Getting Women Started: A Talk with Jennifer McFadden

February 8, 2017

Jennifer McFadden (SOM ’08) is currently the Associate Director and Lecturer in the Practice of Entrepreneurship at Yale School of Management (SOM). She’s also the cofounder of Skillcrush, an interactive online community that aims to demystify technology through coding classes and online instruction. McFadden wanted to create an environment where women could learn to code in a fun and accessible way, targeting users who may not know what they want to learn, but know how they want to apply a technology skill set. With professional experience in the product marketing department of the New York Times, McFadden is a seasoned veteran of customer interaction, business development, marketing and digital media. She spoke in January as part of the Yale Women Innovator’s Breakfast Series at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. The talk was cohosted by Yale Women in Management.

“Building out branding materials is not about going broad because you can dilute your message and not sufficiently penetrate,” McFadden told the women in attendance. “My goal this year is to get as many women starting as many things as they can because I don’t want to continue being in the environment we are currently in,” she said. “Women need to be in positions of power to change the culture of an organization.”

During the breakfast, McFadden helped attendees work through a straightforward framework of identifying target customers, needs and competing alternatives. “The sooner you get something down on paper, the more direction you’ll have,” she said.

She compared the process of Lean Startup to traditional entrepreneurship models in which there is much less interaction with customers in the early stages of business formation. Customer interactions, the basis of Lean Startup, are the best indication of success and the direction a company should be heading, she said. Instead of spending money before meeting customers, Lean Startups conduct hypotheses in a build-measure-learn format of constant revision. Data is measured based upon a minimal viable product, and a founder sets goals for gathering additional data.

“For those of you who are in the ideas stage,” she said, “drive forward what you are truly interested in and love.”