An open letter to founding women and founders of color. Don’t punk out and don’t quit.
In the spirit of the New Year, I am proposing that we take a new approach to the lack of diversity and ensuing challenges that we face in the tech industry. This is not a meritocracy. The playing field is not level. Acknowledge it. Pause. And play through. Do not quit. And commit to changing the field once you get to the other side.
The stats representing founding women and founders of color in tech are depressing. Less than 3% of venture-backed firms are led by women, and less than 1% are led by people of color. As a black female founder, these numbers seem debilitating.
In 2015, I took action by talking with anyone who would listen about what steps VCs can take to be more inclusive when making investment decisions. I talked about why women and people of color have difficulty fundraising when investors don’t identify with us (that narrow window of “you remind me of me”-ness). I talked about how women and people of color will not be successful without committed mentors guiding us along the way.
My name is Alicia Thomas. I run a six-month old VC-backed company called Dibs. Dibs brings dynamic pricing to the health, beauty & wellness industry. Have you ever heard of me? Probably not. I have about 130 twitter followers. I have amazingly helpful and committed investors and my audience is growing, but it’s limited.
This is hard for me to say, but in 2016 I’m done talking about what others should be doing to fix these stats. It’s not that I don’t care. But I’m taking a new approach that focuses on action. Running a startup is hard. Raising money is hard. No amount of talking is going to change those two facts. The way for up-and-comers to change biased investment patterns is by building successful businesses, getting to the other side of the table and enabling others to join us. We must become a significant percentage of the people who can actually make and influence investment decisions.
For those of you who are in positions of power, thank you for speaking out on behalf of all of us. Please continue to take action against unconscious biases and systemic barriers that affect women and people of color. But for those of us on the way up, we have a different responsibility. We must not quit. We must be exceptional. We must be relentless. When you hear the word no, take the opportunity to ask for honest feedback, which will in turn make all of us better. In the same spirit, let’s give honest feedback to our peers and help other founders coming up directly behind us. We will be a community that is impossible to ignore. And once we’re on the other side, then it’s time to start talking, start investing, and keep mentoring.
Ben Horowitz says — Don’t punk out and don’t quit.
Join me in doing the opposite of punking out and quitting.