Entrepreneurship is nothing new for Gina Bianchini. When she was just 9, she bred and sold mini lop rabbits.
As a student at Stanford University, she alphabetized applications to help pay for tuition. She’s also been a mountain-biking
park ranger, sold advertising, and taught a spinning class while getting her MBA and working on her first startup. But that
was just the beginning.
After selling Harmonic Communications, an early advertising tracking, measurement and optimization software company, Bianchini
made her most indelible mark in the tech world with Ning, now the world’s largest online platform for people to create
their own social networks. Launched in 2005 with Marc Andreessen, Ning is an exponentially growing, top 100 global website
with 46 million members and 20 million visitors per month.
Bianchini left Ning in March to join the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz as an entrepreneur-in-residence. And she
hints to SUCCESS that she’s on the cusp of launching another exciting project.
The Silicon Valley girl, who grew up modestly with a homemaker mom and a schoolteacher dad, has appeared on CNN and CNBC,
has graced numerous magazine covers, and is frequently included in one-to-watch-type lists.
She recently shared her insights and experiences with SUCCESS.
SUCCESS: Let’s talk about Ning. How did you know there would be a demand for what it provides?
Gina Bianchini: If you look across the social technology landscape, what you see is that different social services are doing
things very, very well. And the area that we really focused on at Ning was the place where people wanted to create and organize
shared interests and passions. And, in terms of the product itself, we were really building it as a product for ourselves.
Q: What’s your attitude toward the inevitable challenges of building a startup?
GB: I really don’t think people take on entrepreneurial endeavors without a true joy of solving problems and turning
a potential set of challenges into a tremendous opportunity.
Those challenges are what make it fun. It’s not what’s handed to you, it’s how you deal with it. A friend
of mine said it so beautifully. She asked herself every day, “OK, so what’s the fi rst step?” You just have
to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and take those small steps forward.
Q: You have such a great attitude. How do you maintain that?
GB: To be fair, it would be insincere and inauthentic to say that I always have such a great attitude. You are catching me
at a point in time where I am feeling really grateful for the experiences I’ve had, and I’m gearing up to start
something new. It really is about putting one foot in front of the other, and it is so much easier to do that when you have
a good attitude.
Q: So, you mentioned starting something new. What is it going to entail?
GB: It will entail hopefully a lot of the same things as my old job, if we are successful. We will see. I am going to found
a company, and I am going to run it. It is something that I will very humbly put together in the beginning and we’ll
see where it goes. It’s not ready for prime time.
Q: What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs? How do they know if their idea is good or not?
GB: The number of free things, services and applications that are out there today to test and optimize an idea is increasing
dramatically. What we found with Ning is that there are a lot of things people can do for a low price per month. Blogs are
free. You can get distribution on Facebook and Twitter. And that’s not to say that it will always be free. But you can
test something to see if people like it for little or no money. That’s really powerful. There’s a guy named Gary
Vaynerchuk who wrote a book called Crush It!, and I highly recommend it because he does a really great job at making new ventures
and startups attainable by people who have normal jobs and hard schedules.
Q: What would your advice be to people who are intimidated by online networking?
GB: An entrepreneur should do at least one thing a day that absolutely terrifies them. I think you have to do things that
scare you. There are so many more amazing life experiences when you operate on strength and courage, as opposed to fear.
Q: You are viewed as a pioneer for women entrepreneurs, particularly in the technology field. What do you see as
the future for women and do women have advantages over men?
GB: I don’t think it’s a horse race. I think it’s about setting your goals on something you personally
want to accomplish, whether you’re a man or a woman, and figuring out how to get that done using your unique talents
and strengths. Look at the fact that women control north of 80 percent of the household spending and, in many situations,
serve as the social glue for friends and family. It doesn’t mean it’s easier for women or harder for men. I don’t
think there’s a gender distinction. At the same time, I would be painting an inaccurate picture if I were to suggest
that more women are going into computer science. It’s actually less. Less than 10 percent of Stanford computer science
graduates are women, and that number is going down.
Q: In interviews, you describe your mom, who was a homemaker, as being an entrepreneur. Did she influence your entrepreneurial
GB: Absolutely. When there are constraints and limited resources, I don’t know of a single woman who isn’t creative
in one way, shape or form, whether it’s with money coming in or money spent going out. That’s just my experience
with my mom. She really inspired me to look at opportunities and take advantage of them.
Q: In general, what character traits do you think are important to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
GB: Tenacity—not giving up—and being open minded, creative and curious.
Q: What is your definition of success?
GB: I am really enjoying [legendary coach] John Wooden’s definition of success as being the best version of yourself
that you can be. And doing the best that you can do and not competing with others or judging yourself relative to people,
but really focusing in on how you push yourself.
Q: With that, would you say you are successful?
GB: No, because I think there is always room for improvement. That being said, I would say I am incredibly grateful, and
I am in a great place in the journey that I am on. It’s kind of a lame New Age-y, hippie way of saying it—if I
don’t say it that way then I am not being true to my California roots—but there really is so much more that I
am looking forward to experiencing.