Conversation with Darya Shaked, CEO, Stride Ventures & Founder, WeAct
Be the Change You Want to See
March 7, 2018
1. What is your business?
With Stride and WeAct, I am focused on leveling the playing field for female founders by connecting them to Silicon Valley resources. The main idea is to make it easier for C-level founders to access the incredible culture, knowledge, and networks in the world’s largest venture capital community. I organize delegations of Israeli female founders, and I just recently opened a shared workspace for women in the Bay Area.
Venture Capitalists, accelerators and delegations say they want to support more women-led businesses, but their process many times inadvertently excludes women. Whether it is the length of the program or the role they are willing to accept. For instance, some programs invite only people in the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) role. One of my big discoveries in working with women was that when they are part of a founding team, many women are reluctant to take the CEO seat at first. They take the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO) seat and might become the CEO in a later stage. So if you choose to only look at CEOs for your program, you may be arbitrarily missing the women. For my delegation of Israeli female founders, we include co-founders that are CEOs, CTOs, and CMOs. When you are a co-founder of an early stage start-up, you are just as responsible for the company as the CEO. It doesn’t matter what title you have.
Once I realized I can help women tap into the leading ecosystem in innovation, I decided to bring the best of the best to a week-long mission to the Silicon Valley. To open doors for them, give them tools and networks to grow their businesses. To date, I have led three delegations of leading Israeli female founders to Silicon Valley. The companies’ technology runs the gamut: VR, Health, Cyber Security, Visual Search. And the companies are at all life stages.
There is a great pool of female tech talent in Israel because a lot of the technology comes out of the military (which is obligatory for both men and women) and the military technological units have a 50%-50% gender split. Also, even non-tech units still provide a sense of confidence, courage, and experience in leading positions. I’m bringing the best female founders that came out of those units. In addition, in Israel, many times Israeli women founders have PhDs and 20 years’ experience working at the largest technology companies. My pitch to these VCs is that you are getting a look at an untapped market with incredible potential.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
My family and I moved to the states in November 2015, and in my first 3 months, I was introduced and met around 300 people—primarily through e-mail introductions and by reaching out on LinkedIn. I wanted to learn about the ecosystem and find my place in it. After those first few months, we returned to summer vacation in Tel Aviv, and I was telling friends about how Palo Alto and San Francisco have a unique culture and are full of so many incredibly warm and supportive people. I recommended they visit, find clients, collaborations and raise capital for their businesses. My female friends were telling me that they just don’t know how to do it. They would say, “I don’t know how to get in front of venture capital funds in Silicon Valley. It is just too far to reach.”
I thought it’s just wrong. I can make it much easier for them and increase the odds. I realized that this incredible treasure is familiar to male founders and entrepreneurs, but women don’t really tap into this resource. And I thought if I can make it easier for them to use it, then more women will come here, work here and we’ll see more female founders, then, more female investors, and the ecosystem will start shifting.
So in mid-June 2016 when I posted on Facebook that I am going to take a delegation of the leading Israeli female founders to Silicon Valley, ~150 people shared my post. And then I had 2 weeks of ‘back to back’ meetings at Israeli companies to check how can they be part of it.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
Every night I went to bed thinking, “This is not going to work out.” I had a lot of worry that the sponsors, the money, the pitches, the meetings, and the media coverage wouldn’t come through. I kept worrying that I promised something that I can’t deliver. But in the end, it all worked out—twice! My takeaway is that when you are doing something you believe in and you are passionate about it, people join you and your odds of succeeding are much higher.
4. Was outside funding/cost a challenge to getting your business off the ground?
I wanted to take the cost of the trip away as a disincentive from applying, so I raised money to pay for the logistics (hotels, transportation, food, etc.). For the delegations, I raised $150,000.
When I started, I didn’t realize that I was raising funds. I was really just trying to get partners to join me in getting quality women into the Silicon Valley ecosystem. I talked to the sponsors every day. They helped me solve problems, they introduced me to other people, provided office space, whatever I needed. If you believe in it, let’s see if we can do it together. Relationship first. Because the sponsors were specialists in various areas, they are able to be great mentors to the delegates.
My sponsors were Silicon Valley Bank, HFN Law firm, Deloitte, Startup Nation Central and the EMBA program from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Besides providing the capital, they send company representatives to screen the candidates and also to mentor throughout the mission. The selection process is based on the group’s collective confidence in the companies and they act as mentors.
5. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
I believe we had a great amount of success. new contracts were signed, when a new round of funding got raised, every time a founder achieved a milestone, when I recommend female speakers for conferences and they speak. I was thrilled when one of the startups from my delegation was sold to Apple. I am proud to be a part of every step that brings us closer to the goal of equality. I look forward to the next steps to make even bigger achievements for equality in innovation and investments.
6. What are some of your current challenges?
The biggest challenge right now is to take it to the next level. Since the last delegation, I decided to create something more sustainable than a one-week delegation so I opened a shared office space in Los Altos building a community focused on female founders. I want to make a big impact, and I am trying to shape the next initiative while the current ones continue to work.
7. What are some of the biggest positive or negative surprises in your business?
The biggest surprise is negative. At the beginning there was a lot of resistance against the all-women delegations, then there was resistance against a shared working space focused on women. People always fight new ideas. At the last Watermark conference, I attended a great talk about the unconscious bias against creativity which it turns out is similar to the argument against diversity. I can attest to that.
On the positive side, I was deeply touched by the amount of support the community in Silicon Valley and in Israel showed the entrepreneurs and the delegations. I believe this had made a great deal of deference and impact.
8. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
It is a really Israeli piece of advice. My old boss said to me once, “You don’t have to fix everything all of the time.” Let things be. It is also like the American saying, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Don’t waste your time on things you cannot change, but those things that you can change, break walls.
9. Do you use social media for marketing your business?
Best tool ever. Most of my community of 2,000 female founders is in Israel. I live in California. The communication between my community and me is mostly through social media. Yesterday the delegation, in preparation to the U.S. visit, was at the Proctor & Gamble offices for a meeting and that happened through our Facebook community. I contacted many of the 300 people who I met when I got to the U.S. via LinkedIn. Many of the venture capitalists the delegation is going to meet our contacts I met through LinkedIn and Facebook.
So for example, if my delegation has a virtual reality company, I am going to find a VR expert on LinkedIn. Generally, I find people through their professional experience, and then I write them a message on LinkedIn. I haven’t found it hard to connect. Promoting excellent women who are overlooked is a good cause. Everybody in Silicon Valley wants to see equality and quality.
10. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
Figure out the next steps and model, find the right partners and make an impact. What is the difference between an entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur? A social entrepreneur wants to be unemployed. When the work is done, I am happy. I would love to see women in 50% of the decision maker roles in venture capital and in 50% of the CEO roles. When diversity is complete and we see different colors and cultures that would be a really happy place. Even for white men, I am certain everybody will be happier with more diversity.
Date of conversation: March 2, 2018
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