Meet the Women Behind the Apps

Last updated: February 27, 2018

In honor of International Women’s Day, we talked to the women at the helm of some of our favorite apps. From the entrepreneur empowering the world to design, to the music app vet who’s redefining fiction, here’s a look at the stories behind the screen.
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Canva: Graphic Design & Logo, Poster, Video Maker

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When Perth native Melanie Perkins was in college, tutoring fellow students in design software, she noticed they had difficulty building confidence with the programs — and resolved to change that. “I realized that surely the future of design needed to be simpler, online, and collaborative,” she says. She first tested the idea behind Canva by launching Fusion Books, a yearbook design software platform, with co-founder Cliff Obrecht. That later became Canva — a tool that empowers everyone to make beautiful designs, from social posts to flyers and invitations. Perkins advises new entrepreneurs to focus on understanding the problems they seek to solve, rather than asking users or customers what to create. “[My students] would have asked for incremental improvements to the design software they were using,” she says. It was by watching them navigate with the software and using it herself that she was able to see the need to democratize design with drastically more approachable design tools.

HOOKED - Chat Stories

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“It’s time for app developers to create more nourishing experiences on mobile,” says Oklahoma-raised Prerna Gupta. She and her husband and co-founder, Parag Chordia, aim to do so by creating immersive apps at the intersection of art and tech — previously in music, and now literature. The app at the forefront of the chat-fiction fad, Hooked tells stories through text message conversations, which readers reveal tap by tap. To Gupta, Hooked was the antidote to common the notion that reading is dying: “Art does not stand still … For fiction to survive, the way we tell stories must evolve to more accurately reflect the modern mind.” Was she always confident that Hooked would survive? She thought the odds were slim, but she knew it was possible — and she believes this attitude helped her prosper. “I think you need that mix of irrational optimism and realism to succeed, no matter what you’re doing.”

Podcast Player & Podcast App - Castbox

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When Wang Xiaoyu was working for Google in Japan, she’d listen to podcasts in Japanese, English, and Chinese during her hour-long commute. She wanted a podcast app that was intuitive, offered personalization, supported multiple languages, and worked across multiple devices. When she couldn’t find one, she decided to leave Google, sell her house, return to Beijing, and code her own app. Xiaoyu wasn’t alone in her podcast player preferences: Today, CastBox has over 13 million listeners, with cleverly curated podcasts in 70 different languages and innovative features like in-audio search woven into a clean interface. While Xiaoyu often looks to CEO friends for support, it’s her grandmother who most inspires her: “She is a brave, positive, optimistic, and loving woman ... She’s inspired me to take risks even if it means to fail along the way. The biggest failure is not trying at all.”
Menting Gao and Verena Hubertz saw that there were scores of cooking apps, but couldn’t find one with the high-quality videos and clear, step-by-step photos they wanted. They saw an opportunity, but investors did not: “No business angel thought that two girls coming right out of their business studies could create a better product than what was already on the market,” says Gao. Unshaken, the Berlin-based duo sold their cars, borrowed money from their parents, and dove into app development. The result was Kitchen Stories, an elegant app that raises the bar when it comes to balancing clear instruction with visual appeal. Gao’s advice to other entrepreneurs? “Just do it — and be persistent! You will always find a way to make it work.”
Personal experience led Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin (whose former stints include leading motorcycle tours) to found Clue. Birth control pills weren’t working well for her, and she was eager to incorporate technology and data analysis into her daily life. So, she created an app that “clues people in with personalized health data” to help women make more informed choices about their reproductive health. “The biggest initial obstacle was demonstrating the value and opportunity of a women’s health app in a vastly male-dominated tech scene,” says Tin. She held firmly to the belief that family planning and fertility affect everyone — those of us who experience a menstrual cycle and those who are close to someone who does. With this resolve, she was able to build one of the most practical tools in digital female health, both for those trying to get pregnant and those simply wanting to keep in tune with their bodies.

CMB Free Dating App

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Born and raised in Seoul, with entrepreneur parents, Dawoon Kang and her sisters, Arum and Soo, were always driven to leave their mark on the world. Dissatisfied with the state of online matchmaking, they decided a new kind of dating app was the way to do it. “Men were frustrated because they didn’t hear back and women were frustrated because they were overwhelmed,” says Kang. With this understanding, they conceived a dating app that would give users fewer, more curated match suggestions (at launch, it was just one match per day). “Pitching a product that is focused on meeting women's needs to a room full of men was a challenge,” says Kang. Investors weren’t her biggest challenge, however: “Our greatest enemies [are] our doubts, fears, insecurities ... Half the battle of being an entrepreneur is fights with yourself.” She advises others to fight that uncertainty with the help of resources like coaches and meditation. “Whatever works for you, find it and invest in it.”

Habitica: Gamify Your Tasks

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Habitica is proof that you can work hard and play hard – at the same time. The app gamifies task management, allowing those who love building up a character and tackling goals in role-playing games to apply that drive to real life. It’s a novel take on the productivity helper, mixing a personal focus on self-improvement with community interaction. At the helm of this hybrid are Siena Leslie and Vicky Hsu. For Leslie, one of the toughest parts of running a business is all the opinions she gets on how to do so. Her solution? “Take everyone's advice into consideration, but make sure you can hear your inner voice clearly. That means taking a step back from the day-to-day and thinking about the long-term goals, staying on top of self-care (whatever that looks like for you), and learning as much as you can.”
Our toughest moments often lead to our greatest breakthroughs. Such was the case for Yunha Kim, who was building her first startup when she reached the point of total burnout. She was working over 100 hours a week and found it difficult to sleep, let alone relax. She decided to try meditating. “Pretty immediately, I saw dramatic improvements in my work, relationships, and overall quality of life,” says Kim. The experience moved her to create Simple Habit, a meditation app designed for busy lifestyles, with practical themes and sessions as short as one minute. In addition to the wisdom she’s received through meditation, Kim has found one piece of advice particularly helpful in building Simple Habit. “My [MBA] professor Margaret Neale would lead exercises to demonstrate the power of diversity in group settings ... It's been a guiding compass for me as I build our team.”
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