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Q&A: Silicon Valley Legend Caterina Fake

Fake talks about why there aren’t enough female tech entrepreneurs, her newest venture, and what keeps her motivated.
September 17, 2012

Talking with Caterina Fake is like chatting with the happiest person you’ve ever met. She is fun and lighthearted, interjecting jokes into serious conversation and quick to laugh.

Fake has reason to be happy. At just 43 years old, she is one of the most accomplished and respected women in Silicon Valley. She began working for Netscape in the late 90s, started blogging before anyone knew the word, launched an online gaming startup in 2002, and founded Flickr in 2004.

When Flickr was sold to Yahoo, she stayed on briefly, but then went back to entrepreneurship, launching Hunch, a personalized taste graph for search in 2009. The site was sold to eBay in 2011, and this year she launched San Francisco-based Findery, a user-generated, still-in-beta site that gives insider information into physical locations everywhere.

As if that wasn’t enough, she is also a founding partner at Founder Collective, a New York-based seed-stage VC.

I talked with Fake to learn more about her ventures and what keeps her going.

OF: Why do you think the startup world is blowing up right now?
CF: I think it is a cultural thing. Back in the '70s, everyone wanted to start a band. Now everyone wants to start companies, especially here in San Francisco.

OF: Why aren’t there more women in Silicon Valley?
CF: It is incredibly challenging for women to raise capital out here. Go visit 20 VC capital fund websites and take a look at their staff pages. They are almost exclusively dudes. People invest in people who look like them.

OF: How can women break through this barrier?
CF: The most important thing is to build, build, build. If you have a good product, a successful product, something you’ve been able to launch and that people are using, you will have a good chance at getting funded 

OF: What inspires you?
CF: I’m inspired by possibilities and unsolved problems. As an entrepreneur, you have to live in the world and experience the general human experience and observe it carefully. In my case, I’ve worked in consumer Internet technology for most of my career, so observing the world as it is and finding problems to solve is really inspiring to me.

OF: Do you have a mentor?
CF: I have a lot of mentors; no one can operate on their own. If I had to pick one person, I think it would be Mike McCue, founder of Tellme and Flipboard.

OF: What makes you want to keep starting up companies? Don’t you get tired?

CF: It’s a personality thing. I think entrepreneurs have a certain energy level and interest in continually re-entering the fray. I’m very ill-suited to being a worker bee in a larger company. I really do enjoy aspects of entrepreneurship. I love working with a small team, having great latitude in product design, a sense of invention, a sense of learning and not resting on your laurels.

OF: Could you tell me about your new venture, Findery?

CF: Our tagline is, ‘Findery makes places come alive.’ This means that you can learn history, stories and information on any place. For example, if you are walking down the street, you might see on our site that someone was mugged there last night at 7:30 p.m. Or if you are interested in a specific neighborhood, you can find information on the history and architects of the area. We are deeper than restaurant recommendations.

OF: Have you ever experienced failure?
CF: Oh, yes. I’ve been involved in a bunch of startups you’ve never heard of, some which were catastrophic failures. I’ve found that you learn what not to do by having failed startups.

OF: What will the future hold for Silicon Valley?

CF: It is hard to know, but, unlike some people, I don’t think social media is going away. Some people think Facebook is a has-been and I guess you never know out here. I think there could be something that replaces Facebook, no doubt in three years we will be talking about ‘x’ and we don’t know what that is. I’m hoping it is Findery.

Right now there could be two kids in a garage who will disrupt Facebook; that is what is terrifying and great about Silicon Valley.

OF: What will you be doing in five years?
CF: I will still be at Findery. I’m in this for the long haul. My last two companies were acquired; I want to grow this one. I don’t see myself retiring any time soon.

Read more of our coverage on Silicon Valley entrepreneurship here

Photo credit Richard Morgenstein.