By Thomas M. Loarie

Book Review: Four Trailblazers Who Achieved Their Potential While Changing the Misguided Silicon Valley “Boys Club”​ Culture

January 20, 2020
Column: CEO Learnings

While I suspect that Julian Guthrie, author of Alpha Girls: The women who took on Silicon Valley’s male culture and made the deals of a lifetime, intended to show how four women “broke through” the “glass ceiling” in elite Silicon Valley venture firms and disrupted its “boys network,” I found the value of this book for me to be its historical insights on the evolution and growth of the venture-capital ecosystem.

The book—which is a good read—begins in 1980, and centers on the challenges faced by four women as they rose to prominence in the male-dominated bastion of venture capital and start-up investing. Along the way, however, Guthrie tells us how deals are sourced and how they get done, how venture partners interact with one another and with entrepreneurs, and how companies are built with venture capital support.

This is the fourth book (The Billionaire and the Mechanic; How to Make a Spaceship; and The Grace of Everyday Saints) for Pulitzer Prize-nominated news reporter and author Julian Guthrie.

Guthrie’s chosen four women for Alpha Girls include Magdalena Yesil – a Turkish immigrant, Mary Jane Hanna (Elmore) – from the cornfields of Indiana, Sonja Hoel (Perkins)- cheerful blue-eyed Southerner, and Theresia Gouw – a first generation Asian American from Middleport, New York.

These four women and others including Nola Masterson, Ginger More, Val Blanchette, Wende Hutton, Ann Lamont, and Patricia Cloherty were the trailblazers who took on the status-quo, changed the rules for women, and ended up leading and/or participating in some of the biggest deals of an era – Google, Facebook, Salesforce.com, SKYPE, McAfee, Hotmail, Acme Packet, F5 Networks, Trulia, Imperva, and ForeScout.

Yesil became a general partner at U.S. Venture Partners, where she oversaw investments in more than thirty early-stage companies and served on the boards of many tech companies. She is the founding board member and first investor of Salesforce.com. Today, Yesil the founder of an all-women’s venture fund, Broadway Angels. She has also been a serial entrepreneur, founding two successful electronic commerce companies.

Hanna left Intel Corporation where she was a marketing manager to join Institutional Venture Partners (IVP) where she became a general partner and invested broadly in all stages and areas of information technology companies. She serves as an angel investor today with Broadway Angels.
Hoel, who was disinvited to the prom because she was “too straight,” did not do drugs or drink and did not believe in casual sex. She first joined TA Associates, then migrated to Menlo Ventures where ,at the age of 29, she became the youngest General Partner in the firm’s history. Sonja won the Menlo Ventures “Investor of the Year Award.”

Gouw became the first female investor at Palo Alto-based venture capital firm Accel Partners. She then became the firm’s first female partner and first female managing partner before leaving to co-found Aspect Ventures, one of the first female-led venture investing firms in Silicon Valley. She recently made her debut on Forbes’ Self-Made Women list with an estimated net worth of $500 million.

In Alpha Girls, author Guthrie follows the lives of these women from the influences of their childhood to how they shaped an industry, in addition to their critical roles in shaping the future for millions worldwide. She shows them in the act of discovery as they perfect their investment acumen as well as their resilience and humility as they deal with victories and defeats.

Each of these women paid a steep emotional price as they struggled with work and family, and as they learned how to deal with the rules of engagement which included bullying, bias, dysfunction and subjugation.

In the end, these women became forces for change, not victims.

All were self-starters, resilient, and able to discern how to navigate the path to personal success.

There is still work to be done on diversity as three-quarters of U.S. venture capital firms have no women investing partners. There has been a dark side to venture capital for capable women. Guthrie sheds a light on the challenges these women and others faced but at the same time provides rays of hope highlight by the success of the Alpha Girls.

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Thomas M. Loarie is the CEO of BryoLogyx, a CEO host of THE MENTORS RADIO SHOW, and a senior editorial advisor and columnist for Catholic Business Journal. He may be reached at [email protected]l.biz

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