Julia French believes the future is built by entrepreneurs who push beyond boundaries. She also believes tech savvy women have a role to play in shrinking the gender gap among Aussie startup founders.
Head of Founders For Founders and an angel investor, this Silicon Valley veteran has 15 years’ experience with tech startups, working with industry giants Dropbox, WhatsApp and Atlassian.
In this episode of Success Stories podcast, explains what she looks for in a startup, why business is like kitesurfing.
A chance meeting on a Seattle bound flight changed the course of Julia’s life. Sitting next to an event manager for startup founders, the two got chatting.
“She said ‘I run these events for startups and venture capitalists’ and I was like ‘What’s a startup? What’s a venture capitalist?” laughs Julia.
“She said ‘You should come check it out!’, I was working towards an international business degree and I needed internship credits so I emailed her the next day, and I started running her events in Seattle.”
Her internship immersed Julia in the tech startup world, running events for key industry players who pulled off transformational deals, like putting wifi in Starbucks.
Inspired by the thought of a career in tech, in 2004 she packed up her life and headed to San Francisco with her young daughter.
She’s since worked with over 200 startups including likes of likes of Atlassian, Dropbox and WhatsApp.
What makes a fundable deal attractive to this experienced angel investor? She bets on the jockey, not the horse.
Looking past profit projections, Julia is led by intuition about the grit, resilience and self-awareness of the founder to determine if success is on the cards.
“Those are the pieces that are really critical. In terms of things like ‘Is it a revenue generating business and can it accomplish this and achieve that?’ that all fluctuates.
“At the end of the day, can the founder ride a very wiley kind of crazy horse, if you will, and do they have the ability to problem solve appropriately?” she explains.
Her advice for founders? You’ll never know where you’re really headed so treat starting a business like kitesurfing.
“So, kitesurfing. If you pull in and try and grip that rod, you will die,” laughs Julia.
“It’s kind of the concept of letting loose and letting go.”
“I really believe you need to be able to allow things to go, you can’t predict outcomes,” she says.
“You talk to someone in Silicon Valley, they don’t know what’s happening six months from now. They have no clue.” says Julia. As such you need to remain flexible and agile.
While she feels Australia has less of the ‘bro culture’ than Silicon Valley, it’s no secret we have got a way to go in closing the gender gap in tech.
Julia encourages women to jump into tech internships as early as possible and she is working on changing the assumption that everyone needs to be a coder.
Stepping into a tech career with no prior coding experience, Julia is proof success is possible even if you start out knowing next to nothing about programming.
However, she encourages everyone with aspirations to work in tech, wannabe coder or not, to attend a General Assembly class or two and get a grasp on how coders pull apart a problem.
Now living in Australia, Julia started Founders For Founders, running large events and intimate gatherings to connect new founders with experienced ones. She’s tackling a big problem in Australia’s tech startup scene; the lack of knowledge passed between founders.
“Just that ability to connect, really open up and say; These are the things that are happening in my business, what did you do?” she explains.
“I feel like that happens in Silicon Valley so frequently. The only thing I can really see that if it were to shift, it would help the ecosystem grow at a materially faster rate.”
It’s an area she see’s women founders playing a critical role.
“The biggest thing for women, tech in particular, is the ability to understand other people’s positions and a find way to bring everybody together,” she explains.
“It’s shown time and time again that women transfer knowledge way more than men. We talk to each other, we share with each other, we teach other.”