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CEO of minority-owned tech company shares her story, hopes for a more diverse tech future | Commerce Street

In a new episode of Commerce Street, we talked to the CEO of Webhead Technologies about her groundbreaking journey paving the way for others in SA's tech community.

SAN ANTONIO — From the early years of the World Wide Web to the modern era of social media dominance, tech CEO Janie Gonzalez has been at the forefront of the tech industry in San Antonio for the last 27 years.

In this episode of Commerce Street, an Eyewitness News Original business podcast, Gonzalez shares her story as one of the first Latina tech CEOs in Texas and a leader in SA's tech industry.

Listen to the full conversation below or download Commerce Street on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts. Article continues below.

Gonzalez's company, Webhead Technologies, or Webhead , was founded in 1994, just when the World Wide Web was becoming commonplace. The company is a standout in San Antonio and now employs dozens of people, despite not having venture capital funding like many other tech companies. Gonzalez herself broke barriers and paved the way for Mexican Americans and women in the tech field. She is a passionate advocate for STEM education and supporting the development of homegrown talent.

The conversation started with what inspired her to pursue a career in tech and the early years of Webhead.

(Interview edited for clarity and length)

Gonzalez: I'm the CEO of Webhead Technologies known as Webhead. I think what inspired me really was my upbringing. You know, I was raised of  humble beginnings, saw my parents struggle. I kind of was very self-aware of what the world wanted me to be, either a housewife, work for a hotel, be a waitress. And there was nothing else. You know, my dad was a mechanic. My mother was a domestic goddess, who was a pioneer of micro-enterprises to make ends meet. She always had a pop-up. So I learned really, really early on what I didn't want. There was a lot of things that I loved about my mom and my dad. But, the thing that I didn't like was a lack of education and the lack of opportunity. So I kind of knew that I wanted to break the cycle of poverty, a lack of higher education. 

So I was determined to to go to college. And around that time, I was dating someone that was already in college who said, well, why can't you go? And I said, 'because tradition says otherwise'. And so that was the beginning of me saying 'oh, you go to college, how do you do it?' So eventually I ended up going to a community college, and I got more inspiration there, decided to pursue a degree in sociology. And then eventually transfer to UTSA and graduate from UTSA. But before I graduated, this individual that was going to college, I ended up marrying and he ended up being a computer scientist. And one of his jobs was working for the high performance computing lab because there were no minorities that were Hispanic participating. There were students who were Chinese. There were students from other cultures, but no Hispanics in the computer lab. As you know, there's very little participation in STEM from Hispanics. African-Americans and Hispanics are nowhere near where they need to be in numbers when it comes to STEM. So he was recruited. 

He was doing some really high-performance computing stuff, but I would walk in and take him lunch. We were married already by then and it was my first exposure to Netscape. That was one of the first browsers. And then I asked a lot of questions like, 'what are you doing?' And he was like, well, my job right now, besides everything I'm doing, is establishing the first web server at UTSA and this thing is called the World Wide Web, the internet. And I just said 'you had me at hello'. The moment that I understood in very layman's terms what the World Wide Web was, I applied my sociology background of understanding how people interacted in cultures of work and space and family units and everything. And I said, 'you know what? This will transform, as cliche as it sounds, the way we live, work and play'. And so I encouraged him to start Webhead and we started Webhead in 1994 out of our house in District 5, in the area that we grew up in. And I said 'we're going to start our own business'. And sure enough, those were the days where there was very little ISP providers. As a matter of fact, some of the TV stations were ISP providers. 

And so we started doing a lot of work for everybody with funding. We got no funding, even though at the beginning of 1994, we were innovative in the solutions that we were building. We just couldn't get the respect being a minority startup out of a house in District 5 where Burbank [High School] was located, no one paid attention to us. And so we just pretty much grew the company organically and my original role was really supporting the company. But, my vision was more ambitious than [my husband] or our new partner, Roger. And so I decided to quit my full time job and then just run it. And once I took over, we grew like 200 percent and 400 percent and 500 percent. And of course, they they blame my growth basically on the Internet 1.0 wave. And, in many ways when the dotcom busted, I did feel like, 'whoa, maybe it wasn't really my gift or my vision for Webhead and internet technologies and how it could transform the everyday user, how it could empower an everyday user and empower small business to pretty much take their products online'. 

And so what I discovered was that after the internet kind of plateaued, the technology didn't plateau, but the market did, I realized that all the men that survived were men like Jeff Bezos, Michael Dell. I think Fiona was the only one from Compaq. And I said, 'holy crap, things are going to get harder for me'. The thing that allowed me to not have to break to a glass ceiling, I was able to create my own career online. I was able to compete online. No one cared about my gender, my skin color. All they cared about was that I had knowledge to this new technology and platform...all of a sudden became a reality barrier. So I decided to stick it out. And so 27 years later, Webhead  went from a startup from my house to an upstart with three employees to 58 employees throughout the United States 

KENS 5: That is an amazing story, and a uniquely San Antonian story.

Gonzalez: We often don't get a lot of, like, respect for it. And I think a lot of it is, you know, we're not creating 1,500 jobs. You know, we're not a Rackspace. that came in and created 15,000 jobs, but it made an impact. But I will tell you, the real story of what happened is that we view economic development of different lenses. That is big job creation or in my case, micro, you know, economic development. And I will tell you that my story out of San Antonio really is the ecosystem of a lot of small business in San Antonio. You know, there's a lot of well-known family owned businesses. Mi Tierra, for example, is a great story. You know, Lisa from Rosarios. And then there's the Webhead's of the world. The net creation of jobs and contribution to the economy is just as important as an AT&T and it's just as important as a Rackspace that that is the fabric of what makes San Antonio so unique. But the pandemic is a great example of the net losses of big companies when a pandemic sets in. We just experienced that. You saw that in today's economy, especially in industries such as the restaurant industry, hospitality industry, where a lot of minorities were that were displaced. And I think that it's been a personal mission of mine to stay in business, to, you know..what's the purpose of encouraging kids to go to college and get a degree in STEM and you have no jobs in it? And so what's the point of supporting workforce development initiatives in I.T. and then there's no jobs? And so I think there's a lot of Janies that don't want to grow up and work at a minimum wage job where, you know, there's a lot of us that have great ideas, you know? We're inventors, we're innovators, we're resourceful. We just don't have the backing. We don't may not have the backing from our parents. We may not have the VC backing. But there's a lot of smart people inside San Antonio that really just need a hand up. And in many ways, that's always been what it's all about, representing the underdog, that 'why not us?' And today, I mean, it's so easy to start your business, your phone, Wi-Fi connection, even for free. You can start your business like there really isn't an excuse not to be self-employed. Right. And so it's been really neat to be part of that for 27 years and to continue to be a leader. I take a lot of pride in it because there isn't a lot of minority women in the industry or minorities still in STEM. 

KENS 5: Can you tell us more about what you company does, for people who might not know?

Gonzalez: So every application that you use today, that is the technology that Webhead  has always been part of, which is the thing that connects to the internet. Whether it's Facebook, whether you're buying something from Amazon, we basically have done that historically, which is developing web-based software to connect to mobile devices, you know, a tablet. And so we basically build commercial applications for either a engaging people or our commerce selling products or presenting a service. And so we do it both for the commercial world and we do it for the federal government at a very large scale. 

KENS 5: And you are known as the first Latina tech company CEO in San Antonio.

Gonzalez: Absolutely. Think about it...1994. And to be clear, I was the first Mexican-American female to open a business in a District 5, which is the San Antonio Independent School District on the west side. And our first home office was on West Commerce and Buenavista. And so I've always been very true to my roots and demonstrated the ability to foster innovation and economic development no matter where you're from. We took Webhead from West Commerce to East Commerce when back then they were revitalizing warehouses, building spaces such as the Frederick building. And now I'm in District 1, which is, as you see the pearls nearby in central downtown. So I've always had a vision for staying in the urban core, the inner city. Just because the talent pool is great, the diversity of talent is amazing. And I've always leveraged free parking.

KENS 5: How does it make you feel personally to have been such a pioneer and to have paved the way for other Mexican-Americans and women?  

Gonzalez: I'm very proud of what we've done with we started with $500  to today being a multimillion dollar firm. Am I disappointed in the zero in the multimillion dollar amount? Yes, I am. I expect it today to be twenty five million or ten million. And I'm not. And it's not for lack of trying. I think the lack of scalability and no matter how hard we work as a company, you know, the bigs always get all the attention. They have really good funding. And our business model, unfortunately, was no longer to be sold, but just organic growth. So there's a part of me that that is mixed. And I'm passionately frustrated, too, that there are not more Webheads  in San Antonio. There's a lot of startups and startups are getting funding, but there isn't a lot of home-grown I.T. companies that are around doing fairly well. I'm disappointed with that. I think that there's a lot more in San Antonio than when I first started. There's a lot more women in the industry. I will say that it was really interesting to see the evolution of women in technology, but you find a big acceptance of women in social media, but you don't necessarily find it so much in software development or engineering or bio sciences. And so, even then, you see how we continue to want to put women in certain boxes. And again, there's nothing wrong with being an influencer and having a successful social media company. But again, I think that the if the industry continues to try to put us in boxes, which makes it even harder for women in STEM to succeed. 

So very proud of our organic growth in history. I'm very happy to be the many of firsts, thefirst to start a tech company, the first to generate more than a million dollars of revenue in San Antonio, to celebrate 27 years of history, to now open a software factory, but very passionately frustrated that we've made a dent. We have not made a significant amount of difference in a field that I think, you know, San Antonio could significantly benefit from it. We don't need to be Austin either. I want to argue that we don't need to be the Austin Tech scene. I think that San Antonio has a lot of unique strength and and, you know, with the military, with health I.T., I mean, there's a lot of big nuggets here that we have...aviation, manufacturing. So I really wish that sometimes we were more unique in our selling proposition and not aspire to be like Austin, but to continue to be unique San Antonio, even when it comes to STEM. I think, again, being an underdog and being a minority is a competitive edge. When you're underestimating your capabilities and someone discovers you and you can do the same great work that you can get in the East Coast and the West Coast in San Antonio. So there's a lot of pride in that.

KENS 5: We talk a lot on this podcast about the differences between San Antonio and Austin. It always draws comparisons, but we always want to know from everyone we talk to...how do you think it's going in San Antonio as far as the diversity of industries, the tech industry, and our growth in San Antonio?

Gonzalez: Obviously, you're going to compare it to California and you're going to compare it to Austin, but we're not there. Right. But if you were just to look at San Antonio's history, just its history alone. Right. I think in twenty seven years we've made some significant groundbreaking. I mean, we we've made some significant, I would say, headway, we really have, it just gets overshadowed when you're not recruiting the type of big brand companies like Tulsa and, you know, you don't attract that. But there is a lot of pockets of great tech focus or biomed focus or manufacturing focus...organizations that are doing really well. I mean, we have a significant amount of data centers and we are leading in so many ways. I think UTSA is doing a really good job with their cyber program. You know, I think A&M San Antonio is doing another great job with cyber. You know, I think you have a lot of new startup VC funding happening and starting to have never I mean, to hear a company get funded for $25 million? You didn't see that back then when I first started. So I think where you need I think what makes San Antonio special is really a regional approach. I think that what we don't highlight enough is our financial relationship with Mexico. In the United States, I do a lot of tech, cross-border commercialization or presentation of relationships. You know, we don't look at how deep we have relationships with Canada and Mexico and other countries where that exchange of intellectual property and commercialization and technology is taking place. So I would say if you just measure us for just us, I think we're doing great. I think that we are very regionally strong. A lot of, especially South Texas and and border cities, look to us as leaders. And I think we really are. You know, obviously, if you compare us to Austin and in California where we've made a dent, but when you think of our history and you think of where we are today, I think we're doing a very good job.

KENS 5: Can you tell us a little bit about the new software factory?

Gonzalez: So there's a couple of already software factories here in San Antonio, and I believe one is Level Up and Air Force-focused. The difference between theirs and ours would just be that we have no constraints being privately-owned. We don't have the constraints and military requirements of constraints of security, per say. And so I think that's really a unique proposition, that there's more flexibility and being innovative and taking. So ours has a really large R&D component to it of taking large legacy proprietary systems and then using commercial technology and making it work. 

I think what, again, makes us unique is that we don't have the restrictions of the military security requirements to work in that environment. And the other thing, too, is, again, what makes us unique, I think that I'm very proud of is my entire Dev team, even though we are EEO, is 100 percent Hispanic. And there's a reason for that. And the reason was that the pandemic created a shortage of IT professionals. So, I had to get really creative in how I was going to recruit. And I look to South Texas, a good portion of our team is from the Valley. And it's an example, again, of leveraging my culture and leveraging Web Head's history and story to recruit talent that is proud to be part of a minority owned, woman-owned software factory. When your entire team...think about this...you have to imagine I've been in the industry 27 years and when I first started, I was the only female at Web Head for 10 years. And again, there wasn't a lot of minorities in STEM...software developers, cloud professionals, security professionals, and to move forward and to see that our company just happened, after interview and equally, the people that accepted the positions happened to be either first generation or just Hispanics...I'm very proud of that. I mean, you know, the industry has a one percent unemployment rate. It's really hard to find talent right now. And I was I've managed to do that by being uniquely Web Head in San Antonio.

KENS 5: Are you currently hiring?

Gonzalez: We just hired, believe it or not, in three months, we hired 15 new people. I'm a little exhausted from hiring right now. But please follow us, because honestly, we are always hiring talent. Some of the areas obviously will be software development. We are handling a couple of national accounts for social media. And so social media specialists and analyst data analytics is another area and security professionals. So those are our top needs. Security professionals, cloud professionals, software developer. We're technology agnostic. We don't discriminate as far as what technologies we use. Then social media, of course, and then data analysts. And so those are the the ones that will probably in the next quarter.

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To learn more about Webhead Technologies, visit their website, where you will also find social media handles.