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Women in Agtech: Vinsight CEO Megan Nunes on Selling Predictive Tech While Female

December 13, 2017

Megan Nunes is CEO and founder of Vinsight, a satellite imagery startup offering vineyards analytics on their operations. Vinsight uses public satellite imagery data to measure the vegetation of an area and then compare that data with 10 years of weather records and harvest reports to detect patterns and identify correlations.

Nunes’s family owns a well-known farming company in California’s Central Valley and her family name has been a help on the client side, but that doesn’t make fundraising for a predictive analytics startup any easier. Vinsight, a Y Combinator alum, raised a seed round earlier this year.

With a decade in the aerospace industry before founding Vinsight, Nunes held several C-level positions and launched two satellites.

We caught up with her to find out what working in aerospace taught her about male-dominated spaces, and how she sells tech that can sometimes sound like magic.

Any technology claiming to be predictive adds a level of skepticism. Do you feel like that’s compounded in some rooms by the fact that you’re a woman claiming to make predictions?

You know what, that’s a good question. I don’t think that because I am female that it’s made it more of an issue around skepticism.

I worked in a very heavily male-dominated industry prior to coming back to the agriculture sector, which is the aerospace industry. In some ways, I would say that was more male-dominated than the agricultural sector, believe it or not. I actually see more women now, whether at conferences, customer meetings etc, compared to before when I was working in aerospace.

I think through my previous work experience I have grown accustomed to working in male-dominated environments and I have trained my brain to not allow that to be part of my process even with simple things like recognizing that I am the only female in the room.

When I first meet with a new customer or someone who is interested in our product, I leverage my unique background in ag and aerospace to stick to the facts around what we do. When selling predictive technology, it’s critical for the first contact to be more about de-mystifying the crystal ball and giving users education around the technology rather than sell it as magic. I believe keeping the focus on this helps with skepticism and never allows the user to really care what my gender is.  

One of your funders, X Factor Ventures, is an all-female fund. Is there a difference in that experience?

Yes, I have noticed a huge difference, just in terms of mentorship and having access to see how other females are making their mark in different industries. One of my investors happens to be pregnant right now and we were talking a month ago about what it was like to raise a fund and be a VC all while pregnant. Her simple response was, “you just do it.” To which I replied, “Do you know what would happen if I went into a room pregnant trying to fund my company?” We both sort of laughed it off, but the more I thought about this later the more I came to the realization that yeah this is a reality in which we currently live.

I’ve had someone question my dedication to Vinsight before. I was asked, “Well what’s going to happen if your life changes?” I thought, “What do you mean if my life changes? I don’t understand what that means?” And eventually, I figured it out: “Oh you mean once I am pregnant.”

It’s unfortunate that as a female founder and CEO there are added complexities which relate to my gender and stereotyped perceptions that I have to think about in addition to the typical start-up issues at Vinsight.

Who asked you that?

An investor we were talking within Vinsight’s early days — the question came during our conversation about what our company growth is going to be over the next five to 10 years.

How did you respond?

I replied, “I don’t know why that would be relevant or why that would matter,” and then shifted the conversation back to our business plan. Naturally, we chose to not work with them.

The point I want to make is that I think it’s important to have women in the professional world who are pregnant and raising families. They are great role models and are paving the way for fellow women, like me, who are going to one day ask themselves the big question of am I ready to start a family and still progress in my career or better yet run my startup?

I think we as a community need to work towards the idea that both professional and personal development don’t need to be mutually exclusive and having children doesn’t make you incompetent in the workplace. I honestly don’t understand why you should be punished for something that happens naturally. Men have children all the time and no one treats the title of father or dad as an inability to perform one’s job.

Do you still get hit on a lot in professional contexts?

As much as I would like to say no, the reality is yes. I wear a wedding ring as well, all the time.

It’s one of those things I try to block out. I’ve had meetings with people where I’ll walk in and I have had folks check me out from head to toe before I even sit down.

And what do you do after that?

Well, you sit down and you immediately focus on facts and try to frame the conversation around what you want to achieve during the meeting.

Utilize it as leverage because their mind isn’t thinking about what you’re going to talk about, so take advantage of the fact that they’ve wasted a good 60 seconds of their brain power in looking at you, and try to make that a positive. I’m serious.

Is there a question I haven’t asked that you feel I should have or question that you’d like me to ask other women CEO’s and founders?

I’d love to see a statistical response from women around the big question: “Do you feel like you are disadvantaged in the Agtech or agriculture sector?” Because personally, I don’t feel I am and yet in the same breath, I don’t really know any female founders in the Agtech space now that I’m thinking about it.

I’ve seen and interacted with women in the agriculture industry, but I don’t know other female founders in the sector. I would like to better understand this idea around the recent resurgence of the feminist movement and what does it look like for other female founders and CEOs working in agriculture and agtech?

And I’m not talking about from a sexual misconduct kind of way. I’m talking about the ability to do your job and make an impact.

Another question that immediately comes to mind is, what tactics do other females come up with in order to live in this world and work in it? I’d love the opportunity to learn, figure out new ways that I could be better at my job and better at handling the environment that we’re in right now. Is it around mindset, tactic, etc.?

I grew up as one of four girls and I learned really early in life how important it is to support other females in their endeavors and I would like to do the same for the industry in which I am in now.

It’s refreshing to hear you use the term disadvantage cause I think a lot of women don’t want to admit if they feel they’re at a disadvantage because it feels like complaining.

Well there’s complaining and there’s action. You are your best supporter, in this world. If you decide to complain and not take action then yes, you’re a complainer. But if you decide to be vocal and take action, then your actions speak for themselves. It’s difficult for people to complain about someone who is confident, driven, and action-oriented.

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