500 Startups’ Female Founders Grounded in Reality: User Data

While it seems easy to spend time discussing and questioning why there are not nearly as many women as men in tech, I want to challenge members of the startup community to shift the conversation to the growing number of women joining or founding startups and how these women are changing the way companies relate to their consumers.

As the founder of DressRush (think Gilt for weddings) and a current member of the 500 Startups accelerator program, what I am witnessing is that other female founders, like me, believe strongly that the key to building a successful company comes down to understanding not just users’ habits, but the way they think, what their frustrations are, and how we can help those frustrations disappear. When it comes to gathering consumer data, with women, it gets PERSONAL.

Focus on real data

Women founders are focused on the personalization of consumer data to create a community of passionate power users behind their company. Obviously, gathering large amounts of data is helpful. But basing your business decisions on overall user trends is only half of the battle. The other half, and arguably the more important, is gathering rich, detailed feedback on an individual user basis. In my experience, female founders tend to be awesome at this.

At Dress Rush, we’ve created a passionate group of loyal users called our Dress Rush Insiders. All of them have purchased something on Dress Rush. I email them after every purchase and I am always glad I did. I gain invaluable insight into why our users buy and what they were thinking before they did. Our weekly “Insider Only” email has the highest open rate of any of our emails. I write a personalized message every week, from me, not the company. The email may be and asking our insiders for their opinion on a new feature before we roll it out, or just pointing them in the direction of other great sales I have found on the web that I think might interest them. Whatever it is, I try to write like I am writing to my girlfriends, and every week, I find out more and more about what our loyal user base really wants.

Look at real relationships

Women founders also tend to look at the relationship with their users as just that, a relationship, and that just like any other personal relationship, it should be built on trust.

“I think it is really important as a company to recognize that our users are our community and without their trust we have nothing,” says Melissa Miranda, founder of Tiny Review, a photo based review app that lets you review anything with three words and a picture.

It’s why Melissa decided to nix the Facebook login feature from the application after talking with just a few of her users. She realized immediately that regardless of the fact that Tiny Review promised not to post to their Facebook wall without their knowledge, it made them uncomfortable. That was all Melissa needed to hear.

Aihui Ong, CEO/CTO of Love With Food, distributes free food samples to all of her mainly female users to gather priceless feedback on the recipes and brands her site features. If she has to sit at home and mail them off herself, one by one, she does it. Why? Because she understands that whether or not her female consumer likes the sample she has received, she is going to talk about it. And when she does, Ong will be there to listen.

“Our members are mainly female and they love to share deals and recipes. We’ve created incentives to encourage our members to share our site using word of mouth. Women in tech understand our female demographic, hence will create better products, built by women for women,” says Ong.

Evaluate real consumers

When it comes to evaluating consumer data, women being able to understand what other women want is HUGE asset.  “Women have different habits and frustrations with making their purchases than men, says Heather Fitzpatrick, founder of 72Lux, which she started out of her constant frustration with her online shopping experience.

“Female founders are not only able to articulate the problem that other women have, but they are able to execute with the first-hand knowledge of what women want and add something extra that they might not know they wanted until you give it to them,” says Fitzpatrick.

Maya Bisineer, founder of MeMe Tales, a publishing platform and reading destination for kids, is a mom who understands the difficulty of getting kids to read and is able to easily empathize with her users’ struggles. “Since our final goal is to get kids to enjoy reading, we listen to every bit of data that helps us get closer to our goal. We listen to parents and kids with regards to what kind of content and stories they love. We reach out to publishers that have the content the reader want. We provide encouragement to kids and suggestions to parents based on their engagement. We do not want to just be a tech company, we want to be a valuable resource to parents,” says Bisineer.

Women also understand the value of evolving social connections and that social media fuels new media. And women absolutely rule social media. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has said that not only do women make up the majority of Facebook’s user base, but they also drive over 60% of the activity in terms of messages, updates and comments, and over 70% of the daily activity on business’ fan pages.

Dress Rush’s real story

On Dress Rush, we leverage our female users’ social media presence by offering our members Free Deals in the form of either gift cards or product to one of our featured designers, that they simply have to Tweet it or Share on Facebook to access. The Free Deal feature has been one of the quickest way for us to grow our user base and we are able to get insight into our user’ interest in a particular product or designer prior to featuring them in one of our longer Rush Deals.

Because women are such avid users of social media, the deals spread like wildfire, creating a great viral marketing push not only for us, but for the designer. Our Free Deals are configured to be shared with pre-crafted messages to make it as easy for our users to share them as possible. But what I find interesting is that we notice on the more popular deals, the ones that our users are really excited about, that more often than not, they will take the time to craft a personalized messaged to their followers in their own voice before sharing it. They want the message to resonate with their followers on a PERSONAL level. They want it to come from them. They want THEIR voice to be heard, not ours.

Yes, that’s the bottom line. When it comes to building a successful company, women founders know that women consumers want to feel like they have a personal experience with the sites they spend time on, the goods they consume, the services they use. And that’s why we are quickly building communities of loyal users who feel tied to our companies and our brands. Just ask Mel Gibson, it’s women who know what women want.

I would love to hear feedback to this article, both positive or negative and hope it will spark a healthy conversation! Feel free to contact on Twitter @SaraMorganSF or @DressRush.