“There is only one success: to be able to spend your life in your own way.”~ Christopher Morley
The Daily Beast called Poornima Vijayashanker one of the “13 Women Who Rule The Web.”She’s 30 years old and she is soaring in an industry that is 99 percent male.
She has created BizeeBee.com, her second startup, a lightweight software solution designed to service independent gyms, yoga studios and private instructors, in which she combines her love of engineering with yoga.
Her work has been featured by CNN, The New York Times, American Express, Forbes and a host of others.
We wanted to know more
M: Hi Poornima, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Rebelle Society. Tell me, when did you become interested in the tech world?
P: Technology has always been a part of my life. My dad took to the fabwhere he worked at when I was about nine, and I got to see how semiconductor chips (what they use to make computers) were made.
Growing up, my brother and I used to take computers apart at home, and I had my first taste of programming in high school. It wasn’t until I got to college that I actually took an active interest in becoming an engineer.
M: What’s a “fab”?
P: A fab, short for fabrication building, is where the silicon wafers are created. They are called wafers because they look just like those delicious little cookies we love to eat.
There is usually a clean room in the fab, where people have to put on funny space-suit looking outfits, so that they don’t contaminate anything, and then you can watch how tiny robots make the silicon wafers—i.e. chips—that go inside a microprocessor (the brains of a computer).
M: Were you ever told that computers were not lady-like?
P: Quite the contrary. At least in my family, getting involved with computers was seen as a good profession for women who wanted a high paying career in a dynamic and growing industry.
M: You received your undergrad at Duke University. That’s in North Carolina, still a southern region. Do you think that the area lent itself to preconceived notions of girls being active in the growing tech world?
P: Duke is actually in RTP (Research Triangle Park) so there was a good dose of technology and science in the area that provides a positive influence on the university.
However, it’s a small engineering school compared to others, and many girls who were in my engineering class ultimately left to become consultants, lawyers, or doctors. They wanted a profession where they could travel and meet with customers more than sit at a desk.
M: Then you returned to California for your post-grad work. Did you find the climate a little more accepting?
P: California is the tech capital of the world, and that along with 300+ days of sunshine was the reason I wanted to be out here. When I first moved here, eight years ago, there weren’t actually that many girls in this profession, but being a progressive area in general it was open to accepting women in engineering.
A lot has changed over these eight years, and I find that more and more women are becoming engineers and moving to the area to get involved in the tech industry.
M: Do you think that more women are attracted into the tech field, lately?
P: Yes, increasingly more women are getting involved. They are starting to realize that tech is more progressive than most industries, there is a lot of flexibility in working for tech companies—like being able to work remotely and care for a family.
There are also a number of programs and organizations that are investing in educating women who are interested in technology careers.
M: You have a personal website, Femgineer.com. Can you tell us about that?
P: I started Femgineer five years ago, because writing is a passion of mine. I wanted to share my experiences being a software engineer and working for a startup through my blog posts.
This year, I’ve decided to build out the brand, and expand the vision for it. Femgineer’s mission is to inspire and motivate more women to become engineers. Over the next couple years, I’m working with a team to accomplish that mission.
M: You are also the founding engineer and employee #2 of Mint.com, an online budgeting software company. How did you create that?
P: Aaron Patzer, the founder, and I both went to Duke and we were in engineering school together. He recruited me, and I helped to build the prototype and worked on it until it got acquired.
M: You left Mint for a “mint.” Did you have your next plan in the wings?
P: Yes I was just dying to get back into the startup land. I didn’t have my idea for BizeeBee fully formulated, but I decided I need to take a risk to start a business of my own.
M: Your latest company is BizeeBee, a lightweight software online solution, that tracks students, increases sales, and help owners of studios and gyms get paid quickly. Where did you get the name?
P: I actually came up with the name for Mint, which gave it a good branding strategy since it was focused on finance. I chose BizeeBee because I knew I’d be building solutions for businesses. Studios and gyms is just the initial market segment I’m going after.
M: Why did you feel there was a need for this?
P: I had been practicing yoga for over seven years, and I saw how much the yoga and fitness market had grown over that period of time. I knew it was going to grow even more, and that there weren’t a lot of products trying to address the needs of the market, particularly those of studios.
I also saw that on a more global level a number of small businesses were struggling to find software solutions. A studio is, after all, a small business. So I decided to start with yoga and fitness, build a solution to meet their needs, and then expand the business to other types of small businesses.
M: How many employees do you have?
P: We currently have five full time employees.
M: Are they all situated in California?
P: We’re actually a completely remote team. We didn’t start out remote, but we put the infrastructure in place to enable us to be remote. This has provided us with additional flexibility and freedom as an organization.
For example, our marketing buzz bee who is a new mom can live on her farm in Seattle and spend more hours with her baby instead of having to commute into work. I love to travel, and it gives me the freedom to work from almost anywhere in the world.
M: What other markets could BizeeBee be marketed to?
P: BizeeBee just launched its new application, BizeeBee Billing. This was mainly to meet the needs of studios that wanted an easier system for collecting payments from its students. However, we’ve gotten feedback that it has a wider range. There are other types of small businesses that need a product that streamlines the process of accepting credit card payments.
We know that many businesses within the yoga and fitness industry would benefit from it—such as retreat companies, colleges, etc. But there are also a number of professional service providers (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.) who struggle with collecting payments and need to put their clients on a payment plan.
A product like BizeeBee Billing would be very helpful to meeting those needs. We’ve starting to reach out to businesses in these verticals to test it out.
M: How do you find the brightest employees?
P: Almost all of them found me. I speak at a lot of technical conferences each year. The vast majority of my employees came up to me after one of my talks and just struck up a conversation.
Over time we built a rapport, and then I reached out to ask if they were interested in working with me on BizeeBee. We’d taken the time to get to know one another, and they felt like I had some street cred so they’d be willing to take a huge risk and work with me.
M: You’ve been called the female version of Zukerberg. How do you feel about that?
P: Haha. I didn’t know I was being compared. Well, I have a different philosophy when it comes to building a business, I like to go a little slower, and bootstrap my businesses as much as possible. I find that it gives me and my team more personal freedom.
M: What’s next for Poornima and her tech empire?
P: I’ve got three key projects I’m working on: BizeeBee is the primary, Femgineer is the second, and the third is a secret creative project I’m working on with a small team. I’m hoping we will be able to reveal it in about a year, so stay tuned!
Aside from those, I’ve made it a goal to do more speaking and writing over the next couple years so I’m actively looking for more opportunities to achieve it.
M: Thank you for satisfying our curiosity and inspiring us.
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” ~ Steve Jobs