A few months before Satya Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft, I got the chance to not only meet him but pitch him on my startup, matchist. With the recent news about Nadella’s controversial remarks about women not asking for raises, I wanted to share the story of my meeting with him, not because it’s 100% relevant but it touches on the same issues of equality and karma.
Nadella, a graduate of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, was visiting the school (where I am a student) and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship reached out to me to see whether I wanted to take part in a small meeting with Nadella with another founder regarding how Microsoft could help and to see how the school was helping. I was extremely humbled and grateful.
Again- Nadella was not yet CEO but rumors were flying and I was really excited. My startup, matchist, had won the New Venture Challenge the previous year and we, just like most early stage startups, needed all the help we could get. As I walked towards the room, I was delighted to see the other founder who was representing the school: Uzi Shmilovici.
Uzi is CEO and Founder of Base CRM, and he’s a mentor and friend of mine. If you’ve ever met Uzi, you would know that he’s one of the smartest, most intensely passionate people around. When he speaks in a low voice, everyone leans in to listen…he commands a room easily. I was excited to catch up with Uzi and we walked into the room together.
Around the table were some Microsoft folks and Ellen Rudnick and Steve Kaplan, both professors and leaders of the entrepreneurship movement at Booth. After shaking hands, we were given the floor to talk to Nadella. I went first.
I took about 30 seconds to describe my background, my startup, and our challenges. We weren’t really given much direction about how much time to take up, so I didn’t want to really waste time by talking about myself.
Then Uzi took the floor. For the next at least 10-20 minutes, Uzi spoke proudly of his background and his experience building Base CRM. Granted- Uzi’s company was MUCH farther along than mine and he’s a more experienced entrepreneur. He owned the room and shared his successes and recent challenges, drawing everyone in. But I sat there, fuming at myself, mad that I had fallen into the trap I was so aware women fall into- we don’t feel it’s right to boast about ourselves, our accomplishments and our businesses.
For that 30-45 minutes, I didn’t get to speak again. Nadella and Uzi discussed some trends they were seeing in the CRM world, and they ended up exchanging business cards. I don’t know what happened after that. I trusted the system, and it didn’t work in my favor.
After Nadella left the room, I chatted for a minute with Ellen Rudnick. “I did the woman thing, Ellen,” I said. “I wasted an opportunity because I felt it wasn’t right to take up an important person’s time and we would come back to my startup later.” We commiserated over being a woman entrepreneur, and I moved on.
Now if you know me- you know I’m not timid. I’m not shy, and I’m not afraid to make my opinion heard. But- karma didn’t help me. And that’s the story of my meeting with Satya Nadella.