Diane Greene’s Advice to Female Entrepreneurs: You Too Could Start a VMware

[Corrected, see below] Female technologists and CEOs are still rare in Silicon Valley, but Diane Greene has been both—and she’s been far more successful at it than most males.

Trained at MIT and UC Berkeley, Greene was the co-founder and founding CEO of Palo Alto, CA-based VMware, which introduced a layer of virtualization between hardware and software that allowed computer users to do something new—run multiple operating systems on the same machine in a way that makes the machine run more securely and efficiently.

The idea was based on research done by her husband, Mendel Rosenblum, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford, and it turned into a multibillion dollar market for VMware. When the company went public in 2007, it was Silicon Valley’s biggest IPO since Google’s.

Greene left VMware abruptly in 2008 over an apparent disagreement with VMware’s parent company, EMC. She was replaced by Paul Maritz, a former member of Microsoft’s Executive Committee. (Xconomy’s Greg Huang has a piece today about EMC’s merger & acquisition strategy.)

But Greene has continued to invest in companies and to advise entrepreneurs, and she’s now considering starting another company, she said in last night in an interview with Xconomy. Lately she’s been clearing her calendar so she has more time to think.

Greene spoke in San Francisco on November 4 at Women 2.0 PITCH Night—an event for female entrepreneurs to pitch their startups. Her most important achievement at VMware, she told Xconomy, was to create a culture where every employee in the company understood how important their work was and felt compelled to excel—although she wishes she’d introduced employee training earlier.

Here are excerpts from her public conversation on how VMware got started, followed by remarks on what other entrepreneurs could learn from her experience.

Diane Greene: We started the company with some graduate students from Stanford, and right off the bat, one of the grad students was saying, we need a killer app. We need to build a virtualized web server, or get a consulting contract with a server vendor.

But we had this strong vision and knew we had to get to that. It’s a lot of small steps – we couldn’t just jump right to the server. So we explained why we had to start on the desktop.

And then I wanted to get validation from friends I respected. There was a guy I know who has a PhD from Stanford, who had built three companies, and I thought, … Next Page »

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Deborah Gage is a technology writer based in the Bay Area. Follow @

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