South Florida Tech CEO Talks Raising Capital & Raising Kids

Apr 9, 2015

Joanna Schwartz is the CEO of EarlyShares, which connects accredited investors with private funding opportunities. In April 2015, her company launched www.property.com.

In our continuing series on female leadership, we look at the technology sector. Certainly it is a lucrative industry and it's been criticized for gender imbalance.

Women make up only a quarter of the tech industry workforce, even though more women now enroll in college than men.

And here's another interesting data point -- women in Western countries use the internet 17 percent more than men do. So how does this all compute in terms of female leadership?

We spoke to CEO Joanna Schwartz who runs EarlyShares, an online funding platform for accredited investors. The company now focuses on commercial real estate.

Recently, her team launched Property.com, what Schwartz describes as the Kayak for commercial real estate investing.

Schwartz is a rare find in South Florida: a woman running a for-profit technology and finance company. We spoke with her about her career and leadership.

On female leadership in technology

As much as when I go into the room there are not enough women and I wish there were more, being a woman in that environment helps you stand out and helps you be memorable, so when you go to a conference and there’s a sea of men all dressed in khakis and polos, they remember that I was there. They remember who I was and I think that is a distinct benefit.

Now you've worked in both the finance & tech industries. Neither are known for being particularly supportive of women in leadership roles. So how did you navigate your career in those industries?

I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking, ‘I’m a woman and that I’m doing this.’ I think everyone and every professional man or woman has their unique road and their own unique challenges.

Are you offended that I would come to you then, asking about female leadership?

No, not at all, and there are certainly real distinctions. I definitely go to conferences and I always look around the room and take a mental assessment of how many women are in the room, and every now and then I’m pleasantly surprised that there’s a nice proportion of us in the room, but, more often than not, there are many fewer women in the room than I think should be there.

Why do you think that happens?

I think it’s sector related. It is society related. I would like to see it change. I do think women face unique challenges.

It’s no secret that women have more challenges raising capital than men. That’s not my perception, that’s actually based on numbers. I’m in a startup business and we’ve had to raise our own capital to support our growth. We’ve raised several million dollars, and that’s something that’s hard no matter who you are, man or a woman, and it’s also dependent on what kind of business you have.

Can you point to any instance in your life where you feel it is tougher to be in a woman in a leadership position?

This is much harder because I’m the woman or because I’m the mom, even with a great partner. I call it the “Mommy tsunami,” and it comes about a few times a year. Usually at the beginning of the school year or the end of the school year when there is some transition in the troop movements of our household, and you just kinda want to say “this is insane.” You know, you say, “what the heck am I doing?” But it has happened enough times and you get through it.

When it happens, I recognize [it.] I’m like, 'OK, I’m in a Mommy tsunami.' I take a deep breath and I look at my calendar and I say it’s going to last for the next 2 or 3 weeks and I just power through it and somehow we all always get through the other side. I think that is something unique that most of the men I know don’t have that similar type experience.

Karen Rundlet is Miami Herald's video studio manager. She also contributes business stories to WLRN-Miami Herald News.