Girl Geek Dinners: Connecting Women in Technology

Picture by Annie Mole

Established in London in August 2005, Girl Geek Dinners (GGD) aims to connect women in the world of technology together in an informal setting.

GGD organises local social events loosely based on a casual dinner party. The events bring women in technology together to chat, network and generally support each other in a professional capacity. At each “dinner” guest speakers are invited to discuss a technical or business subject of interest to the attendees.

GGD founder, Sarah Blow, established the group to counteract her frustration at attending male-dominated technical events. Since its foundation, it has sprung up in 86 cities over 30 countries and is growing month on month.

Some of its newest cities are Cape Town in South Africa, Damascus in Syria and Ticino in Switzerland.

The popularity of GGD has surpassed the expectations of its creator. Sarah says, “It’s progressing at quite a rate. It’s almost three a week, which is quite a lot. It’s definitely growing and at a much faster rate than I expected.”

With the success of GGD, does Sarah still believe that girl geeks are isolated in their profession? “I think the isolation that was there is definitely disappearing. It’s not as prominent in some sectors of IT as it is in others. Specifically in the programming side of things. Wanting to meet with other females who do programming is possible now because of events like GGD.”

Sarah believes that the rise of social media has played a major role in GGD’s success in linking girl geeks worldwide. The concept began as a blog and Sarah believes, “If blogs hadn’t come about it probably wouldn’t have happened.”

From its roots as a blog, Sarah developed her idea further with the help of Facebook and Twitter, “When Facebook started to gain traction it definitely helped things, it made communication between members of the group much quicker and much easier and also made it easier to find people to take over the groups.”

Twitter has been an interesting one. Twitter has definitely made it easier to reach a wider audience and reach sponsors. Sponsors realise just how effective it is having a message sent out to a community via their community channel. I think that really made it grow quite quickly in terms of numbers turning up to specific events because it gets the word out about the events and it travels around like the speed of light almost.”

Sarah also recommends social media as a tool to aid any girl geeks out there currently looking for work. “Social media is an awesome tool for finding a new job if you use it correctly to be able to profile and showcase your experiences, your expertise but also to find companies that you are interested in. Also, to find people who are actually recruiting in that space. It’s a really useful tool to be able to find other people you are inspired by.”

Men are not excluded from GGD. They are allowed to attend events but only on a direct invitation from a female attendee. This ensures that the maximum amount of male attendees at any one event is 50%.

Sarah says that the reaction by men to GGD has been positive, “The guys that attend the events have opened up to us to develop the community which is one of the things that originally wasn’t natural. The way that people are interacting and reacting is much more positive.

“Guys are now saying – we want more females to come and join our company which is completely different to how it was in 2005. It’s definitely moving in a very positive direction and if it keeps moving in a positive direction I think it can inspire a younger generation into tech.”

GGD is currently working towards two goals. The first is to promote technology in schools with the aim of providing advice to students, teachers and parents. GGD is currently running lectures on an event-by-event basis.

“We’ve done a number of events in London in a couple of schools. We’ve taken inspirational people from the technology industry and put them into the school environment. We‘ve had some of our members as well as the panel of speakers that we’ve put in.”

“The students at the end of it say, we’d always thought that IT was all about Word, Excel and PowerPoint but now we know better. And the teachers say you truly inspired me to actually inspire the students, I now understand what they want.”

The second aim is to establish GGD as a registered charity with the charitable aims of technology, education and women. Sarah sees the ultimate goal of the GGD charity as, “Joining with students, teachers, parents and also people that are actually in business that want to get some support, education and maybe book sponsorships and things like that.”

GGD are currently looking for support in establishing its charitable status in the UK. Sarah explains, “We’ve not actually put the documents forward yet. We’re looking for people that have actually gone through the process of setting up an international charity to help guide us through the process.”

With the continuing growth of GGD as a tool for linking girl geeks worldwide and also the establishment of strong goals for its future, it seems that the GGD tagline – ‘Definitely Does Compute’ – has proven itself to be true.

Hackfwd: A New Approach to Tech Funding

Hackfwd is a very important new way of bringing early stage, pre-seed investment to tech startups in Europe. Instead of having to navigate complicated financial deals, find VCs with just the right ‘fit’ and get involved in deciphering opaque legal agreements it is possible to have an open, clear and structured understanding of funding arrangements.

For the projects they accept, Hackfwd offers enough money (roughly a year’s salary) for the developer to be able to focus on a project for a year. The amount of funding also depends on whether it is an individual or a team up to the size of three.

The startups get to keep 70% equity. Another 3% is apportioned to advisors and Hackfwd takes the remaining 27%. It is as clear as that.

For a lot of highly focused engineers who are working night on day on their projects many aspects of running a company may be quite unfamiliar. To help with this Hackfwd offers continuous business and marketing advice and there are quarterly passion meets momentum get togethers. These are geeks only events where ideas can be aired and shared.

There are other ways of the way in which Hackfwd does business that separates it from a conventional funding setup, Angel investor, Venture Capitalist or otherwise.

  • Standard agreement versus individual one.
  • Standard valuation versus this whole idea of, “how much I give up is according to how much you trust me.”
  • Standard amount of funding.
  • A promise to say yes or no to the entrepreneurs in 72 hours.
  • Progress is checked three months at meetings held in Majorca.
  • Helping, not with investment managers, but helping with experts in domains, marketing product, HR, finance.
  • As Lars Hinrich, Executive Geek on the board of Hackfwd says, “It is a very different approach to anything that has been out there before.”

    Yet another thing that is different at Hackfwd is in its use of social networks. You must be referred through their trusted network of referrers.

    “It is a trust circle of people that we like and trust and only they can make referrals. The best geeks, in a way, have to hack their way into Hackfwd.

    “That we are only targeting geeks is definitely something that is very uncommon. It is so much easier for an MBA from Insead or Kellog or wherever to get funding. If you look at European geeks and then imagine them pitching them to venture capitalists – no way.”

    The Talent Gap

    “The problem right now is that everything is close to free or is for free. Or it is in the cloud and therefore you don’t need infrastructure. The only thing you buy is talent. So, employing talent is one strategy. Making talent into entrepreneurs is another one.

    “I worked for the last ten years with geeks and I do speak their language. I know what it takes and mostly I saw this kind of brilliance in them as they were creating completely new things. They are the first ones to imagine new things that don’t exist right now. Most others can interpret things they have seen somewhere and use it in maybe a different way for their companies. However, the really cool new ideas are mostly spun out from engineers.”

    The Funding Gap

    “If you look at the talent gap; the geeks don’t know how to set up companies or how to run them or how to do marketing. However, in this new web age all these things are data driven. It is much more logical then it used to be.

    “Think of advertising in the two thousands or the nineties. You had to be super creative and make great artwork, etc. Right now everybody knows how to use Google and everybody knows how to buy traffic. It’s more about knowledge and execution than art. There is no mystery about marketing, it is data-driven.”

    Product Execution Gap

    “The most difficult gap is how to execute on product. I think we are kind of co-creators. We help to frame certain ideas. When we see great technology, with the experience of our group we say, “have you thought about this and this and this?” Suddenly the product changes a bit and we say, “this is really, really cool, let’s get it out.” We are active in the way that helps to shape ideas to the optimum.”

    From an engineer’s or coder’s perspective a lot of what passes for traditional business practice, particularly marketing, can seem like magical thinking. For people who are used to controlling every part of their working environment bringing an idea market can seem akin to the journey home of Odysseus. Hidden and unpredictable perils seem to lie everywhere.

    By using modern digital-age ideas of openness and transparency coupled with the ability to access and analyse data, clearly defined structures and methods can be used by all of us to handle the process of bringing an idea to market and a lot of the seeming mystery of business evaporates.

    In its short time in existence Hackfwd has brought seven companies through its system and will have two more ready to progress in business by the end of this year. What Hackfwd has done is bring greater clarity, structure and methodology to what is already a very challenging task – bringing a product to market.

    The present funding system, as it stands in all its capriciousness and uncertainty, has the tendency to put off and discourage the possessors of the great ideas that can change and improve the world from coming forward to show and share what they have. With emerging new business methodologies and philosophies such as this we now have a greater chance to access the ideas of genius that we may normally have never heard about.