Silicon Valley Exec champions women and young entrepreneurs
EVP, Innovation, RingCentral
Earlier this year, when Newsweek crowned seven white males “The Founding Fathers of Silicon Valley,” Kira Makagon sighed—then went to work setting the record straight. In an impassioned rebuttal in The Huffington Post, Makagon wrote the “fallacies are glaring.” What, she asked, about the valley’s many “Founding Mothers”? She then identified five worthy contenders.
“Yes, the tech world is mostly men and yes, the founders of most large companies are men,” Makagon said in a recent interview. “But I don’t know if Facebook would be Facebook without [COO] Sheryl Sandberg.”
The reaction wasn’t unexpected from Silicon Valley insider Makagon. By day she serves as executive vice president of innovation at RingCentral, a Belmont, Calif.-based provider of cloud-based communication and collaboration software with over $300 million in revenues and over 350,000 customers. Off the clock, she’s a fierce advocate for women and young entrepreneurs as a frequent public speaker and blogger on LinkedIn, Huffington Post, and elsewhere. Popular topics include flexible workplaces, unconscious bias in hiring, and advice for female CEOs on how to avoid the “glass cliff.”
Makagon herself is a model of a strong female rising through the tech-sector ranks. In her late 20s, then a single mother working full-time while attending Haas at night, Makagon fully understood the obstacles women face. “I was nervous about leaving work to take my son to the doctor,” says Makagon, who was vice president of product development for Scopus Technology. She credits two senior executives with coaching her through the challenges—and inspiring her to do the same as she pursued her dreams of starting her own company. Makagon has co-founded three companies, including Octane Software, a CRM provider that sold for $3.2 billion in 2000, and Red Aril, a real-time brand management platform acquired by a Hearst-owned digital marketing agency in 2011.
Today, Makagon sees technology as leveling the playing field for women—and men. “I often hear men say, ‘I have to go to my child’s soccer game. I’ll be online at 8:00 p.m.,’” says Makagon. “They couldn’t do that before.”
At RingCentral, which she joined in 2012, Makagon oversees worldwide products, R&D and operations, and a global staff of some 800 people. Last year she was instrumental in the company’s expansion from voice and video-based communications into broader collaboration services through the acquisition of Glip, a strategy that helped land numerous new customers. RingCentral has also landed for two years running on a high-profile Gartner list of top innovative companies in its space.
The key to her success, says Makagon, who’s been named one of the “Most Influential Women in Business” in 2015 and 2016 by the San Francisco Business Times, is her ability to think like an entrepreneur while valuing the processes and standards a large organization like RingCentral needs. “You have to split your brain into two,” she says.
How does her gender help her do that? “There’s an emotional intelligence and an ability to adapt that women have,” says Makagon. “We don’t always need to be heroes.” —Krysten Crawford