Allison Medina: Founder of Tech Ladies

Episode 366

Allison Medina, Founder of Tech Ladies, the largest community of women in tech, started initially as a way to bring talented women together for networking. Today it is a robust community with over 100,000 women and thriving! We hear all about Allison’s journey starting and building this great community and business. Plus all the ins and outs of taking her great idea and what unfolded since the inception. What did she learn. What was difficult? Surprising? My conversation with Allison was nothing short of inspiring and you don’t want to miss it! Next on this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the Kara Goldin show. I have Allison Medina here, who is the founder of tech ladies, I am so excited to have her on tech ladies is the largest community of women in tech. She started in 2014, actually at a gathering or originally as a gathering for networking in New York City. And it has now grown into a robust community of over 100,000 women, she recently exited from the company in a good way in a transaction. And I’m so excited to hear more about her journey, including how she bootstrapped building what she has. And Allison has taken an idea that she was curious about what that she really could see through and turned it into a super thriving community, but also a business that has been incredibly successful. So I’m certain there are a ton of lessons in here. So I’m super thrilled to have her on. Welcome, Allison,

Allison Medina 1:47
thank you so much for having me. Super, super excited. So

Kara Goldin 1:51
before we get into talking about tech ladies, but also talking about your newest venture, I’ll keep that a secret until we get to that. But I would love to hear a bit more about who you are like you started out in New York City. I think you’re just outside of New York. And did you always think that you’d be a founder of a company?

Allison Medina 2:16
Yeah, I think a lot of entrepreneurs can probably relate to this. But I was definitely that kid, that weird kid who was like, trying to work from an early age. So you know, I sold stuff door to door when I was like nine years old. I there was this catalog that would give you $2 commission per item. And I was real hustler. Like I was out there doing that even when I was a little kid, I had a lemonade stand that made like $50 a day, which is pretty good for a little kid. My parents were like, wow, this is actually a lot of money. And I love that feeling. My dad owns his own business. And my grandfather owned a butcher shop when he came over from Italy. So I never thought about that until later, after I’d started a business. I looked around and was like, Oh, I saw people in my family doing that. So I think that some of its in probably runs in the jeans. And I just had that, you know, when I was born to a little bit, you know, wanting to sell wanting to be an entrepreneur and just learning how to do business from an early age. So I’ve always, I’ve always been into it. But then I, I worked in tech for a bunch of years, I was working on product and marketing teams. And from there, I started to think, Okay, if I start something someday, maybe it will be in tech. But the interesting thing was with all that, behind me, I still didn’t really think of tech ladies as a business. When I first started it, I really started as a community just to connect other women in tech and to build my own network and solve a problem I had, which was like, I need to know, in order to really have a solid career and a network, I need to have a great network of other women who work in tech, and then also this camaraderie of like, hey, it’s a real boys club over here. You know, can we talk to each other about what’s going on. And so tech ladies grew out of that real need. And so it wasn’t until later after having some of these community meetups, that it grew into a business. And so I sort of stumbled into creating this community business, back when people weren’t really talking about community businesses or layering community onto your business or what that even means. And so we were one of the early ones to do that. And in this way in the world of tech, I guess so that was kind of interesting how it came about,

Kara Goldin 4:30
and love it. So great. So you mentioned Google, you had seen had some, you know, incredible experience have seen that there was this huge need to really have a place where people could get together and meet and network but there’s a difference between having that concept and actually decided to make a company out of it. Like what was like the first thing that you thought of when you were thinking about actually developing this into a business

Allison Medina 5:00
I think there were a couple of things happening at once. One was that we would have actual coffee meetups in New York and connect with each other. And then afterwards, we just wouldn’t meet for a couple of weeks. And I was like, Oh, this is sad. I miss talking to other women in tech about so much stuff that we were talking about. So that’s where the online community grew. And then from there, there were things we wanted to share with each other, in between even talking in the community, and then the newsletter grew from there. So it was really layering like one piece on it at a time. It wasn’t until I started realizing that we had companies who were coming to me just in my personal network saying, Do you know anybody you know, we really want to hire a woman in this engineering role instead of just another guy. And I was like, wow, I do know people. In fact, I have this community now. And so it I really, like stumbled into it being a business, it was so obvious in front of me when I look back now that that’s all the pieces of this being a really impactful thing. We’re there. But yeah, one thing at a time. And so then I started realizing, okay, well, if companies really want to hire these folks, we should charge for it. So big part of the tech ladies business still today is our hiring services, and just connecting companies with the best women in tech talent. And so we do the community stuff, we do events, but we are also helping people get hired, and helping like even out the ratio a little bit, still grinding away after all these years to try to get more women in tech and find them amazing jobs. But I’m really proud of all the women in tech that have like found jobs through tech ladies, gotten a lot more money, learned how to negotiate their salary, all of these things come out of our community. And so it’s been really rewarding to see it grow the way that it has.

Kara Goldin 6:44
That’s amazing. I heard you say in an interview that you designed tech ladies to be inclusive. What What was the big challenge? I mean, obviously getting more women into these tech roles, basically helping women find great roles, but in terms of, you know, being inclusive and starting a company, I mean, I loved that you actually thought about that, and really had that focus. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Allison Medina 7:14
Yeah, I think it was somewhat easy for us to be inclusive in our actual community, you know, we created these, this code of conduct really early, we laid out all of these rules, I actually, it’s funny, because I’m not a big fan of rules in my life, or for what I’m teaching people, okay, you got to break all these rules to build a big business. But actually, in a community rules are really great. So we had all these rules, Code of Conduct. This is how you treat people with respect. This is how you treat people in our event spaces and our online spaces. And because it was so moderated, we grew a really inclusive community. But then another thing we would struggle with is like all of the parts that you can’t control, like what happens when you send a tech lady to a company that is advertising with you, we do our best to make sure this is a company that we would want to send a tech lady to but you never really know the ins and outs of a company unless you work there. And even then if you work there, if it’s a big company, someone has a great experience, and then the same person has a horrible experience with a different boss. So it’s really hard to get that right. And so we just always kept like a very open and honest culture within our team. And just always went back to doing the right thing for our community members. If we had to make a choice. We have a you know, toxic, you know, company that’s paying us a lot of money, we would get rid of the toxic company that’s paying us a lot of money because one tech lady told us they had a bad interview. So just like going back to that core of like, what does inclusion mean to us? Can we really walk the walk on this, I think is what made it successful, because it’s made it people really trust us and understand that, like we take that really seriously and that those guardrails are in place. And so it’s funny because you have to do both, right? You have to break all these rules, because you’re an entrepreneur and all of that, but at the same time, you have to keep some rules and guidelines in your community so that everybody’s protected and feel safe.

Kara Goldin 9:06
I love that. Well, that that is it’s definitely definitely needed for sure. So did you raise money when you were funding your company? I’ve also heard you talk about how you feel like there’s a lot of companies out there that might not actually need to raise money even though they could raise money. What’s your perspective on all of that?

Allison Medina 9:30
Well, we started with $0 I shouldn’t really say zero, but you know, maybe out of my own pocket like $700 to register and Delaware and all the basic stuff to get the trademark really just like a couple $100 Out of my own pocket. Our first website was a Squarespace website that I made on my couch, you know, so really got started with no money. Then when we started making a little bit of money, I did go out and talk to some friends who were VCs or in VC and get connected and had a few meetings. And I quickly realized that there was like this interest, oh, we can see that it’s growing Oh, we can see that you’re an interesting entrepreneur that we might want to work with. But is it the next LinkedIn for women, like you have to sell me something really big about what this is. And I just felt like that I didn’t know I wanted to let it unfold a little bit, and see what it really was. And I was very scared to like over promise something to these VCs, I’m so glad, like, I don’t think women should operate that way. If they’re raising capital, I think they should go and move beyond those that like fear and feelings that they had. But it worked out so well for us. But on the flip side, I’m like, we were not the type of company that should have raised venture capital. So we’re sort of protected in that way by not having taken it. And then when you create a company that’s doing millions in revenue, you have every option in the world. And so people think, Oh, well, I have to create a company that’s doing billions in revenue to have a return for these investors, it’s like, that’s really hard to do. Creating a company that does millions in revenue is not as hard as it sounds. And so that’s a really good weight thing for people to consider if they’re either not going to get venture capital because they don’t have the network, or they’re being discriminated against, which is real, you know, only 2% of women and underrepresented people even less get venture capital to begin with. So for the other 98% of us, it’s like, how are we going to build something. So that’s why I love bootstrapping worked out. So while for us and like gave us so many options. And so I think I’m really passionate about that is like I’m a means especially because I came up in tech, where everybody the natural thing is just go get a bunch of venture capital, and you don’t need to do it to build a multimillion dollar business. And I want more people to know that.

Kara Goldin 11:47
I love that. Well, obviously, it depends on the company, and like the category and physical goods versus services and all of those things. But I love that you were able to do something like that, and really show that it is possible. What advice would you have for anyone thinking about building a community? If they’re really looking at building out something like you did? What do you think is maybe the biggest lesson learned along the way? Yeah, I

Allison Medina 12:18
think you, you’re gonna build a community business. Figuring out how to keep the community and business separate, like really separate, in your mind and in your operating procedures is really important. And so what I mean by that is like, they’re going to overlap, they’re going to intertwine. But most people, when they start a business, they think about their customers or like this is a person that I’m going to sell something to and make money off of and get something from a community is the total opposite of that. It’s what can I give to these people who may or may not become future customers or paying for the thing that we have. And so then you’re really just focused on delivering value. So for us at tech leads, that’s like, having great events for them that are free or low costs, having a newsletter having this really active job board. So bringing people in in a way that’s free and easy for them to be involved with, and actually provides value to them. And creating a real creating and maintaining a real community space. And then layering of business on in a way that feels right for that community. And people don’t want to feel like they’re being oversold to, or that their people don’t ever want to be feel that they’re being sold to. So I think keeping them separate is really important.

Kara Goldin 13:34
And inclusive, too, right? Like if people are not going to use your service to look for a job, for example, maybe they have a job, and they’re quite happy. But I think being able to having them still feel included in the process. I think you did such a great job with that, for sure.

Allison Medina 13:52
Thank you something that we learned that was really interesting is that people even who were really happy in their jobs would stay on the tech lady’s mailing list, stay on the newsletter, open up our job drop emails that show all the new jobs because they just don’t want it to feel like connected. Like you know, even if you’re happy in your job, maybe you’re gonna leave in a year, maybe you’re gonna leave in a few years people don’t stay at jobs that long anymore. So having something that they can just stay connected, even if they’re not looking at the moment was actually a surprise to us. We were like wow, even people who were silently looking not really looking maybe going to look someday have a reason to stay in tech ladies and stay involved.

Kara Goldin 14:29
What was one of the hardest lessons you learned and building this out? We always you know, there’s there’s the unexpected things that come up along the way or I know for many entrepreneurs, it’s all the knows that they have to deal with and whether it’s fundraising or getting a supplier to work with you or a customer or whatever it is. I’m curious to hear one of the hardest things that occurred for you.

Allison Medina 14:56
I think for me, it was not hiring Going fast enough, like we were growing at a pretty fast rate. And I was like, okay, but who knows, if the next month we’re gonna keep grow. Like I kept having this feeling that I was getting lucky. And instead of actually looking around and saying, No, I created something valuable that’s paying off every month and growing more and more, what happened was I was looking around and saying, Alright, well, it’s working, I better keep it small and keep it just to me, and I’ll just keep grinding. And I’ll work 14 hours a day, and obviously not sustainable, like, huge lesson for me in that. Although, you know, I had the energy I had the time, I can’t do it right now in my life. But I was able to do that, then. I’m not saying that that’s what people should do. I think I could have hired earlier and gotten better help. So once I made my first few hires, I was like, oh, okay, when you hire great people, they grow your business even faster, just trusting that so a little too insular, a little too, like, protected, not really believing that the success was going to continue. And so over the years, I’ve really built up like, I’d say, much more confidence in Okay, when I see something working, I have reason to believe that it’s going to continue to work. And if it doesn’t, that I’m going to be able to figure out how to dig out of that hole or pick myself up. So I think that takes time. And that takes years of running a business till you get good at that, you know, you’re always gonna be a little fearful like, you know, is this just luck? You know, am I Are we just having a good month, and it could all fall apart next month, I think, after about a year of running the business with its steadily growing was when I started to trust, okay, this isn’t just some weird fluke, I’m making some right calls. I’m doing something right here. And building that up in yourself. It’s like a confidence thing that takes time to build.

Kara Goldin 16:51
So this was your first startup, you know, you had worked for incredible startups of different sizes, but it was your, you know, first one that you were developing, what did you love most about being a founder?

Allison Medina 17:07
Oh, God, everything. I feel like every job I ever had, you know, I think a lot of entrepreneurs feel this way. You’re like, really always like this odd one out to some degree, you know, you want to just drive innovation, or you have all these ideas, and no one’s listening to you. It’s like a for you. If you’re repeatedly hitting that in your career, you might be an entrepreneur, you might be a future founder. I think like, just I wanted people to give me the keys. And let me run with it. And so when I became a founder, that was one of the best feelings like, Okay, I have the keys. Now, this is what I wanted, you know, I wanted the ability to see if I could just grow something. If somebody could put that trust in me, right. And so I think that is, you know, one of the best parts of being a founder and starting something from scratch.

Kara Goldin 17:53
I love that. Do you think you’ll do it again? I mean, you are doing a little bit of something now a little different than what you were doing before? Do you want to explain a little bit about what that is?

Allison Medina 18:06
Sure. I mean, right now, I’m technically on a sabbatical the first time I’ve ever taken off really in my life, which is weird. And I want this time to really figure out what do I want to do next? Do I have another company in me? If so what is it? I mean, I get an idea for a new company every day, as I’m sure you can relate to. But then you’re like, Okay, can I stay interested in that is I might do I have the energy? Can I build it up again. So I think you just need to recharge my batteries a little while I figure this out. But I have been writing out everything I learned about bootstrapping a company to millions of dollars in revenue. And so writing a book and a newsletter that goes out every week, that’s resources for people who are either bootstrapping their companies just getting started halfway in the middle of doing it, but stuck, or people who just think I might want to do that someday when I build something. So that’s the newsletter that I’m working on now called bootstrap to millions. And just getting that out. And like really reflecting on everything as I write down all of these lessons of what I learned and what I have to share, and really only want to share what people would find useful and actionable.

Kara Goldin 19:18
Well, it’s it’s a really, really good newsletter. And I think there’s probably an a book in the works as you and I were just talking about, because it sounds like you have a lot to give to people. Especially I think that you’re in an interesting position too, because you were definitely building your own business. But then you were around a lot of people who, you know, were not necessarily entrepreneurs, but they were working for entrepreneurs and maybe thinking about one day that they would be doing that. So I think you probably heard a lot of things along the way too. So really, really valuable for sure. Super great. So what advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs knowing what you know today about Star Doing and scaling a business.

Allison Medina 20:02
I think it’s basically just get started, put something out. Don’t overthink it. There, don’t over plan it because you can’t plan it anyway. You’re gonna be zigging and zagging, you’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Really just that, you know, it’s practice, you have to, if you’re a perfectionist, or if you like to do things a certain way, you have to undo all of that in yourself in order to get anything out there. And everybody that is successful, you’ll find did or is doing that. They’re just getting it out and getting started and figuring out as they go and like falling on their face a little bit. And, you know, developing a thicker and thicker skin, I think I have a really thick skin for like failure, being perceived as not succeeding, like I just like I have that. But it takes a lot more than the average person to make me feel that but that came from, like losing a lot losing my losing jobs, I’ve been fired, you know, needing to pick myself back up many, many times in my career. And so I think that you build a thick skin when you do that, and all leads to you being able to do something bigger each time.

Kara Goldin 21:14
Yeah, definitely. And I think that it’s like you were talking about earlier, I think it’s confidence to write I mean, it’s it’s that if you think back on those times, when maybe you didn’t think you were able to achieve something and then you actually did. It just helps you to become stronger and stronger. So for sure, I think those lessons that that you learned along the way are really, really helpful for the future, for sure. So tech ladies was acquired last year. Congratulations. Thank you. And you were sharing that you stayed on to really help integrate the company, which is terrific. And you’re no longer a part of it, except you’re an advisor. Right still on the company, which is great. So how did that come about? I think having an acquisition is always a little bit of a black box for people. You know, how does that come about? There’s a lot of different ways for it to come about. But how did it come about for you?

Allison Medina 22:17
Yeah, we were approached for our acquisitions. So what it became for us after that was really this question of like, is this the right time? Are these the right people to partner with? And so many things just kept falling into place is like a yes, for that to be the right thing. For me, as a founder, I think one of the most challenging things was like, Okay, I’m gonna give up my baby. And that was really scary. And I was like, okay, but this is another challenge. Like, I’m interested in figuring out this challenge, because I’ve never done this before. And now I’m so glad that I pushed myself through those feelings of like, Oh, can I part with my baby, I won’t be the one overseeing everything forever, you know, I’m really lucky to be able to have hired our GM who is like, my right hand, her name is Carol Griffin, we worked together for years. She was my dream pick for this role. So I feel like it’s in such good hands. And so I think that’s really important. So I think one lesson for people might be like, don’t assume that these things are going to play out a certain way. You know, everybody tried to scare me, when we talked about doing an acquisition, like, oh, you know, most of them don’t go through and, you know, you’ll lose all the control and everything. And so yes, you have to, like, settle with that in yourself and be okay with that. But at the same time, there are opportunities and things you can learn by giving up this control. And you don’t have to do it overnight. Right. So I was there for a year, really wanted to make sure that our community and our team was integrated fully without me. And it was a really fun project to be like, what happens when I stepped back from this? What happens if I let this play out? And you know, part of it is you learn that other people can do things in a way that you wouldn’t do them? And sometimes better, you know, like, you’re not, sometimes you’re like, Ooh, I would have done it that way. And it turns out, you’re right. But sometimes you look and you’re like, you know, what, handing over this control, opened up some new things for us. So I think that that’s a really important step for any leader or executive is to get good at letting go of control at the right strategic times for your company, to let it move on and grow without you. And I think that that’s like a spiritual part of it, too, is just like, we think these things are us. We think they’re our identity. We’re think we think they’re everything, you know, when we build a business that we really love and care about, but they don’t belong to us they belong to for our tech leads, they belong to the community. They belong to the people who are using it or getting something out of it. And so it’s not really about you. It’s about you know, what’s the best thing for them and the next phase and what’s really going to grow it

Kara Goldin 24:57
Yeah, definitely. Well, I I love Did you know that you were going to stay for a year? I’m just curious, or was that like a set time? Or was it just until it kind of gets integrated?

Allison Medina 25:08
Yeah, I kind of had like the option to stay on fully stay on for a while stay on for a short period. And so yeah, I basically stayed on for a year, I think it was the perfect amount of time. And, like, super happy with how it turned out. So

Kara Goldin 25:23
that’s great. Well, and now you have time to think about what you’re going to do next. I think we’re gonna hear a lot more from Alison Medina. And I don’t think you’re done. Being a founder. I think you’re gonna

Allison Medina 25:36
I don’t I don’t, either, you know, I think I just need a little rest, but come back rejuvenated and start something else.

Kara Goldin 25:43
No, it’s super, super great. And you should be very, very proud of everything that you’ve built and done, and you’ve helped a lot of people more than anything. I think that it’s, it’s really you’ve been that, that bridge for so many people to either find jobs, find a community. So it’s, it’s super amazing to sort of know that you were that bridge, right? I mean, when you think back on it,

Allison Medina 26:10
thank you so much. It means so much coming from you because you’re one of my business heroes. So even getting to be on this podcast is so exciting. And like, just getting to learn from you over the years. I’m so glad we’ve been in touch and you know, we need more of you to

Kara Goldin 26:25
Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. Well, thank you again for coming on. And thanks, everyone for listening. We’ll have everything in the show notes to connect with Allison and also tech ladies and bootstrapped to millions and everything. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book undaunted, which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening