Why 80 Percent of This 22-Year-Old’s Startup Team Are Women
“I have always loved building things. As a kid, I played with Legos, Fiddlesticks and Lincoln Logs (my favorite). My desire to create never left me. I always thought I would build a company in the world of public health. I have an interesting side passion: entomophagy. Yes, cooking insects. I always thought I would start something there. Instead, I actually dropped out of my master’s program in public health to work full-time on Spylight. The two fields are seemingly unrelated, but what I learned in hospital management translated wonderfully into organizing and operating a small company. Multi-disciplinary approaches for the win.”
“I think lots of people might have had this idea in the past. I first became acquainted with it when my co-founder, Casper, developed a small obsession with Zac Efron’s wardrobe. He was watching the movie “Charlie St. Cloud” with Zac Efron and saw he was wearing all these cool T-shirts that he decided he had to own. Being shopping-uneducated, he couldn’t find the shirts. Months later, he stumbled upon one of the T-shirts at American Apparel. That’s when the idea of “you can buy what you see on TV” jumped into his head. He was a senior at Yale University at the time, so he recruited some of his friends there (me!) to build a prototype of the service. We then flew to Los Angeles to pitch the project to Hollywood studios.”
We have formal partnerships with major Hollywood studios, such as Fox. Our CEO Casper Daugaard approached them last year with the idea for a technology we would design and operate without any downside for the studios. I think from the beginning, the studios and networks recognized we provide a new kind of engagement and monetization platform. We proved only truly obsessed fashion geeks like us could really nail the job.
[pullquote]… the pool of powerful female mentors is so, so small. We need to reach out and help each other more.[/pullquote]
“Honestly, I never used to notice the sexism so pervasive in business, but now I see it quite frequently. I’m realizing now how deep gender issues run in this industry. First of all, you’re faced with numerous people ensuring you they’re certainly not sexist. That’s the beginning of the problem. The word ‘sexist’ has been stigmatized so much it’s like a plague. Nobody wants to associate themselves with it. In fact, everybody is a bit sexist. Those inherent biases you don’t even realize still impact your judgement. Heck, I’m a bit sexist. Unless you acknowledge that, it will be difficult to make an effort to addresses your subconscious tendency to preference lower voices, taller individuals, male traits.
I have certainly faced many cases where I’ve been ignored at meetings when my male partners were present. Sexism doesn’t just occur from males. I’ve been advised to send a male partner to a meeting with a businesswoman because she feels threatened by other females and responds better to men. This isn’t necessarily her fault. There is a pervasive sentiment in the industry. There is often room for one ‘token’ female employee. When other females encroach on that territory, it can be scary.
This is the saddest part for me. I think women in business need to work together more. As a young entrepreneur, mentorship is one of the most valuable tools for success. In general, for both men and women, it’s hard to find a good mentor. But for women in particular, the pool of powerful female mentors is so, so small. We need to reach out and help each other more.”
[pullquote]… having more women on the team only makes us stronger as a unit.[/pullquote]
“Typically, the tech world is disproportionately male, so we’re proud to be setting a new example. We’ve been very inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Sandberg is such a boss! This wasn’t by design; we’ve simply hired the best candidates, which have been mostly women. I recognize, however, that we have a step up here. Spylight is at the intersection of fashion, entertainment and tech — so we have access to a larger pool of talented females in the first place.
From my experience, having more women on the team only makes us stronger as a unit. All of our employees, male and female, feel confident engaging as active members of the team, speaking up and having the impact they want, which I’m not sure is the case in every company.”
“You have to be relentlessly resourceful and assemble a great team. You need to hire based on strengths, not for a lack of weaknesses. You need to fail forward, if you do fail, and then succeed. Most of all, you need to be exceptionally playful — the work will be crazy hard, but you need to make it fun.”
“Ah! The Spylight Labs are concocting some excellent projects. You didn’t hear this from me, but we are really going to hold to ‘shop the screen.’ Clothing is only the beginning (muahaha). Soon you’ll see set props on the site, so you can buy that cute dress AND the chair she is sitting on in the show or movie. Also, we’re not just stopping at TV and movies — stay tuned for music videos on the near horizon.”