Women In Technology: Monique Woodard
Madame Noire is back with the first profile of the year in my Women in Technology series. I’m kicking this one off with a individual who wears a couple of hats, each very special. Welcome to the world of Monique Woodard; an entrepreneur of a mobile company for lifestyle apps called Rebelle as well as the co-founder of a networking organization called Black Founders for Black tech professionals. I had the opportunity to catch up with the Florida-raised entrepreneur and wanted to share the thoughts of my colleague in the tech space, so here we go!
LDC: You started your career dealing with brand strategy. What led you to your interest in brands and consumer behavior?
MW: I started my career at a brand naming agency, leading projects for companies like Starbucks, Avon, and Bayer. So that’s probably where my interest in brands started. Since then, I’ve worked in e-commerce product marketing and became deeply involved in what makes consumers act — specifically online. Now, when brands are entering our personal lives more than ever and touching our lives at so many different points — web, social, mobile — I think it’s interesting to see how brand loyalty is influenced by consumer interaction with a brand outside of strictly commercial channels.
LDC: What inspired you to start this new venture of yours, Rebelle?
MW: Rebelle is a mobile app company for lifestyle apps that touch the ways you shop, engage with fashion, and entertain yourself. I’ve always been interested in fashion and lifestyle. I once ran a fashion blog. My goal with Rebelle is to continue to create web and mobile experiences that people love. Our first app, Speak Chic, is a mobile app that helps you correctly pronounce fashion brands. If you’ve ever stumbled over ‘Christian Louboutin’ or heard someone mispronounce ‘Versace’ (‘pass that Versazy’), then you know how potentially embarrassing that can be. This app helps you avoid that. Speak Chic will be available in the Apple App Store on January 24 and will be followed up later in 2012 with a fashion gaming app.
LDC: What did you think of the Black in America CNN special that recently ran about the African-American challenge in Silicon Valley?
MW: Black in America put a much-needed spotlight on many of the issues around diversity in Silicon Valley, but more importantly, it highlighted a group of entrepreneurs who were stretching toward something really positive. Some of that was lost in people getting caught up in one or two controversial sound bites. Angela Benton and Wayne Sutton did an excellent job with the first class of NewMe Accelerator and you can already see companies like BeCouply and Central.ly using it as a launchpad to create sustainable businesses.
However, Silicon Valley has always had a small but well-connected group of black executives and entrepreneurs who have been in Silicon Valley for quite a while and could have given a perspective that was missing from the piece. If you want a true picture of black people in Silicon Valley, then those voices should be part of the conversation.
LDC: What are plans for “Black Founders” for 2012?
MW: Last year (2011) was a year of Black Founders testing and refining our programming to determine what black entrepreneurs need most and 2012 is going to be the year of expanding those programs so that more people can take advantage of them. Sponsors are working with us on a college tour to expose students to Silicon Valley startups and internship programs and we are working on a major program that will give entrepreneurs outside of the Bay Area a chance to benefit from the programs that we’ve built.
Black Founders will be speaking at South by Southwest leading the panel “Pay-it-Forward: Building Successful Startups” and we’ve also been invited to attend TED — a conference for “the world’s leading thinkers and doers”. We’re incredibly inspired to see how many people and organizations have embraced our message and want to work with us on this movement to connect and create more successful black tech entrepreneurs.