Silicon Valley has a reputation for being a difficult place for women. It's so bad that it's sparked numerous think pieces – from The Atlantic's "Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful To Women" to the various controversies surrounding Uber's discrimination lawsuits. That doesn't mean women can't cut through the glass ceiling and pave their own way to success in the notoriously unkind boy's club. These women have succeeded despite the odds and launched companies that changed the world of tech.
Michelle Phan (Ipsy)
Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Michelle Phan started her tech career on YouTube – she was one of the original YouTube beauty vloggers. Now, with an empire of over 8.9 million subscribers, the 31-year-old has ventured into the world of Silicon Valley startups. Phan founded the sampling beauty box business Ipsy.
Ipsy's million-plus members are beauty addicts, just like Phan. They take a quick survey of their beauty preferences and receive a monthly box of samples for the low subscription cost of $10 per month. As of 2015, the company had over $120 million in annual sales, but Phan's thirst for innovation wasn't quenched. She left the company last year to focus on a new e-commerce startup.
Adi Tatarko (Houzz)
Adi Tatarko has always been one smart cookie, moving from Israel to the United States in order to work as an adviser at an investment firm. Her husband served as a senior engineer at eBay. Together, they're an unstoppable force in Silicon Valley. Tatarko found inspiration when she bought a three-bedroom home in Palo Alto, California. She struggled to find the right professionals to bring her dream home to life. As a result, the couple launched Houzz, a Holy Grail of inspiration stocked with millions of shoppable photos in the home design space.
Here, designers, decorators, and contractors can advertise their services and the drool-worthy work they produce. It's become a mecca for those looking to remodel their home and has attracted over 40 million monthly users including celebs like Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis. Tatarko's company is currently valued at around $4 billion and is the most valuable private tech company founded by a woman.
Anne Wojcicki (23andMe)
You've probably seen the commercials offering insights about your family tree. It's no denying that 23andMe has grown wildly popular in the last couple of years – it's actually valued at $1.7 billion. That's a whole lot of DNA passing through their doors. The brilliant idea behind the genetic testing company is actually the work of a female Yale graduate – Anne Wojcicki.
Wojcicki is the kind of cool California girl who is equally as comfortable on a surfboard as she is in the boardroom. Before launching her company in 2006, she worked as a health care analyst on Wall Street. Today, over five million people have turned to 23andMe's at-home genetic testing kits to find their origins, and after a brief snafu with the FDA, Wojcicki is hoping to also include disease predictions.
Katrina Lake (Stitch Fix)
Want that Kardashian-level style without paying for a personal stylist? Stitch Fix has you covered. In a world where we're bombarded with so many online shopping choices, Stitch Fix aims to cut through the noise by creating an affordable personal shopping experience driven by algorithms and data. The billion-dollar idea was created by a Harvard Business School student, Katrina Lake.
Lake came up with the idea for Stitch Fix when she realized her classmates loved shopping but found the actual experience of browsing hundreds of items in an e-commerce store or through the racks of Nordstrom and the like to be a bit overwhelming. She started small by having her friends fill out a detailed questionnaire (which is still a staple of the technology) before embarking on her own personal shopping journey for them. Now it's a seamless process where subscribers receive five pieces monthly, bimonthly, quarterly or on demand. They pay for the ones they like and send back the ones they don't. After Stitch Fix's IPO, Lake became a bonafide millionaire.
Arum, Dawoon and Soo Kang (Coffee Meets Bagel)
Arguably the worst part about dating apps is the fact that women constantly get bombarded with creepy messages from weird strangers. Coffee Meets Bagel aimed to solve that issue by connecting women with mutual friends and curating their matches via an algorithm. No one's really a stranger within this app, because everyone has a buddy in common. Women have to make the first move in all heterosexual matches.
The growing dating service was founded by three sisters: Arum, Dawoon and Soo Kang. Aside from their great product, their claim to fame is turning down a $30 million deal from Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban. Instead, they've raised over $8 million on their own and took on 35 employees.
Emily Weiss (Glossier)
You may recognize Glossier by their intense Facebook campaign but the direct-to-consumer beauty brand has ruffled feathers in their own right. Glossier takes a stand against the idea of perfection by giving women beauty products that don't cover flaws. Rather, they enhance your best features.
Glossier was founded by Emily Weiss, a former editor and founder of the popular beauty blog Into The Gloss. After interviewing hundreds of women, she discovered that the traditional idea of beauty is totally flawed. She launched Glossier with the idea of skin first, beauty second. It focuses on your skin's health rather than products to cover it up. The company has since raised $24 million and garnered a huge loyal following.
Tina Sharkey (Brandless)
Everyone wants to save a little money, and sometimes it's just not worth getting the brand name item. Brandless CEO Tina Sharkey understands this, which is why she launched her company that sells home staples directly to consumers for $3 a pop. Why is it so cheap? Because they removed the so-called "brand tax" that hikes up prices and items are labeled as what they are – from "medium roast single serve coffee" to "moisturizing shampoo."
Sharkey has an impressive resume in the tech space, after serving as the CEO of Sherpa Foundry and the SVP of AOL. According to TechCrunch, the company is so popular that it managed to raise $50 million in three rounds of funding prior to its launch.
Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg (The Skimm)
Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg were friends and roommates before launching the Skimm in 2012. The pair worked as news producers and noticed that there was a major lack of online content geared towards women on the go. We want to stay informed, but we don't always have the time to read an entire CNN article. Instead, the Skimm offers bite-sized pieces of content that are relatable and informative. It's the kind of website you can read on your commute to work to catch up on the world around you.
In six years, the Skimm has amassed a six million readership and $16.4 million in funding.
Adi Barreto is a radically fierce Latinx, queer, non-binary person who rose up the ranks in Silicon Valley because of their hard work and drive. Barreto is currently the Senior Account Executive at Textio, an augmented writing platform that uses analytics to show you how well the words you write will be perceived by an audience. It's a life-saver for those who can't afford editors to look over their work.
Barreto decided to make the jump into Silicon Valley after they decided they didn't want to be on the sidelines when it came to tech. They wanted to make it happen for themselves and help change the world. Still, as a non-binary Latinx with Puerto Rican heritage, Barreto has had a lot of prejudices to overcome.
"Being authentic in a world that doesn’t affirm your authenticity takes courage and vulnerability. I have had to build myself up with so much compassion and tenderness to get to this point — and I’m proud because when I show up, it inspires other people," they said.
Frida Polli and Julie Yoo (Pymetrics)
Diversity has been proven to benefit employers, but there's sometimes a slight, unconscious bias when businesses are fielding candidates. Pymetrics helps companies avoid that major issue by using a series of games based on neuroscience to help recruit talent.
The company was founded by Harvard and MIT PhDs Frida Polli and Julie Yoo in 2013. Their neuroscience games manage to predict job performance without even requiring a resume. Instead, they compile a cognitive and emotional trait profile on potential candidates which has been proved to help raise recruiting efficiency, team diversity and employee retention. They've since received a total of $16.6 million in funding.
Piraye Yurttas Beim (Celmatix)
Celmatix helps women take the reins of their health, and it's not surprising that this venture-backed company was founded by a woman. Piraye Yurttas Beim completed her doctorate at Cornell and subsequently launched the company in 2009 in order to help career-minded gals become more proactive and informed when it comes to their fertility. She was inspired after completing her postdoctoral embryology research training at the University of Cambridge.
She started to notice that the career-minded, successful women around her were making family-planning decisions solely based on their age, and so she aimed to give them more control. Yurttas Beim's company has since raised $47.1 million for their personalized fertility recommendations. In January, the company launched the first-ever genetic screen for potential infertility markers.
Kimberly Bryant (Black Girls Code)
The lack of women in STEM fields isn't really Silicon Valley's biggest secret. That's why Kimberly Bryant decided to take her talent and enact real change. Bryant admitted that she felt culturally isolated while studying coding in college. Most of the students were not African American, and they certainly weren't women.
In order to combat the stigma behind being a female person of color in a white, male-dominated industry, Bryant decided to launch Black Girls Code. The non-profit organization is dedicated to helping pre-teen girls of color learn technology and computer programming skills. Her hopes are that by introducing programming and technology to girls when they're young, she'll create an innovative generation of women who aren't afraid to jump right into the thick of Silicon Valley's boy's club.
Lydia Gilbert and Nadia Boujarwah (Dia&Co)
A whopping 65 percent of women in the United States are sized 14-32, yet traditional retailers don't usually have a whole lot of options in that size range. This is why Lida Gilbert, a Harvard Business School graduate, partnered with Nadia Boujarwah to launch Dia&Co.
The company is similar to StitchFix in that customers take a style quiz, and then are sent a variety of items they can either return or pay to keep. The difference is that between the quiz and getting the goods, a real personal stylist evaluates every single profile. The company has raised around $20 million in funding.
Holly Shelton (MoveWith)
Let's be real – not all of us have time to hit the gym. Classes are expensive and sometimes, a little embarrassing. What if our athletic skills aren't up to snuff? SoulCycle is pretty intense, after all. This is why Holly Shelton created MoveWith.
Shelton's app lets users take control of their personal fitness – and beyond. It doles out audio workouts from some of the most well-known personal trainers and offers a variety of classes from running and cycling to Barre. Where MoveWith differs is that it also focuses on mental health and users can take Yoga classes or listen to guided meditation and soul-enriching talks.
Katherine Ryder (Maven)
Healthcare should be accessible to all women, which is why Katherine Ryder launched Maven in 2014. This women's healthcare platform functions as a digital clinic so busy gals can get expert, convenient healthcare on-the-go. For less than the cost of a typical co-pay, women can message and video chat with real family health specialists -- OB-GYNs, therapists, nutritionists and beyond. They've since raised over $15 million in funding.
Ryder hasn't always been successful in business despite starting a company that now works with over 700 providers. Her first venture – a travel-related business – was a total flop, but it's all water under the bridge.
Jordana Kier and Alexandra Friedman (Lola)
Jordana Kier and Alexandra Friedman are both Dartmouth graduates that aimed to change the way women get feminine care products – and how much they have to spend on them. In 2018, it seems like there's a subscription box for everything – and maybe that's because subscription boxes are awesome.
Kier and Friedman's company Lola give subscribers a box full of over $70 worth of beauty goods for a fraction of the cost. These aren't samples like Ipsy or Birchbox. You actually get four to five full-sized products from haircare to skincare and makeup. Better yet, you get rewards for products you review and can redeem them for free goods.
Alice Zhang (Verge Genomics)
Alice Zhang landed herself on Forbes' 30 Under 30 for her startup Verge Genomics. At the ripe age of 29, Zhang realized there was a major issue in how long it takes for new drugs to actually get to the consumers who need them. On average, it takes around 12 years and $2.5 billion to develop a single drug and 90% of new medicines in human studies fail.
Verge Genomics aims to speed up the process and drive down the cost by using machine learning to decode the human genetic code. Why does this work? Because hundreds of diseases are linked to genetics. The company raised $4 million, so far.
Amy Chang (Accompany)
Have you ever wanted to look up information about someone you'll probably encounter at work but their LinkedIn was on lock? Accompany aims to fix that problem by offering up an AI-rich database full of insights about professionals you're going to meet. You no longer need to be briefed by an assistant or chief of staff or spend extra effort combing through social media for clues.
Before helping found the startup, which has raised $40.6 million to date, Amy Chang was the leader of Google Analytics. The company has information on over 300 million working people -- even the ones without LinkedIn accounts.
Alyssa Ravasio (Hipcamp)
Camping doesn't have to be as solitary as Reese Witherspoon showed us in The Wild. With Hipcamp, campers can connect and find new places to set up their tents together. It's like TripAdvisor or AirBnb for those who enjoy the great outdoors. The network amassed listings for over 285,000 campsites, ranches, vineyards, farms and public parks that travelers can book and discover. Some users even rent out RV campers if you're into that van life.
Hipcamp was founded by Alyssa Ravasio who tapped the Outdoor Industry Association Recreation Advisory Council for her advisory board. She founded the website with the intentions of getting more people outside.
Gina Bianchini (Mighty Networks)
In today's climate, it's not easy being a creator. There are so many people making online content that it's almost inevitable to get lost in the noise. Gina Bianchini aimed to solve this issue by helping creators develop online communities for their fans and followers.
Bianchini is a Silicon Valley vet, having co-founded the social platform Ning. Ning grew to 90 million users under her watch. Her new venture Mighty Networks aims to help creators build a community around their passions and get paid. If anything is going to help cement a creator's career, it's fostering a real connection with their audience. Mighty Networks help creators offer exclusive content and behind-the-scenes experiences that raise brand loyalty.