If you’re familiar with Syte, you’ve probably heard the “red dress story,” the aha moment when our Co-founder and CRO, Lihi Pinto, recognized that her shopping frustration was an industry-wide problem — one that she could solve.
With more than 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship, finance, and investment banking, including her role as VP of Private Banking at Bank Leumi (UK), Lihi left the world of finance to build Syte from the ground up. Now, with a 53%-female team, Syte is in the top 1% of fastest-growing SaaS companies worldwide.
It’s no secret that the tech scene has a pervasive problem with gender bias: Only one in four start-ups include a female founder, and barely more than a third (37%) have a woman on the board of directors. What’s more, as recently as 2016, women received only 2% of total investor funding, and women-led companies comprised just 4.9% of all VC deals.
So, Lihi’s path from the perfect idea to a VC-backed, thriving start-up working with massive brands around the world is not just a story of beating the odds, it’s a source of inspiration for women throughout our industry.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, I had the honor of sitting down with Lihi to learn more about her experience transitioning from the world of finance to tech, the challenges she encountered, the powerful mindset shift that guided her to success, and her practical, hard-hitting advice for her fellow women.
What follows is an edited version of our conversation:
On the Move From Finance to Tech & the Impact of Personal Growth
Q: Can you describe what it felt like when you made the decision to enter the tech world? Was it already on your mind from the early days that you’re entering a field that’s known to be dominated by men?
A: Yes. What helped me was the fact that I was used to it because I came from the finance industry in London, and that’s also dominated by men. I was used to being the only woman in the room.
I knew it would be challenging all over again to prove myself in a different industry. I think in high-tech, it’s even worse than in any other industry.
It didn’t come as a surprise or as a shock. It wasn’t my first time. And I was ready for it. In fact, I was stronger because once you do it the first time, you know that you can do it again. But, I have to say, it didn’t get easier…
Q: Why do you think it wasn’t any easier?
A: Because you, as a human being, you develop. You go through something in your life, and then you become stronger. You become better. You grow from it. But when you’re growing and developing — and the environment around you is not – you feel that gap even more.
When you realize nothing has changed, or enter a different industry and it’s the same thing all over again, it’s very disappointing. I was not surprised, but I was disappointed. I was, again, the only female in the room for a long time.
What I learned very quickly though is that there’s no room for disappointment. There is no time. You need to think ‘I’m doing what I’m doing, and I hope that everyone will catch up.’ I believe that eventually, they will.
On the Power of Shifting Your Mindset
Q: How do you maintain inspiration and feel empowered when you’re the only woman in the room, time after time?
A: Well, my recommendation for new entrepreneurs would be to surround yourself with a network of strong, powerful women. But I didn’t have that at the time.
I had to just say, ‘I will treat myself as equal. I will treat myself in the way that I want the environment to treat me.’ And that’s it.
Everything in life is a mirror. What you think about yourself is what others will likely think about you.
I just decided that I’m equal, and the environment is equal to me. I’m not better than anyone. No one is better than me. We’re equals, and I have my place. I have my voice. And if that’s tough for someone — and it was, I have to say — then they will have to deal with it.
It’s their development that they need to go through — it has nothing to do with me. They need to catch up. And when they do, it will be beneficial for everyone. The numbers, the end results, the efficiency, the ROI — they prove that when you have diversity, you do better.
Q: What do you think we can do, as women, in our day-to-day to show more people that this is true, to bring some more equality into the senior-level roles in tech?
A: I don’t believe that we need to wait to get promoted. I believe that we need to promote ourselves.
It’s a mindset. I want to see more women saying, ‘I’m a professional. I’m the best at what I do. I’m really good. I’m brilliant.’ Because men say this all the time, and they believe it — and that’s fantastic. It’s not shameful. No one has to be embarrassed.
You’re amazing at what you do. You’re brilliant. Say it out loud.
You deserve something. Go get it. Don’t wait for anyone to promote you or to give it to you. Just say it loud, clear, politely. This is who I am, and this is what I need.
Practical Advice for Investor Meetings, Starting in Tech, & More
Q: We know that women-led companies encounter serious challenges when trying to raise capital. What’s your advice for women in investor meetings?
A: Women have been socialized to always try to please. I learned that I don’t need to please anyone.
All I need to do is show that I can get the numbers and that I have the vision, that I know what I’m doing and I’m going somewhere. I don’t have to prove that I deserve it, because I deserve it by definition.
If they want to invest because they share my vision and they believe that I can deliver and execute on the plan that I brought to the table, then by all means they can join me. I open the door for them to join me.
It’s not the other way around. It’s not that I’m asking or begging or trying to please someone by giving them the opportunity to invest in me. I’m going to work really, really hard to make this happen. If you want to join, then come with me.
When you sit in front of investors, you’re inviting them into your home. Just be yourself. Be genuine. If there’s no chemistry and if it wasn’t meant to be, then you don’t want them anyway.
Q: What about when you’re the only woman in a meeting? How do you get past the habits that we’ve been socialized to have, like qualifying our statements or apologizing?
A: You need to find what you do best, find your competitive advantage, be in your element. For me personally, it’s about the data. When I present data, I’m in my element. For others, it can be something else.
Find your element, and then in the meeting, focus on that. This way, everything that you say comes from that place of strength.
Q: Any advice for women without a technical background trying to break into tech or retail tech?
A: You don’t need a tech background to be an entrepreneur. If that’s what you’re missing, then you surround yourself with people who do have that background, so you complement one another.
When the entrepreneurship gene runs in your body, it doesn’t matter which industry you come from, what your background is, or what you’ve done before. It’s meaningless. If you have to do it, you’ll find a way. And if you do have a gap and you think it’s fundamental to reach a certain level of knowledge in order to penetrate a certain industry, then take the time to learn it.
Remember that nothing is an obstacle. Nothing. You just need to come up with creative ideas for how to succeed.