One of the many great things about being an American is the freedom to move and redefine yourself. You can go anywhere in the country and be a new person. Always wanted to be a folk singer? There’s an incredibly expensive studio apartment in Greenwich Village with your name on it. More into country music? That’s good news, because the cost of living is way lower in Nashville. But where do you go if you’re a female with a strong entrepreneurial streak who wants to start a tech company?
Women CEOs in the tech world are rare. Some studies estimate that only about 30% of the tech industry is female, although women make up 59% of the overall workforce. What’s more, of women in the tech industry, only 23% hold leadership roles.
We caught up with three women who run startups in Colorado and asked them what their take was on the startup scene. Incidentally – and no we didn’t plan this – they had all lived on the East Coast prior to moving to Colorado.
Anyway, here’s what they had to say:
Lee Mayer, CEO of Havenly
Why did you choose Colorado to start your business? I lived here. I moved here when my husband went to work for Intrawest, and thought it was a good place — given the cost of living and the sunshine.
I know you're from back East, how do the startup communities compare? Well obviously, the community is smaller here. It's also got a little bit of a different 'bent'. Startups in NYC seem to be more consumer focused and better funded. I think also, as a result of the consumer and ecommerce startups that seem to dominate the NYC scene, you see more women starting businesses out East. On the flip side, the community here, since it's smaller and generally full of friendly people, is extremely supportive and, in my opinion, a bit easier to navigate - you're never that far removed from someone that could be useful to you. Everyone is genuinely interested in seeing you succeed.
What are some of the hurdles you’ve faced? I've dealt with all of the hurdles that any entrepreneur starting a company from scratch has. Whether it's convincing other people that my idea has legs, hiring the right people, or keeping my chin up after hearing the word no, it's been something of a wild ride. I think, in full transparency, it has been challenging building a consumer business in Colorado, limited capital, fewer local companies to look up to in the space - but people are doing it, and going through the same challenges, so I know it's not impossible.
Do you have any advice for other women who want to start a business? Find a friend who is in a similar position, and don't be afraid to be loud. Be big. Be noisy. Be bold. It's something, I find, that women sometimes don't do as naturally as men. A female mentor of mine once said "Men round up, women round down," and I've found that to be true of myself, candidly - I talk about what's wrong with our business in the same breath that I talk about what's awesome about it, it just feels too sales-y not to. I'm learning not to do that, so I always tell women to make sure they round up.
Kristin Darga, Ideal Day Coaching
Why did you choose Colorado to start your business? I was living in Vail for a few months while on a wanderlust journey around the country, and I tore my ACL 4 days before I planned to move to Seattle. I stayed in Vail for surgery and caught wind of Denver StartUp Week in 2013. I made sure I attended as much of the week as I could. Seeing the way Denver entrepreneurs supported each other was a game changer for me. A month later I moved to Denver to be a part of the energy here that supported and built entrepreneurs.
You lived East, how do the startup communities compare? I'm originally from Michigan, and lived in New York for a while. What strikes me between those communities and Denver is the way in which people help support others within the community. The foundation of this community constantly connects and collaborates to create. This is why the Denver startup community keeps drawing people in and creating successful businesses. Denver builds strong support around the concept that we are all here to support each other, and that you are only as successful as the people you surround yourself with.
What have been some hurdles you’ve faced? As a company working with (female) tech entrepreneurs, I find there is often a stigma attached to asking for a coach or admitting we aren't perfect. It is what it is, and it isn't what it isn't, and we are all human, after all. Luckily, once the process begins, the barriers about working with a coach are broken down, and my clients begin to share. That starts a new conversation in the community, allowing others to partner in creating success in their lives, and the opportunity to imagine the impact their happiness and health has to the demise or continued success of their business.
Do you have any advice for other women who want to start a business? Create a business that makes you come alive when you talk about it! Once you find that, pursue it with that reason as the catalyst for being unstoppable. Push yourself into the extraordinary and do it with a support system from your community.
Amy Baglan, CEO of MeetMindful
Why did you choose Colorado to start your business? It actually happened by way of a bigger life change. After years in Miami and NYC, I was ready for a change. I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to India and traveled for a year. After coming back to the US, I randomly decided to move to Denver. It was the perfect breeding ground for my company, MeetMindful, which is centered around healthy living and mindfulness, two things that are deeply entrenched in the Colorado lifestyle. Our team couldn't imagine a more aligned place to call home.
How are the startup communities different here than they were back East? Actually I'm from St. Louis, MO, where being helpful and open is part of the Midwestern DNA—but then I spent a decade on the East Coast and experienced a completely different type of approach to community. One that was much tighter, more cut-throat and less welcoming. When I moved here a few years ago and started my first company, the first thing I noticed was how collaborative the Colorado startup community is. Never before have I seen companies partner and support one another to the scale that I've experienced here. I came into the tech startup community around the time that Galvanize got started two years ago and I think their influence, in particular, has greatly affected the Colorado startup landscape at large. It's this type of community support that reminds me to pay it forward whenever I have the opportunity.
What have been some of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced? I suppose I could talk about my challenges in building teams, fundraising or other critical founder activities. However, there's one thing that stands out above the rest. As a socially-conscious company, we are sometimes faced with making choices that might be great for the bottom line, but are not totally aligned with our mission and brand integrity. It's something that I think about regularly. Luckily, we have a large impact business community in Colorado to reach out to for support and guidance. They've become like family over the years!
Do you have any advice for other women who want to start a business? Stay true to your "why" and remember the old adage "perfect is the enemy of done".
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