They are founders FINDING founders. Siggi came into my life as the leader of an office I took portraits for. THANKFULLY, because since I've followed her careful advice, felt her support for my work and now I live in full awe of her ability to lead an office of founders while co-owning an elite networking group of women leaders. AND she introduced me to Eva, her co-founding partner in crime. A woman I've yet to discover more about but can only imagine given the company.
Tell me more about what you two are currently working on together.
Siggi: Women in Enterprise (WE) is a community of 100+ women interested in professional development. We host dinners with about ~10 women, and we do it approximately monthly. For each dinner, we choose a topic—sometimes industry specific, like “using patient data in B2B health tech,” and sometimes cross-functional, like “enterprise product management”—curate the guest list, and lead discussions around the topics. We start the dinner with introductions (we often don’t know these people ourselves, since we find them on LinkedIn!) and fun facts; after the meat of the discussion, we finish with a round of “asks” and “offers” from everyone at the table.
The idea is that everyone is there to learn and grow, and by the end of the dinner, you will have spent two hours with this amazing group of women and would maybe feel comfortable reaching out to them in the future.
Questions are encouraged. Jargon is publicly shamed. Joking! Jargon is discouraged. :)
Eva: Well said!
Why did you decide to start this group? What excites you about investing in other people?
Siggi: In spring 2017, we were both fairly new to our jobs. It was a hot time for “women in tech” and diversity events, but we were both burned out on being invited to panels of women talking about work-life balance. The trope is that women get together and talk about work-life balance, but that men get together and talk about business. We thought that there was a time and a place, but that we were tired of it being every time and every place. We wanted to go to events that featured awesome women kicking ass professionally because they were kicking ass professionally.
We also saw that a lot of our male colleagues, peers, and counterparts (in Silicon Valley) seemed to have social networks that transacted business, and mentorship relationships with senior people that—surprise!—looked like them. We just didn’t see people who looked like us, aka women, above us, and so started to look around us.
Eva: One of our main responsibilities in venture is to source new investments, and it became clear that a network of deal sourcing/sharing existed but that we weren’t necessarily part of it. I initially tried to assimilate by attending the requisite networking events and striking up conversations at the bar, but I found it exhausting and unproductive. Moreover, I found that I started dressing differently -- more muted, more masculine; the subconscious can play funny tricks. When I found Siggi shared similar sentiments (minus the dressing habit), we decided there had to be a better way.
Siggi: Butting in here, the dress habit was true for me too, now that I think about it. A male colleague made a comment about my looking “dainty” in a dress, and I realized that “dainty” wasn’t really a word I associated with investors. So I backed off dresses for the most part.
Eva: The reality is that there aren’t a lot of women in tech, and there’s even fewer in enterprise tech (i.e. companies selling into enterprises vs. individual consumers). If we could harness this small but mighty army, we realized we could develop our own proprietary network that was meaningful to both us and our jobs.
Now, instead of the emotional drain I used to feel after forced-networking, I come away from each of our dinners feeling energized and recharged. We’ve created a community that’s not only valuable to us from a deal sourcing and diligence perspective but that is truly valuable for the rest of the community members as well. There are female leaders throughout our industry that are key decision-makers and are highly in tune with the direction of their companies and yet are isolated and fairly ignored by the broader tech community. They’re not being asked to speak at conferences and they don’t have an outlet to speak professionally with like-minded people in a similar field or function. Connecting these women—the operators, the entrepreneurs, the investors—has been so incredibly fulfilling.
Siggi: Now we’re approaching 20 dinners!
Before we dig in any further why don't we first DIVE into history about you two. Where did you grow up?
Siggi: This has always been a tough question for me to answer. :) I was a both military brat and a child of divorced parents, so we tended to move a lot. I was born in Germany, moved to Virginia, went to kindergarten in Philadelphia, and moved back to Virginia for 8th grade. In 11th grade, I became a Congressional Page and moved to Capitol Hill. After that, I didn’t want to go back to high school, so I did an exchange program to Germany before college.
Eva: Similar to Siggi, I had a fairly international upbringing. My mother is from Ireland, my father is from Hong Kong and they met in Nigeria. However, after I was born (in Hong Kong), we relocated to Northern California so that my father could attend graduate school and, eight years later, we all became naturalized US citizens. We maintained our new roots in California while spending summers visiting our family abroad.
Where did you go to college—or did you?
Eva: I went to the University of California, Berkeley for undergrad. I was self-programmed to be hard working and execution-oriented, to the detriment of exploring my passions -- so when I arrived on campus, I handed my course catalog to my older brother (also a Cal Bear) and told him to pick classes for me. I majored in Political Science because my brother thought I would find it interesting (and I actually did!), and I majored in Geography because I had optimized a lot of cross-departmental courses. Looking back, there’s a few things I would have done differently :). Luckily, I got a second chance at exploring the focus vs exploration ratio when I went to Wharton for business school.
Siggi: I went to the University of Virginia (UVA) for undergrad. I was very, very lucky that it was my state school. I studied German Language and Literature (because I liked it) and Finance (because I thought it was hard). I was right about both of those being true.
A few years later, I did my master’s degree at Boston University and went to law school at Stanford Law.
After graduation did you know your path or did you want to explore? What sort of experiences can you share that would, looking back, be relevant to who you are today?
Eva: Absolutely not. I financed my own schooling, which meant I had an administrative office job since the age of 16 -- working throughout the school year. As far as I was concerned, I was doing good work and making money. I wanted to make the transition into finance after graduation but I had little concept of my own capabilities and value, despite graduating with high honors from a top university. I was still applying to jobs off Craigslist (!!), when a friend from college offered to introduce me to a hedge fund manager that was looking to grow his team.
What I lacked in finance experience, I made up for in hustle and scrappiness. It was at this job that I had one of my most profound learnings -- in an office environment dominated by men, you will always be different … and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I had a high EQ and I used it to my advantage -- absorbing everything around me, distilling how/why decisions were made and, in turn, anticipating future needs. Being proactive and acting without being asked is the most impactful thing you can do for your employer and the most fulfilling thing you can do for yourself. My role expanded quickly and I leveraged this growth into increasing career opportunities.
While more of my career has happened since that point (investment banking at Goldman, running operations at a startup, venture capital), I’ve maintained the same approach. Be different, and be really freaking good at it.
Siggi: Both? I definitely thought I knew my path. I wanted to go to law school and to become a big shot bankruptcy attorney for big corporations. There was something pretty glamorous to me about “crushing deals” (quotation marks intentional). I thought I’d be a courtroom attorney on some days, a corporate attorney on some days, and—I don’t know—someone walking around factory floors telling people to shut off machines on other days. I’m not sure that’s actually what bankruptcy attorneys do, but at the time, it sounded awesome.
Before I went to law school though, I wanted to grow up a bit. I liked the idea of a service program (like Peace Corps), and was introduced to Teach for America, a program where new grads and career-switchers teach in underresourced, often underperforming schools in service of closing the educational achievement gap). After school, I moved to Boston and taught 8th grade math. That is, by far, the hardest job I’ve ever had. That’s helped me keep a lot of things in perspective. If I’m having a bad day or mess something up at work, I try to remind myself just how good I have it. I have immense respect for teachers.
After teaching, I went to law school at Stanford (again, thinking I’d be a bankruptcy attorney). Yadayadayada. I’m now not an attorney at all. But that’s a longer story. :)
As far as experiences that are relevant to who I am today? In general, I’m thankful for the people who reminded me that everything I do, I choose to do, that I am responsible for my own happiness, and that it’s never too late to change your path.
Speaking of choosing your own path lets circle back to this group you've nutured. What’s been most challenging about starting it?
Eva: Launching a community and keeping it engaged is time consuming, and you’re looking at the two people that handle every bit of the coordination and logistics. While we started WE to help us with our jobs, it’s not our actual job. Yet we happily spend hours reserving private rooms, researching interesting markets and scrolling through countless LinkedIn profiles to curate the perfect balance of operator, entrepreneur and investor—it’s truly the best part of our jobs.
Also, it's important to address, what if you're not a CEO or top exec? What if you're an incoming graduate looking to build a network or curiously explore? OR you’re older and embrace the “it's never too late” philosophy and want to find a good network of women to grow more with? Is this group for you? And, if not, where can you recommend this crew look?
Siggi: Our group is geared towards women at least a few years into their career—so we can all contribute—but not so senior that we accidentally create a guest speaker/featured guest environment. We’re all peers at the table.
Eva: From our experience with other networking groups, we were cognizant of building a community of peers. We had a hypothesis that women would be more engaged and vulnerable if they were in the presence of comrades, as a wide gap in experience levels often defaults to mentor/mentee relationships. We attempt to incorporate diversity by curating dinners with guests from different educational backgrounds and focus areas but have found that a general balancing of experience levels has been helpful in fostering connections.
Siggi: We’d love to one day include women of all levels of experience, but for now, this focus is important to our building a tight, high-value community. For folks that don’t fit neatly into this group, we recommend looking for another group—check out Tech Ladies, All Raise, YC’s Leap, Women in Product, ...just to name a few—or start your own!
You mentioned that you start every dinner with a fun fact to break the ice. What’s your fun fact?
Siggi: We’ve heard everything from people’s first CDs to their bad dates.
Eva: The bad dates was such a good one! I also like asking our guests about their favorite podcast or binge-worthy tv show, as I’m always looking to add to my repertoire. My fun fact is that I have three passports, and my favorite binge-worthy show is The Great British Bake Off.
Siggi: My fun fact is that I didn’t totally graduate from high school. Also, I’m unsuccessfully managing my dog’s Instagram account. I’m struggling to be a #dogmomager!
And last what is your current good read, magazine, online inspo or podcast? What can we sink our teeth into?
Eva: Everyone should reach Michelle Obama’s biography, Becoming. I wore out my digital highlighter covering numerous quotes and passages in my kindle app. She shared so many truths about career fulfillment, personal sacrifice and the burden/blessing of womanhood. I typically listen to podcasts when I’m multi-tasking alone and want to feel like I’m in the presence of friends -- for that reason, I enjoy Forever35 and Who? Weekly. For a deep dive into the underbelly of the Internet, I recommend Reply All.
Siggi: I’m inspired by all of the female comics on Netflix right now. Check out Ali Wong and Hannah Gadsby. One of my goals for 2019 is to do more to walk-the-walk on feminism, so I’m in the middle of putting together my book list for the year. I’ll check back in!
Summer Wilson - Creative Director and Photographer of Battle Cry
Photo by John Thatcher