Pocket Sun didn’t want to be the only girl in the room at startup conferences. So she started a conference for girls. Hundreds of founders, speakers, mentors, and students flocked to the University of Southern California on March 28th, 2015 to be inspired by female entrepreneurs. She didn’t stop there. As a founding partner of SoGal Ventures, Pocket will now influence the next generation of startups and entrepreneurs worldwide, helping many amazing females along the way. Pocket shares her insights and stories with us:
Why is female entrepreneurship so important and what inspired you to create SoGal?
I started SoGal for a selfish reason – I did not want to be the only girl in the whole conference room. Since I entered the entrepreneurial world, my whole life changed for the better. I wanted to encourage more young women to get into entrepreneurship because it brings out your best self. The level of impact you can make through entrepreneurship is incredible. You will be able to influence others, embody what you believe in, and provide unique value to others. Entrepreneurship is powerful, because you are inventing your own reality and taking charge of your own future. And I am not talking about starting a technology company. At SoGal, we consider any kind of invention entrepreneurial, as long as you are creating something of value that’s unique. For example, one of our members started a project to help emerging artists put on high-quality exhibits. Another member founded an organization for UX design enthusiasts. I am very proud that SoGal helped them take on a mission that they are passionate about. Seeing them take a vague idea all the way to a full-fledged effort has been the most rewarding thing to me.
You put on one the largest female millennial entrepreneurship conferences in Southern California. What was the hardest thing about putting on the SoGal Summit?
I have to admit that the hardest thing was not the tremendous amount of work. We did have over 500 registered for the event, and more than 60 speakers, mentors and judges. In the morning, we even had five concurrent panels, and then another four workshops and a TED Talk style session at the same time. And it was my first time hosting a conference, all by myself. It was crazy! But what was the most difficult for me was to deal with doubts from others, including those who are experienced with conference productions. They told me I was onto a mission impossible to create such a large event in such little time (two and a half months). I got discouraged multiple times during this period. I would be up late till 3am and woke up at 7am to take meetings with potential speakers, partners and sponsors. It was through the ups and downs over and over again that made me certain about my self-worth at the end. Ultimately, SoGal Summit was great success and I am very happy that it made a positive impact to so many young women!
Are there challenges specific to female founders?
Yes! Some women say that “I don’t want to be labeled as a female entrepreneur, I am just an entrepreneur”. However, no one can deny the huge gender disparity in entrepreneurship and venture capital today. I feel compelled to develop more female leaders and their companies until it is no longer necessary. I want to see that one day, we can all walk into a board room with roughly equal numbers of women and men, and every woman is treated equally without judgment on their gender or race. There are many subtle biases and even discrimination against women, not only in business, but also in media, education and technology. Compared to men, women in general are less self-assured. We always seek for security, self-education, and role models. It’s almost unheard of that a woman will drop out of school to start her own business, but similar stories are much more likely to happen to men, at least on the media. There are certainly issues specific to women. Successful women are often asked, “can women have it all”, whereas men are never asked the same question. Some female founders had to hide pregnancy during fundraising because it almost hurts her credibility and makes her seem incapable in a room with all male investors. There are many documentaries that reflect the issues women are facing in their industries. The struggle is real.
What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs who are about to launch their own companies?
Take good care of yourself – your body, your mind, your self-value. This is a very challenging path and it will make you question yourself from time to time. As women, we can be very vulnerable at times, but vulnerability can be powerful. It is what makes us human and can protect us. At the end of day, your business is you. It is a reflection of your beliefs and your personality. From my experience, keeping a balance as an entrepreneur is extremely hard. You need to find a way to relax and recharge, otherwise you will burn out quickly. In our generation, women are more open to helping and promoting each other. At SoGal, we encourage inspirational young women to get together and build a strong peer-to-peer support system. Our impact has been incredibly powerful!
What are your next steps as you continue to build out SoGal?
I am starting SoGal Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in hyper-growth consumer tech, healthcare and diversity, in both the U.S. and Asia. My partner (also a bad ass young woman) and I have helped many startups in the past year and feel strongly about putting capital into what we believe in. It is proven that we can provide exceptional value to companies, including talent recruitment, business growth, strategic partnerships, and fundraising. SoGal Ventures is like a VC firm startup. We will live and breathe the challenges that our portfolio companies are facing every day, and our age will give us a better perspective of young millennial founders’ thinking. Through SoGal, I have come across many startups with great potential founded by young entrepreneurs, and it makes much sense to take advantage of the deal flow, which older investors in Silicon Valley may not necessarily have the access to.
Another big move (literally) for me is that I am moving to Singapore in October, after the SoGal Startup Bootcamp (a 3-day event to turn ideas into startups over a weekend on Sep 25-27). We recently took over a YouTube short video series, The FSHOW, featuring interviews of over 80 female entrepreneurs from 20+ countries around the world. With the recent addition to our global footprint, we are building partnerships with international women and entrepreneurship organizations to provide resources and unite communities worldwide.
In 5 years what will the environment for female entrepreneurs be like?
What I am doing now is to create a better business world for my future daughter. I think it is a really exciting time for women right now to rebuild societal norms and redefine power. We need to break down the barriers and establish new rules. It is just as risky to build a small business as to build a unicorn business, so you might as well dream bigger than yourself! I hope that in 5 years, with capital provided by SoGal Ventures and other awesome diversity investors, women will be sufficiently funded. A much higher percentage of 21-year-olds are going into businesses and making their dreams come to life. When you go to conferences, you will see a balanced gender ratio and hear many women speak on stage. SoGal will be a worldwide community that connects and empowers female entrepreneurs. More Harvard Business School cases will be written about successful women. Several female-founded businesses will become unicorns. About 30% of venture capital partners will be women (currently only 6%, terrible). We will have plenty of female role models for the next generation in every industry. I am doing my best make this happen!