International Net Magazine, New York, NY
"It's a Bird, it's a Plane, it's Cybergrrl!:
Internet Enterpreneur Aliza Sherman"
By Michele Marrinan, United States
a defining moment in the life of most entrepreneurs
when the fire of self-determination is lit. For
Aliza Sherman, that moment came in New York City
as she stared down the endless barrel of a mugger's
pistol on a summer night in 1994. Though she and
a friend managed to escape unharmed, the incident
had a profound impact on her life.
"That moment changed my course because I realized
life's priorities, and I knew that if I was going
to do anything meaningful at all, it couldn't be
within a corporate setting," recalled Sherman, then
working as director of a domestic violence group.
Today a company founder and president, Sherman is
in a corporate setting, but one that she tries to
keep free from bureaucracy, and focused on serving
women. Her Cybergrrl Internet Media, Inc., an entertainment
and marketing company, created one of the Internet's
most important women's sites. The nine Cybergrrl (cybergrrl.com)
stations offer information about business, technology,
books, travel and entertainment. Visitors can also
post information, visit chat rooms, read profiles
of historical women and search for other female-friendly
sites. Some 300,000 individuals -- 89 percent of
whom are women aged 18 to 45 -- visit the site each
Convinced that the Internet should become the ultimate
old-girl's club, Sherman also founded Webgrrls International (webgrrls.com) three years ago as a networking organization for
women interested in the Internet. With more than
10,000 members and 100 chapters worldwide -- including
35 outside the United States -- Webgrrls sponsors
classes on Internet programming and design, holds
monthly networking meetings, and churns out email
information on job openings and travel tips.
Sherman's goal is to empower women and girls to
use the new technology for their personal and professional
gain. An estimated 42 percent of all Internet users
worldwide, or 46 million individuals, are women.
Although the numbers are rapidly increasing, Sherman
believes that several misconceptions keep women
from venturing onto the Net: it is too hard, too
expensive, too dangerous, too time-consuming and
offers them nothing professionally or personally.
In her book, A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web, published by Ballantine Press,
Sherman dispels each myth with her simple discussions
about hardware and software, safety tips on avoiding
online stalkers, and stories of how the Internet
has changed women's lives.
The Internet certainly changed Sherman's life. She
is a born non-techi and college drop-out who Newsweek
would later dub one of the 50 most important people
on the Internet. Aside from her commitment to helping
women, Sherman is also an ambitious entrepreneur
who expects to develop television shows, books and
merchandise around her product.
With her petite build, light skin and very dark
hair, Sherman looks even younger than her 30 years.
She dresses casually in t-shirts, jeans and slacks.
Her voice is quiet, but clear. She seems a bit shy,
almost as if she forces herself to be more outgoing.
A workaholic, she relaxes by reading science fiction
and surfing on the Web. A few months ago, she bought
a little Chihuahua named Chewie who she keeps in
her office and takes to meetings. Naturally, Chewie
has his own Web site.
It's perhaps no surprise, given her eclectic background,
that the Internet appeals to Sherman. She grew up
as a navy brat who lived in several cities throughout
the United States -- California, Florida, Virginia
-- and in Spain. She continued moving around after
high school, attending three colleges in Philadelphia
and Virginia. She studied fashion merchandising,
Russian history and business law -- whatever interested
her at the time -- and eventually left college without
"I wasn't sure really what I wanted to do, and I'd
already been in college four years," she says. "I
figured whatever I was wanting to do was out there
and I didn't want to waste my parents' money anymore."
Using the typing skills she learned in the ninth
grade, Sherman became a secretary for a temp agency.
She convinced an acquaintance to teach her computer
skills in the hopes that that would help her earn
more money. A writer herself -- she has published
articles on domestic violence and adoption practices,
among other topics -- Sherman was initially afraid
that computers would sap her creativity. Once she
got started, however, there was no turning back.
When she moved to New York City in 1989, Sherman
bought her first computer -- an Amstrad 1640 --
and, with the help of a friend, started going online
long before it became popular.
Sherman later worked in the music business, coordinating
marketing and public relations for such bands as
Bruce Hornsby, Metallica and the Rolling Stones,
and expected to make it her life. But then she realized
that women were not encouraged to move up in the
music business. Looking to do something a little
more meaningful, she became director of the Domestic
Abuse Awareness Project in New York City, another
stop that she thought would be long term. The holdup
in 1994 and the realization that "non-profit does
not necessarily mean good," made her consider a
major career change.
Having finished a $10 Web design course and dismayed
by the absence of female-friendly sites, she decided
to build her own. Since she was uncomfortable putting
her photo on the Web, Sherman created an online
personality -- an alter ego, so to speak. With long,
brown hair and a humble, yet confident smile, the
cartoon character that appears on her web sites
looks remarkably like Sherman -- except that Cybergrrl
wears a hot pink cape and a blue leotard with CG
emblazoned across her chest. Sherman admits that
the unusual spelling, while powerful, has no significance.
She simply wanted a fun, hip name -- one that would
dispel the nerdy image associated with computer
operators at that time. Cybergrrl evoked images
of a powerful, yet funky superhero.
She already owned a computer so Sherman didn't need
an initial infusion of cash to get started. It's
a good thing, since she had no savings at the time.
Instead, a friend covered her bills from time to
time. Today, Cybergrrl, which was launched in January
1995, has an office in downtown Manhattan with eight
full-time workers and six part-timers. Sherman pays
herself a salary, although she declines to discuss
Cybergrrl's income comes from designing Web sites
for corporate customers ranging from magazines to
clothing manufacturers and non-profit organizations.
It also attracts online advertising and investors
-- CMP Media Inc., a Manhasset, N.Y.-based technology
publisher, recently took a minority interest in
It was her determination not to be the only "girl
nerd" and meet other female Internet users that
inspired Sherman to start Webgrrls. Sherman started
by e-mailing the developers of interesting female-oriented
Web sites. Six of them met in person at a cyber
cafe in New York City. That first meeting went so
well that they decided to make it a monthly date.
Sherman put it on her Web site, and six more women
showed up at the next get-together. Soon Sherman
was receiving email from women who wanted to start
chapters in their parts of the world.
Today, Webgrrls' meetings are a real networking
event, both on and off line. Members exchange information
on everything from finding good Italian recipes
to vacation information on Ireland.
"Webgrrls is like, you're not alone," says Eileen
Shulock, the full-time executive director Sherman
hired last fall. "We're here to help you and you
also are going to be asked for help. That kind of
community is encouraging."
The biggest chapters are in Canada, Hong Kong, Tokyo,
Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, England, South
Africa, Italy and Netherlands. All chapters work
on the same principles, regardless of where they
are. Although the groups use their country's language,
the leaders exchange information in English.
There is an instant connection that transcends language
and cultural barriers, as Shulock discovered recently
on the daily online discussion that she and other
chapter leaders conduct. The movie Grease had just
been re-released, and the leaders started reminiscing
about the '70s and '80s.
"Here we were, from all different parts of the world,
recalling 8-track tapes or the words of certain
Abba songs," recalls Shulock. "We were all throwing
in our two cents on things that we remember, like
when record albums were vinyl, and people didn't
know about email."
The success of Cybergrrls and Webgrrls notwithstanding,
Sherman would still like to further engage women
on the Internet, a topic she will address in her
next book, scheduled for release next year.
"I think there are finally some quality sites from
which women can choose when they go online," said
Sherman. "But there is still a long way to go in
terms of figuring out how to best use the interactive
medium to truly engage the female audience and give
them value that makes them want to log in each day."
Michele Marrinan is a freelance writer specializing
in the Internet, small business, franchising and
personal finance. She lives on Long Island, New
York, with her husband and one-year-old daughter.
© Reprinted with permission from Women's International
Net Magazine 2000 :http://womentechworld.org/bios/infotech/articles/womens_int.htm#