Working at a Tech Startup as a Woman: Stories from the Women at Minut
This International Women's Day, we’re hearing from the women at Minut: from how they got started, to what drives them, to the challenges they face.
March 8, 2022
Startups - in particular tech startups - are notorious for being male-dominated. Very few women make it to the top. In 2021, only 12% of new unicorns had at least one female founder - a number that has remained stubbornly stagnant in recent years.
Female founders also rarely make the news, or command the levels of admiration offered to their male counterparts. To add insult to the injury, the only female entrepreneur who has actually risen in the ranks, and was even been proclaimed ‘the next Steve Jobs’ - Elizabeth Holmes - is now known as a fraud. Her shadow still looms large above other female founders.
Taking a step back, and looking at the wider landscape, the situation seems slightly better. It is estimated that around 20% of startup founders worldwide have at least one woman as their founder. But when looking at the investment, pandemic spelt bad news for female founders. Disproportionately so, if you compare to male counterparts.
While it might seem like a bleak landscape overall, at Minut we do find a cause for optimism. As of March 2019, there were no female employees at Minut. Fast forward to March of 2022, and women make up 40% of the team (including the author of this article).
How did we get there? We’ll let the women of Minut speak for themselves.
Venturing into it
I just kind of fell into it and I liked it. - Lauren, Lead Generation Executive
The road to tech startup hasn’t really been straightforward for the women I interviewed. Lauren, our Lead Generation Executive, “just kinda fell into it.” She studied journalism, but wanted to go into Content Marketing. She accepted a temp position at her old company - which just happened to be in tech - and ended up staying there because she liked it.
Like Amelia, our VP of Sales, she has been “bitten by the bug.” Amelia started out in Accountancy, but was always interested in Sales. “So when an opportunity arose to join a company selling accounting software I grabbed it - and that's how I started.”
Theodora, Customer Support Representative, was initially just interested in the Minut product - as an Airbnb Superhost herself. It was only during her first days on the job that she realized she had joined a tech company. She took it as an opportunity to learn more about technology, despite her non-techy background.
The only woman in the mix who has that technical background is My, Customer Success Manager. After high school, she knew she wanted to study, but she didn't really know what. She always liked Math and Physics, so she went for Electrical Engineering. The program started with five women students out of a hundred. There were only two left after three years. Somewhere along the way, My found herself unsure where she wanted to go and ended up switching up her Master’s a bit and going part-time. At the same time, she met Minut founders who were looking for someone to help out with Support, so she decided to give that a try.
Caroline, Head of Partnerships, worked for a global leader in the food and beverage industry before coming to Minut. Her previous job, she said, was the type of role every student fresh out of a Business School wants. And yet, she quickly found it wasn’t for her. There was so much hierarchy and so little to build - the total opposite of what she encountered at Minut.
And then there is Viktoria, Global Marketing and Communications Manager, and the first full-time female hire. She was working at an agency in Stockholm when she saw an article about Minut in a newspaper. She worked on branding projects for some of the biggest global enterprises, but something was missing. The article painted a picture of a small but passionate team wanting to change the world. She reached out, and the rest, as they say, was history.
First tech impressions
In my final interview with Nils (CEO and co-founder), everything was going well when suddenly he got all serious: ‘So there's something I need to tell you Viktoria. Just so you know, you will be the only female employee.' - Viktoria
When she was still working on the agency side, one of Viktoria’s accounts was Apple. That’s how she got interested in tech: “there was something that just told me tech is the future. It felt very innovative, and it seemed like a lot of smart, very passionate people worked in that industry.”
Before joining Minut, she had never worked with engineers. Now she coordinates product launches with them on a regular basis. Initially, she was surprised to find how differently they approach things. But she also saw it as a great opportunity to get new perspectives and learn.
Theodora agrees: “This has been an eye-opening opportunity to expand my mind. And it's a challenge for myself as well.” She also works closely with engineers, solving cases that come in through Customer Support.
This mindset - excitement about technology and eagerness to learn new things - is something that all of my interviewees share. They have something else in common: they brought their unique skills to the company. In other words, they had something to teach the engineers, too.
When I started, it was a lot of male engineers and male marketing people. It feels like we've gotten a new perspective. As women, we do represent half of the population - the half that wasn't represented before. It feels more at balance. - My
Throughout her two and a half years at Minut, My has seen the company grow immensely. She feels that now there’s much more of a grounding. Viktoria shares the sentiment. When she joined, Minut was extremely strong on the engineering side. Not so much on commercial thinking or strategy: “and obviously you need a balance.”
Amelia recalls that there were times when she was working in very tech-heavy industries (like telecoms) when more of “a technical bent would have shortened her learning curve. But then you bring other skills to the table.” Her strength is the commercial side of things: understanding the customers, their business structure, requirements and pain points.
When I started my Sales career, I was frequently the only woman in the Sales team whereas now there are many women in tech and in Minut alone, women make up 80% of the Sales team! This would have been unheard of when I first started out!! - Amelia
Where does this shift come from? Amelia thinks there are a number of reasons. For example, in the past, Sales roles often meant a great deal of travel. “In fact, they required constant travel across big geographical areas. And a lot of women didn't want to do that.” Now there are many roles in Sales that can be done remotely. Gender roles have changed as well, and more and more women are comfortable travelling for work. They no longer feel like home and family is solely their responsibility.
With tech sales in particular, the educational background was also at play. Now you see a lot more women with business and tech degrees. There are a lot more women studying engineering too, according to My: “it can still be difficult being a woman in this space, but it helps to have other women around that understand some of the things you're going through.“
As the VP of Sales, Amelia is the most senior woman at Minut. In recent years, we’ve had other women rise through the ranks - including Viktoria, Caroline and My. However, the majority of the executive team is still male - which puts an extra responsibility on them to make sure everyone feels like they have a voice, says Viktoria. “I think it's important that you have leaders, and not just managers.” As the company grows, you need to ensure that everyone feels that they can express themselves and work to their best ability. That’s what shapes the company culture.
Amelia says she’s observed progress in this area first-hand. Nowadays, companies work much harder to take everyone on the journey with them. They make sure everyone stays engaged and understands where the company is going: “It’s a really positive step forward.”
Yet, there are still precious few role models women can look up to in this space. While men have Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, very few women occupy a similar position in our culture.
In my interviews, there were mentions of Whitney Wolfe Herd, the CEO and founder of Bumble, and Vanessa de Souza Lage, founder and CMO of Rentals United, and a fierce advocate for more women voices in the vacation rental space. However, it’s one thing to be inspired by their achievements, and another to have a mentor who can guide you right there in your circle.
Amelia did have role models in her career, but none early on: “when you're in a large corporate and you're in one area of it, and you're very young, you didn't really engage with seniors.” It changed when she started working at startups, with CEOs and Heads of Global Sales now becoming her mentors. “I certainly wanted to develop the behaviors and habits that they had. I learned a tremendous amount about the business from that,” she says. As she worked in male-dominated industries, all of them were men.
It wasn't for the lack of wanting a female role model, there just weren't any about - which is why I try my best now to help women coming up through the ranks. Of course, I would help anybody coming up through the ranks, but I'm particularly conscious of how difficult it can be in certain environments for young women starting out. - Amelia
Caroline was the first in her circle to join a start-up, but she’s now encouraging her girlfriends to make the switch too. A few of them already have.
On a mission
I think technology is one of those industries that can really do something good for the world. Whereas in my previous job, I felt that I wasn't contributing anything new, you know? - Caroline
There is one thing that stood out about all the women I spoke to. Their ambition and eagerness to make a change in the world. They want to “feel good about the work they’re doing” (Lauren), and not just “help big corporations sell more soft drinks to kids,” as Viktoria put it. Working for a startup has made her feel like she’s bringing something good into the world.
From Caroline’s experience, at large corporations, you're just there to do the work: “You're not there to create, to put your fingerprint on any project.” She hated that everything was set in stone. She wanted to help build a product that could evolve with the world, and make it a better place.
Learning by doing
When I joined Minut, I quickly learned that our strategy was to just ‘test things'. We test, and then we test something else until we see what's working. And that’s how we learn. - Viktoria
Starting your career at a startup can be challenging, but it also has its benefits. Like getting exposure to different parts of the business early on. For the author of the article, the first startup job spanned almost all areas of the business - from Operations, to Sales, to Marketing. As time went on, I was able to find the areas I enjoyed the most and steer my career in that direction.
“It's a phenomenal opportunity to be able to see how sections and divisions in the company work. It's very hard to get that when you're working for a corporate,” says Amelia. If you get that exposure early in your career, you often find that people pivot. They may start in Marketing, and move into Sales or vice versa. She has seen many technical people move into technical Sales roles as well. You normally don't get that in a bigger organization.
I've only been at Minut for what's two and a half years, and now I have my own team. It’s all because of trust. It’s not like I sought it out and did my time, but that the founders saw that I wanted to grow and help the company grow. And they appreciated that. - My
My started out part-time on Support at Minut. She now leads the Customer Success team - which she built from the ground up. It was a big task, but she had support from management throughout. They reassured her they knew she could do this, even without previous experience in the area. As she looks back at the last year, it was a lot of trial and error. She learned so much in the process - and it’s been really fun too.
Lauren also appreciates the trust she was given: “I was just kinda thrown into it. It was a bit weird to be told: ‘you can basically just do whatever you want, just try it.’ Now I got used to it and feel more comfortable and confident.” She quickly learned that in a startup, there's no one teaching you things. You’re teaching yourself - but that gives you that capability to try new things and tools and makes it all the more exciting.
At startups, you're also thrown into making decisions much faster than you would otherwise. Amelia says it can be quite frightening, but it’s also a fabulous way to learn quickly. She remembers thinking “Oh my God, I can't do this,” when it was time for her to open new regions for the first time. But her colleagues told her otherwise: “You can, you just need to sit down and think about it.” That’s how she discovered she could actually do this. And that she was good at it.
And there’s also the satisfaction of seeing the results of your work. “I love seeing a tech startup grow. From a sales perspective there is nothing quite as exciting as opening new markets and watching teams grow and be successful,” says Amelia. Caroline finds that aspect exciting too: “you're opening up new markets and trying new things. It's great to open those doors and to explore them. Later on, you can decide that some of them are not worth exploring, but you can also create something great.” Now she feels she can actually be proud of her work - especially so whenever she creates a partnership that hasn’t been done before.
A lot of people are young and maybe don't have too much experience and don't feel that they have enough authority to come in and say: OK, but now we're going to do this and that. So of course it can also be a bit of a challenge. - Viktoria
All of the women I interviewed agreed that as a woman in this space, you have to speak up. As in all male-dominated settings, it’s important to be assertive and keep men accountable, My says. “If I say something, especially about technology - and I haven't noticed this with my colleagues, but with some customers - it's more likely to be questioned than if a man would say it.” As a woman, you just need to fight more for your opinion sometimes.
Caroline has faced similar challenges. A couple of months ago, she organized a call with two very large companies to discuss a potential partnership. She ended up on a call with five men, all of them around 20 years older than her. “I remember I froze for a minute. I had to take a moment to gather my thoughts and be like: ‘Okay, Time to shine.’ It was very complicated to make them listen to me, because they were just very chatty. And I really had to impose myself and put my hand on the table and be like: ‘Ok, now it's time to actually move forward.’”
Many times I've been on calls or at events where I was by far the youngest and the only woman. You need to have a lot of self-confidence and be self-assertive to succeed. - Caroline
Looking at the bigger picture though, Caroline says the vacation rental industry as a whole is opening up to women. Men in this industry are used to travelling a lot and are more open-minded. They're always very respectful. An industry that seeks to be innovative simply has to embrace diversity, says Caroline.
And the short-term rental industry is still pretty young. The founders of Minut’s biggest customers tend to be between 35 and 45 years old. “They are also on that journey of bringing more equality into the workspace,” My says.
There are more and more women in this industry because tech and startup companies are looking for diversity. They're looking for smart brains with different backgrounds and ideas. That’s what drives innovation. - Caroline
All of the women I interviewed are looking forward to the time when there are no more stereotypes: this job is for men, this job is for women… To an extent, this is already happening. As more and more women (and minorities in general) join the industry, they’re reforming it from the inside. “I've been at Minut for two years and a half, and the company has changed a lot, because as we are hiring everyone is leaving their mark,” says Caroline.
A lot of women are used to working in male-dominated backgrounds, so that aspect of the industry doesn’t intimidate them. When I asked them if they were at all hesitant about joining a startup, they all said no. They were actually excited for the challenge.
This article was written by Alicja, Minut’s Content Producer, who also happens to be one of the women at Minut 🙂