AmpEquity Speaker Series — Magdalena Yesil

By Ana Mancia

the first AmpEquity Speaker Series of the 2018–2019 academic year, Magdalena Yesil, in conversation with Berkeley Haas Interim Dean, Laura D. Tyson, delivered powerful messages about how she disrupted the male dominated world of venture capital and entrepreneurship. She started with her immigration to the U.S. with a mere $43 dollars to her name.

“I decided I wanted to come to America and study technology,” Yesil said.

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Laura D. Tyson (left) and Magdalena Yesil (right) | Photo by Jim Block

Yesil went from having $43 in her pocket to becoming a renowned serial entrepreneur and investor in many of the world’s top technology companies. After establishing her mark in Silicon Valley as the first investor and founding board member of Salesforce, she now focuses her energy on leading Broadway Angels, an angel group of female investors that she previously established to support aspiring female entrepreneurs. Her book, Power UP! How Smart Women Win in the New Economy, shares her wisdom for success in the technology industry.

When asked about the motivations that allowed her to be successful in her professional journey, Yesil spoke about the importance of having the courage to make mistakes. She described how many individuals feel blocked due to their fear of failure but often forget that the most successful people have failed multiple times. She provided examples from her own career that exhibited the subsequent success brought on from initial failures, including a time when she did not receive any job offers. Instead of feeling defeated, she took the failure as an opportunity to create her own job. “Failure is no fun, but you don’t die from it,” Yesil shared, “had I gotten a job, I would have never launched into entrepreneurship.”

Another question for Magdalena Yesil was about her source of ambition. Yesil simply responded that she was ambitious because she had to be. “Being an immigrant makes you humble because you come here with nothing. You are not entitled to anything. I had to make my own success.” She also spoke about her perspective of seeing criticism as an opportunity and that while this attitude is rare in Silicon Valley, it had helped her consistently get better. “You must be the boss of your own career. What you choose to do might seem stupid to others, but right for you,” she said.

A particularly memorable opinion from Yesil’s talk involved her key to successful entrepreneurship: becoming an expert in an emerging field, trend, or invention. For her, this was the Internet. Yesil chose to enter an unconquered field in order to be a first mover and shape the future of that space — a space that, without her various entrepreneurial ventures, may not exist with the same landscape of tech corporations that we have become accustomed to today.

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Magdalena Yesil | Photo by Jim Block

Later in her inspiring talk, Yesil briefly discussed the founding of Salesforce, including her initial meetings with Marc Benioff and early investment in the company. “There were no barriers to entry when we founded Salesforce,” she noted with laughter, “but zero barriers to entry is not a problem. As long as you stay ahead and move faster than your competitors, you will win! It is about providing the most value for your customers.”

In her past, Yesil was no stranger to being the only woman in the room. When asked how to solve the gender disparity issues in tech, Yesil voiced that pay equity can be solved on a large scale perspective through external audits of companies. She added that quotas alone are not a feasible solution and companies should instead operate on meritocracy while encouraging a more diverse intake of candidates in their recruiting.

At the end of the event, Yesil delivered one final piece of advice that caused a wave of scribbling pen sounds to echo across the room.

“Believe in yourself, and you will always find another job.”

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Photos by Jim Block

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

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