Women Inspire NYC’s Tech Startups to Dream Bigger

Opinion

As a native New Yorker, it may not come as much of a surprise that growing up I wanted to work in finance. In fact, I put myself through NYU Stern while working for companies like IBM, Prudential, and Merrill Lynch, and joined Goldman Sachs upon graduation.

You could say I had made it in the finance world, at the epicenter of the industry, surrounded by some of the smartest and most driven individuals I’d ever known. But during my time in finance, I realized something: I am a creator, and there’s more out there for me. I learned that I wanted to build products that provided intrinsic value, and that risks were meant to be taken.

So, in 2000, when the opportunity presented itself to leave that world behind, to move across the country and work for a company called eBay, I took it. Eighteen years later, I’m back in NYC, and my approach is guided by fresh perspective.

During my time in Silicon Valley, I witnessed the end of the dot-com bubble and the beginning of the social/mobile era. I learned quite a bit about the Bay Area and how it stacks up to other tech scenes. There are a number of similarities and differences that only start to become apparent when you’ve experienced both coasts.

Perhaps the most notable difference is that Silicon Valley seems to dream bigger. There have been many large exits and high-profile success stories over the years, which is why it’s easy to get swept away by the magic of it all. There’s something about being there that makes aspiring entrepreneurs want to tackle the world’s largest problems, disrupt the biggest industries, and inherently change the way we do things. And, from what I noticed, the companies in the valley won’t shy away from long, sometimes fruitless journeys to achieve their dream.

Take a look at Twitter, which took 12 years to become profitable. Yet in those 12 years, they invented the trending topic, repurposed the hashtag, turned journalism upside down, and caused the nation to reevaluate what constitutes official presidential communication. All without making a dollar. I don’t think NYC investors, or entrepreneurs themselves, have traditionally had the patience for that sort of thing.

But that’s beginning to change. Today, NYC happens to have the second-highest number of unicorn companies after Silicon Valley. The rounds are getting bigger. NYC actually topped SF for funding raised for a quarter in 2017, driven largely by WeWork’s huge round, though SF has bounced back as of late.

And contrary to what you may hear, there is actually no talent gap. The best ideas come from diverse and creative environments, and NYC has the highest concentration of talent from all over the world. As Business Insider recently reported, “Many New York-based investors agree that the city’s diversified workforce provides a fresh perspective and spurs technology that solves real problems.” In New York, the range of conversations, no matter where you go, is both wide and deep. It’s incredibly inspiring.

But NYC also has an X-factor at work. I believe that the growing population of women in tech is what’s truly inspiring NYC’s tech startups to think bigger. Whereas Silicon Valley has been referred to as “Brotopia” for its unbalanced workforce, the Center for an Urban Future approximates that NYC’s tech community is at least 40 percent female, with subsectors of scientific research & development (59 percent female), electronic shopping (48 percent), and internet publishing (44 percent) leading the way.

Women are not all of a sudden more talented than they used to be. They’re getting more opportunities from tech companies who are committed to diversity in the C-suite. And it’s not just in “typical” New York industries like fashion or finance. They’re in software, training the next generation of amazing engineers, like Jess Hunt, COO of Andela, a startup that is empowering Africa’s most talented future developers. They’re reinventing the workplace like Jen Berrent, COO of WeWork. These are just a couple of names. There are women across numerous industries including healthcare, real estate, and logistics, and they’re helping NYC companies thrive.

That’s why, when I found myself faced with a new opportunity to move across the country like I did 18 years ago with eBay, I jumped at the chance. I joined NYC-based Transfix because it has the biggest of goals, to improve the $600 billion U.S. trucking sector that is the very backbone of the American economy. And so far, so good. Not only are we using AI and big data to address a huge market and transform an industry, but Transfix is truly committed to rallying behind women. In addition to me, we recently welcomed all-star executive Andrea Blankmeyer as CFO. At just 29 years old, Andrea led SoFi’s $500 million Series F round, and now she has joined me and the Transfix team to impact an industry ready for change.

It’s a new era of accountability in tech. More and more, NYC startups are becoming like Transfix, with lofty goals and a commitment to women in the C-suite. But the overall tech space still has plenty of ground to cover. Whether in New York, San Francisco, or anywhere else, I am excited and ready to break down the barriers so that gender is no longer considered a factor in success.

Lily Shen is the Chief Operating Officer at Transfix, a leading online freight marketplace that brings immediate capacity and guaranteed reliability for those seeking smarter, lower cost ways to move freight. As COO, Shen oversees sales, business development marketing, partnerships, and operations. Follow @lilyshen

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