Maria Seidman, CEO and co-Founder of Yapp – the new way to create and publish mobile apps in minutes – always knew deep down that she’d be an entrepreneur. Her dad was a business owner, she married a business owner, and though she took the circuitous route to become one too, she always knew it was in her blood.
Seidman had her fair share of corporate dues to pay before launching her start up. Way before the venture capitalists and angel investors offered to help her get Yapp started, she worked in business development for Warner Bros (WB), supported mobile efforts as the VP of Wireless and held other integral roles at MGM International Television and Goldman Sachs.
After seven years at WB in Los Angeles, Seidman and her husband decided it was time for a change. Knowing that it would be better for his business if the family relocated to New York City, she was ready to leave big company life, and the couple never looked back (well, besides those days with snow in October, she says).
With a BA in Economics and International Studies from Yale and an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, she knows the challenges beyond kickstarting a cutting edge startup and shares with The Grindstone the tips and shortcuts she wishes she would have known before entering the tech industry as a woman.
What are signs that women should look for to identify if they’re ready for/would be good at entrepreneurship?
You are never “ready.” An idea they are passionate about that they can’t stop thinking about and know they won’t be happy doing anything else. Authentic passion is what fuels the arduous journey. Grit, ability to connect with and inspire others, thick skin and a very large tolerance for the unknown are essential.
When starting your own business, what were the hardest things you dealt with personally?
Guilt. Guilt that I couldn’t spend 100% of my time with my startup, and guilt that I couldn’t spend 100% of my time with my family. I was pregnant with my second child during a large chunk of the life of the company and there were times where it was just plain physically challenging.
What attracted you to the tech industry?
It wasn’t so much the tech industry that attracted me, it was being fascinated with how our society was changing and what the future would hold. Today, that transformation only happens with technology. Every entrepreneur is de facto in the tech industry as to start a business these days at least some component of it is tech related.
Is the reason for less women working in the tech industry because it’s hard for women to break into or is it just that less women are interested in the industry?
Both. It’s a bit of cycle we need to break. Less encouragement of women to study STEM in school => less women with tech backgrounds => less women in tech => less role models => back to the beginning of the cycle.
What has worked for you as a woman in business and what has worked against you?
What’s worked for me is standing out in a board room full of men. Being different is powerful. What worked against me was being more emotional and taking more things personally than guys do. In addition to that, as a woman, being aggressive is perceived poorly by others while as a man being aggressive is just the way to get ahead.
Do you have a mentor? And, do you feel it’s crucial for women to have a female mentor in particular?
I’ve sought out mentors and have many but my chief mentor and inspiration is my husband. Having mentors is critical to growth as a person and entrepreneur. I don’t think the gender matters as much as what you can learn from this person.
What are your favorite apps that you’d recommend to current and aspiring female entrepreneurs?
Hootesuite to manage your social media profiles and keep up with latest news. Dropbox is great because you’re entire computer’s “hard drive” is accessible on any device. Zen Desk is another. You can answer customer support questions while getting your nails done. Seamless Web is amazing. You can order dinner for the whole family while in a business meeting. And, Yapp (of course!). Mobile is big right now and nothing shows you are a serious business like having a mobile app.
What’s the best advice you didn’t take, and what’s the worst advice you did take?
The best advice I wish I wouldn’t have taken was: learn programming. The worst advice I did take was: get a stable, well paying, finance job.
When starting your own company, oftentimes being CEO isn’t all glamour. Have you found yourself doing some things that others may be surprised to hear?
Yes, I too fix toilets, pay bills, fill out forms, answer customer service emails, order supplies, book travel, bargain hunt, and a lot of other menial tasks one doesn’t equate with the title “CEO.”
How do you break away from work to achieve work/life balance?
I spend time with my 5-year-old son and my 4-month-old daughter.