Stanford Women in Business (SWIB) hosted a series of events and presentations to introduce Stanford students to entrepreneurship opportunities around the Bay Area last week.
“We founded this event last year for Stanford women to learn more about opportunities to get involved in the tech industry, including in non-technical roles,” said Priyanka Jain ‘16, SWIB president for the 2015-2016 year.
The event series included a keynote speech by startup founder Tracy Sun, a networking session with the SWIB leadership team and a “Tech Trek” during which participants traveled to several startup offices in Palo Alto.
“Throughout the week, attendees [were] exposed to female entrepreneurs in the tech industry,” Jain said.
In an area where just 11 percent of executive positions are held by females, SWIB aims to help Stanford women find paths to success in a generally male-dominated technology industry.
Sun, who spoke about her recent multimillion-dollar online fashion startup, Poshmark, was adamant that being a woman in the technology industry does not define her.
“There are many labels I put on myself before ‘woman in tech’ comes up,” Sun told a full audience on Wednesday.
Sun got into entrepreneurship after double majoring in biology and psychology, planning to be a neurosurgeon and finally realizing her career path wasn’t making her happy. She decided to head to Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business to find a field that she felt passionate about.
“I went to every single talk the school offered, just like this one Stanford is having for you,” Sun described of her years in business school.
Sun said she would ask the same question to every speaker: “Why do you love your job?”
What she found was startling to her: Most of the business executives were at a loss for words. The entrepreneurs, however, had no issue answering the question.
“They all had this same glow. It’s beyond fame, beyond title, it’s something richer,” Sun said.
Sun has since worked her way through several startups, but Poshmark has by far been her most successful venture. The company works as an online marketplace for fashion mixed with a social networking site. Women post pictures of the items they want to sell, and other users buy off the site after talking directly to the seller.
Sun’s talk focused on seven lessons she wanted to impart to future business leaders or potential entrepreneurs.
Her number one rule?
“Be really, really weird. In your first year, if people don’t look at you strangely, your idea’s not big enough,” Sun said.
She also advised listeners to hire people smarter than they were, be their own advocates and make lemonade out of lemons.
Sun told her audience an amusing story about this last rule when she described how the United States Postal Service once appeared at her door and accused Poshmark of being the No. 1 offender of postal fraud in California.
Sun’s first thought was, “Yes!” she said. “People don’t come after you if you’re not big.”
Her second thought was to turn this potential catastrophe into an opportunity. Today, after many conversations with the Postal Service, Poshmark has its own USPS label and has revolutionized cross-country package sending. This new way of shipping bypasses lengthy post office lines and enables sellers to send a package of any size and weight anywhere in the country for just $5.
Sun’s talk was the kickoff event for what SWIB hopes will be a week full of discovery for female students interested in getting their hands into the entrepreneurship scene in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
“We hope that these experiences give Stanford women an inside look at tech, empowering them to pursue careers in this industry,” Jain said.