In a post last month titled, “How Immigrant Women Are Blazing a Trail in Technology Careers in the U.S.,” I wrote about Kira Makagon, a female tech entrepreneur from Ukraine, who’s now executive vice president of innovation at RingCentral, a provider of cloud-based communications services in San Mateo, Calif. If you think of Makagon as the “Lewis” of that trailblazing endeavor, then “Clark” might well be Jenny Q. Ta.
Ta is founder and CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based Sqeeqee.com, a social commerce platform that enables individuals and businesses to monetize their social media activities. Ta launched Sqeeqee (pronounced “Squeaky”) earlier this year, following a career on Wall Street, where she founded two successful investment firms. She accomplished all of that after a childhood that included an escape from war-ravaged Vietnam.
In a recent interview with Ta, I mentioned that when I spoke with Makagon last month, she had made this observation:
If you look around, there are a lot of women from Asia, from India, from Russia or Ukraine, where I’m from, who are in technology, who all do well. And the reason they do well is that our upbringing was, in many ways, gender-neutral. That gender-neutrality is the way you have to condition yourself, so you’ll be able to deal with the things that come your way that are specific to women, who are an up-and-coming minority in technology.
I asked Ta for her thoughts on that observation, and whether she would agree that immigrant women are blazing a trail in technology careers in the United States. She said she has certainly gained strength from her roots:
I would agree with Kira Makagon to a certain extent. I was not brought up in a traditional "Asian" environment. I grew up here in America, beginning when I was only six or seven. It was a choice that I had made to make myself known within my own roots, the Vietnamese community. I believe I have conquered that because most Vietnamese-Americans have known who I am since years ago, when I founded my first broker-dealer. I had to learn the Vietnamese language. I am still not perfect with it today—I can read and speak, but I cannot write fluently. I believe that immigrant women are blazing a trail in technology careers in the U.S., because like the successful men in America, they just wanted to change the world. One of the lessons we've learned from Bill Gates is to change the world, or just go home. And like Bill, I wanted to do that and to empower people. I do celebrate when I am successful, but I have also learned a lot more from my failures.
Ta has written that entrepreneurs should have a “healthy disrespect for the rules,” and should be “willing to cross lines that some people are not.” I asked her what lines she has crossed in her experience as an entrepreneur that most people might find particularly surprising, and what rules she was compelled to break. Her response:
When I founded my first broker-dealer at the age of 25, and I had more than 30 employed brokers and staff, there were plenty of lines that I had to cross. It was not only my first time being an entrepreneur, first time being a minority female stepping into Wall Street, which is predominately led by men, but in addition, I was losing at least $20,000-30,000 per month for the first six months. I was losing money that I didn't have. My only partner, a Caucasian male, wanted out because he didn't want to eat 50 percent of the monthly losses. I remember making what at the time was one of the most difficult decisions of my life—to either step up or shut down. Against everyone's advice, telling me to cut my losses and move on, I decided to step up. I went to borrow some money from my parents (probably the only people who believed in me at the time, and that's probably because all parents know that children need unconditional love to thrive), bought out my partner's ownership stake to take full control (he continued being a stockbroker instead of a co-owner), and the rest is history. I was a self-made millionaire by the age of 27. While rules are made to be broken, it is important to have the discipline to know exactly when you should break the rules. And a little intuition helps, too.
I asked Ta what challenges female entrepreneurs tend to face that their male counterparts don’t. She said one of the biggest challenges she most frequently hears from other female entrepreneurs is getting angel and venture capital:
Due to my Wall Street experience, I have seen how it’s done. Since Wall Street is predominately led by men, men fund people who look and sound just like them. My advice for these ladies would be to move past the gender barriers. Women need to take a more calibrated approach when it comes to negotiating. A woman must first know herself, so that she will have a clear sense of her own strengths and weaknesses, so she can overcome all the challenges.
Finally, I asked Ta if she has faced any particular challenges not just as a female entrepreneur, but as a female entrepreneur from Asia. She said there have been too many:
I've had plenty of challenges as a female entrepreneur from Asia—I believe too many to even list. The bottom line to all of my challenges is to take a commandment from Buddha's 14 Commandments: ‘One's most admirable achievement is rising after a fall.’ The more I rise, the less I have to dwell on the past. Life is ahead of you, not behind you, is how I see it.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.