Lifestyle

The beauty handicap: Here’s how one woman climbed the mobile app ladder

Joana Picq
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat

Joana Picq is pretty. There’s no getting around it.

She has blond hair. Sparkling blue eyes. Olive skin. But that’s just the outside.

She also speaks four languages. Has a degree in civil engineering. Can code with the best of them.

And the engaging and tech-savvy 33 year old knows what it’s like to sit in a room full of white men who thinks she’s a ditz. She knows what it means to have struggled against that proverbial glass ceiling as she climbed her way up the IT ladder.

“If you’re blond and cute, people usually think you’re stupid. But when you’re not, and [they] realize this, it opens up a lot of doors,” Picq said.

“You never try to charm with your looks. You use your brain. And this,” she said, “is what will help get you through tech.”

It’s that attitude and verve that today finds Picq as the head of international development for Jampp, a London-based mobile app startup that helps IT outfits optimize advertising for clients. Jampp is quickly ramping up operations in San Francisco, New York, London, and Brazil. Jampp has 24 employees, and VentureBeat caught up with Picq as she visited San Francisco to scout and hire new people.

Jampp makes money by on installs. They take the risk of buying impressions which they to then charge clients on a per install basis. The Jampp app scouts and localizes up to 30 different variables depending on the client throughout the mobile sphere. It identifies websites with attributes clients ideally need to drive traffic to their own, and it optimizes the cost of user acquisitions.

Piqc joined Jampp in 2012 after having worked and run six startups and IT companies in Europe and Brazil. Many of the startups failed, and she found herself bouncing between Europe, the States, and South America. Born in Paris to a French father and Brazilian mother, her parents instilled upon her a sense of adventure and an attitude that ultimately, for a woman, failure was never an option.

This attitude has served her well in the male-dominated world of technology on three continents. In her family, you did well, or didn’t do at all.

“My mother was always very career-driven. She was a professor at UCLA, Princeton, and the University of Berlin. She has two Ph.Ds. I moved to L.A. when I was 15 and learned English. It totally changed my life,” Picq said.

Women in tech face many issues (and lots of men). The reasons vary and are often gender-based. Meebo cofounder and chief technical officer Sandy Jen told VentureBeat about the importance of encouraging women to pursue new goals in technology, including learning a programming language, starting a company and taking on leadership roles within the community. Google bought Meebo, a social media platform, in 2012. 

The barriers for women like Picq are real. In March, app maker Bizzabo released a list of the top 100 desired speakers at tech conferences. Not a single woman cracked the top 10. In fact, the list only included 16 women out of the 100. The data came from a wide range of sources, including Bizzabo’s servers, social media, Google search results, and event organizers.

Picq studied civil engineering in Brazil and obtained a degree at a university in Rio. Picq then moved back to the States and took global marketing courses at the University of California at Riverside.

Later still, she took her first internship at IBM. And for Picq, this is where she learned that, while she interacted with a few female directors and VPs, it was all mostly white men in suits calling the shots.

“Seeing this, I said to myself that tech can be a much better place than it is now.”

She set out to carve her own path. And taught herself to code. And coding, ultimately, was the game-changer.

Not long after that, Picq took her first real gig, at Microsoft’s Paris office. Within six months, she was helping to spearhead the aging tech giant’s Middle Eastern and African divisions for emerging technologies. She spent three years there, and eventually, she moved into the division tasked with integrating Microsoft’s then burgeoning acquisitions of European tech startups, helping to optimize products and channels.

While she rose through the ranks, she was still touched by what she saw as a male-dominated industry. And then a funny thing happened. She jumped ship to VMware, a cloud-based enterprise play, but was fired after just six months. It was then, Picq recalled, she got what many refer to as “startup fever.”

In 2008, she launched Zilok’s UK operations. It was a peer-to-peer play targeting apartment renters. That folded. And in the next four years, launched and ran a succession of startups, all of which failed or withered in a protracted death.

“But this opened a lot of doors. As an entrepreneur, I learned a lot from the women in tech I worked with.”

It was her coding skills, however, and faith in being a female in a dude-dominated IT world that brought her out on top. By 2011, Picq had learned to code for mobile apps, and the following year, she joined Jampp. It’s a startup that is cash-flow positive, with 2 million installs in 40 countries and counting.

“Stick to your guns,” Picq said. “There is an upside here. In tech, people want things that work. And tech is good if you’re a woman and want to use your brains. Being a female in tech, in a male dominated space, is the biggest issue for many smart women working here. And women need to do a better job of pitching themselves.”

“Women,” she said, “are amazing developers, doing both the front and backend. And women usually have interests that men don’t.”

VentureBeat managing editor Jolie O’Dell contributed to this story.