In the tech sector, the glass ceiling for female founders may still exist, but it’s cracking under pressure and industry leaders are learning a lot about how to manage growth in the process.
Since launching Papaya Global in 2016 and securing $45M in Series A funding, co-founder and CEO Eynat Guez has built her payroll company into a global force that counts Microsoft and Intel on a quickly growing customer roster.
While building her company, Guez had two babies, which she says changed her perspective on how companies – no matter who heads them up – should be organised and run.
What founders and CEOs can learn from women like Guez
We’ve all laughed at that memorable video: the important industry leader being interviewed remotely when his toddler joyfully bounces into the room and disrupts everything.
You could liken toddlers to start-up companies. They both need a huge amount of attention to fuel their rapid growth and development, and they must be tended to at all times. For Guez, the pain is real. She cringes recalling one phone call with a potential investor:
“That was one of the most embarrassing calls because I had a screaming child in the background,” she explains. Screaming babies aside, she did finally close the deal, and went on from there to raise US$45 million in Series A funding in late 2019.
Meanwhile, her company (and her babies) continue to grow.
“We scaled, we grew, we automated, and we invested heavily in our product, technology and offering. We tripled the size of our team, the number of clients and our revenues year-over-year,” Guez says. They onboarded robust clients like GitHub, Rubrik, CyberArk, Kong, Yubico, Robin Hood, Sonder, Deezer, Scoot and more.
To properly manage the rapid growth, she instituted some specific changes to her company, rebuilding the organisation to make sure the work would continue without her direct attention at all hours. In the process, she uncovered a truth about leadership.
“Being pregnant ensures you align everything; a lot of CEOs aren’t doing that,” Guez notes.
The reality of growth leadership
This kind of alignment, Guez believes, is often the difference between sustainable growth and burnout, especially in a global economy. Papaya Global hit the ground running as a global company when it launched. Although based in Israel, Guez says they never considered themselves “an Israeli company,” as even small business owners face significant challenges integrating global payroll requirements.
She built the company with a global perspective in mind, and set about funding it appropriately, joining a growing number of female founders securing venture funding. (According to Crunchbase data, in 2019 one in five newly funded start-ups had female founders, up from one in ten a decade earlier.)
Guez believes one of the major challenges for female founders is a lack of access in their personal networks, rather than intentional gender discrimination.
It’s not an uncommon complaint, especially in the tech industry where a new form of potential barrier known as “sauna culture” is growing. Increasingly popular at tech conferences and business events, casual networking and meetings are happening literally in the sauna.
“Even the most extroverted of networkers might find their hands getting clammy or their hearts beating faster while meeting potential business partners for the first time,” notes Maddy Savage in the BBC.
“But imagine going through the same experience while sweating it out in a sauna, dressed only in swimwear or a towel. In Scandinavia, it’s a business practice that’s quite common.”
The idea has spread and saunas are becoming popular at events in other parts of the world, with many participants saying it’s a great icebreaker and a way to build trust.
For Guez there was no sauna involved, but she worked diligently to build those connections that didn’t come as naturally through her own network. Papaya Global’s head of R&D and the head of product development were both introduced to her by friends.
Glass ceiling or no, it’s clear that Guez brings something more than grit and determination to bear on her company’s success. She brings a clear understanding of the end goal, and a level-headed approach to looking after growth in a sensible and straightforward way. The tech industry has a lot to learn from founders, and mothers, like Guez.
Eynat Guez is the CEO and co-founder of Papaya Global.