‘The startup world wasn’t created for someone like me.’ This Black woman entrepreneur has some choice words for the ‘tech bros’ of venture capital.
In her new book “Build the Damn Thing,” Kathryn Finney encourages women and people of color to blaze their own trail
The year 2009 was very, very good for me. Six years earlier, I had turned my love of discount shopping into one of the first lifestyle blogs, called The Budget Fashionista. The site had grown into a seven-figure media empire. Along the way I’d become an online influencer before Instagram and TikTok even existed. My first book had been picked up by a major publisher and became a hit, I had a monthly spot on NBC’s The Today Show, and my blog was landing six-figure endorsement deals from T.J. Maxx, Tide and other brands. I was even living in a deluxe apartment in the sky in New York City.
Life was good. That is, until I decided to join an incubator program in New York. As a Black woman building her second business before the word “startup” had an entry in Urban Dictionary, joining an incubator was supposed to offer me the ability to connect with other startup founders, to be in a space where entrepreneurship was celebrated, and to get mentorship from people who have built successful companies. An incubator was supposed to have curriculums that walk entrepreneurs through the phases of building a company and connect founders with experienced mentors.
I had a killer idea. I wanted to leverage the 1.1 million weekly unique visitors to my blog to create and market a beauty subscription brand for Black women. There I was, a Yale-educated scientist running one of the most popular lifestyle sites in the blogosphere. I thought that with those credentials the startup world would welcome me with open arms.
I was wrong.
I didn’t know it then, but the startup world wasn’t created for someone like me. In fact, it wasn’t created for the 233-million-plus Americans — and the billions in the world — who aren’t white men. This was especially true for the early 2000s New York startup community. I was met with the harsh reality of pattern matching. This is why it’s easier for some groups (tech bros) to get the funding and support they need to grow their companies than it is for others (everyone else).
The theory behind pattern matching is this: since many of the “successful founders” in the startup space have been white guys from Stanford University, MIT, and Harvard University, it’s assumed that all future successful founders will likely be white guys from Stanford, MIT, and Harvard. As Paul Graham, founder of powerhouse incubator Y Combinator says, “I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg.”
Never mind that the obvious, but often overlooked, fallacy of pattern matching means the majority of failed founders have also been white guys from Stanford, MIT, and Harvard. Anyone whose identity falls outside of the pattern would be seen as a “risky” investment because we’re “unknown.”
The world of startups is super lazy when it comes to dealing with actual humans.