The Venture SpotLight turns to Rebecca Lovell today, with the first installment of our interview with her. Among the many hats she wears, Rebecca is the Chief Business Officer of GeekWire, the tech news site based in Seattle. In that role, she oversees advertising, sponsorship, planning GeekWire events and generally helping GeekWire connect with the Pacific Northwest technology community. Some the other roles Rebecca fills: mentor for TechStars and The Founder Institute; community advisor to Startup Weekend; professor of a class on venture capital investing at the University of Washington Foster School of Business; board member of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network; classically trained flutist; self-described “karaoke junkie”; National Merit Scholar; valedictorian of Garfield High School; and former mathlete (ask her about having 75 students create a human mobius strip).
What are the best and worst aspects of your job at GeekWire?
Best: I get to work with smart, motivated, passionate geeks and meet with them every day. I love evangelizing our mission – putting our region on the global map of innovation, where it belongs. Shining a light on innovation wherever it happens. Celebrating and supporting geekdom.
Worst: I am not a patient woman. I can see where our business can go 6, 12, 18 months from now and can’t wait for rolling out some amazing stuff that I could tell you about, but would have to kill you. Ordering is important and I don’t want to screw it up. Along those lines, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes, keeping-the-lights on stuff that is the prelude to greatness.
What advice would you give to someone applying for a job at a startup? Embrace uncertainty. You may be applying for a specific job but you will need to be a generalist – a real team player. That provides huge opportunity but is a big responsibility – you’ve got to call for the ball. If you see a problem, present a solution, or just fix it. You’ve got to be nimble and move at the speed of startups.
Is there a woman working in technology who particularly impresses you? Katie Thompson from Trilogy; Maria Zhang of Zillow, MSN and now Location Genome; Christina Lomasney of Modumetal. How much space do you have?
What are your thoughts about how to recruit/retain more women working in technology careers? I’ve talked to all these young guys in my class (most of my students are men) and they’ll say “If Zuckerberg can do it, I can do it.” You need more women Zuckerberg types out there, but you also need incremental role models. If Zuckerberg is point Z in this path, we need to be able to connect the dots leading to that. If I can get out there and be at events and meet young women, they can have somebody who’s in the community giving them the feeling of “if that person can do it, I can too.”
Just about anyone can be one of those incremental, role model types. You need twenty more and you need the Susan Sigls, who has been in technology and co-founded SeaPoint Ventures, and you need the Maria Zhangs who is a technical genius and built the back end of Zillow and did some great things at MSN. We need more of those examples in their twenties and thirties and forties and fifties so young women have role models. And have people that they can hang out with at events too.
You need a little bit of critical mass. It can be tough to show up and be one of two women at a hundred-person event. Let’s make that five and let’s turn that five into ten and twenty. This might not sound like much, but I was delighted that a third of the attendees at our GeekWire launch party were women. For a tech event, I’m really proud of that. It’s not where we need to be, but it’s a start. And you start by having women in visible positions. Jenni Hogan was our featured golfing celebrity. She happens to be a traffic reporter but she’s also starting a website and a viable business called Mission Hot Mama and so we need more of those examples out there, bringing young women along and keeping them around.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs trying to build a strong team? Other than the “hire slow, fire fast” mantra (a quote from my boss during my executive search days), I would say hire for human qualities, not (just) experience. If you hire someone strictly based on what they have done, that could be all they’ll ever do. Focus on cultural fit and aptitude. Smart, passionate people will get the job done! There’s no substitute for brilliant coders, obviously – so I’m talking more about utility players or business folks here.