WoW Woman in AI Tech | Anne Cocquyt, founder of GUILD

Interview by Nicole Dahlstrom @nicoledahlstrom

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Anne, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you became interested in entrepreneurship.

I’m inspired by technology, innovation and the possibility to create the change we want to see. I studied computer science, statistics and human resources and put that MBA to work in various roles across continents, companies and industries. I love working with multi-cultural cross-functional teams thinking about the big picture as well as diving into the details. Variety is what keeps me interested. I also have a high threshold for risk. These skills combined with my experience in the corporate world and in startups make for a great foundation for entrepreneurship.

You are the founder and CEO of the GUILD, a professional networking service for women, what is the idea behind the GUILD and what inspired it?

When I moved from country to country, my skills travelled with me, but never did my network. Each time I had to re-build my network from scratch. When I arrived in the U.S. five years ago, I wondered why in the valley of apps there was no smart solution for me to find new business contacts and friends to connect with. Instead of exchanging hundreds of business cards at mediocre, male-centric networking events, I was convinced that there must be a better solution to networking.

I asked myself: “What if there was a beautiful, engaging platform that made it easy to get introductions to like-minded women and to meet up with them?” In 2016 I thought I had an answer and a plan, so I took the leap, left my corporate role at Genentech, and started building the GUILD.

Why do you think it's important to offer tech enabled connections in balance with in person meetings and networking events for women?

The GUILD suggests in-person meetings (think online dating) at a convenient time and place for our busy users. We believe there are sufficient social media channels and forums available for people to discuss, comment and like. The GUILD focuses its technology on enabling in-person meetings. Instead of having to search and look through hundreds of potential contacts, the GUILD suggests exactly one meeting per week and gives the user just enough information to decide if they want to meet up. While networking events are a great avenue to meet a selection of people, 1:1 meetings yield much deeper conversations which are more likely to result in action (job opportunities, mentorship, advice, introductions, investment).

What type of support do you offer to the women who use the GUILD's networking services and how is the GUILD different from other services?

Our technology, the selection of the right members, as well as the authenticity of our brand at networking events differentiates us. Many other communities see that and are offering the GUILD to their members as an additional tool to connect and unleash the power of their communities. GUILD users trust the GUILD to make meaningful connections based on the data we gather from tens of thousands of meetings which inform our algorithms. We always put the user front and center and are aware of our responsibility toward our users. The customer is queen!

What are the biggest obstacles for building a networking ecosystem for professional women in the San Francisco Bay Area? How about nationally?

We compete for people’s time. We couldn’t be asking for more: busy people dedicating their time to something that may result in a fruitful connection but may not have an immediate impact on their happiness, paycheck or search for a new friend. Our users join for many different reasons and we can’t promise that the first introduction will result in the new business partner or mentor people were hoping to find. We ask our users to trust in the serendipity these meetings yield. The same is true for women in other cities and countries.

Are there any unique opportunities when it comes to connecting professional women?

We see that women feel like they are part of a sisterhood and especially in the 1:1 setting they are open to genuinely helping each other.

Since its founding, the GUILD has hosted several unique networking events, what are your top three favorite events that you've hosted and why?

We hosted a 2-day summit last year in 10 different houses where we entertained salon- style conversations and workshops. It was a very unique event in a format that nobody has tried before. I loved it for its uniqueness, that it attracted incredibly inspiring attendees and because I myself as the host learned from the speakers. A wine-tasting event that our partner illy's hosted was a great hit and brought women together to talk about their side-hustles (one woman met her angel investor at the event) whereas our cause-connect and coaching events helped attendees find the perfect cause or coach and I loved seeing how the GUILD match-making was at work during these events.

You are a big supporter of female founders and the GUILD can take credit for motivating a number of women to start their company or make a career change, with that being said, what is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?

Choose this path for the right reasons. It is going to be the hardest journey in your career and you have to know WHY you are doing what you are doing and believe in it 500%. Otherwise you will not survive the emotional ups and downs of entrepreneurship. The WHY will be your anchor.

Is the #WomenInTech movement important to you and if so, why?

I define the women in tech movement as a movement of ambitious people slowly taking charge and changing the industry in ways that will allow more women and men to enjoy being part of it. It’s a long path, it requires many stages and many activists. It requires

loud voices and hidden figures. I’ve been a happy woman in tech for over a decade and I wouldn’t want to miss any of it. This includes the sexual harassment I’ve experienced. Because it made me stronger, it made me a better leader and more nuanced in my world views. It’s been a great journey and I’m supporting everybody - man or woman - who is making the industry a more comfortable place for people to work in.

The GUILD is described as an AI powered networking platform. What is the importance of utilizing AI to foster connections, and in your opinion, what will be the key trends for AI in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?

My statistics teacher wrote a book called “Lying with Statistics” (German). It really left an impression and makes me evaluate any analysis, graph or chart I see. Math creates a model of the world. It makes predictions on a certain significance level. AI is not truth. AI is a tool to help us make better predictions about the future and can easily be misguided.

I’m therefore very careful with data models and AI. We’ll see AI applied in many work processes and it will most certainly guide the way we are experiencing the world online. We’ll continue to have ethical discussions and we’ll continue to manage tech-loving coders in order to avoid a world where everything is based on the assumption of a 30- year old white guy.

Who are your top three inspirational women in tech?

I’m surrounded by inspirational women in tech. I love seeing investors like Terri Mead, Stephanie Palmeri and Nicole Quinn join angel and VC groups and invest in more female-led companies, speak and bring their view to the table.

 

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Website: theguilded.org

Twitter: @AnneCocquyt, @getguilded

Facebook: @getguilded

Medium: Anne Cocquyt, GUILD

 

 

 

 

This interview was conducted by Nicole Dahlstrom, Women of Wearables Ambassador in San Francisco, USA. She has been providing marketing and project management services to non profits for the past six years. Passionate about women's health and fem tech, Nicole decided to leverage her network of established feminine health companies, industry professionals, and leaders in the women's health space to develop a network of support for founders of female health focused tech startups called FemTech Collective. Their mission is to shape the future of healthcare through technology that meets the needs of women. Connect with Nicole via Twitter: @nicoledahlstrom or LinkedIn: Nicole Dahlstrom