Personalities

Women In Tech | June 20, 2019

Hair by LaBelle Day Spa and Salon, Stanford Shopping Center
Makeup courtesy of Neiman Marcus, Palo Alto  |  Clothing Courtesy of Stanford Shopping Center

Last year, Gentry proudly launched the first ever GENTRY Women In Tech Issue and Conference. To produce the magazine and the event we partnered with Silicon Valley powerhouse SAP. The sold-out conference highlighted some of the most talented female founders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and C-suite level executives in the Valley. We were delighted and overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response of the crowd at the conference and from our esteemed readers. Indeed, the question we were asked consistently was “when are you going to do it again?”

So, we jumped full steam ahead creating the issue in your hands now and the powerful half-day Gentry Women In Tech Conference Presented by SAP 2019 that took place on June 20. We worked closely with last year’s Guest Editor Jesse Draper, Medigram CEO Sherri Douville, and SAP’s Global Head of People Sustainability + Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Judith Michelle Williams to enlist a stunningly talented group of women and men to participate. We sincerely hope that you will enjoy reading their fascinating stories in the profiles on the following pages.

 

The journey from the wheat fields of Saskatchewan to Silicon Valley has been a fascinating one for Michelle Zatlyn. “My parents told my sisters and me that we could do anything we wanted in life, but we could not stay in the province for college,” Zatlyn says. “They felt it was important to see the rest of the world.” As the COO of the Internet performance and security company Cloudflare, Zatlyn has not only seen the world but has forged an impressive career protecting it.

She originally set her sights on being a doctor—studying chemistry and business at McGill, but after a summer medical research project in Montreal, Zatlyn realized she wasn’t enjoying it. “I decided to go into business, taking a job at a financial services firm in Toronto,” she says. It was then that Zatlyn knew she had discovered her calling. She subsequently joined two startups and took on a marketing position at Toshiba. Next up, she earned an MBA from Harvard and, while in Boston, met her Cloudflare Co-Founder Matthew Prince.

Zatlyn likes to relate that she looks at life as a collection of experiences. Her next big experience started in 2009 when she founded Cloudflare with Prince and programmer Lee Holloway from an office above a nail salon on Emerson Street in downtown Palo Alto. Since then Cloudflare’s growth has been impressive.

The company provides content delivery network services, DDoS mitigation, Internet security, and distributed domain name server services. Cloudflare’s services sit between the visitor and the Cloudflare user’s hosting provider, acting as a reverse proxy for websites. Notes Zatlyn, “We wanted to build a better Internet. The Internet is our lifeblood for communication and business function, but it wasn’t designed for instant performance. We want things fast today. It was also never built with a security concept in mind in the initial design.” Trusted by more than 16 million Internet properties, Cloudflare is one of the world’s largest cloud network, spanning more than 180 cities in 80 countries.

Zatlyn is often cited as a trailblazer in Silicon Valley, and last year Forbes named her one of the “50 most important Women in Tech” on the planet. She’s quick to point out, “This company wouldn’t have happened without great co-founders. In Matthew and Lee I’ve had the best co-founders in the world. Building something like Cloudflare takes a village. I think of the initial hires and now see 1,000+ people working here. It’s been an incredible journey, but I know that we are just getting started.”


Hair and makeup by GlamSquad

For Medigram consultant-turned-CEO Sherri Douville, the stakes couldn’t be higher. “The reason why I’m passionate about what I’m doing is because someone dies every nine minutes because of a delay in information,” she says, relating that it can take her neurologist husband two-to-eight hours to receive her iMessages or those from his colleagues when he’s at work. Douville, along with what she calls “a phenomenal team,” have a solution specifically designed to work securely and quickly to facilitate sharing information in the healthcare environment: a modern, mobile communication platform and system, including services for physicians.

“I had never worked with a concept or a product that had created so much excitement with physicians,” says Douville of early focus groups after she originally came aboard as a consultant. The board elected her CEO in 2014. “It feels like my life’s work,” she says.

Douville’s overall career in executive management, product development, and sales and marketing—including a decade at Johnson & Johnson—has prepared her to lead Medigram, a company at the intersection of healthcare and technology. “I would help physician and engineering entrepreneurs who wanted to do something good understand if their solution or invention was viable,” she explains of her consulting career in medical devices. She also points to the Emerging Entrepreneurs program she completed at Stanford Biodesign, her ability to navigate an industry as complicated as healthcare, as well as having a mentor she delivered for in a different context as key contributions to where she is now, leading both a system as well as the team responsible for developing and driving it.

Douville was also recently appointed to the Global Panel at MIT Technology Review and advises Health IT, Medical Informatics, and genetics startup companies. Having leaned into technical literacy throughout her career, she encourages others to do the same in her own role of mentor, working specifically to include female leaders in her industries—which circles back to a key tenant at the heart of her leadership philosophy at Medigram. “Our company is built on four lead tenants: ethics, clear objectives and targeted results, clear communication, and then developing people,” she says. “You have to be capable, willing, and committed to making a person better when they move to the next role than when they got to you, otherwise you have no business leading.”

Sherri Douville’s clothing courtesy of Max Mara, Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Marisa Quezada of HOURGLASS at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center.


Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

Aaliya Yaqub had her life mapped out early. From age 5, she knew she wanted to go into medicine, following in the footsteps of her father, and she checked off one box after another leading up to a career divided between academic medicine and treating patients. “It was all going to be very structured,” the Southern California native recalls.

But after completing her residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in dermatology, both at Stanford, Yaqub found herself drawn more and more toward the entrepreneurial side of the Bay Area. She decided to shift gears and use her medical training and expertise to help tech companies improve healthcare in innovative ways. Her roles included serving as a physician at Crossover Health’s in-house facility at Facebook, and becoming the medical founder of Forward, a cutting-edge doctor’s office powered by AI, where she was medical leader and CEO of the company’s medical team.

The arrival of Yaqub’s third child in August 2017 led to another shift — this time toward more diversification, but with a similar end goal. “I felt like I needed to create something [in the healthcare space] that wasn’t there,” she explains. “So two weeks after my daughter was born, I dove back in.” Today, the Palo Alto resident is medical founder of three startups, an advisor to a number of others, and a mentor to female founders both within and outside healthcare. She also continues to teach at Stanford’s School of Medicine, where she is an adjunct clinical professor, and she sees patients on a primarily pro-bono basis in places like San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood and East Palo Alto.

It hasn’t been difficult to find startups to work with, she says. “I developed a certain expertise when I was at Forward, and after I left people just started finding me.” What she’s looking for, she shares, are ideas that are backed by clear scientific evidence, and that work to make healthcare more individualized and proactive. For example, Steady Health, where she serves as medical founder, is a San Francisco-based clinic for diabetes care specializing in blood sugar management by using a patient’s own data to personalize treatment and offering app-based coaching to help manage symptoms. “Health isn’t something that just happens to you,” Yaqub emphasizes.

Neither is becoming an entrepreneur. And if Yaqub thinks back, it’s actually not entirely surprising she veered off the “very structured” track. “I always had a thing inside of me,” she explains of her creative side, recalling an extremely successful jewelry design business she started in college and continued up until she went to medical school. (She was even approached by HSN to have her line featured, but it conflicted with her academic commitments.)

As she continues to pursue diverse projects of her own, she hopes to encourage others, especially women with young children, to follow their passions and take leaps of faith. She organizes and hosts local “fireside chats” for current and aspiring female entrepreneurs in tech, the arts, fashion, and medicine. “I’m trying to create a sense of community for women — an ecosystem of support,” she says. “We’re all told, it takes a village. But we’re not really taught to be good villagers.”

Fortunately, that’s a lesson Yaqub has managed to learn, and she’s leading by example.

Dr. Aaliya Yaqub’s clothing courtesy of Tory Burch, Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Ben Monroy at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center.


Written by Robin Hindery

Reflecting on Bay Area native Keri Yen Ng’s career, hindsight presents an impressively strategic path: a Biological Sciences major ends up in Regulatory and Compliance for over 40 medical devices, bringing many of them from concept to commercialization. In real time, Ng explains, that path wasn’t always so clear.

“When you look at typical routes for a bio major, it’s pre-med, pre-vet, pre-dental, or you jump into research and become a lab rat,” says Ng, who had initially wanted to become a veterinarian, but had a growing interest in business as she wrapped up her time at UC San Diego.

Fortunately, a friend at Abbott Vascular tapped her for an upcoming Quality Control position that Ng landed as her first post-college job. “I really wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I knew it was in the right direction,” she says of weekly microbial testing on the company’s manufacturing floor, which produced devices used in cardiovascular applications. “From there, I started to really fall in love with the medical device industry. I also realized that the older you get, the more it becomes about experience so I jumped at any opportunity. You can change, and it’s okay to change.”

After three years at Abbott Vascular, she became an early employee at preeminent E&T company Acclarent. There, she got a crash course in a start-up environment, leaving behind abundant resources and name recognition, but thriving with the flexibility afforded to execution and culture-building. “You get to make your own traditions,” says Ng. Thanks to a strong pipeline of products and a driving vision, Acclarent was acquired by Johnson & Johnson for $785 million.

Following a maternity leave with her second of now three young children, Ng pivoted to, perhaps fittingly, the world’s first all-in-one breast pump to fit inside a bra and connect to an app. At Willow (co-founded by Joshua Makower and John Chang, who had previously co-founded Acclarent), Ng was employee #6.

“I was there at the very beginning of concept development,” she says. Over the next four years, she executed on a shared vision of becoming a trusted brand with moms. As part of her market research, Ng spoke with hundreds of nursing moms about the time-consuming trials of pumping, be it in a car in hot weather, an airport bathroom, or a location without a nearby electrical outlet. “It had been a long time since there was any kind of development in the breast pump space, and it was really personally rewarding to be working on a product that I could emotionally relate to.”

After two years of stealth operations and beta testing, Ng, as VP of Quality/Regulatory/Clinical, secured FDA clearance. And in a small booth at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, Willow was unveiled, alongside drones, smart watches, and home security systems. A wave of press followed, including Time Magazine naming Willow a Top 25 Invention of 2017, Silicon Valley Business Journal naming Ng a “Woman of Influence” in 2018, as well as real moms (including Nicole Phelps) posting about their lives while pumping out in the world.

Ng is now using her start-up experience to consult on a variety of medical devices. “I love the impact you can have on people to change the quality of their lives, whether it’s being able to breathe again or being able to hear again,” she says. “It keeps me motivated.”

Keri Yen Ng’s clothing courtesy of Jenni Kayne, Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Marisa Quezada of HOURGLASS at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center


Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

For Ann Crady Weiss, the grass actually was greener on the other side.

The Bay Area native was working as a corporate securities lawyer in the late ’90s and feeling professionally unfulfilled, when she realized that a better option was sitting across from her in the conference room. “In that type of law, startups and public companies were often on the other side of the table,” she recalls, “and I had realized that side, the business side of things, was way more interesting to me.”

Fortunately for Weiss, the dotcom industry was booming, and she was able to easily shift gears, moving over to Yahoo! in 2001. At the time, social media was really taking off, but Weiss found that when it came to parenting, there was a frustrating absence of online information and support.

Weiss, herself the mom of two young kids (now three), decided to step into that void, founding Maya’s Mom in 2006 as a social network for parents. The following year, the platform was acquired by BabyCenter (owned by Johnson & Johnson), and Weiss made the transition as well. But the entrepreneurial itch returned soon after, this time in the form of a line of “smart” nursery projects under the name Hatch Baby. (Think: a combination nightlight/sound machine/time-to-rise indicator you can program from your phone, or a diaper-changing pad with a built-in smart scale.) Hatch Baby also offers a membership-based service that connects parents digitally with experts on topics such as sleep, feeding, and health, in addition to other online content related to childrearing.

Co-founded with her husband Dave, Hatch Baby is where Weiss spends the bulk of her time, serving as CEO. Yet she is also a venture partner at the Palo Alto-based True Ventures, an early investor in Maya’s Mom, and she relishes discovering and evaluating new ideas, particularly consumer products that solve real-world problems. “Being a startup founder who experiences some of the same challenges as the entrepreneurs we fund gives me a greater understanding of how I can best support them,” Weiss observes of her dual roles. “In reverse, what I learn as an investor makes me a stronger CEO.”

Clearly, Weiss has come a long way from the days when she thought “doctor or lawyer” were her two career options. And she hopes her own children will learn from the successful leap she took nearly 20 years ago. “I hope to show my kids and people in general that there isn’t a single right answer for who you should be in life or in your career,” she says. “Don’t worry about what society says you should do in order to be successful. Whatever you choose to do with your career, do it to the best of your ability and don’t stop. That will be noticed.”

Ann Crady Weiss’s clothing courtesy of VINCE at Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Christine Abito of LILAH B. at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center


Written by Robin Hindery

Silicon Valley native Linda Yates has spent her career at the intersection of Silicon Valley and the Global 1000. By the time she was 30, she was CEO of Strategos, a leading international strategy-consulting firm she co-founded with business guru
 Gary Hamel, helping G1000 clients innovate in fundamentally new ways by bringing the entrepreneurial ethos of Silicon Valley inside major companies.

At 36, she was named to the Board of Directors of Sybase Inc. (now SAP), a position she held for a decade. Currently, Yates is CEO of Mach49, the first Silicon Valley incubator/accelerator focused exclusively on helping Global 1000 companies Disrupt InsideOut™—creating, building, and launching new ventures generated from within their organizations – and Disrupt OutsideIn™—designing and operating world-class corporate venture groups.

“Mach 37, “ she explains, “is the term for escape velocity—it’s the minimum speed needed for a free object to escape from the gravitational influence of a massive body or mother ship. Since we’re California-based, the 49 is a nod to the Gold Rush era that catapulted California on to the world stage. In addition to creating new ventures, Mach49 builds the client’s capability and infrastructure to create a pipeline and portfolio of new ventures on an ongoing basis and to manage the mother ship so it understands the from-to shifts required to ensure new ventures can reach escape velocity.”

Yates firmly believes that “dinosaurs can eat unicorns, but in order to do that they must never lose the heart and soul of the company’s entrepreneurial roots.”

In addition to her work at Mach49, Yates is writing a book on disruption. She is a Henry Crown Fellow with the Aspen Institute and an environmental activist, having built Tah.Mah.Lah in Portola Valley — considered the greenest home in the United States.

Two personal experiences with health crises proved to be turning points in the life of Dr. Mylea Charvat, a clinical psychologist, translational neuroscientist, and the CEO and founder of the digital cognitive assessment company Savonix.

Growing up in rural Kansas as the daughter of two entrepreneurial parents, Charvat watched as Alzheimer’s robbed her beloved grandmother of her mental faculties. “I think I knew even then that I wanted to do something, that I wanted to help. Thirty years later it drives me every day at Savonix,” she shares.

The first in her family to go to college, Charvat enrolled at the University of Kansas for her undergraduate degree.

She went on to be come a trained clinical psychologist with a neuro specialty and completed her fellowship in clinical neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine. The inspiration for Savonix came when Charvat’s husband was severely injured in a car accident and she experienced first-hand the difficulty in attaining the vital health data her husband needed to achieve recovery—including cognitive screening.

“I knew that if access was so difficult for me,” she recalls, “with my medical background and connections, it must be virtually impossible for others with no training, expertise, or network. I made the hard decision to give up on my career path at Stanford and found Savonix in 2015 to address the pervasive challenges in access to neurocognitive assessments and the dire need of millions of people for regular, accessible, and affordable tests.”

Charvat took her idea for Savonix to Bandel Carano at Oak Investment Partners, who gave her feedback and encouragement to find $750,000 in funding. “He thought it would take me a year,” she says. “I was back in six months with $1.5 million.”

Over the past four years, Charvat has led the company’s growth in the U.S. and Asia. This fall Savonix will announce a landmark study of cognitive heath with a goal of enrolling over 400,000 participants. “Similar to the strides made in breast cancer research,” she notes, “ this study will offer critically needed data points that can be applied to pharmaceutical research.”

While a self-professed “early adopter,” Lindsay Schauer’s career didn’t begin in tech. First, she took her Stanford University English degree and became a Senior Editor of this very magazine, which had her commuting from San Francisco and checking @caltrain on Twitter for updates. When she learned of a position in customer support in 2010, she joined around 100 other employees at Twitter HQ. She was 26.

“It happened to be a really exciting time,” Schauer recalls. “The world was suddenly seeing that this democracy of voices, through something like Twitter, was giving everyone a platform that had the power to effect change in the world.” Soon, Schauer was project managing the Help Center, and by the time Twitter went public in 2013, she was the Head of Internal Communications, running all-hands meetings for an international staff of 3,000 employees.

The role’s intensity caused her to re-evaluate her career path. “When you give so much to a company growing so quickly, it’s really easy to burn out.” So Schauer planned on a six-month break. She hiked the John Muir Trail, went to Burning Man, where she met her now husband, and traveled through New Zealand. “What I thought when I came back from all that, was that I really liked tech,” she recalls. “And I was using this new piece of software, a communications tool called Slack.”

Schauer knew every company needed this operating system that connects teams and apps to optimize workflow. Naturally, she tweeted about it—and @SlackHQ tweeted back. She liked the response and the company, joined the Customer Experience team in 2015, and is now its Director of Operations.

“Getting into a company that has an exciting product at a time when they are about to scale incredibly is so fun,” she says of Slack’s hypergrowth: over 10 million daily active users in more than 150 countries—including 65 of the Fortune 100 companies—with more than 1,500 employees across 10 offices. As of June 20, Slack is a publicly traded company.

“One of the keys to helping women become successful in tech is to have women be in leadership positions at companies and invest in growing women throughout the company,” says Schauer, who praises Slack’s attention to diversity and inclusion, something she has experienced recently as a new mom. Now that her son is nearing a year old, Schauer and her husband, as a stay-at-home dad, are modeling gender equality. “I want my son to see that women have a place in the workplace and are just as capable as men, but men have a wonderful place in the home as well,” she says. “We can both be in both places.”

Lindsay Schauer’s clothing courtesy of Weekend by Max Mara and makeup by Marisa Quezada of HOURGLASS at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center


— Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

From a young age, Rachel Mika Dorin, PhD, developed a fascination with the nanoscopic world. She recalls, “I always wondered when something was touching another thing, what did that really mean at the smallest length scales?”

Dorin had an equal interest in how tangible things were made from the natural world. She sought the answers in organic chemistry and biology classrooms, at work in the Advanced Materials Lab at Sandia National Laboratories, and ultimately in pursuit of her PhD in Materials Science at Cornell University.

Dorin went a significant step further: creating answers of her own, using her thesis work on “non-equilibrium block copolymer structures as ultrafiltration membranes” to found her own company back in Silicon Valley, TeraPore Technologies, where she is CEO.

“I feel like that’s a millennial thing,” the now 34-year-old says in good humor of starting her own company without professional experience. What she did have was something no one else did: a better way to do separations, which is at the heart of TeraPore’s nanofiltration technology, which she co-invented.

So what exactly is nanofiltration? “I’ll use the word filter,” Dorin begins. “If you had tea this morning, you used a filter to make your tea.” If you zoomed in on most filters, Dorin explains, you’d see a framework more or less resembling Swiss cheese, a non-uniform mix of pore sizes. “We came at this problem of designing a perfect filter structure from a new material standpoint,” she says. So on a nano scale, you see uniform pores that resemble a screen door. TeraPore manufactures engineered membranes both at scale and in a range of pore sizes—two monumental leaps forward in the field.

The resulting applications of this technology cannot be underestimated, from water treatment to semiconductor processing. The company is focused on the biopharmaceutical industry, filtering out viruses from biologics (drugs such Insulin or Humira) during the manufacturing process when cells can get contaminated with a very small virus that could then get injected into a patient—a separation process that allows the biologics to pass through the membrane while rejecting the virus. “We’re enabling safer drugs in a much more efficient and productive way,” Dorin says.

While Dorin has been peering into a microscope all these years, she hasn’t personally been affected by a glass ceiling. “I never thought that there was anything different about being a women going into any field,” the entrepreneur says, noting how much she relies on her own technical understanding to guide her team. “It’s worthwhile to experience what it’s like to do stuff in the lab, that first-hand experience,” Dorin advises to anyone interested in the sciences. “It’s really about getting dirty and diving into it. If you enjoy that, it can be rewarding. You can do things nobody else in the world has done.”

Rachel Dorin’s clothing courtesy of Eileen Fisher at Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Christine Abito of LILAH B. at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center


— Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

Robyn Sue Fisher’s passion for ice cream runs deep. “Ever since the age of 3, my mom used to tell me I had two tummies, and one was solely reserved for ice cream,” she says. After earning her MBA from Stanford and wondering what would excite her about going to work every day, Fisher trusted her tummy, so to speak. “Let’s tackle something I love and make it better,” she says of the decision that led her to her current role as Founder and Chief Brrrista of Smitten Ice Cream.

In 2007, when she set out to make ice cream better, Fisher uncovered unfortunate industry practices. She points to factory-made, thousand-gallon batches requiring stabilizers, emulsifiers, and preservatives for 18-month shelf lives, as well as elaborate distribution chains and repercussions on the environment. “It’s supposed to be something that is good, and it’s not. My goal with Smitten was to turn things upside down and inside out and rethink it such that we could actually make ice cream true.”

In rethinking the production, in using high-quality ingredients and a backyard’s bounty of seasonal flavors, and churning it to order, Fisher arrived at a product, as she says, “all about taste, not all about shelf life.”

New technology played an early and integral part. “We invented the technology that now has six patents that automates the process of making ice cream in less time than a latte,” she says. “It was really a decade long process of invention and iteration and refinement to figure out how to make something robust and safe and create an unparalleled product consecutively every single time.” Today, the Brrr®, amid a cooling cloud of liquid nitrogen, can freeze ice cream in just a minute and a half.

The result is the smoothest scoop you can find. Smitten Ice Cream, which Fisher first started selling out of a wagon on the streets of San Francisco back in peak-recession 2009, now has six shops in the Bay Area and Southern California as well as delivery and catering services. “Our goal is to disrupt the category so we’re just beginning,” she says of what’s to come.

Women working in tech, business, and funding here in Silicon Valley are a key part of future growth. “I think it is a really momentous time in history because I feel, more than ever before, the uproar and supportive web of women helping women in a way that I have not experienced in the past decade,” says Fisher, who is now a mentor of other women who are trying to start companies. The proof is in—in this case—the ice cream. “I have 11 female investors as of a year ago and before that I had all male investors,” she says. “That’s a big difference when there are women who are organizing together to create syndicates to invest in women.”

Fisher, as a mom to two young sons, often speaks at her business school alma mater on work/life balance, a term she calls, well, certainly not true. “My favorite quote is that it’s not worth trying to juggle all the balls,” she recalls. “You’ve got to figure out which balls are glass and which balls are rubber. In other words, you’ve got to drop some.”

Whatever you do, don’t drop Smitten’s Chocolate Grenache. It’s truly divine.


— Written by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

“What are you going to do with a degree in sociology?”

With the benefit of a crystal ball, Sima Sistani could have answered her mildly worried father’s question as she graduated from Duke by explaining, “I’m going to take what I’ve learned about the crucial importance of human interaction to our evolution as a species, and create a social network built around meaningful, face-to-face communication.”

Lacking that crystal ball, she responded instead: “I don’t know, I’m going to work at Goldman Sachs.”

She did, in fact, go to work at Goldman, where she soon found herself drawn to the media industry. She quickly made the jump to the Motion Picture Department at Creative Artists Agency and later transitioned to the Bay Area tech scene with media partnership roles at Yahoo! and Tumblr. “At Tumblr I became obsessed with the rise of video as content but also communication,” the Menlo Park resident recalls.

She had an idea of how to use video to connect people in a more authentic way, but having recently given birth to her son (she now also has a daughter), she feared “entrepreneurship was out of the cards for me.” She elaborates, “Startups were the place where young men in their 20s were staying up all night eating ramen noodles.”

But as any true entrepreneur knows, once you’ve been bitten by the bug, resistance is likely futile. “It was really the idea,” Sistani explains of what made her come around and take the leap into the startup world. With the enthusiastic support of her husband Alex, she decided to go for it, and, she says, “I just kind of didn’t look back.”

The idea was this: a video-based app where friends or family members can “hang out” in an organic way — without having to schedule phone calls, “like” an image, or select the appropriate array of emojis. “Smartphones are ubiquitous, data is getting cheaper, it’s in everyone’s back pocket, but somehow it’s very impersonal,” Sistani explains. “I don’t think traditional social media is connecting people in a meaningful way.”

In 2015, Sistani co-founded Houseparty, which allows users to “announce” when they’re free (“John is In The House”), and their selected contacts will receive a notification that allows them to hop into a live video chat if they’re also available. Sistani’s family uses the app almost nightly, for example, allowing off-site relatives to catch up with the kids (ages 2 and 6) during dinner.

Houseparty is working to integrate mobile gaming and other forms of entertainment into the app, and in light of her strong background in entertainment and media, Sistani transitioned in March from COO to CEO. She joins a very short list of women at the top of social networks backed by large venture capital firms (as of this past spring, Houseparty had raised about $70 million from well-established VCs such as Sequoia Capital and Greylock Partners).

From her position at the helm of a company that’s gaining serious traction with the coveted youth demographic, Sistani is clearly and decisively “In The House” at this point. But she is very candid about the fact that juggling work and family is by no means easy. “Nobody’s got it figured out,” she says of the tantalizing yet elusive goal of total balance. “There’s always a ‘grass is greener’ feeling. There’s a lot of calibration to be done in managing the work/life thing.”

In light of that, Sistani has become a staunch advocate for paid family leave, and has joined forces with organizations such as Founders for Change and Paid Leave for the U.S. to launch a #LeadersforLeave campaign to make paid leave a reality in Silicon Valley. And yes, Houseparty is heeding the call, providing its 40-plus employees between 12 and 18 weeks of paid family leave, along with leaves of absence for bereavement and other necessities; the eventual goal is up to 24 weeks as the company grows, Sistani says.

This advocacy ties back to the values Sistani has championed at Houseparty, both in terms of user experience and also the day-to-day work environment for its employees — values such as trust and empathy, a word that kept coming up in a recent interview with Gentry. “The Houseparty experience brings empathy to online communication,” Sistani says. “And we’ve also worked hard to build that empathy and connection culturally in our office, with our team.”

Sima Sistani’s clothing courtesy of Neiman Marcus Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Marisa Quezada of HOURGLASS at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center


— Written by Robin Hindery

Dr. Elizabeth “Lizz” Vilardo doesn’t believe in waste—she’s practical and utilizes every second of her day. Our interview is a case in point: Vilardo strides through the new Sutter Health building at Van Ness and Geary in San Francisco, directing key staff to put the finishing touches on the opening event for the building taking place in less than an hour. “I’ll walk and talk with you,” she smiles.

That practicality has been a through line in Vilardo’s career. The eldest born to an Italian family with eight children in Southern California, she recalls, “My relatives were focused on when I’d get married, not what my career would be.” An excellent student, Vilardo joined the military and became a nurse, but knew she wanted to do more. She earned her medical degree at UCSF and spent her residency at UCLA. “I was a primary care physician for 30 years at Palo Alto Medical Foundation,” she notes. Vilardo was tapped to serve on PAMF’s Board of Directors, as its CEO, and as a member of Sutter Health’s Board of Directors.

“While I was CEO of PAMF, we were facing some serious strategic issues,” she recalls. “I realized that to serve the organization better, I thought it was key to go back to school and earn an MBA.”

That broader lens, in Vilardo’s opinion, incudes a focus on opportunity for everyone. “I have had the good fortune to work with some truly visionary physicians,” notes Vilardo. “Doctors who didn’t see women as different than men, who appreciated skills—period.” At Sutter, Vilardo and her team are encouraging women from the ground up to believe in their own potential. “Women see their value differently than men—for example, a woman will see that 10 different skills are required for a job and won’t apply unless she has all 10. Men will apply when they have at least six. Women are often ready, they just need that push and encouragement. When opportunity presents itself, you just have to go for it.”

Vilardo recently took that advice to heart, taking on a much large role at Sutter Health. “My job now is to achieve a brand for our physician groups using everything from high tech to high touch,” she explains. “I would be super happy in 10 years if we’ve grown and spread that culture around and can see it flourish.”

Dr. Elizabeth Vilardo’s clothing courtesy of Luisa Spagnoli at Stanford Shopping Center

Kristi Markkula Bowers grew up in the heart of high-tech action in Silicon Valley. Her father, Mike Markkula, was Apple’s first angel investor and the company’s second CEO, providing the managerial support Apple needed to grow. After earning her bachelor’s degree and MBA from Santa Clara University, Bowers went on to a career in high-tech marketing but took time off to raise her children.

While her professional career was put on hold, Bowers threw herself into nonprofit work, especially education, serving on the Board of Trustees for Santa Clara University and as an active advisor for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University (named for her parents Mike and Linda), which is widely recognized as the #1 ethics center in the country.

Bowers firmly understands the responsibility she’s been given to further the work of the Markkula Center. When she was tapped to join its board, she recalls, “I was 28 and pregnant with my first child. By then I was less concerned with carving my own path and realized that when a door opens, it’s about what you do when you step through it, not who opened it for you.” Since then, Bowers has worked tirelessly to support and grow the center and has served on the boards of The Basic Fund, Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Education Foundation, and the San Francisco 49ers Foundation.

Along the way, Bowers took over the operations of the award-winning King’s Mountain Vineyards, which led to the next chapter in her career as CEO of Ag-Tech IoT company Flyx Sytems. Says Bowers, “At Flyx, our goal is to take data from the environment to reduce the use of natural resources, decrease the use of pesticides, and increase the bottom line.”

Flyx is currently testing its sensors at Ridge, Lytton Springs, and Mount Eden Vineyards. “The depth and breadth of these beta sites is providing incredible data for us,” notes Bowers. When asked where she hopes Flyx Systems will be in the next year to five years, she is quick with her response, saying, “ I’m not hoping— I’m planning to have a great deal of the data work done, refining the back-end software package using some machine learning. We will learn what we don’t know, and in five years we’ll have the company working in several Ag environments.”

Kristi Bowers’ clothing courtesy of Melange at Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Marisa Quezada of HOURGLASS at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center

Kara Egan spent her childhood in Boston, where she learned to love sailing. Her passion and prowess for the sport earned her a spot on Stanford’s sailing team – “long before the recent scandals,” she’s quick to point out.

Indeed, Egan became an All American in sailing while earning a BS in Management Science and Engineering—underscoring a work ethic that reverberates through her career today. Egan thrives on “the uncertainty and challenge of bringing new companies and products to life,” she relates. “Just as in sailing, where the weather and water are constantly changing, so too are the market dynamics in which new companies must navigate. But by surrounding yourself with a great team, who share a willingness to push themselves, try new things, and chart new paths, the journey as well as the ultimate destination is always better.”

After graduating from Stanford, she earned her MBA at Wharton and jumped into venture capital as the founding Associate of .406 Ventures (the name a nod to Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams’ legendary batting average). At .406, Egan played an integral role in launching the firm, raising the $170M fund and driving the initial investments in SaaS, Health IT, and Security companies, including Carbon Black (Nasdaq: CBLK) and HealthDialog (acquired by BUPA).

The siren song of Silicon Valley pulled Egan to move back to the Bay Area and join Zendesk prior to the company going public. She helped Zendesk expand upmarket from SMB to Mid-Market and Enterprise companies, successfully launching its enterprise product.

Today, Egan’s unique expertise in B2B product and partner marketing from seed-stage companies through IPO makes her a valuable member of the San Mateo-based Emergence Capital venture team. She’s actively involved with the Emergence portfolio, and is a board observer at UpKeep, Top Hat, and Zinc. “At Emergence, we are investing in people who change the way the world works,” she says proudly.

Egan believes strongly in fostering women in tech and venture, and has created a number of female founder workshops to focus on skill building. She stresses, “It’s so important to pay it forward.” One of Egan’s favorite quotes – “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you have imagined” – belongs to fellow Massachusetts native Henry David Thoreau. It’s clear to see that Egan is doing just that.

Kara Egan’s clothing courtesy of Neiman Marcus at Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Marisa Quezada of HOURGLASS at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center

Many adjectives have been used to describe the legal profession; tech-savvy isn’t one of them.

But Sarah Schaaf is hoping to change that. The Arizona-born daughter of two attorneys grew up working at her parents’ firms and later graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law with her sights set on litigation.

Unfortunately, she got her JD in 2008, as the economy was taking a nosedive. “It was a great firm, but a very different environment than I was used to and expecting,” Schaaf says of her first post-grad school job. Eager to return to San Francisco, where she had lived for a year and a half between college and law school, she took a position at a Bay Area-based firm and later moved over to Google’s legal department.

“It still just wasn’t right,” she says simply. So she took inspiration from the closest person at hand: her husband, Thornton, who had made his career in the startup world. “Seeing him do that really inspired me, but I really had to educate myself,” she recalls. “I spent about a year studying and networking — digging in in a very scholarly way.”

In 2016, Schaaf was accepted into NFX Guild, an invite-only accelerator program, and she emerged with a fully fleshed-out idea for a digital platform that makes it easy for lawyers to get paid, collaborate, and take care of other headache-inducing administrative tasks. Think: PayPal or Venmo but designed by lawyers, for lawyers.

The company, Headnote, now has 10 employees and will be raising a Series-A funding round later this year or early next year. Thornton, who co-founded the company along with his wife, serves as Headnote’s Head of Operations and Customer Success. The couple are also parents to two young children and are preparing to move from San Francisco to Marin this summer.

Though still a young company, Headnote has received an enthusiastic reception. “This is an industry used to one business model, and collaboration was difficult,” Schaaf explains. “There was so much pain around things like billing, and I didn’t like that my industry was one that doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to tech.”

Schaaf has taken to her role as entrepreneur and CEO with apparent ease, but she is quick to credit the many people — men and women — who supported her with their advice, insights, and capital over the past few years. “The No. 1 thing I found out when I was starting to learn is: If there is someone on your wish list (for guidance or mentorship), reach out to them. After all, somebody helped them along the way,” she says. “We — especially as women — will lift each other up.”

Sarah Schaaf’s clothing courtesy of Anthropologie at Stanford Shopping Center and makeup by Christine Abito of LILAH B. at Neiman Marcus, Stanford Shopping Center


Written by Robin Hindery

Anita Sands, PhD
Board Member Symantec, Service Now, and Pure Storage

How often do you hear a Silicon Valley board director speak who’s a Fulbright Scholar, holds a Master’s in public policy and management… and a PhD in atomic and molecular physics? Those accomplishments are only the beginning of a unique career that spans over two decades (so far). After completing these academic pursuits, Sands spent ten years in financial services in Canada and the US and became Chief Operating Officer at UBS Wealth Management Americas at the ripe old age of 33.

Recognizing the importance of technology, she then made yet another shift and uprooted herself to San Francisco. Now five years into her Silicon Valley chapter, she serves on the boards of three public corporations—Symantec, Service Now, and Pure Storage—and private companies ThoughtWorks and AppBus. She’s also an Advisory Board member at DocuSign and Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global. Sands’s current focus, as a global business leader, is on three trends that she believes are important not only to tech but to all industries including: technology disruption and its impact on companies, society, and public policy; gender equality and the power of “Belonging”; and 
boards, bringing corporate governance into the digital age.


Vanila Singh, M.D., MACM
Chief Medical Officer for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Dr. Vanila Singh lives at the intersection of Silicon Valley, cutting-edge medicine, and public policy in her role as CMO for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services she serves as the primary medical advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Health on the development and implementation of HHS-wide public health policy recommendations. Previously, Dr. Singh was a clinical associate professor of anesthesiology, perioperative, and pain medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Singh has been active in national medical organizations, serving as the Vice Chair of the National Physicians Council on Health Policy; an editorial board member of the Pain Physician Journal for the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians; and a member of the California Medical Association’s (CMA) House of Delegates. She also served on the CMA’s Council on Ethical, Legal and Judicial Affairs, and more recently, as a member of its Subcommittee on Health Information Technology.


Derek Blazensky
Partner, The Pareto Group

After graduating from the University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Computer Science, Derek Blazensky embarked on a career as software developer before moving into marketing at Adobe Systems. He was co-founder of Cardinal Venture Capital, a $125-million software venture fund. Blazensky is currently a partner at The Pareto Group, which provides negotiation coaching for venture-backed startups.

He has also been a youth basketball coach, helping over 500 athletes prepare for high school sports and young adult life.


Steve Sordello
CFO LinkedIn

For over a decade, Silicon Valley native Steve Sordello has served as the Chief Financial Officer at LinkedIn. He has experience in leading finance, accounting, investor relations, corporate development, human resources, IT, and analytics. Sordello is also experienced in mergers and acquisitions, specifically including LinkedIn’s $26.2 billion merger with Microsoft. He currently sits on multiple boards including Cloudera and Atlassian. Sordello is also on the board of trustees, a member of the executive committee and the audit committee chair at Santa Clara University. He received both his undergraduate degree and MBA from Santa Clara University.


Don Heider
Executive Director Marklula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University

Don Heider began his career as a TV journalist and received five Emmy awards for his work. He is the author or editor of seven books including A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics and Ethics for a Digital Age, Volumes 1 and 2. After positions as Associate Provost for Strategy and Innovation and Dean of the School of Communication at Loyola University in Chicago, Heider joined Santa Clara University to lead the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara, one of the most active ethics centers in the United States with programs in business, government, journalism, engineering, internet ethics, health care ethics, social sector ethics, leadership ethics, and K – 12 character education. Heider coordinates the activities of over 25 staff members who work directly for the Center and 70 affiliated faculty scholars who work on all aspects of applied and professional ethics.

 

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