Alpha Girls of Silicon Valley

Alpha Girls of Silicon Valley


In this great book, award-winning journalist Julian Guthrie tells the untold stories of four pioneering women in Silicon Valley: Magdalena Yeşil (whom we hosted for a fireside chat at Maxitech), Mary Jane Elmore, Theresia Gouw and Sonja Hoel. All these amazing women marked their names in Silicon Valley against the odds. As Guthrie states “94 per cent of investing partners at venture capital firms are men . . . less than 2 per cent of venture dollars go to start-ups founded by women (less than 1 per cent to women of color) and roughly 85 per cent of the tech employees at top companies are men”. Well, the statistics speak for themselves.

At the launch party, Guthrie and three of the Alpha Girls — Magdalena, Sonja and Mary Jane answered questions from Robin Richards Donohoe, whose stories are also in the book. During the panel discussion, Alpha Girls talked about their careers, how they juggled work and family and how they pioneered in Silicon Valley while battling against the male dominated tech industry.

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From left to right: Robin Richards Donohoe, Julian Guthrie, Magdalena Yesil, Mary Jane Elmore, Sonja Hoel

Here are some take aways from the panel discussion:

- Don’t accept the status-quo, use your voice to make a change.

Magdalena Yesil shared an anecdote on how she was shocked when she saw half-naked ladies dancing during a company party. She was working as an engineer at the company and she was terrified when she was witnessing the company’s celebration culture. Instead of staying silent and doing nothing, Magdalena decided to take action. She walked to the table where the company CEO was seating. She introduced herself and expressed her opinion in a very polite but certain way. The CEO listened to her — there was no more such parties after that party. Magdalena acted bravely and made a difference.

- Reference checking is important.

After graduating from Stanford Business School, Robin Richards Donohoe decided to be a venture capitalist. She crossed paths with Bill Draper. They decided to start a venture fund together. But Robin was curious about Draper’s attitude about having a woman partner. In the end, they were in Silicon Valley where the male-dominated tech industry doesn’t get used to a female VC. Robin wanted to learn about Draper’s relationship with the women in his life. If he treats them well, he will treat me well too, she thought. She decided to go forward after this reference check and she didn’t regret.

- Don’t hesitate, trust yourself

MJ Elmore was tasked with firing a male founder when she was 28. The CEO was getting fired by someone who was half her age and female! “I’m not going to be fired by a woman!” he said. MJ looked to her right. Then to her left. She looked behind her. Then with a smile, “Well, I don’t see anyone else here, do you? You’re fired.” she said. She didn’t hesitate, she trusted herself to handle someone who has no respect for women.

Here are Alpha Girls*[1]:

Magdalena Yeşil

Came to the US from Turkey with forty-three dollars in cash and nine gold bracelets that her parents told her she could sell when she needed extra money. She earned electrical engineering and computer science degrees from Stanford, got her first job offer from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, became an entrepreneur and early leader with Jeff Bezos in e-commerce, became a top venture capitalist, and was the first investor and board member of She is a cofounder of Broadway Angels, the all- women investing platform based in SF, and she recently founded her fourth startup.

Theresia Guow

The overachieving daughter of Chinese immigrants who grew up in the working-class town of Middleport (flipping burgers at Burger King), is now America’s most successful female venture capitalist, with a net worth of over $500m. She landed deals and helped build game-changing companies, including Imperva, Facebook, Trulia, ForeScout, The Muse, and Birchbox, to name a few. She cofounded Aspect Ventures with Jennifer Fonstad, is a founding member of All Raise, and a member of Broadway Angels. She is a fellow at Brown University, vice chair of DonorsChoose.Org, a member of the Advisory Council for Stanford GSB, and a board member of One, cofounded by Bono.

MJ Elmore

Arrived in Silicon Valley from the Midwest in the late 1970s in an old Ford Pinto to work for a new company called Intel. She later graduated from Stanford Business School and landed a job with one of the founders of venture capital, Reid Dennis. She was one of the first women in the US to make it to investing partner at a major venture capital firm. She backed and helped build some of the early computer and networking companies, as well as the first public CRM (customer relationship management) company, Clarify. MJ is a member of All Raise, Broadway Angels, and is a fellow at the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute.

Sonja Perkins

Was entrepreneurial as a child growing up in Charlottesville, VA. She graduated from Harvard and found her way to Silicon Valley. As the only woman VC at Menlo Ventures, she funded game-changing computer and communications companies, from McAfee (online security) and Hotmail to F5 Networks, Acme Packet, and many more. Along the way, she learned to shoot guns, sample whiskey, and compete with the guys. She is the cofounder of Broadway Angels and founder of the nonprofit Project Glimmer, which serves hundreds of thousands of at-risk girls each year.

It was great to listen all these amazing women in the panel discussion, they are all great role models. We need more stories like these to encourage other women to act against the odds. As Maxitech, we are a true believer of equality. We are trying to do our best to contribute to the efforts to make Silicon Valley more welcoming for women. Here is our call to female founded startups: As Maxitech, we are partnering with startups to deliver innovative solutions to IsBank Group which is one of the biggest banks in EEMA and we prioritize female founded startups. If you are a female founder and you think that your startup might be a good fit to partner with IsBank Group, please reach us out. Looking forward to hearing from you!


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