Women entrepreneurs are not a rarity any more. Women in technology, however, are.
In India, a good chunk of techie population is women. But tech-startups led by women are few. The case is not very different abroad – not even in the US.
HerStory recently caught up with one of those women who made it – Mada Seghete, Co-founder of San Francisco-based Branch Metrics, a software solution which enables deep linking for apps. Branch Metrics is spread across 47 countries, including India where they have an office in Bengaluru.
It is 2016, women have gone to the Space and back; feminism is becoming a household name at least in the West, thanks to Emma Watson and Justin Trudeau. But a male entrepreneur is just an ‘entrepreneur’, while female one is always a ‘woman entrepreneur’.
As co-founder of a tech startup, Mada believes that we need to make being in tech ‘cool’ to bring about a change. “I feel incredibly lucky to not have faced a lot of bias for being a woman. I prefer to think of myself just as an entrepreneur and an engineer without the gender hats,” she says. Now in her early thirties, Mada considers her international background, engineering education, and work experiences as big parts of what she contributes as an entrepreneur.
But she agrees that there is a big gender gap in tech entrepreneurship that starts with education and culture. A Stanford and Cornell graduate, Mada believes that she can help close the gender gap by speaking up and inspiring women to take the chance and start a tech business.
Mada was working as a software developer for Siemens and later as management consultant for Deloitte before starting up. Like many entrepreneurs, she wanted to make an impact. “Working for large companies I felt my impact was minimal. Starting my own company is the opposite – everything I do has a big impact, both on my team and our customers,” she says.
In 2013, she co-founded Kindred Prints, a mobile software company, which provides photo printing apps for smartphones. “We felt first-hand the pain app developers feel in an ecosystem that makes it almost impossible to get discovered without spending a lot of money. We built Branch to solve those issues,” she says. Mada adds that she is the happiest when someone tells her how Branch has changed their app growth for the better.
“Our growth has been exponential since day one: now we have over 10,000 partners integrated with Branch,” says Mada. Having raised $53 million to date, Branch Metrics serves Pintrest, Buzzfeed, and Jet, among others. Branch claims to be the only deep linking platform that supports all existing mobile app platforms and standards.
Her co-founders are Alex Austin, Mike Molinet, and Dmitri Gaskin. Alex, Mike and Mada met each other at Stanford Business School. “We built a few things together before Branch – from a fitbit for dogs, a printing SDK, to an award-winning app. We met Dmitri through our investors while we were building the app and he dropped out of Stanford undergrad to join our team,” says Mada.
Mada was born in Romania and grew up “pretty poor” in Communism. She says that growing up with nothing makes her appreciate all she has now. According to her, that background enabled her to take the plunge from a corporate job to being an entrepreneur. “Because I know I don’t need a lot of material comfort to be happy,” she smiles.
But Mada is “pretty health conscious”. She tries to influence her team to do the same. “We cater healthy lunches from a local startup, and we only have healthy snacks and drinks in our office – no diet coke,” she says.
Being a leader makes work life balance hard. But Mada has no complaints. “There is nothing I find more fun than working with our partners, building apps in my spare time, or managing our social media and engaging with our community,” she says. But she does take breaks – in the only way she knows, by setting goals and challenges.
“In September, I am running a 10km with my team and knowing that is the goal means I have to train every other day,” she smiles. A lover of magic realism, she reads Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and among others. “I love music I can dance to,” she says, adding that she frequents Bhangra dancing in San Francisco.
Women in tech might be more in numbers in the US compared to India. But Mada says that at Cornell, where she did Computer and Electrical Engineering, there were hardly five percent women in her class. Even at Stanford Business School, there were only 35 percent women. Things are changing gradually though. “I help with initiatives to bring women in tech at a young age. Our investors Pejman Mar Ventures bring high school girls to their office for a day and have them meet great women tech founders,” she says.
Like many entrepreneurs, she dons multiple hats. Although she is CMO at Branch, Mada is hands on with technology too. She says: “Two weekends ago I built my first app –one that shows you facts you can share with friends using Branch links. That experience helped me suggest improvements to the product team and find gaps in our documentation.”
Mada keeps up with the developments through newsletters like grow.co or Mattermark. Branch has now announced an online community to help professionals interested in mobile growth to communicate with each other.
Challenging herself is Mada’s secret of success. “Always try to do better than I did last time. Build only things I can be proud of” – that’s her mantra. She believes in paying it forward. “I would not be here without the help I received from mentors and friends that I might never be able to repay, but I can help others who are where I was years ago,” she adds.
Mada’s parents were both engineers. Since childhood, she was encouraged to dream big, and she dreamt of becoming an engineer like them. “The dream of starting a business came much later, years after I came to the US, when one of my Stanford professors Michael Dearing said to us one day – ‘if we don’t build the next businesses, who will’?”
Mada has a powerful message to pass on: “I challenge the readers of this post with the same question – women hold the purchasing power in the majority of households around the world, yet men are building businesses to serve them. Why not change that? If you don’t start the next business, who will?”