International Women’s Day is an opportunity for everyone to acknowledge and celebrate the strong, powerful women in our lives.
This year, we sat down with one of these women: our CEO, Ahryun Moon.
How did you know you wanted to work in technology?
I never thought that I would pursue technology. My first taste of it was when I was in elementary school. At that time, I had zero interest in computers, technology, science, biology or anything like that. I was really into drawing and writing poems and that kind of artistic stuff. It’s what I thought I would pursue in the future.
But my brother, he was really into tech. Because of him, during elementary school, I actually decided to enter a contest on how to put a radio together. When I entered, the classroom of contestants was literally 100% boys.
That was the first time that I thought “Oh, wow. I really shouldn’t be here.”
After that moment, what eventually got you into technology?
Coding. After graduating from college with my accounting degree, I started working as an entry-level corporate financial analyst. I really thought that would be my life, but what I was doing wasn’t very fulfilling. It eventually dawned on me that I was looking at Excel sheets and totally wasting my talents and my time. I wanted to do something more fulfilling that actually made a difference.
I decided to use my time to learn how to code and automate myself, my job. I got really into it and learned Python, which is a pretty easy language to learn, and I decided to build software that could automate about 40% of the work that I was doing in that position.
After about 3 months of building, I built something that was able to do 2 months of work in 4 hours– which was pretty phenomenal!
That was the first time that I was doing something I was so passionate about that I didn’t mind waking up early, going to bed late, and working on it for hours over the weekend.
That’s the moment where I was like “This is it. I want to do this.”
So I quit my full-time job and moved out to San Francisco. For 3 years I did nothing but code at a local coffee shop. I would just sit there for 8 hours and I would just code away. That was basically my foot into the whole technology world.
How did you take your passion and found a company?
Well myself, my husband, Jasper, and my close friend, Peter, became a Hackathon team. We saw so many teams just basically give up and go home, or they fought over different ideas and they never finished anything. But us, our team, finished a fairly nicely done product and presentation.
The 3 of us have very distinct strengths that mesh well together. We’re each able to bring something to the table and, honestly, that’s really how we realized that we could build a business together. We have that chemistry that works.
So what are some of your strengths? What do you bring to the table?
The greatest strength that I bring to the table is getting shit done! When you get 3 people together, you can argue constantly and then you never get anything done. I make sure we push through that argument and pick the best idea to move forward with. That’s probably the biggest strength that I have.
So what kind of things are you getting done as CEO? What’s your typical day-to-day?
My responsibilities have really evolved over time. Early on, I spent the most time overseeing the sales team, working with customers, and I even worked at some of our customers’ companies to deeply understand their pain points.
Now that we have a Head of Sales, of Customer Success, and also a Head of Product, my job has really evolved into overseeing the entire operation, making sure that all of the exec team is working well together, making sure that there’s clear communication between departments, and setting the strategic directions for the company.
Have you had any difficulties as a female CEO?
Not within the company. Within the company, there’s no glass ceiling, and there shouldn’t be any glass ceiling regardless of your gender, and your age, and what not.
But outside of the company, I’d say fundraising is probably more difficult because I’m a female founder, but I don’t necessarily think that the world is against me because I’m a female. As a female founder, you have to learn and adapt.
The reality is that there’s bias against female founders, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s because I’m a female. It’s more of the way I conduct myself because I’m a female.
Do I look and sound more ambitious than my male counterparts? Probably not.
Do I keep my head down and actually get shit done and execute, execute, execute? Yes.
It’s my job to emphasize my strengths and overcompensate for the natural biases that people hold me against. It’s more learning and adapting to the male-dominated world and playing on my strengths.
Getting shit done, being adaptable, what are other skills that you think women specifically should work on getting better at?
When I was looking for that advice, a female investor told me that I should act more like a man, which is such a sad piece of advice. However, what she really meant was that you need to show confidence and ambition to gain trust from investors. You may be confident on the inside, but you need to be confident on the outside too, and, if you have that ambition in yourself, you should not be shy about sharing that with the world.
A lot of times women are more modest and humble and they only want to tell the truth and the whole truth only, and not their ambition because their ambition seems like less than the truth or not the full story.
Being very upfront about their ambitions, their dreams, and their confidence and being comfortable with that would definitely help female founders succeed.
Do you have any advice specifically for aspiring female founders?
Just do it.
A lot of people, not only female founders, who want to get into entrepreneurship or startups overthink it and they never quit their full-time job.
You know, a paycheck is very addicting but you kind of have to let that go. That’s the very first step to becoming an entrepreneur. If you can actually quit that and then take all of the risks necessary and be okay with the risks and really trust in yourself that things will be okay– then you should just go with your gut and try entrepreneurship.
Taking just the first step towards entrepreneurship is the hardest- but once you take it, you don’t have a job and you have to do something to stay afloat! From that, things will just happen. So just taking that first step is important.
What are some of the biggest strengths that you think female founders have?
Female founders have the courage to be humble. And being humble allows them to ask for help when needed.
I’ve seen a lot of founders that are too proud to ask for help even when they are in dire need of a helpful hand. Spotting where help is needed and deploying the right help from your network for the problem you need to solve can help them get through small and large bumps along the way faster. Female founders have strong attributes that make them superbly effective and practical leaders, and being able to utilize that would play to their benefit.
What did you wish you knew before you became a CEO and before you quit your job?
There’re so many things that I wish I had known. One of them is building relationships with investors early on, with or without an agenda. Even if you’re not raising money, building that relationship early on would’ve been really helpful.
Hiring the right people to really kick start your business is another thing I wish I would’ve known. But, it could be a double-edged sword, in a way. In the beginning, I wanted to get my hands on everything and learn every part of the business myself. So I did development, customer onboarding, sales, marketing, and finance. I really did everything possible that’s necessary to make this business thrive. Next time, if I were to do it again, I probably wouldn’t do that. I’d hire people that are better than me at those things to take on those roles earlier.
Do you have any advice for hiring management/leadership about hiring for diversity & inclusion?
This piece of advice is something I’d also give myself.
A startup’s biggest concern is how can you grow quickly, how can you invest money into hiring the right people as fast as possible, and generate the most revenue as fast as possible. If you’re doing that, many times you end up hiring the same types of people that proved to be successful in the early days of the startup.
For example, our sales, customer success, and engineering teams are not well diversified. Because you hire some successful people early on, you start to replicate those people when you’re hiring. But once you start doing that, it’s easy to get stuck. Diversity is important and you’re always thinking about that, but it gets harder and harder to actually attract diverse candidates the longer you wait. It can even become almost impossible to attract diverse candidates.
That’s just the advice that I would give to myself that’s something that’s really top-of-mind, and should be top-of-mind, for everybody.
Going off of that, how do you think the tech industry will look in 5-10 years if we’re all keeping that in mind?
The tech industry is really aware of diversity issues, not only gender diversity but all aspects of diversity, including age, gender, and even the schools that people went to. The industry is making a lot of efforts to fix that. Silicon Valley is really leading the example of fixing those problems and bringing solutions to the problems of diversity and inclusion, so I believe it will continue to get better.
However, the other side of the problem is the supply side and immigration regulations.
The entire industry will benefit if more female students and students from minority backgrounds enter STEM fields. But, the delay and overly burdensome regulations against H1B workers makes it very difficult for companies to welcome people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Fixing those two problems will make the tech industry more diverse in the long run.