YC Female Founders Conference Student Reflection

By Sue-Jean Sung ’15

Not only was my body malfunctioning in San Francisco’s 70 degree weather after dealing with sub-zero temperatures in Ithaca over the past several weeks (needless to say, I didn’t hate it), but upon walking into an auditorium filled with incredibly accomplished and fierce women, my mind started to get overwhelmed as well.

Y Combinator’s 2nd Annual Female Founders Conference was advertised as one where attendees could learn how women funded by YC as well as distinguished guests got started as entrepreneurs, what obstacles they ran into, and how their approaches changed as their companies grew. As a previous startup co-founder and aspiring entrepreneur, I hoped to gain insight and advice from women who achieved success in the highly male-dominated industry of technology. I applied to attend on a whim in early January and had actually forgotten about it when I received an acceptance email later that month. I was overjoyed for the opportunity and simultaneously concerned as to how I would fund the trip. As you may understand, it’s not the easiest task for a college student to book a last minute flight across the country and manage funds in an expensive place like San Francisco (even over the course of one weekend). However, with a little bit of hustle and and a little bit of luck, I was able to attain funding from both the Hotel School’s Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship and the Dyson’s John Jaquette Fund.

The powerhouse group of speakers exceeded my expectations entirely. Ruchi Sanghvi, the first female engineer at Facebook, creator of newsfeed, and founder of Cove (a company acquired by Dropbox), blew me away. Even though she has accomplished more by age 33 than I hope to by the time I die, she filled her 20-minute presentation slot with reflections on what she did wrong throughout the process and how she thought we should approach our aspirations. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she pressed as she preached patience. Tracy Young, co-founder of PlanGrid, a company that makes software for the construction industry, bestowed advice upon us in relation to needing to be more like beavers and honey badgers. According to her, if you aspire to start a startup, you need to obsess over every stick, iterate and improve, not complain, survive, stand up for yourself, and support your family, just like those animals. Grace Garey, co-founder of Watsi, a global crowdfunding platform for healthcare, shared her story and proved how possible it is to leverage technology to help people on an international scale. … And these are just three examples. If you go to YouTube and search, “Y Combinator Female Founders Conference,” all of the talks are actually public and free to watch. I highly recommend it.

I always appreciate conferences like this because people who have done what many aspire to do take a minute to share their journeys and pass down advice to enable others who are in the same shoes as them a few years ago. This one in particular was empowering because it just proved how much potential women have in a sphere dominated by men without actually saying those words–none of the entrepreneurs spoke to their status as a female; they took everything from an objective point of view and addressed their reflections regardless of gender. And that’s powerful. The world is changing constantly, and I hope to witness it as more college students get involved in entrepreneurship, more Cornellians start to dominate the technology industry, and more women take risks and found their own companies.