Liz Wald, formerly of Indiegogo and Etsy, is the newly-named US Head of Operations for the Berlin-based startup bringing the first roast-grind-brew coffeemaker to market, BonaVerde. Liz spent four years at Etsy running global operations and helping them grow from $80M to $800M as it prepared to become a public entity.
BonaVerde was just declared by Engadget as “The Keurig of raw coffee" and they're buzzing right now on the heels of raising over $1.13 million in just 1 week on Seedrs! They're the first-ever supply chain shipping green coffee beans directly to your doorstep.
How did your background affect your success in tech?
I grew up with two brothers who are 10 years older. Both of them were athletes, and very early in my life I realized I either need to learn how to throw the ball or I'm gonna be the ball. In my community, growing up, I was the first girl to play little league baseball in my town. I remember thinking, “Why wouldn't I be playing with the boys at age 10? I'm bigger and stronger than they are and I'm more coordinated at age 10." I could switch over and be two years ahead of my girl peers and be the starting player as a freshmen as a junior. In my high school years, I also went to an all girls school. I wasn't competing with the boys, so I'd take leadership roles. I was the star athlete of the school, the best at math because it was all women. In college, I was the first to raise my hand in class. I've always had the confidence. There's a sign on my desk that's a joke, but also a reminder to women at work: “There's no crying in baseball." You're going to have good days/bad days. It's work. If your boss yells at you, take it and figure out to improve it.
How did your international experience help you succeed in the tech world?
I'm a relatively fearless person. I've traveled all over the world. I've ran my own company working with women in Africa. I traveled as a woman alone in Pakistan three weeks before 9/11 happened. When I travel, I don't let fear limit me. I've always just taken the approach, 'I can handle myself. I'm confident.' It's just been an attitude of, 'I'll figure it out.'
I apply that mentality to work. If you're trying to change something like the coffee system, you have to have an attitude of, “This might not work, but we'll try another approach." We're going to go to people, not just financiers, then we can go to the financier and say “10,000 people have come behind us. We've raised this much money, this is our vision, and people believe in us. Now help us get to the next level."
When I came to Etsy and wanted to go international, they didn't know what that meant. My bosses would say, “You tell us what you think could be a good approach." They didn't have an expert yet and with me being new at the job, it came down to just feeling confident in myself and presenting my material. You're not trying to make your way up some big corporate ladder. Today, we see so many more conversations about women in tech and bro culture. It's totally it's there. But at Etsy, the vast majority of sellers were women. Your'e talking about crafts. The bro culture just didn't exist there. It was about how do we make a craft take off online in the simplest terms? At the end of the day, a guy had founded the company and there's a guy that's a COO today, but the whole mentality of the place was very different then bro culture.
Success in tech has less to do with the product. It's about the story behind it. Financiers are betting on the fact that people want to know the origin of their food, that things are fresh, and see traceability of the money where you say it's going to go. You obviously have to have a great product, then an amazing story behind it? Then we're talking
What do you believe are the challenges of being a woman in tech?
When I moved to Indiegogo, there was three founders. One was a woman, and she wanted to make sure there was this attitude of democratizing finance. Everybody should have access to capital. Women have harder time getting access to capital in general. That attitude helped permeate equal opportunity, and increased the value of the whole company, so that helps overall. Now it could be because I've joined Bona Verde, the CEO remembered me from my time at Indiegogo. He reached out to me and said, “Hey, we need someone to lead the U.S. You have this great experience. I remember meeting you. I liked you. What do you think?" I don't think he really thought for a second whether I was a female entrepreneur, or male entrepreneur. It was more like, “You have this experience. Let's make this happen." I've been able to come into lots of those situations through my career.
Do you think the tech industry is evolving?
Tech still has a long way to go. While In my experience, I've always been drawn to smaller, growing companies where you have a chance to get your hand in lots of different pots, so I didn't necessarily go through having to prove myself as a woman.
But as an organization grows and then becomes much bigger and then they're looking to bring in experiencing senior management, that's when I think you find the split start to happen because frankly, there are fewer women in those positions with 20 years experience compared to the number of men with 20 years experience.
I was lucky with Etsy, with partners or trying to raise capital, going out with a team of people and trying to raise money for startups, at Etsy, the team was able to say, “Hey, we have a first mover advantage. We're something different than what's been out there." But a lot of the men who are the VCs for the most part, they don't relate to the product. They're like, “My wife goes on Etsy," or “my daughters like that site." That's a lot tougher then, “I get on Uber everyday."
That is where I continue to see it, is where the people making the decisions, are not consuming the product as readily.
Tech is getting more attention to the problem, though. Because of that, people are feeling like this is an area where older people are saying, “I need to mentor people around me." It's a step in the right direction.
This is why I think its important that men get behind women in tech, too. Men and women need to realize their own inherent biases and consciously do something about them. Women need to be super confident, lead with their numbers and be like, “I'm going to crush this market." When I counsel women, the first thing I do when they say, 'I have this idea and I think it's pretty good,' I say 'No. I have an AMAZING idea. It's going to fundamentally disrupt the market.' You have to use the language that the men are using. You have to have the attitude of “I'm gonna change the world," as opposed to, 'I've done my homework. I'm gonna work hard.' Being dedicated and hard working are going to pay off, but don't assume that. Ask for what you want. You also have to assume that you are worth it. Women don't do a very good job of tooting their own horn. Culturally, you grow up thinking that's not what you're supposed to. You're supposed to be respectful and demure, all those things that are fine at a tea party but not so much at a VC office.
How do you prepare for male dominated boardrooms?
In more male dominated environments, the clothing tendency is to dress in pant suit trying to be like men. My advice? Go with what's working for you. You have to do you. If you're all about high heels and sexy dresses, own it, but with super amount of confidence in what you're presenting. Don't try to be like the guys. You have to put your best foot forward. Don't sit next to the coffee. Don't take the least power chair in the room. Don't bel the last to comment. You have to get to the point where it's natural to take the lead. The women aren't here to make coffee.
Also what is her future plan?
We're selling coffee machines and we're selling coffee, but we are trying to sell this bigger picture of disrupting the coffee chain. However we do that, it's about telling the story, about getting value back to the people that put the hard work into creating the product. It's about sharing those stories. It's about making big changes and not just selling another product to people for their kitchen. It's the overall mission of the company that gets me out of bed in the morning.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."