What was your path to entrepreneurship? How did your career start out, and what led you to working in Silicon Valley?  

I grew up in Silicon Valley, or, specifically, Cupertino, which is where I still reside. Silicon Valley and I grew up together; I worked at Apple, literally in a building that stands on the same land where I picked apricots as a kid. So, I have extremely deep roots here — and a huge investment in the continued, vibrant growth of this area, and the tech industry itself. Remaining at the cutting edge of technology is one way for our economy to continue to thrive, despite all obstacles.

My career actually began with a focus on the music industry. I started out working at Guitar Player and Keyboard magazines, which were also based in Cupertino. I put myself through college while working and then moved to Los Angeles to work for a major record label — EMI Music. Of course, music has always been tied very closely to tech advancements, and I have always focused on building strong relationships on both sides of that equation to have a strong effect on the two industries I love.

After EMI, I was recruited to return to Cupertino to launch the music focus at Apple. In those days, working at Apple was very entrepreneurial and much less corporate; we had tons of autonomy and created groundbreaking campaigns and products with an amazing degree of freedom. When I left Apple, I began working with an endless stream of disruptive, innovative tech startups all over the Silicon Valley, of course with a special focus on music and entertainment. It is 15 years later, and I’ve had an amazing track record of success and have built a huge and powerful network of investors and entrepreneurs.

You had the chance to be a leader at Apple. What did this experience teach you that you can pass on to other women entrepreneurs?

During my time at Apple, we flourished in a culture that valued autonomy and an entrepreneurial spirit. We had a shared mission, vision, and passion, and it felt like we were all driving our own destiny, while also enjoying the perks of a large company.

The leadership skills I acquired certainly included solidifying a vision for a company, figuring out how to empower and build the spirit of a team, understanding the power of collaboration, and developing self-confidence and a can-do attitude to overcome challenges. I also learned the importance of working with good mentors whom you resonate with; I can’t emphasize enough how having that kind of support and guidance helps future entrepreneurs.

As women, we really need to build environments where autonomy is valued, and mentors show up to support and guide us.

Why do you think the world is so fascinated with Silicon Valley? Should we be?

I think it’s because Silicon Valley is the most consistent hotbed of innovation on the planet, and we have so much success in creating products and services that have a huge impact on the world. There’s nowhere on earth like this. So, yes, we should be fascinated with it — it’s a truly unique place for innovation.

When you see other women who may want to get their foot in Silicon Valley, what advice could you give them?

You should have a clear vision, a passion, and an unbending commitment to achieving your goals, first and foremost. Find a core team of individuals you trust who complement your skills and who share your vision and commitment. Also, it is important to network and establish powerful relationships where your ideas and passions can thrive.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in Silicon Valley?

I think it’s an advantage to be a woman here. Our inherent skills around the way we approach contributing to a team and collaborating for success enhance the overall spirit of the Valley. Also, there are fewer females marking their marks here, relatively speaking, so women have a real chance to carve out a niche and stand out in the industry.

What can women do to change the perception that most tech startup founders are, and should be, male?

As the years pass and we see more female founders and CEOs, the balance will shift so it isn’t expected that a founder should be male. Personally, I just don’t buy into that perception. I focus on doing great work and want that to be noticed on its own merits — regardless of gender. It’s helpful for tech companies to hire and support women on their teams (assuming they’re equally qualified). My general advice would be to stay somewhat “gender-neutral” — refuse to buy into stereotypes.

Do you think you need to be in Silicon Valley to make a difference on the world as a women entrepreneur, specifically in tech?

I do think it’s helpful to be here because we are “ground zero” for innovation (especially in technology). The ability to network with other founders and entrepreneurs is invaluable, and there are so many opportunities available within just a 50- to 100-mile radius. The cumulative, collaborative opportunities just can’t be recreated by Skype!

There are so many strong women throughout history and those making history today. If you could have lunch with any female in time, who would you choose? Why?

Honestly, for me, it would be Oprah Winfrey. I resonate very strongly with her values and approach. I truly admire the impact she’s had on women across the globe. She is a lighthouse and beacon for personal growth and transformation, and, like me, she is on a lifelong mission to empower and encourage others to truly be their best selves. I want to show people that they can live their best lives by being more self-aware, by constantly questioning things, learning, and growing.

Living anything BUT our best lives is a tragedy.

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A highly sought-after consultant, mentor, speaker, producer, coach, and author, Kelli Richards is the CEO of The All Access Group. She and her team facilitate strategic business opportunities in digital distribution between technology companies, established artists and celebrities, film studios, record labels, and consumer brand companies in order to foster new revenue streams and deliver compelling consumer experiences. Kelli is also the author of the bestselling eBook, “The Magic & Moxie of Apple –An Insider’s View.”