Meet Monica Murthy, Co-Founder of #HowSheWorks, an inclusive grass-roots community of women and allies – entrepreneurs, executives, and professionals at all stages of their careers and industries. #HowSheWorks is a new community for women in tech. One focused on amplifying the voices of female industry leaders and bringing allies into the conversation.
It’s well known that women are under-represented in tech. And while the situation is slowly improving — more capital was invested in companies founded or co-founded by women in the fourth quarter of 2018 than any previous quarter in the past decade — female entrepreneurs face an uphill battle when they seek venture funding. This has to change, and how that starts is women and allies working together, supporting and elevating women in the critical early stages.
Monica is a connector in the FinTech ecosystem. She hosts community events and works with startups and financial institutions to find innovative solutions to bridge gaps in the industry. Monica has worked in several different tech verticals, from defense technology to advertising technology, and now financial technology.
Tell us more about what you do and how you moved into your space
I ended up in technology entirely by accident! I never thought of myself as particularly tech savvy, and in my (sorely mistaken) mind, there wasn’t space for a non-technical person in the tech industry. I’ve always described myself as a relationship builder, so I didn’t see space for myself in an industry of developers and engineers.
I started out my career in government, helping defense companies sell into the US government, and later, helping European tech companies set up operations here in the US.
When I made the shift to Empire Startups, I remember thinking, “I’m not a banker and I don’t care about finance, so let’s see how this goes.” What I realized later was that I had basically spent my entire career helping highlight and promote innovative technology, and FinTech was just the newest angle in that story. What was different about FinTech, compared to other tech verticals, is that the rate of idea generation was much faster. There are thousands of FinTech startups out there, all working on different ideas. The lack of hierarchy, as compared with my experience in government, excited me. I loved that I could go from having a new idea to building it out in a matter of days.
After a few years in the industry, I realized there were three gaps in the resources for female entrepreneurs. Firstly, I attend several women in tech-focused events every month, and while the networking is great, I’ve never walked away with tactical tips that I could apply to my career. Secondly, I’ve never seen any of my managers at these events. I’ve worked exclusively for men, all of whom were amazing and supportive people, but they didn’t have any resources to help them understand my experience as a woman, and how best to support me. And third, there’s almost always been a lack of diversity on stage. Not all women have the same experience in the workplace. We need better a better representation of women on stage, that includes racial diversity, a variety of experience levels and ages, as well as a mix of personalities. That’s what we’re building at #HowSheWorks. We want to create a community that accurately reflects all women, and that centers on bringing allies into the conversation.
What role do you play in the tech ecosystem and why is that role important?
I’m most passionate about supporting the startup ecosystem. This is everything from making sure startup founders have access to all the resources they need to creating opportunities for growth and helping them hire the right team. Some of the projects of which I am most proud in my career have centered around getting startup founders in front of investors and potential clients and presenting them with life-changing opportunities. Founders hear “No” from hundreds of people over the course of building their company. If I can help get them one step closer to a “yes,” then I’m happy.
I also see myself as a bridge between the corporate and startup worlds. Through my time at Empire Startups and Rise, I’ve realized that the most effective way to move the needle on implementing innovation is to bring financial institutions and FinTechs together. Both groups are working on the same issues from different angles, and the opportunities for collaboration are endless…assuming they are actually talking to each other!
How has technology impacted your industry and why is this important?
I think technology has affected all my industries significantly, but I think its biggest effect is holding incumbent institutions accountable.
In defense, new agile technologies are challenging the existing model where governments buy and then dump all their equipment every few years. When you can 3D print new tank armor, it reduces the frequency with which you purchase new tanks, essentially cutting the budget in half. There’s no excuse for rampant defense spending when you have the option of looking at more sustainable and longer-lasting equipment.
In finance, the bar for financial services has been raised. It’s no longer enough for banks to acquire customers, they also have to retain them, because consumers have a wealth of other options. It used to be that you banked with whoever had branches near your house. Now that you’re not geographically constrained, you’re looking for the best product that suits your needs.
What do you believe is the most exciting tech trend for 2019?
There are so many exciting trends in the space, so I’m going to cheat and name two.
I am fascinated by the strides being made in healthcare innovation. It’s wild that in 2019, we expect more from the keepers of our money (banks) than we do from the protectors of our health (insurers, pharma, hospitals, etc). A few companies in this space that I’m excitedly following are PredictaBill, Bind, and Parsley Health.
The second trend isn’t really a trend so much as a wider movement: financial inclusion. Building products that help the average American navigate the financial system is why I got interested in FinTech in the first place. Robo-advisors, as much as they take a lot of flak, were actually the first wave of this. If you go beneath the surface, robs-advisors lowered the barrier to entry for a significantly sized population who were not otherwise investing. My companies to watch in the inclusion space are Nova Credit, Bloom Credit, Sequin Card (note that access to credit and credit scoring is a huge issue), and Edquity.
Who is a person that inspires you in the space and why?
Arlan Hamilton, Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital, a VC that seeks to minimize funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are people of color, women, and/or LGBT. She put it all on the line to make her dreams happen, and she faced systemic and seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the way to that dream. Her story is incredibly inspiring, but more importantly, she is rolling up her sleeves to do the hard work or creating a more equitable system for startup founders.
A few extra:
Maria Deam, Edwina Johnson, and Nina Stepanov who are the definition of advocates, and the people I want in my corner when the going gets tough. My #HowSheWork co-founders Asya Bradley and Taylor Sims. They are both genuine and authentic leaders, who lift up the women in their lives every single day.
What advice would you give for someone who wants to get into your space?
The most obvious advice is to build your network, but I think most people wonder how you do that if you aren’t already in the space. My advice is to approach every conversation by asking what you can do for the person you are speaking to. Odds are high that they have a specific ask in mind. Whether you can actually help them or not, the important part is that you were willing to put your time and energy into creating value for someone else. I’m a firm believer that if everyone gives a little more than they take, we’ll be able to lift each other up.
This is why at the end of every #HowSheWorks event I host, I ask the audience to network, and ask each other, “how can I help you today.”
Anything else we should know?
I always try to remind myself, and everyone in my life, that careers are not a straight line. The best advice I ever received was from a senior diplomat at the British Consulate, who was asked how he had made it to this point in his career. His response was “Well I wasn’t trying to get this job. I stopped worrying about what job I wanted in 20 years, and instead pursued opportunities that were interesting and exciting to me, whether they were in different industries, different parts of the world, or in different functional streams.”
By going after the opportunities that you are most excited about, your passion will come through and make you successful.