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Meet Falon Fatemi, The Woman Changing the Image of a Silicon Valley CEO

Name a movie about a businesswoman.

Rest assured, even if you can’t do it off-the-cuff, they do exist. On Forbes’ website, there’s even a list, odd-numbered and short as it is. Chocolat, for instance, receives top billing here among other rom-coms like 1987’s Baby Boom and 2007’s Waitress – titles that don’t exactly match the gravitas of, say, The Wolf of Wall Street or The Godfather.

These lighthearted flicks also don’t feature businesswomen so much as they feature women who happen to be involved in business. There’s a difference. For example, when you watch Marlon Brando in The Godfather, you’re not just getting a character; you’re getting an archetype – a single portrayal so potent that it’s also a model for our culture’s imagination of the subject in general (a mob boss, in this case). Just think how many times you’ve seen Brando’s character’s tics iterated in other mafiosos throughout popular media. Is there a female equivalent of this? Let’s rephrase: Is there a female equivalent of this where our heroine works as something other than a secretary, waitress, or an escort?

Falon Fatemi

Prominent columnist and business leader Falon Fatemi argues that there is a problem when it comes to the representation of women as power-holders in the professional world. As the founder and CEO of the sales & marketing intelligence platform Node, Fatemi has come face to face with the biases of Silicon Valley, which, as she discusses, has its own archetype of success: that of the lone genius. It’s “a reclusive (usually white) male genius in a hoodie with an engineering degree from Stanford or MIT, who builds his world-changing company through sheer genius and force of will,” she declares in her popular column.

This stereotype of technological brilliance is something that Fatemi is always conscious of, and something that she even uses to her advantage. “In a lot of ways, it’s a blessing and a curse to be a woman in a male-dominated environment. I actually see it very much as an opportunity. Because, guess what? I’m being underestimated everywhere I go. And there are huge advantages to that,” she says with a laugh, adding that it’s not uncommon for her to be greeted with skepticism whenever she meets potential investors: “They underestimate me when I walk into the room, like ‘What is she doing here? Is she a PR?’ The second I open my mouth, and I know what I’m talking about in such depth that it exceeds their level of understanding from a business standpoint, that all goes away. It blows them away.”

Part of the reason for Fatemi’s acumen, especially when it comes to technical knowledge, is the breadth of her Silicon Valley experience. “I was born into the tech world,” she says, citing her parents’ immigration to the area from Iran in the 1970s. With encouragement from her family, she pursued a career in the fast-paced tech capital, starting a job at Google at the age of 19 (as one of the company’s youngest-ever employees).

Working for the internet giant, Fatemi quickly made a name for herself by helping to establish partnerships with YouTube and expanding Google’s influence into Europe and the Middle East. Her deep knowledge of search engine data would eventually inspire her to start Node, a company which attempts to refine the internet’s mass of data to make it more relevant to what the user is trying to do.

“We now live in a world where there’s more information created in a single day than you could possibly absorb in a lifetime,” she says. “Like 90% of the information on the web was created in the last two years. That’s insane. That means that right now, as you and I are having this conversation, there’s information that’s being created that’s probably really relevant to both of us, that we don’t know that we should be searching for.”

Fatemi’s ambition is to create a 1:1 marketing and sales program, one where information is tailored to meet the exact needs of the user. “We’re taking the web and turning it into this massive graph of relationships between people to people, people to companies, companies to companies,” she explains. “We then distill all of that down based on what’s most relevant to you. We show it to you, and then we show you what to do with it.”

Node’s enterprise recently caught the attention of prominent investors, including noted billionaire and Shark Tank panelist Mark Cuban. Last year, Cuban, along with others, provided Fatemi’s company with $7.5 million in funding. “One thing [Cuban and I] really connected on was, you know, he thinks about the future of technology,” Fatemi says. “He’s really excited about the future of A.I. and machine intelligence. There was a recent quote where he said, ‘The world’s first trillionaire will be an A.I. entrepreneur.’”

Fatemi’s association with Cuban has also given her another reservoir for her ongoing quest for professional wisdom. “One thing I learned from [Cuban] is that if you don’t ask for what you want, you’re never going to get it,” she says. And, as a business columnist for Forbes, and as a CEO herself, Fatemi is always on the lookout for new insight to help her and her readers understand what a real – not a Hollywood – picture of Silicon Valley success looks like.

As a result, Fatemi has come into her own as a role model for young tech entrepreneurs, especially women – even speaking on the importance of a STEM education for women at this year’s X-STEM Symposium in Washington, D.C. “It is a reality that we face these barriers and obstacles that make it not an equitable playing field,” she says. “I’m going to see these obstacles as potential opportunities.”

Fatemi’s Tips for Entrepreneurs

1. If you don’t ask for the deal, you’re not going to get the deal.
2. It’s okay to be afraid. Just don’t let it stop you from taking action.
3. Resilience is the only path to success, and, honestly, the path to success in the startup world is not linear.
4. Surround yourself with amazing people who’ve reached the success points that you have goals towards. So you can get that coaching.

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September 19, 2017
By P.K. French

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