Women in tech

Female tech entrepreneurs seem to be a rare breed in what is often seen as a male-dominated preserve, but local girls are muscling in by writing tech for fellow women

IN the male-dominated tech-entrepreneur industry, one image reigns supreme - that of the slacker dude in polo tee and jeans telling you how to write codes in Haskel, PHP or Python.

Now take that image, and replace the guy with a woman. Who are you inclined to take more seriously?

It's one of the things that irks local tech entrepreneur Krystal Choo, founder of the singles travel app Wander. The 26-year-old taught herself coding languages such as html and javascript when she was 12 years old, simply because she loved the power of technology.

She says: "It gets frustrating at conferences to be immediately assumed to be working in media or as someone's assistant. I've had to qualify myself as a tech founder who can code, which is met with surprise. I don't get why that would be surprising. The stereotype is just silly to me."

In fact, Ms Choo is already considered a minority at tech conferences. This year's Startup Asia Conference saw only 340 female participants out of a total of 1,458, just slightly over 23 per cent. Similarly, the tech conference Echelon sees an average of about 20 per cent in female attendees, and only five to eight per cent of its speakers are women.

It's not surprising, given that it reflects the same gender-disparity as international tech giants report in the technology focused segments of their workforce. For instance, Twitter revealed in July that only 10 per cent of that group is female, while Facebook stands slightly higher at 15 per cent, and Apple at 20 per cent.

Amelia Chen, local CEO and co-founder of the couples app LoveByte, attributes this trend to natural inclination: "In the first place, I won't say that many females love technology or gadgets. Just like not many girls are into biking or weight-lifting. Some hobbies are just perceived to be more "masculine" than others, if you get what I mean. It really depends on their passions."

Valuable traits

Her passion just happens to be in technology, just like Ms Choo and like-minded Singapore-based women entrepreneurs, who are making their presence felt in this male-dominated arena.

Mouna Aouri, founder of all-female crowdfunding platform Woomentum, strongly believes that women bring certain valuable traits to the industry, and highlights that the difference between the genders is actually in "the attitude and the risk-taking".

"Women tend to think small and don't go so much for scale and growth... Men just go for it and sort things out on the fly," observes the 39-year-old Tunisian who moved to Singapore in 2011.

"But women should dive into it because they can shape the industry differently. We very often have different approaches to problem-solving and execution. I believe the tech field will be much more interesting if it has more female presence."

Of course, there are others who disagree, such as Sharon Lourdes, one of the founders of Web-based venue-booking platform We Are Spaces.

She says: "While we're a minority in the industry for now, I don't think we bring in any special traits to it. If anything, it would be open-mindedness. Bringing diversity in the scene might make people more welcoming."

And while she too believes the industry has space for anyone of any gender, Ms Choo of Wander looks forward to the day when women in tech are no longer considered "anomalies".

She says: "Reaching that level of equality - when the societal perception towards women being founders is no longer a surprise, on top of having equal business and funding opportunities - is why the tech space needs more female founders today."



Connecting singles with a penchant for travel



IF you're driven by wanderlust but can't find someone who shares your dream - and more important, your travel dates and budget - Wander is an app that matchmakes you with your ideal travel companion. And who knows, someone who could become a good friend or future life partner even.

Wander was founded this year by 26-year-old Krystal Choo, who first started developing websites for money when she was 15. And with this latest app venture, she wants to provide single men and women a way to meet other singles for the purpose of travelling together.

Says Ms Choo: "In April, I noticed three trends. One, people were travelling a lot more. Two, they were finding it hard to find someone to travel with. Three, everyone was always on their phone." She elaborates: "People are always looking for connections - even more so when they're single. As a traveller myself, I think that some moments are just better shared. Wander helps you find someone to share those moments with."

What users have to do is first create a profile on Wander, and then they will be able to browse through other profiles in search of someone with similar travel plans and whom they think might make a good travel companion.

Says Ms Choo: "The travel industry is still missing the social element, and Wander serves singles - the most recession-proof, burgeoning yet under-served segment in travel."

"(Wander) will change how people travel - with someone beside them, singles might want to do more and see more. Now they can share costs and look out for each other, which means higher purchase frequency and volume of sales on the supplier's side."

For now, Wander is still in its testing phase, and plans to launch some time this month. But even now, the app already seems to be on track for success with over 2,000 pre-registrations - and counting.

And while she has high hopes for her app, Ms Choo is also wary of "stranger danger", and is taking extra care to build better profile transparency and user verifications to keep it safe especially for solo female travellers.

"Wander will be the go-to app for any single who is travelling, anywhere in the world," says Ms Choo.

"Travel is no longer just an activity - it is a lifestyle. In the long run, the travel industry would not just be selling tickets - they would be selling stories and adventures people can share with their kids. Wander is the first page of that story."

Digital solution to looking good



WOMEN app developers. Women's fashion problems. Put them together and you have a digital solution for an affliction that strikes women of any age - the sight of an overflowing closet but nothing suitable to wear.

So it took three tech-savvy fashionistas to design the app Fashory - think of it as a version of Instagram targeted at everyone from social celebrity fashionistas to slavish users of the #ootd (outfit of the day) hashtag.

Fashory takes the browsing experience a step further. If a particular outfit on someone's post strikes your fancy, you can buy it - the app provides users with direct links to multiple shops that might carry the same or similar item. Pick what suits your style and budget and add it to your own wardrobe.

"The idea came about early 2013 when we noticed a lot of demand, even from ourselves, for alternative sources of fashion inspiration, and where to buy the items," says the app's co-founder Emmy Teo, 28. "Monthly magazines are no longer fast enough... So I turned to fashion enthusiasts/bloggers on Instagram and Pinterest but was surprised to find that the fashion products I wanted were often not easy to find. Thus we wanted to create a one-stop, get-inspired-find-buy solution." adds Ms Teo, who is the CEO of Fashory.

Together with her sister Faith, 25, and 27-year-old Rena Koh, they came up with the idea for Fashory. The beta version launched in Apple's app store last Thursday, and they currently have 8,000 registered users.

It's not something men really get though, says Ms Teo. She recalls how pitching this app to a room full of male investors often invited the question "Why do we need this?". While female investors on the other hand, have been more receptive. "What men wear is much more straightforward and there's not much need for different clothes for different occasions, but for women, the need to look presentable especially in a working environment is there," explains Ms Teo.

"Contrary to common belief, we believe that fashion isn't superficial, and beauty isn't just skin deep. Instead, fashion can be meaningful and beauty can be empowering," she says.

Having a big byte of love



EVER wanted to reply to your partner's message, but dreaded opening your Whatsapp for fear of offending another party with your "last seen" time stamp?

LoveByte founders Amelia Chen and Steve Sng have a solution - a couple app with a private messaging system so you can message your partner in peace without worrying about the other messages you haven't replied to. "LoveByte focuses on encouraging busy people to make time for the things and people that really matter in life," says Ms Chen, CEO of LoveByte. "In today's technologically advanced environment, couples have to adapt to new ways of communicating and interacting to build stronger and more lasting relationships."

Similar to other couple apps such as Between and Avocado, you will have access to a private chat room, a shared calendar, and a virtual scrapbook where you can compile photos and love notes (much to the relief of your Facebook acquaintances).

The idea for LoveByte came from Mr Sng, who realised that the cold wars between him and his girlfriend were often caused by minor miscommunications. So he wanted to build an app that would help improve the relationship between partners through technology.

According to Ms Chen, she came up with the app's "cutesy" design so that it suited their target audience - the females in relationships. And so far, LoveByte has accumulated over 700,000 registered users from Singapore and neighbouring countries. They recently released a version 2.0, which now offers the option of revealing your location, weather and battery life to your partner.

While this new feature may sound a tad intrusive, Ms Chen says that users, surprisingly, love the new addition, and some have even requested more precise location tracking. Whether or not they will get it is still undecided. She says: "We're always asking ourselves what couples need in their relationship, the most simple and basic needs. LoveByte may be built on technology, but we believe it should not replace, but instead complement, and improve communication between couples."


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