paprika??

    2. Anne Libby

      I think we’re hard on ourselves, and we can be hard on each another.   Pitchforks, great image.  It never feels good.   (I’ve got one from 2005 that pops up occasionally.)  I mean, comment trolls at Working Mother?   Are those unmoderated discussions?The only cure I can think of for this one is a commitment to “judge not” — ourselves and others.   We’re in this together.  

      1. Gotham Gal

        hear, hear

      2. ShanaC

        the hardest thing I’ve realized about being a female is that there is no right way to be a woman.  We judge because we are trying to figure out what being a woman means in an age of infinite choice.  We have models in our head, and we don’t conform to them.Its hard, and we need to stop

        1. Gotham Gal

          you are absolutely right. it is hard and we need to stop.

        2. Anne Libby

          The only way to stop it is by stopping ourselves, and by walking away from conversations that veer into “who does she think she is?” territory.  And you’re right, it’s hard.   And we can do it.

        3. TanyaMonteiro

          “the age of infinate choice” that says it all

  5. Christina Christopoulos

    This was a perfect start to my Monday morning. Thanks!

  6. Pavia Rosati

    Tipping my hat to you, Joanne. Incisive as ever. 

  7. ThunderLily

    Thank you for being an advocate of women who are striking out alone. Men or women need to know that someone, somewhere believes in them and will support them as they venture off the beaten path. Things for women to consider about how they fit into the workplace…If you have children, you are a natural project manager, you are a good manager of people and are compelled to use creative means to get the job completed. You will not be a micro-manager, but will be someone who allows your ‘team’ to develop under your guidance. You will be flexible, armed with knowledge to battle the unexpected questions. You will be strong, tireless and resourceful. And most of all, you are used to working at all hours of the day or night to get it all done come what may.Personally I believe women are natural entrepreneurs. We enjoy enormous freedom and choice. Whether you choose the corporate route, the stay-at-home route or the risky venture route, give it your all so you can look back at it proudly.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Totally agree….I believe women are natural entrepreneurs. We enjoy enormous freedom and choice. Whether you choose the corporate route, the stay-at-home route or the risky venture route, give it your all so you can look back at it proudly

  8. nithyadas

    Great post Joanne. My favorite line “You know what, I still bake brownies and get a lot of shit done every day in the startup world….and I love that I can because why shouldn’t I.”Thanks for being such a great role model for women entrepreneurs. As a 30-something working in tech mother of one who doesn’t bake a lot of brownies but cooks a ton of Indian curries and blogs them and gets a lot of other shit done too, I heart you and this response.Roar.

  9. Kylie Sachs

    I love this.  I am a CFO of a young company and also manage life with two kids and a working husband.  Calls are hard to have between 5PM and 8:30PM but guess what, 9 or 10PM, you bet.  And thank god my husband contributes equally as well – that helps to make it work.  Once we stop working within the artifical constructs of the workplace, opportunities abound.  I love your brownies comment as well.  Cannot tell you how many times I am on a call, blackberry strapped to waistband and packing a lunch at the same time.

  10. Sonia

    Hi Joanne, I enjoyed this post! I hated Penelope’s article but no time to respond… too busy building this week! (Yes, I am a woman and I am running a tech start-up.) So I especially appreciate all the people who have taken the time to thoughtfully respond and put it on the record that many women vehemently disagree with Penelope’s views… Thank you!

  11. missrogue

    Thank you for writing this, Joanne! Not long ago, I chuckled as I was on the phone closing our seed round with our final investor – negotiating terms and answering some really difficult questions on the product roadmap decisions – while icing a birthday cake. Someone needs to invent an easier way to pipe a message onto a cake so I can wave my arms the way I need to while on the phone. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      that is hilarious. i can totally relate particularly with the hand thing. why do i need to use my hands when i speak to someone who isn’t even in front of me? the other day i spoke to two women who are starting up an angel fund in sf. i was making dinner at the same time.

  12. Pamela Castillo

    I completely agree. We have to create the work life and jobs we want if they don’t really exist, rather than complain and wait for corporate America to create them for us. I think a flexible work environment will be the most important product to come from start-ups. Even more than other web or mobile-based startups. 9-5s are unnatural, children or ot, for women or for men.

    1. Gotham Gal

      flexible work lives are good for everyone.

  13. andyidsinga

    Thanks Joanne – great post. This especially : ‘Most women want to have their own identity that is separate from their kids and family.’Oddly some people still need to be reminded of that.also shout out to Tereza for sending along this page (highlighting a ton of women run/founded businesses) http://t.co/ok4z1EAu

  14. Janet Hanson

    My advice: if possible, launch a startup with your spouse or a best friend. Jeff (Hanson) and I launched Milestone Capital, an insane startup, in 1995. It was a brutal business to try and break into but we succeeded and our kids flourished. The last 5 years have been the toughest in my life. Managing a global network with a small but highly dedicated team is incredibly stressful. But here’s the thing – when your kids are in their late teens/early 20’s, it’s incredibly satisfying to be part of the entrepreneurial fray. In fact, it doesn’t get any better. Being relevant to your kids when they’re young adults is why it’s so important (to try) to stay in the game.Note to Penelope: if you have to get out your Tech Crunch article 20 years from now and say to your kids “this is when mommy was an intrepid entrepreneur but I threw in the towel so I could spend more quality time with you” don’t be surprised if they roll their eyes in disgust. From the get go, I invested in my kids and my business and to this day, remain wildly bullish on both.Think one thing is definitely true — timing is everything. Jeff and I started MCM when we needed to throw a “Hail Mary” as all of our other career options were tanking and our kids were 7 and 5. Once we launched our company we knew we were going to have to be “pitch perfect” and we were.  

    1. Gotham Gal

      i love that. i invested in my kids and my business. bravo!!

    2. Carrie

      Janet -Thanks so much for this post.  My husband and I just went full time on our startup.  We have wanted to work together for a long time and now that the kids are in their teens, the time is right.  It is great to hear from other couples with kids who are doing thriving startups.

  15. Tiffany Monhollon

    Thanks so much for sharing this. Something as a woman in the tech industry I think about a lot. There definitely aren’t enough women starting startups, or in leadership in startups. It’s not just our intellect and drive, but the mindset and approach women have in many different areas that I think is so needed in the workplace in general, and in the tech industry specifically. 

  16. Rebecca Stees

    Random thoughts:1. I’ve got a curry, coconut milk, orange vegetable (squash, yam and carrot) soup on the stove.  And I’ll taste in in a little while to figure out how to pull it together.2. I think I only remember Charlotte cooking in Sex in the City.   She went into the closet to cry and was rescued by her Nanny after she was overwhelmed making cupcakes.3. I recently showed the Little Bits website to one of my favorite 8 year old boys.  He spent an hour teaching me about all the parts.  I had never thought about circuit boards much so it was an awakening to me and made me curious for more knowledge.  We really liked watching the prototype videos.  That helps grow our imaginations.

    1. Gotham Gal

      great thoughts…

  17. Bridget

    Thank you for this. I read Penelope’s post and I wanted to scream in horror but I also try to understand her perspective. Yes, it is tough to be a mom and it is tough to be an entrepreneur but it is not impossible. I do it and while I am exhausted, I’m like most women here and just get shit done. I love both “jobs” so I don’t complain about the long hours. And like some women here, I was on an investor call on Saturday morning while prepping candy grams for my daughter’s fundraiser (the daughter who is the first female student body president at her school). She listened to the entire Skype call – bored out of her mind but we got shit done and she told me she was amazed how I could use such “big words” while still helping her. You rock!

    1. Gotham Gal

      the perfect role model for your daughter. nice!

  18. charlessmith

    I have a slightly different view of this than most- My Mom was an “accidental” entrepreneur.  We have a family owned business (newspapers) that was passed to 4 kids, the youngest of whom was the only son- my mother was one of three daughters.  When my grandfather died, the son (it was 1972) took over the business and ran it until he decided to sell it a few years later. Except  that he couldn’t do that on his own, so the sisters took over; they had all worked in the business before they were married, but were mostly homemakers at that point.  I was 12 and my Mom was 40. The sisters all changed their lives overnight and set up a structure that exists today; significantly increasing both the revenue and scope of the operation (adding television stations).  My father was a publisher of one of the newspapers, so my mother effectively became my father’s boss.  My mother spearheaded the move into television and became the president of our tv station (we now own 3).  Looking back, I could not have had a better model (from both parents) for life in a career while also being a great parent.  My mother missed nothing.  Not a game, not a meeting, not a teacher conference, not a conference call, no cakes went un-iced.  She just did those things- I never remember a complaint about any of it.  It wasn’t amazing to me then, but it is now when I realize what it must have been for her to completely change her life overnight.     She would never call herself an entrepreneur- but she most certainly is one. Not sure exactly what this means in context with the post and TC piece, but from one kid’s perspective, women should definitely do startups:  my mother became an entrepreneur with an existing platform, imagine what she might have done with her own.

  19. MenWhoSupportWomen

    I agree with all of your points about women. But one thing I have never understood is “why are male stereotypes fine on your blog? when you are complaining about female stereotypes in the same blog post” For example:  As Margaret Thatcher once said “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”If you go back and read your posts about women & startups, you definitely have a quote or two putting down men. 🙂

  20. Carrie

    Thanks for your great post in response to Penelope’s, very articulate on a difficult subject.  For many women, this strikes so emotionally that it is hard to response rationally and that makes it all the more frustrating.One thing that really gets me about this whole argument is that women don’t have children alone – the majority of children are born into two parent families with a woman and a man.  I am extremely fortunate that my husband took an early, active role with our kids.  He quit a job when our first was born and I went back to work.  Since then, we have morphed through a number of different family work situations including him home/ me fulltime, him fulltime / me parttime, both parttime, me home/him parttime, him fulltime/me in grad school and now co-founding a startup together (our kids are now 14 and 12 year old twins).  Everything said about women and family life (needing flexibility, taking a break from the career path, taking more PTO to care for the kids, etc.) needs to be said about BOTH parents.My husband feels so blessed to have been able to be such an involved parent to his kids and the benefits to our daughters and to our family life of having both parents so involved are innumerable.  Let me remind Penolope and all business people that without parents and without families there won’t be workers for you to hire in the future.  You not only need us to have kids, but you need us to raise them well.Additionally, I could not be an entrepreneur now if it was not for my children.  The person I have become as a mom (and the one my husband has become as a dad) are changes that needed to happen for us to be great entrepreneurs.  I am more patient than I was in my 20s; I listen better; I can see more sides of an argument and I can present my views more clearly – all because of my parenting experience.We have been fulltime on our startup since September and the rewards for our children are already great.  They are totally into our product.  We have family dinner table conversations about target markets and the difference between iOS and Android applications.  Yes, they have to fend for themselves a bit more since we are both doing the startup, but that is not a bad thing.As for doing a business call and frosting the cake – been there and will continue to do that.  I had a big call the other day that I ended up doing while schlepping the kids from school to sports (I was supposed to make it home before the meeting, but the 14 year old was injured at school and then her boyfriend broke up with her, so we stopped for a milkshake and I had to start the call in the car.  Still was able to console her and get my work done).I think it is difficult for our generation (in my mid-40s) to think that we still have to fight this equality battle.  I am so thankful to my mom and mother in law for all their generation did for a woman’s right and ability to choose her own path in life and I feel a responsibility to keep that going for the next generation.

  21. pointsnfigures

    20% of my angel group is women, and we have as many women on the board as men.  really appreciate their insight.  so much of angel funding and VC is male dominated, it’s nice to have a good mix. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      good for you. it makes a huge difference having that mix.

  22. LGBlueSky

    Great post and I see both sides based on personal experience. Women can’t succeed in corporate America and bake the brownies because corp life still requires 12 hr days of work, and travel. Something gives, and most times it is the woman’s payche. The start-up world, where I proudly hang my shingle now, gives us gals the best opportunity to truly have it all…stimulating work, flexibility, sweat equity and time to kick ass as a class mom. Let’s flood the startup world and really make a change…as startups today will be the Corp America of tomorrow.

    1. Gotham Gal

      bravo. start-ups today will be the next and best corporate america tomorrow.

  23. pixiedust8

    I love you. I really do. You summed up why I am thinking about starting a business. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      Do it!!!

  24. Lisa Cleary

    Thank goodness for Gotham Gal! Having Penelope get so much ink in two consecutive months is enough to make me swear off TechCrunch. She’s the spokesperson for a war of her own creation — blather for the sake of airtime. She’s also proof that if you torture statistics enough, you can make them say anything you want. I’m embarrassed that she’s an entrepreneur-mom who thinks her personal situation applies to the rest of us. Here’s to all the proud, fierce and oh-so-very-capable female entrepreneurs who’d volunteer for Sheryl Sandberg’s life in a heartbeat!

    1. Gotham Gal

      she certainly does not represent the majority of us….thank god.

  25. candice

    Funny thing about the 1940s –  women were doing all kinds of “manly” jobs and doing them well.  And raising their children while their husbands were deployed.About having kids, my instinct right now is to find a job that I can actually have paid leave from and still have it waiting for me when I return.  What was so terrifying about contract programming-what I used to do to supplement my income from the family business-is the prospect of not having any work lined up if you stop.

    1. Gotham Gal

      it is so true about the 40’s.

  26. Meghan

    I love this post. Thanks for sharing the TC article as well – it was interesting to read the two opinions.

  27. Lally Rementilla

    Thanks, Joanne.  Yup, you’re definitely da man. You and the rest of the awesome working moms in this thread should pitch a tv show to the foodnetwork featuring multi-tasking startup moms.

    1. Gotham Gal

      that’s a hilarious idea

      1. TanyaMonteiro

        that’s a brilliant idea!

  28. Jonathan Whistman

    I liked the statement: “So be it because we all know no matter what the work week needs to look like for a woman to be successful in her work life and her personal life, the job will get done.  These companies are good for family, community and the economy.” This has proven true in every company I’ve started.  I can give absolute flexibility in time to a mom/employee & know that in return for the freedom the job will always be done on time, and far better and more creatively than the one that has no flexibility.  I’ve never had the need or opportunity to test that with a dad/employee till recently.  So far the absolute flexibility in his time hasn’t produced more anything (except kid time I guess).  I’m hoping this is  just an anomaly produced by my small sample size of dads so far.Interestingly, being a dad I had to ask myself how I would do…then realized that’s why I’m an entrepreneur.  Flexibility & control.  I guess that’s why so many women that are transitioning from employee to entrepreneur are being so successful.  DNA of getting S!@ done in any circumstance.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Good for you for seeing the value in trust and flexibility