As we start counting down for our Women in Tech Festival 2017 on March 24th-25th, we wanted to take the opportunity to ask a few questions to the female founders that will be pitching at our festival – what inspired them to start their entrepreneurial journey and what stereotypes have they come up against? The first blog post in our Women in Tech series features Natasia Malaihollo, Founder and CEO of Wyzerr, Inc.
What inspired you to start your company?
My first start-up, a mobile app to digitalize word-of-mouth, failed. In the post-mortem process, I realized I never collected any feedback in the development stages. I was building features that I thought were cool and valuable, but I never actually confirmed it through surveying potential and existing users. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to collect feedback or didn’t care—it really was because I didn’t know how. I’m not a market researcher. I didn’t know what questions to ask, how to ask them, how many responses I needed in order for it make sense, or how to analyze data and turn it into insight and actionable tasks. Wyzerr is the artificial intelligence to do all of that.
Who has been your mentor or role model in your entrepreneurial journey?
I really look up to Rodney Williams, the CEO of Lisnr. Lisnr develops smart tone technology. It’s like bluetooth but way more efficient. Rodney is a minority tech founder and what I admire most about him is that he’s super intentional about everything he does and has this insane ability to come up with the most creative solutions to difficult problems. He wants to change the world and won’t let anything or anybody get in his way. Early on in our startup journey, my co-founders sent me an article about Rodney and told me “We need to meet him one day.” Not only did we meet him, but he now serves on our Board of Directors.
Have you come up against a stereotype and how did you handle it?
Oh man. Wyzerr is a data science/ML focused company so I find myself often in rooms and meetings with only men. Unfortunately, the field isn’t very diverse. One time someone asked me if I was in the wrong room. Another time, after I told a group of men that I build artificial intelligence, they asked me if I could introduce them to my CEO. When I told them I was the CEO, someone said “That is so shocking to me. You don’t seem like the type.” It honestly happens so much to me that I’ve become somewhat numb to it.
What has been the most challenging so far in building your startup and how do you keep the motivation up?
Fundraising has definitely been the most challenging part of building a startup. We’re currently fundraising and it’s a full-time job in itself. What sucks about fundraising is that it takes you away from your team and product development. I’m sure most people know how hard it is to raise money so I’ll elaborate on a second challenge —HR. When it was just my co-founders and I, it was so easy. We’re now at 11 people. Finding the right talent that fit the company culture has been tough. When you’re innovating, it’s hard to know what you need because you’re building something that doesn’t exist. Often the only way to tell if someone is a fit is to let them come work for you. Sometimes, that means it doesn’t work out and you have to let them go.
What is your one top advice to female entrepreneurs out there?
Read every day. Know your industry well. Stay on top of all of the news and recent developments. Not only do new innovations help you stay ahead and understand where the future is going for your business, but being able to participate in conversations and state an educated opinion at events is important. People gravitate towards knowledge and information. It’s the best way to network.
Author: Xi-Er Dang
Product Marketing Specialist