7 Successful Female-Owned Tech Companies: Stories of the Founders’ Grit

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception” — Ruth Bader-Ginsburg.

Women struggle for equal access in the technology space. According to Kornferry, women hold only five percent of CEO positions at the technology leadership level, with 10 percent holding CIO and CTO spots. 

But, if you think women in tech will stay in the shadows, think again. Here are seven exceptional women who proved they have the grit to succeed in the tech-startup world.

1. Gina Bianchini: Mighty Networks

Gina Bianchini is the founder and CEO of Mighty Networks (a platform people refer to as an ‘alternative to Facebook’).

Mighty Networks is a white-label community social platform where brands create customized websites, online courses, and sub-groups. 

The company isn’t Bianchini’s first rodeo. In 2004, she co-founded Ning, another custom content creation platform.

Ning attracted 100 million users within its first three years. (Marc Andressen co-founded Ning and Glam Media purchased the company in 2011.)

It was really important to me in building Mighty Networks that I surrounded myself with people who I believed in, believed in me, who I had trust and respect for…” — Gina Bianchini.

2. Melanie Perkins: Canva

Perkins is the co-founder and CEO of Canva, a web-based platform that brought graphic design to the masses. 

She’s hailed as one of the youngest female founders of a tech ‘unicorn.’ In June 2020, she announced a new valuation of $6 billion from US$3.2 billion after raising a $60 million round.

Australian-born Perkins was just 19 when she launched an online design business for school yearbooks that would eventually become Canva. (Cliff Obrecht, who serves as the COO, co-founded Canva.)

“As a leader, I feel my job is to set the vision and the goals for the company, and then to work with everyone to empower them to dream big and crazy”— Melanie Perkins.

3. Sandy Lerner: Cisco

Sandy Lerner, a co-founder of Cisco, named the company as a nod to her hometown of San Francisco. 

Lerner began building routers in her living room to share data among computer facilities and students at Stanford University.  

Although an early investor later fired Lerner from Cisco, she used her stock windfall to fund other technology projects, such as a spectrometer for SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. (Leonard Bosack co-founded Cisco.)

4. Diane Greene: VMWare

Diane Greene co-founded VMware, a public cloud computing and virtualization software company. 

However, Greene was ousted from her position as VMware CEO in 2008, following poor stock performance and a conflict with Joe Tucci, CEO of Dell EMC. (Dell EMC acquired VMWare in 2004 and is the parent company.)

Greene later founded BeBop. When Google Cloud bought her development platform, she served as CEO for Google Cloud until she resigned in early 2019. (Mendel Rosenblum, Scott Devine, Ellen Wang, and Edouard Bugnion are also co-founders of VMWare.)

See Greene’s Female Founders interview, including colorful details about ‘picking up’ her seed money.

I want to encourage every woman engineer and scientist to think in terms of building their own company someday. The world will be a better place with more female founder CEOs” — Diane Greene.

5. Alicia Thomas: DIBS

DIBS founder and CEO Alicia Thomas built her company for a niche industry in a $1-trillion ‘surge pricing’ industry. 

Thomas uses the same dynamic pricing technology that companies like Uber use to adjust prices based on demand, maximizing revenue and customer lifetime — in this case, for gyms and fitness centers. 

You MUST be scrappy. Do what you can with what you have. Just get from point A to point B, don’t try to get to point Z. Talk to customers, find out if they would actually use your product” — Alicia Thomas.

6. Jessica Livingston: Y Combinator

If you’ve used Airbnb, Dropbox, Instacart, Reddit, Coinbase, or any number of 2000-plus tech startups that have gone through startup incubation, thank Y Combinator co-founder Jessica Livingston. 

Y Combinator is an incubator for developing and funding early-stage technology startups. 

Livingston made headlines with her Summer Hackers Program, which provides coding education and a living stipend to 40 women. 

She’s also a key financial backer of OpenAI, a research organization for the application of general artificial intelligence. (Trevor Blackwell, Paul Graham, and Robert Morris are also co-founders of Y Combinator.)

Here are the big takeaways from her ‘How Not to Fail’ presentation.

  • Make something people want.
  • Talk to your users as much as you can.
  • Stay focused.
  • Don’t worry about being a woman.

7. Lynda Weinman: Lynda.com

Meet the Lynda who co-founded Lynda.com. Lynda Weinman is a self-taught web designer who has been called the ‘mother of the internet.’ 

In 1995, before creating Lynda.com, she wrote Designing Web Graphics — one of the first non-technical resources for aspiring designers.

The website began as a free resource for her design students, with videos on animation, audio, design, home computing, photography, video, and interactive design. 

LinkedIn acquired Lynda.com in April 2015 for $1.5 billion. (Weinman’s husband Bruce Heavin was a co-founder of the company.)

You are going to get through all the hardships and pain, but they are necessary to make you stronger and wiser”— Lynda Weinman.

Small Steps add up for Female-Owned Tech Startups

Too often, the tech startup story is told as a tale of staggering overnight success. But for most founders — female or otherwise — their story is one of patience, diligence, and learning from mistakes. 

Female founders succeed by grit: the single mom teaching herself code at night after the kids are in bed, the low-wage worker writing her business plan between shifts, and the middle-aged woman going to school for her degree. 

As more female founders forge forward, someday, a ‘woman tech-startup founder’ won’t be an exception. They’ll be the norm and exceptional.

Continue Reading: 25 Motivational Quotes by Influential Women in Business