Poornima Vijayashanker

How to Get Started as a Founder Building a Tech Product with No Experience in Tech


It’s the final episode of FemgineerTV for the 2015 season!

It felt like just yesterday I was waking up at 5 am on a January morning to buy bagels for Ben Congleton, our first guest, before driving up to SF with him to beat the traffic on 101. Still can’t believe we made it in one piece for the live pilot episode!

Since then we’ve produced a total of 11 episodes with guests who are changing the landscape of technology in the way they design, engineer, and lead product innovation and their companies. If you’ve missed even one episode, then take some time this holiday season to watch them here.

Of course, none of these episodes would have been possible without the support of our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker. Specials thanks to Ronan Dunlop, Charles Springer, and Dan Podsedly for believing in my vision for FemgineerTV and continuing to support it. These are some of the best guys in Silicon Valley to work with!

I also want to thank my team: Michael Zeligs (videographer), Nathalie Arbel (editor), Christy Buckland (editor), and Gary Kirk (video editor). They make the episodes look and sound amazing.

Now on to the final episode of FemgineerTV for the 2015 season!

We’ve all heard stories about tech founders who started their careers as engineers, designers, product managers, and salespeople, while supporting a tech company. But can someone from outside tech successfully launch a tech product? Sandi MacPherson is proof it can be done! She’s the founder of Quibb and has a unique story of how she became a founder.

In the latest episode of FemgineerTV, Sandi shares how she went from working in eastern Canada as a scientist studying climate change, to completing her MBA, and eventually moving to California to start a technology company.

Having no experience in tech, Sandi shares all the steps she went through and the hands-on learning she received along the way that led her to eventually start Quibb, a service that shares articles and reports that influencers and experts are reading via newsfeed and daily email.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The risk she took that helped launch her tech career;
  • How founders without a tech background can get started;
  • How she turned to the users of Quibb for funding and how you can also use this strategy; and
  • A special side project she is working on!

I would love to hear what you enjoyed most about my conversation with Sandi. Please share your questions and comments below.

We’ll be back in January with new interviews and insights to support your growth and success in tech. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to be the first to know when our new season debuts.

How to Get Started as a Founder Building a Tech Product with No Experience in Tech Transcript

Poornima Vijayshanker: Welcome to the 11th episode of Femgineer TV, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I’m your host, Poornima Vijayshanker, the founder of Femgineer. Femgineer is an education company where we teach innovators how to build software products, so they can find freedom in their careers, enrich other people’s lives, and make the tech world a lot more inclusive and flexible.

We’ve heard a number of stories about founders who began their careers as engineers, designers, product managers, marketers, and salespeople. In all these roles, they were serving a software company. But what if you don’t have one of those traditional roles in your background, and how do you get started as a founder, building a software product? Well, today on Femgineer TV, we’re gonna be tackling this topic, and dig into what it takes to be a founder, even if you don’t have a background building software products. And to help us out, I’ve invited our special guest, Sandi MacPherson, who’s the founder of Quibb.

Hi, Sandi. Thanks for joining us today.

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, really great to be here.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah. So, you’ve had a very interesting career, and I wanna get into all of it and share it with our viewers, but before we get started, why don’t we start by talking about your background.

Sandi MacPherson: Sure.

Poornima Vijayshanker: When you grew up in Canada, what did you aspire to be?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so I’m from the very east coast of Canada, so a small city called Halifax, which is in the province of Nova Scotia. And growing up as a kid, I was always really interested in science. So I took, in high school, as many electives as I could in biology, chemistry, some stats classes, physics. And so I always was really interested in science, and wanted to do something around—

Poornima Vijayshanker: What was your first career?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so I decided after—so after high school I decided to focus on environmental science in university, again because I thought it was a really great interdisciplinary degree where you are able to take all of the sciences and sort of meld them together, and come up with really interesting ways to study problems. And so that was yeah, how I sort of got my start as my career as a scientist.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Nice. And so you went on to study climate change?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah. So when I graduated from university I went to…I was actually part the last couple years of university of a internship program with the federal government where they would place undergrads in federal departments, and actually have them do real jobs inside of the government. And so I worked for what was called Environment Canada, which is kind of the Canadian equivalent of like the EPA. So I worked for them, and I did some really interesting projects. And I really liked them.

So for example there was one where we were trying to understand around a power plant how, what is the fall out look of heavy metals in the environment around the power plant. And it’s really expensive to run those types of tests, to set up that type gear, to run those samples. And so we devised this really interesting way to look at moss and lichen that grew on trees nearby to use them as indicators and to take samples of those to understand what the fallout was from the power plant. So it was like, we’re kind of…I thought it was really interesting work and I really enjoyed it, because I also got to do it going out in the field, doing sampling, sending it off to the lab. I didn’t actually do the lab work myself, but then taking back all of that data, running some models, running some statistical analysis on it, writing the report, and then coming up with recommendations.

So it was really like an empowering role to go through that whole process. So, in theory I really liked it.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah. And then you went from there, was it right after that that you decided to go to business school? Or what eventually compelled you to go to business school?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah. Yeah, so part of…it was…so I did go to business school and it was partially because working in the government, while it was really interesting, it was also extremely frustrating. Because I would do all of this really interesting work that I found was really compelling, and I understood it so well, but what would happen would be, for example, there would be a change in the party that was leading the federal government, and all of a sudden the projects that we were working on would just be scrapped, or would be completely changed. And it was just really disheartening to spend so much time and effort on these projects that were then just cut.

Another thing that would happen really frequently is I would go through this process, develop these studies, run them, and then the end goal was to put it on a shelf in the library down the hall. And that was it—

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah. So you’re like—

Sandi MacPherson: And then I was sort of like, “Why did I just do that?”

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah.

Sandi MacPherson: Why did I just spend so much time and effort and think through this problem in such a thoughtful way and expend so much energy on it, when it’s just gonna end up on a shelf. And to this day I still have no idea if anybody’s ever read, or even opened any of those.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Maybe years later.

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, maybe. Maybe.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Centuries.

Sandi MacPherson: Magically. Maybe I should go back and open one, just so it’ll see the light of day. So I found that really frustrating. But at the same time I recognized that I had all of this knowledge that I had amassed around the different sciences and how they interact in the world, and I was still really interested in it, and so I was like, “OK, well how else can I apply this knowledge? And how else is this interesting and valuable?” And at that time—this was probably, I wanna say maybe 2008—corporate social responsibility was really big. And so understanding how businesses can be green, and how businesses can have a positive impact related to sustainability, and I was lucky also because Canada’s business school was also ranked number one in the world for sustainability green MBA. And I was like, perfect. I was like, this is clearly what I should do. So I went to business school with that in mind, to keep focusing on the environmental stuff, but with a little bit of a twist in terms of who I would be working for, and the outcome of my work.

Poornima Vijayshanker: And then what happened after school?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so, unfortunately, so this sort of gets into when and why I ended up coming down into the valley.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah, what lured you to Silicon Valley and the startup scene?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, well it was a little…yeah it was a little bit…sadly I was…I talk about my dual disillusionment moments, and one of them was when I was working for the government, and it’s just like, this is ending up on a shelf. And the second moment was after…near the end of my first year of my MBA when I realized that the same thing is gonna happen here. In a different way, though, in the companies themselves that were touting themselves as being really progressive and concerned about the environment, because I knew the science so well I could kind of see through it, and I was like, “No, they’re not actually doing anything interesting.” And I felt just…I was like, “I can’t do this. I can’t devote myself to something that I actually understand is not true and is not actually having the outcome that people are talking about it as having.” So that was really frustrating.

So then at the end of my first year I was kind of like, “Well, I don’t really want half an MBA.” I was like, “I should probably finish.” And so I was like, “OK Sandi, if it turns out that you can’t actually do the environment stuff, what are your other options?” And at that point I had always been really interested in tech. While I’m not technical, I can’t actually…well I can code tiny bits, but I was always like the one person amongst my friends who knew sort of what was happening in the tech world, a little bit. Or like if some weird thing happened to someone’s computer, they thought I would know. And so I kind of always had that role.

Poornima Vijayshanker: But you weren’t an engineer, or a designer, or even a marketer?

Sandi MacPherson: No, I mean not even HTML CSS.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah, Yeah.

Sandi MacPherson: Like not even WordPress, like nothing.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Sure.

Sandi MacPherson: And so it was thinking about, OK maybe that’s actually something interesting and compelling. I would want to do that instead. And so I shifted my course work to do more design-thinking classes, entrepreneurship, tech strategy classes. And that was what I focused on the second half of my MBA, and then it was also—I recognize it now, but at the time I didn’t. My dad has always been an entrepreneur.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Oh, OK. In what field?

Sandi MacPherson: That’s the thing, it’s like, all of them.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Oh, OK. Yeah.

Sandi MacPherson: A gold mine. Emissions from power plants. Media.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Wow.

Sandi MacPherson: A lot of different things. And so, it’s been interesting to think about the fact that I think when you’re young, you often think about careers, and you’re like, “Oh, what should I be, and what can I be?” And there’s an array of possibilities open to you. So there’s you know, accountant, teacher, doctor, lawyer. And I think for me, because my dad was always an entrepreneur, to me that came across as just any other career option. It was like—

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah, you were like, “All of the above.”

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, Dad’s an entrepreneur. He’s done it. We’ve never—he goes to work. He enjoys his job. He’s…that is what he does. And so to me it very much felt like, one of the checkboxes on “what career do you want to have?” Whereas I think a lot of people, sadly, they’re like—people always use the term “jump off a cliff” and “make the leap,” and it’s like this really scary thing to be an entrepreneur, and it’s like, “Oh, like I never actually felt that way because I had this role model showing me that you can do this.” You can have a career that you enjoy and that you think is compelling and you’re excited about every day, and that is able to sustain you over your professional career, and you can improve in it, and it has all of these qualities that people, I think, are often afraid of when they think about entrepreneurship.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Well, especially even here in the valley, there’s always the fallback, right? You’re like, “Well, worst case I’ll go back to writing code, or designing products, or writing copy.” So, I’ve got that skill in my back pocket, versus the “I’m just going to go for it and be an entrepreneur as the first go.”

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, yeah.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah, interesting. So what eventually drew you to move out to Silicon Valley?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah. So once I sort of made this decision around, “OK, the MBA/CSR stuff idea is gonna work, I do want to focus on tech,” I started going to some events and meetup groups in Toronto to try to learn as much as I could.

And, what was interesting was one of the things that I was able to identify was: OK, this is kind of a risky jump, career change. I recognize that it is actually like a career change, which has inherent risk to it, but I was able to sort of pick out, I think one of the biggest ones, that I actually have control over and can mitigate against is location.

And I think if I want to be a tech person, and potentially a founder, or something…at that point I didn’t really know, and I want to do that in Toronto, that’ll be hard. Versus, if I wanna do that in the place in the world that has done the best and has the best people, and has the biggest networks, and has the most understanding of how to do that type of thing, clearly that is really—in terms of all of the other risks that are oftentimes a more fixed and difficult to understand how to mitigate against, this was like, I just physically put myself there. It was a very clear understanding around how do I get rid of that risk? I move there. It was—it came across as something where I knew how to do it, I knew that it would probably have a pretty big impact, and so I was just like, “OK, that should be what I should do.” So that’s why I moved down here.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah. Nice. Now, I moved here actually when I was two, my family and I came here first when we came from India, and then my family and I moved to Texas, and kind of like yourself, after college, decided, “Yes, gotta be in the tech capital of the world as an engineer,” and didn’t really think about startups, but decided to come here, and have pretty much been soldered to Silicon Valley since. Which also means that I don’t really have a fresh perspective after 11 years, or more. So for yourself, since you are new, what are some of the things that you’ve thought of, or how do you think the Valley has been inspiring for you?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah. So I think one of—I still remember the very first couple of days that when I first moved here I lived in Palo Alto, and I remember walking around Palo Alto, and I was like, “This is just like tiny little houses.” And it’s like, what is this place? I was like, “This is the tech capital of the world?” I was just like—and it, compared to Canadian houses a lot of California houses are a little flimsy. And I was like, “All of these shacks house?”

Poornima Vijayshanker: We don’t know how to build physical things here.

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah! I was just like, “What is up with this place? How can this be the place?” And so I thought that was kind of funny.

But, otherwise I definitely noticed really early on the difference in people’s sort of understanding of “I recognize that what you’re doing is really difficult, and I recognize that what you’re doing requires the help of people like me,” and so they were really willing to help and answer questions, and sort of recognizing that I knew nothing at that…I was like ultimate newb. They were really understanding and helpful. And so definitely the people were well beyond what I could of expected.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah. Different from the folks in the tech scene in Toronto, or other places?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, cause I did—I have like a distinct memory of going to an event in Toronto, and I know it’s changed since then, and I’m not at all trying to say bad things about Toronto, but I went to this one event, and there was this one guy there who would not tell be what he was working on, because he was afraid I would steal his idea.

And so I think there’s all these characteristics associated with early “startup ecosystems” that make it much more difficult to succeed. And again, that was a sort of risk that I identified, and I was like, “If I can get myself out of that, then that’ll be really beneficial.” But it’s also been really interesting, because I’ve been here now for about four years, and it’s been interesting even in that time to see the shift happen. Because when I first got here, Palo Alto was still—most of the companies were being started there most of the people were based there, I would only go up to the city, the stinky dirty city once a month maybe. But it’s been really interesting to watch that sort of shift happen, whereas now most of the companies are based in the city. And now I only go down to the peninsula maybe once every two months or something.

Poornima Vijayshanker: To get a tan.

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. I clearly need one. I always need one. But it’s been—but it’s funny, again, I just think it just shows the pace of things here are just really really quick. Even when you are talking about physical things.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Right. Nice. So, given this was four years ago, my book wasn’t out yet. So, how did you get your start building software products?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so it was a lot of other books. So I did read a bunch of other books, like the staple…I mean, like The Lean Startup was really helpful. Another one that I really liked was Jessica Livingston’s Founders at Work was really great, to actually hear the stories of these people. And then a little bit more, again not—in the realm of tactical versus not, way up on this end of the spectrum, there’s The Monk and the Riddle, Randy Komisar, which is again really great in terms of thinking about this journey of being a founder and being an entrepreneur, which is really helpful to think about the sort of…to get out of your day to day and get a bit more higher level. And so—

Poornima Vijayshanker: But that’s what you were focused on. You were focused more on thinking as a founder, rather than “How am I gonna build a product?”

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, yeah. Cause I did…I mean at the same time, one of the things that happened was I…so I’m not technical, so I knew I couldn’t just build a new web app, or a new mobile app. And so, in thinking about what could I possibly do, I think—again because I come from, because I have the MBA, what I’ve seen over the past few years when I see people who have a nontechnical background, oftentimes who are MBAs, what they’ll often start as their first company is usually an eCommerce one. Because sort of the—there’s a thing that you market to people, and then they buy it, and then that’s—it’s a well-understood model that they learn about it in school and that they can apply to being somewhat tech enabled. And so that was actually what I started with. So I started with a company that was…I started a mailing list, with TinyLetter, and then I had a Tumblr, and tried to make those do some stuff together, and that was the first thing that I worked on.

And so it was interesting, I think, even though that is not at all considered a tech product, it allowed me to start to understand the language, and to understand all the different jargon, and the different acronyms that are really important irrespective if you’re working on something like that, or if you’re working on a SaaS tool that you’ve built yourself. And so I think what happened over time, is my next—I’m trying to remember, I think my next product was still an eCommerce thing, but I think I had actually built something at that point, and then the next one was a little bit of a eCommerce tool. And so looking back, there was definitely a progression around the complexity of the products themselves that I think probably matched and mirrored pretty well my progress in terms of understanding what is a tech product, and how do you make one. So it was an interesting journey, but I think it’s one that often times people are like, “I need to learn to code,” but it’s like, yeah—

Poornima Vijayshanker: Right, or I need a technical co-founder. Yeah.

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so I think if you’re really set on something, and if that is really what you wanna do, then sure, but if you really just wanna learn, then I think it’s really important to just put something out in the world and get some basics understandings, like that.

Poornima Vijayshanker: I like this stepping stone approach of, “Let’s try something, let’s build from there and get a sense of what our learnings are, and then move to the next,” rather than, “I’m gonna learn to code and then dive right in. Oh I don’t really like to code, OK, nevermind.” Or, “I’ve gotta find a technical co-founder; oh, recruiting is really tough,” so, it’s nice to have these stepping points. And one of the products that you were working on, at the time when you were doing all these products, was your current startup, Quibb. Can you tell us a little bit about what Quibb is, and why you decided to focus on it?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah. So Quibb is a way to get an understanding of what you need to know today to do your job by looking at what peers and experts in your industry are reading every day. And so I started working on Quibb. It kind of came out of, it was kind of sort of…not really a pivot, but it was more that there were learnings out of a previous product, kind of like the final stepping stone, where I took those lessons and applied them to Quibb. And so Quibb was a little bit out of my…

Thinking back to my MBA experience, where sharing links was always horrendous. I was on this eight-person team to do this massive case study for the final eight months of the program, and we would have links in emails, we would have links in chat, we would have links on our phones, we would have links—we literally had a Google Doc full of links. We tried Delicious, and it was just horrible. It was really bad. And so I had had that pain, and I kind of forgot about it, and I went out and I worked on these eCommerce products.

And then there was this moment where I was using Twitter, and it’s interesting because I find that tech people oftentimes use products in weird ways—in not the way that “normies,” I call them, nontech people, use them. And so Twitter is one of them where I find that tech people use Twitter almost like a social RSS feed for work stuff. Whereas most people use it to follow celebrities, and the shop down the street, and their friends, people who they actually know and have met in person and have a relationship with, versus a random person in another country that they’ve never talked to except about what is that expected ARPU of this thing—

Poornima Vijayshanker: Oh, yeah. And I—

Sandi MacPherson: That is what Twitter is, which is very different.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Definitely. Yup.

Sandi MacPherson: And so I was thinking about that, and thinking about, “Hey, this is actually really applicable to some of the problems that I was having in my MBA.” And then kind of mashing those two understandings together to create Quibb.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Nice. So, for our viewers out there, how can they use Quibb?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah. So Quibb, it’s a application only. So you can just go to Quibb.com, sign up, and then how it works is you’re able to share content that you’re reading, things that you think are really interesting or compelling and help you do your job. And there’s a daily email that gets sent out from everybody who you’re following to see, so you can see what they’re reading.

Poornima Vijayshanker: I love it, ‘cause it’s my daily digest. I don’t…sometimes even go onto Twitter now—

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Poornima Vijayshanker: —’cause I could just be like, “Oh, I wonder what my followers, or my following is reading,” and then I get the nice digest so I appreciate that, since I’m always in email, it’s a great place to get the information.

Now the other thing that I thought was fascinating is we’ve had a lot of talk around fundraising on the show, we’ve had an investor, and looked at fundraising through their lens, and we’ve had founders, but you’ve had a very, I think, interesting and probably the one approach that I thought was very very compelling. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got started in the fundraising process, and what compelled you to take this unique approach.

Sandi MacPherson: Sure. Yeah, so I actually, so I bootstrapped Quibb for awhile. And then it sort of got to the point where the holes that it was burning in my pocket were getting too big to ignore. And so I was like, “OK, so I’m gonna go out to raise some money.” And for me, what happened was…I was thinking…cause I know sort of what the fundraising process looks like. I know that you have probably some relationships with VCs in theory, if you’re thinking about it somewhere down the road, you should probably know somebody right now.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Sure. Or you have some friends who know VCs. Yes.

Sandi MacPherson: Or some friends who can introduce you, yeah. Or angels, or other types of investors. And then the process looks like, you make a pitch deck, you drive up and down Sand Hill for two weeks to 20 weeks, to 40 weeks.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Meditate. Eat healthy. Exercise. Yeah.

Sandi MacPherson: And then you get term sheets, and then you do all the stuff. And so that’s sort of what it looks like. Whereas for me, I was sort of like, “OK, well wait a minute. Let me think about fundraising, and let me just kind of take a step back, and not just assume that that’s the process that this should take.” And for me I was lucky because a lot of the people who use Quibb are tech people. There’s a fair number of people on there who are active angels, there’s a fair number new angels, and there’s also a bunch of people who are partners at firms, at venture firms. And so I was like, “OK, I have the right people here already. Who better to raise my money from than the people who use my product. Why would I go meet and introduce myself to people who I don’t know, who have no understanding of who I am, of what I’ve been working on, of why I’ve been working on it, when I have clearly the best people right here in front of me.”

Poornima Vijayshanker: Nice.

Sandi MacPherson: So that was sort of the idea behind it, and at that time—this was about, I want to say a year and half ago, and just six months prior the JOBS Act came along. And what the JOBS Act allowed is the JOBS Act allowed for general solicitation. And so previously if you wanted to raise money, like you mentioned you’ve had guests talk about the process and meeting investors and all that stuff, and that’s based on pre-existing business relationships with these people. And so that’s typical fundraising. There’s on the other side, through the eyes of the SEC, the only other type of fundraising that existed as of three years ago was an IPO. So you could either privately raise money from people that you knew, or got intros to, or IPO. And there was no middle ground. And so what the JOBS Act did, is it created this new middle ground where they then allowed general solicitation. So “general,” meaning to the general public, “soliciting” meaning to ask for money.

So for me it was really important to raise some money from the people who had been there from day one. I had also been really transparent in how I was building Quibb, and again it goes back to the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, because I have no experience in a startup or a tech company and I recognize that a lot of a people who use it do that for their job, and have done that for 10, 20 years. And so I was always really open in terms of, “I’m thinking about building a new feature, should I? Let’s talk to each other.” And so all of these people who are using the product were really…they had been along a journey with me, and they knew what I was doing with this company.

Poornima Vijayshanker: They were invested in your product, so why not have them pay, yeah.

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, exactly. Exactly, so why not have them be invested in other ways?

And so when it was time for me to raise money, I realized that they were the best people, and I didn’t set out to be like, “I want to try out this new fundraising called general solicitation.” It wasn’t that, it was more a function of, in order for me to raise money from all of these people, I’m gonna have to just announce it. There’s no way for me to…I’m not gonna ping thousands of people and say like, “Hi, I don’t know if you’re an investor, but if you are let me know.” And so I had to publicly announce it, which meant I would fall under general solicitation.

And so it’s still pretty rare. I haven’t yet met many companies who’ve done it. And again oftentimes it doesn’t really make sense, unless you have a user base or a member base where they actually are really interested and excited in becoming a part owner in your company. But for me it made a lot of sense. And so I ended up doing…I have a couple of firms in my round, but they were all of the people who were at those firms were using the product, and then a fair number of angels, and then I used a platform out of Betaworks that’s called Quire—it was called Alphaworks at the time—to manage the investing of people who wanted to invest smaller amounts. So like a smaller—

Poornima Vijayshanker: Nonaccredited, yeah.

Sandi MacPherson: Like $1,000. They still had to be accredited, though.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Oh, OK.

Sandi MacPherson: So to qualify under general solicitation, everybody has to be an accredited investor. But what Quire does is it takes all the work out of…they on the back end go and do the accrediting, and so they make sure that the people are accredited investors, and meet all the standards of the SEC. And then they bundle all that up into a special purpose vehicle that then sits on the cap table. So I used their platform to help manage that little chunk of the round.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Nice. So, what was the end result of your round, if you’re open to sharing.

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so I have a…so some great institutional investors, so Bloomberg Beta who is kind of near here actually, Lightbank which is in Chicago, Slow Ventures which they’re also based around here, and then Betaworks. And then probably eight or nine I think angels, people from LinkedIn, and PayPal, and News Corp. And then the tiny angels through Quire are just people who…a lot of them are people who are like, “I really like Quibb, I use it all the time. This is really great that you’re making this accessible and open to me,” so they were really excited about that part of it.

Poornima Vijayshanker: That’s fantastic. Now, you’ve really thrust yourself into the Valley here. You’ve come, started building a couple products, built a company, fundraised, and most recently started a new product, which I’m pretty excited about. Can you share your other project that you’re working on when you’re not building Quibb?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so this is my hobby. So I’m boring, and this is my hobby. So it’s called 50/50 Pledge. And what was happening was…so I recognize that being a woman founder is kind of rare, and people recognize that, and there’s all of these…there’s a lot of people these days talking about diversity in tech, and one of the sort of modes of that that they’re talking about a lot is women. And for me, one of the things that would happen all of the time was I would meet with people, oftentimes men, who would ask me, “Sandi, how do we…” almost like, “How do we replicate you? How do we make more of you. We—”

Poornima Vijayshanker: It’s called cloning

Sandi MacPherson: “We want this to happen, you’ve done it, how do we encourage more of this.” And so I would…I am more than happy to entertain that question and give my perspective on it, but it was happening so often. And then I sort of sat back and I was like, “OK, has that changed anything? Is that person gonna actually do anything differently now because of what I said? Are they gonna do something that I’ll have an understanding of, and that I’ll see and that will be able recognize? Oh that’s because I spent that time talking to that person.” And I was like, I don’t know if I can say ‘yes’ to that question.” And so, again, being…after getting in this, I think it’s like founder mode, it’s like I can’t measure or understand the impact that that has.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Also, a scientist.

Sandi MacPherson: Also a scientist, yeah.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah.

Sandi MacPherson: And so I was like, “OK, well if I’m doing that a few, several times a week, that’s like a cumulatively a lot of time. So maybe I should take that time out, and instead spend it on something else where I can actually feel more confident that it’s doing something, and it’s moving the needle, and it’s actually making the change that I think should exist.”

And so I started thinking about, “OK, well what sort of…what can I co, what are some of the higher leverage activities that would work in an interesting way around this?” And I came up with the idea of getting more women speakers on stage at tech industry events. And so that’s the idea behind the 50/50 Pledge, and it’s…so I partner with events that sort of I choose, and I’m being a little bit selective currently in terms of who I partner with, and then I work with them once they’ve made the pledge, they say, “Yes, we’re gonna have 50% of our speakers are gonna be women at this event.” I then work with them with a directory that I have that currently I think is 2,300 women—

Poornima Vijayshanker: Oh, OK, fantastic. Yeah

Sandi MacPherson: —have signed up, that I can then customize like, we need some mobile attribution people. And I can be like, “OK, yes, I have some of those. Here’s some suggestions,” and work with them to try to get really great…really targeted and niche speakers at their event. Because one of the things I think is that some people have in terms of push back on this, they’re like, “Oh, well—

Poornima Vijayshanker: They just don’t exist.

Sandi MacPherson: —we can’t just put”—or they don’t…there’s they don’t exist, and then also people are like, “Well, I don’t wanna just put a woman on a stage just ‘cause.” And I’m like, “I don’t want that either.” Nobody wants that. But the thing is that these women do exist. And I think what I’ve sort of identified was that there’s…it’s basically a two-sided market place, and there’s no communication between the two sides, and if I could build something in the middle that would connect the speakers to the events then that would actually be really powerful, and would enable them to get the right speakers for their events that also happen to be women.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah, and I know this is a problem given the work that I’m doing right now, because in general just finding good speakers is a challenge, and people who have those niche backgrounds is also critical, so for our viewers out there who might be either interested in being an event sponsor, or who are speakers themselves, how can they get involved?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so just 50/50, 5050pledge.com. And there’s a signup form for both women speakers and event organizers.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Last question for you: what do you wish you had known before you’d gotten started in tech?

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah, so I think one of the things that people always talk about is how hard it is to be a founder, and I think I knew that going into it. And I was like, “Yeah, OK, I’m ready. I can do it.” I’ve had some ups and downs in my background. I’m like, “I’m tough, I can handle that.” But it’s definitely very, very difficult.

And so I think…there’s a lot of things also that I’ve found I’ve gotten better at, but it’s still something that I’m still trying to improve around decision making. I find decision making is so important when you’re a small company. And in the early stages, it’s so easy to make one decision that drastically alters the potential outcome of your company, that it’s something that I think everybody should really spend some time on understanding how to make decisions.

And then I think also, in terms of it being really hard, I think one of the things that I’ve found really valuable is just having a couple people around you—even just two is enough—who have been a founder, and who actually sort of know what it’s like, have been a founder. In theory, at the same level and stage as you. And then also just somebody else, maybe not a founder, but has been in the tech industry and who you can actually talk shop with, but the other side of it, in a way that’s really helpful and supportive. I think that’s really, really important, and I wish as I…I’ve definitely figured that out over time, but it’s something that I probably should have got a jump start on a little bit earlier.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah, so having a support network is important.

Sandi MacPherson: Yeah.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Wonderful.

Thanks again to our special guest, Sandi MacPherson, for joining us today.

Sandi MacPherson: Of course, thank you.

Poornima Vijayshanker: Yeah. And to all of you viewers out there for tuning in, and of course our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker, for helping in producing this episode of Femgineer TV. And if you’ve enjoyed this episode of Femgineer TV, then please share it with your teammates, your friends, and your boss, and let us know in the comments below what your favorite part of this episode was.

That’s it for the first season of Femgineer TV. We’ll be back in 2016 with all new episodes. So subscribe to Femgineer’s YouTube channel to know when they’re out.

Thanks for tuning in to our first season, and from all of us here at Femgineer TV:

Femgineer Crew: Happy Holidays.

Poornima Vijayshanker: This episode of Femgineer TV is brought to you by Pivotal Tracker—build better software faster.

FemgineerTV is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.