Interview: Fashion and BeautyTech founder Odile Roujol tells us where Silicon Valley is headed
Before becoming a stakeholder in the technology and telecommunications field, Odile Roujol spent a large part of her career with major beauty and luxury brands as an executive with L’Oréal, Yves Saint Laurent, and Bourjois (the part of the Chanel group). While with L'Oréal, Odile was managing director of the Lancôme brand (the No. 1 worldwide cosmetic brand in luxury retail).
Today, Odile oversees BeautyTech, a community with 1,500 members worldwide. She also created FaB co-creation studio (which stands for “Fashion and BeautyTech” and is not related to Orange Fab), focused on founding and funding beauty and fashion startups in San Francisco.
She has also been an active participant at Orange Silicon Valley’s Women in Tech events, contributing an experienced and forward-looking voice to the community. She told us more about her background and what she’s doing right now in a recent interview.
OSV: Tell us about your activities in Silicon Valley?
Odile Roujol: I’m the founder of the BeautyTech community and FaB co-creation studio.
I’m also an Advisor in Residence with Next World Capital, working with the firm’s portfolio companies as they expand into international leaders. And a proud advisor with The Hive Data, building startups in AI and machine learning.
I advise startups in fintech, social media analytics, augmented reality, [and other domains].
I’m a board member in different companies and member of the digital council for Scotiabank (third-largest global bank in Canada).
OSV: You created the BeautyTech community from scratch. Now, FaB is represented by its 12 chapters and 1,500 members globally. What lessons did you learn while building out this community? What aspect do you find most rewarding?
OR: I founded it as a mentor wanting to scale (what I did monthly with only 6-10 founders) exponentially. I had the pleasure to see 400 people in a few weeks on the Meetup app, and now we have chapters in Asia, Europe and Latin America. The 1,500 founders and funders meet locally with more than 12 events per year and a site and social media to engage between the two events.
Next meeting will take place in Shanghai May 22nd (at WeWork), then San Francisco June 25th (hosted by Salesforce). We share our learnings about many challenges that are part of the entrepreneurial journey: building a strong team, having healthy relationships with investors and board members, raising funds, building a platform. and growing globally.
OSV: What is it like to start a business as a woman entrepreneur in Silicon Valley?
OR:Pretty exciting! I learn a lot every day by the people and founders I meet. I’m grateful to have amazing VCs in my network, and we trust each other.
When you have a venture, you need to be efficient and to meet a lot of people. I try my best to give them valuable insights to founders, even when I don’t invest, as I believe in the long-term relationships.
OSV: How have you changed your core professional philosophies since arriving?
OR: Here, people learn for life. I enjoy the “pay forward” culture.
Technology moves fast. Disruption is everywhere. I like the fact that people want to impact people’s lives for the better, whether we talk about transportation and mobility, food and beverages (many people on the CBD trend now!), self-esteem and beauty, or mobile payments.
I spend more time to “give back” and try to help the new leaders to grow. I meet people in the different ecosystems, corporations, investors, and startup-founders.
I’m less transactional and short term and more about the trust and long-term relationship I build -- and the impact I can have. I always talk about the “mission and data-driven entrepreneurs.”
OSV: Women working in technology-related fields often find themselves in the minority. To what extent did you find this to be the case when you embarked on a career in tech? How did it motivate you?
OR: I believe Orange is pretty advanced for gender equality and having a lot of inspiring female leaders (Mireille Helou, newly promoted to CEO at Orange Silicon Valley, is one of them with a career before in Africa and Europe).
My bad surprise was actually Silicon Valley. When I arrived three years ago, I believed I would find the best place in the world for diversity and inclusiveness. I found an ecosystem dominated by male engineers and investors. We need more inspiring role models in the big companies and in startups, more women founders and women in ventures, and more funds given to them (still 2% for 16% of female entrepreneurs globally in 2018). Diversity empowers innovation.
Even the quotas for boards in California are pretty recent. We’ve got ways to improve, and we all have cognitive biases. Already, to be aware is making progress.
OSV: What transformations do you expect to see shape the tech industry in the near future?
OR: I believe the investments are still in Silicon Valley. It’s the place to be. But I see many VCs encouraging their teams in the portfolio to open offices in their native country -- or in other cities in the US -- to have more loyal employees and avoid the huge cost of hiring for engineers, tech people, and AI.
I believe San Francisco and the Bay could benefit from that, as the culture could evolve. Still aiming at building huge companies changing people’s lives, but more aware of life outside Silicon Valley.
I believe in multicultural leaders and diversity to power innovation.
OSV: What advice would you give to women considering careers in tech?
OR: would encourage them to use tools as the Glassdoor for women, InHerSight, founded by Ursula Mead. Best is to have facts and figures when choosing a company. You need to understand their culture.
Then for sure, I believe in mentors and conversations to help you by their guidance. Women show their vulnerabilities when they are mentors; that’s helpful. But you also need men around you, as again we are only half of humanity and often need a man to be promoted and help us at a stage in our career.
And last but not least, please enjoy life -- every minute of life! Don’t worry too much about the future, don’t try to be perfect, and don’t forget to negotiate (and not only for your team). I’ve learned listening to Margaret A. Neale, a Stanford professor, that we can be better at that, so let’s be self-aware my sisters!