WITI Women

Aliza Sherman
President, MediaEgg
Founder, Cybergrrl, Inc. and Webgrrls International

Aliza Sherman is an Internet thought leader, online marketing expert and evangelist for the Internet, particularly as a valuable and useful tool for women's lives.

She is the founder of Cybergrrl, Inc., a new media and entertainment company focused on the women's marketing online and of Webgrrls®, a networking group for women interested in the Internet that currently has over 100 chapters world-wide.

Sherman is also the author of the book, "Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web" (Ballantine) and is currently working on her next book through Penguin Putnam for Summer 2000.

She appeared on the cover of USA Today this year as part of a technology summit, representing the only woman and the only small business owner on the panel of today's technology leaders including Michael Dell of Dell Computers and the CEOs of Lucent Technologies, 3Com and Comcast. She also recently appeared on the cover of Business Startups magazine as their first female cover subject and will be writing a regular column on entrepreneurship for the magazine as of February 2000.

She was named one of "The Most Powerful People in Their 20's" by Swing magazine in 1997 and listed as one of the "Top 50 People Who Matter Most on the Internet" by Newsweek.

Sherman is an advisor to two nonprofit organizations for girls and several websites for girls and on the American Association of University Women's gender and technology task force. She is also on the advisory board for the Oxygen/Markle Pulse.

She lives in New York City with her two Chihuahuas.

1. What was your first job in technology?
I went from six years in the music business to running a nonprofit organization on domestic violence awareness to starting an Internet-based business out of my home. I have no formal computer training - other than a 1 hour, $10 HTML course in 1994; I'm basically self-taught.

I first discovered the Internet in 1989 when a neighbor helped me purchase my first computer and suggested that I buy a modem. Now, the reason I bought a computer was to type my manuscripts with a dream to be a published writer. After learning how to go online, I logged on every single day. In 1992, I began producing forums and resources for women online.

In January 1995, I created the first general interest website for women - Cybergrrl.com, followed a month later by Webgrrls.com which has become the hub for Webgrrls International, a global networking organization for women to learn how to use the Internet in their careers and their lives. In September 1995, Femina.com debuted which was the first searchable database of sites for, by and about women.

Cybergrrl, Inc. was the company I started in January 1995 with a mission to empower women to use technology for their personal and professional gain - something that I've been saying for over 5 years. But back then so few people knew about the Internet that having an Internet company for women didn't make sense to anyone - except other women who were getting online.

I think of myself as a writer first and technology, computers and the Internet are my tools. I truly believe that the Internet made so many things possible for me career-wise and business-wise. And I'm committed to helping other women discover the power of technology as tools for their lives. I also want more women to be the creators of technology, not just the users, and feel strongly that women should be recognized more by the media and by society and positioned as role models to others, particularly to other women and to girls, as capable technologists, as innovators of technology.

2. Who has been your most significant mentor? Why?
Ironically, I have had 3 significant mentors who are all male. Back when I began my business, there weren't any women heading up their own Internet companies. My first mentor found me on the Internet, initially emailing me to find out how to encourage his daughter to use computers more. When I asked him his daughter's age, he told me she was three. I love that! Turns out he was an up-and-coming venture capitalist with a heart: Jerry Colonna of then @Ventures and now Flatiron Partners. My next mentor read about me in a couple of magazines while on a flight, then emailed me to introduce himself. He was one of the original investors in WiReD magazine and went on to start and sell a software company and now he is training for the Olympics. (Interesting side note: he also has a daughter). My third mentor is an incredible man named Samir Arora who started a cool company called Net Objects which has since grown a lot since he and I first met at a vegetarian Asian restaurant to talk about business and life.

At one point, I deliberately searched for a female mentor and found one in Patrice Tanaka whose company Patrice Tanaka and Co. is truly a company with heart and soul (and a meditation room in their offices). I just wrote her a letter asking if she would be my mentor and she called immediately and invited me to lunch. It really was great to speak to a woman with a successful business who felt that there should not be a disconnect between what makes your heart sing and what you do for a living.

Today, I find that if I ask questions, anyone can become my mentor, if only for a moment. And I welcome the opportunity to learn.

3. What has been your greatest challenge and what strategies did you use to overcome obstacles?
I think my greatest challenge is believing in myself. Like so many females, I have battled low self-esteem since childhood despite an incredibly strong mother and extremely supportive father. Even today, I look at everything I have accomplished and can be excited for only a brief moment, but then I worry about not doing a good enough job or not remembering to do something or afraid that I've messed up something or that I should work just one more hour on top of a 14 hour day just because there is so much to do and things won't be okay unless I get everything done.

I feel like I have found my true purpose on this earth - to teach and empower others - and yet I am always afraid I'm not doing enough or not doing it the right way. To compound my own feelings of self-doubt, once you reach a certain point and get recognition for things you have done, there is an insidious aspect of human nature that compels people to try to tear down someone who has achieved something. I've learned the hard way that getting recognition also means getting a lot of flak from people who do not know you but who are very vocal with their criticism of who they think you are and what they think you do. So you get it from the inside and you get it from the outside - quite the challenge.

4. Who has been the most influential person in your life? Why?
I think my Dad has been the biggest influence on me - he tells me he lives vicariously through the things I do. He is incredibly intelligent and amazingly creative. He is a fair and good person. Now, I think I may have also gotten my work-a-holism from him, which is not a good thing. But hopefully, as I find more balance in my life, I will positively influence him to change his.

5. What lessons have you learned that would be valuable to women beginning their careers in technology?
First lesson: You must believe in yourself first and know that you can do anything.

Second lesson: Even if you are the only female in your class or in your company or in your department or on a team, the very fact that you are there is so important and it is worth taking the responsibility to be a role model to others.

Third lesson: You cannot do everything yourself. Ask for help, learn to delegate, trust others.

Fourth lesson: Find a mentor and be a mentor - be in a constant learning mode.

I guess these things apply to anyone in any industry, but I found they all have helped me in this industry.

6. What strategies do you use to maintain balance in your life?
The first challenge is to realize your life is unbalanced and to be committed to making a change. I turned over the leadership of my company to others and am working from home. I make sure I get outside several times a day. When I worked at the office, I got to the office around 10 a.m. or so and didn't leave until 9, 10, 11 p.m. or later, sometimes never going outside all day. I'm hiring a fitness trainer because I know that I need another person to motivate me to exercise right now. And I'm starting Yoga classes, something I had never done before but was invited by my nine year old cousin and loved it! I'm cleaning my one room studio apartment, throwing things out, and creating a more peaceful space for myself.

7. What new technology do you believe will have the most positive impact on the world in the next 20 years? The most negative impact?
I think whatever happens to the Internet and television will create an entire new way of living, doing business, communicating - it is already doing it but we're barely scratching the surface. I think that technology can be both positive and negative - it is up to people - people who create it and people who use it.

On a lighter note:

1. If you could have dinner with any 2 people (living or not), who would they be?

Ayn Rand and Michael Vartan.
Ayn Rand because her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged changed my life. And Michael Vartan because he's a good actor and really cute and I bet he wouldn't be as frivolous a choice as he sounds right now as I write this - I bet he'd be an interesting person. Okay, maybe the brothers who wrote and directed The Matrix. I'm a huge science fiction fan and their vision really blew me away.

2. If you could only subscribe to 3 magazines, what would they be?
Biography, Fast Company and The Sun (a little magazine based in Chapel Hill, NC that is about life in a raw, poetic and passionate way).

3. What was the last book you read?
A Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing

4. If you couldn't do what you are doing now, what profession would you choose?
I'd be a screenwriter in Hollywood, bucking the system and creating tons of stories with strong female protagonists that go on to become really successful movies.

5. Define success in 10 words or less.
Belief, love and respect of self, others and this earth.

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