On a warm, early November night down on the Bowery in New York City, I sat with Emmy co-founder, Ting Guo, and over German tapas and several glasses of wine, we talked about the growing tech community in New York and how the ethos of the community is distinguishing itself from Silicon Valley.
As a queer, woman of color, Guo is an active participant in creating the dynamic tech culture we currently find thriving in New York; her startup, Emmy — a platform that provides trusted “emmys” to accompany people to and from their ambulatory procedures — features a team lead by two women. And not just women, but women of color.
It’s the kind of work that is in-demand and necessary, and Guo recognizes the importance of building diverse communities. As it stands, there exists a major gender gap when it comes to women working in tech. From the lack of investor funds to the rampant sexism that occurs within the walls of the Silicon Valley tech giants, being a woman in tech certainly isn’t the easiest path. And for the last decade, women, especially women of color, have been essentially absent from technology innovation.
But, the future looks optimistic: Women are founding startups at a rapid rate, and a good portion of that activity is occurring on the ground in New York City. So, move over Silicon Valley. Silicon Alley is about to show you how to do things the right way.
Hillary Adler: How did you get into the startup world and the tech industry?
Ting Guo: I’m not even sure how I got into the tech industry, to be honest. A big part of it was me just actively seeking out opportunities to be an entrepreneur. You and I have talked about this before, but I feel like sometimes you just have that feeling inside where you want to do something on your own or you want to build something and see it grow.
When I was in undergrad I wasn’t a great student and I spent a lot of time off campus doing my own thing. Part of it, I think, is that I was always looking for something that would stimulate me more.
HA: So talking about being out and LGBTQ, and being a woman and a woman of color in the tech industry—did you ever feel dampened or marginalized by either your gender or your sexuality?
TG: In my personal life, I’ve always been out. But when it comes to the workplace, I didn’t have this real “come out” moment until I was working at the consulting firm, Bain & Company, after I finished my MBA. I had told people in a sort of ad hoc way throughout school and then business school, but it wasn’t until Bain--where I felt incredibly supported by my colleagues and peers—that I was comfortable enough to talk about it openly. It was a very accepting community. Unfortunately, that hasn’t historically been the case with tech companies.
One of the big issues with tech companies, I think, is that they are so dominated by the straight, cis, white male voice. If you think about the startup space or even any industry: How present are women really? As much as we’re trying to grow the female presence in tech, we’re still very much a minority. The feeling of being a minority is only amplified for LGBTQ women.
HA: If you look at funding for startups run by women, the amount of dollars being funneled into them is significantly lower, too, which is probably one of the biggest reasons it’s such a male dominated space.
TG: It’s a fraction of a percent. Especially for LGBTQ women. And of course, even more so for women of color who are LGBTQ. It’s incredibly rare for them to receive funding. The average investor has a specific look in mind they’re searching for. You’ve got your genius, cis, white male that has, historically, been the face of tech.
If you think along those lines, this can easily turn into a conversation about privilege. There’s a certain amount of privilege that comes along with having the ability to become an entrepreneur. How do you test out everything you want to test out without some level of privilege? You can’t. You can say you’re living in a basement surviving off ramen, but…
HA: Well who’s providing the basement? That alone is a privilege and I can guarantee you they’re not just eating ramen.
TG: True. One thing I’ve also been thinking of for a while now is how we can empower LGBTQ women, especially, in the tech space.
HA: That’s a big question. There are programs like Lesbians Who Tech and Out in Tech that are doing a great job of building a more diverse tech community, specifically here in New York City, and I’m inspired by the women and men who have lead those initiatives.
Which brings me to this question: Do you feel like the tech space in New York City is positioning itself as the antithesis to Silicon Valley? I am, of course, thinking about the Uber-culture of Silicon Valley and the rampant machismo.
TG: Absolutely. Obviously, women have to try harder in traditionally male spaces to make their voices heard. But, I’m seeing so many more women-run businesses here in New York. I’ve also seen more LGBT or POC-run businesses. And maybe it’s just because of the environment we’re in, where we feel more empowered to start things of our own. That’s always been the environment of New York.
Not only are we this giant “melting pot,” but there’s a certain sense of diversity and inclusivity mixed with ambition, and I think that’s just the ethos of New York City as a whole. It’s exciting and refreshing to see how we are setting the stage for the type of tech community we want.
I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t think we’d be as successful with Emmy in Silicon Valley as we have been in New York. Simply put: We don’t look the part. We’re women. We’re queer. We’re queer women of color. Fortunately, I’ve just never felt like that was a disadvantage here.
Hillary Adler is co-founder of The Warblr, a political humor website fighting the Trump admin one laugh at a time. She holds an MFA from The New School and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Poetry Foundation, Huffington Post, Bustle, Marie Claire, Public Pool and elsewhere. She curates and co-hosts The Red Room Poetry Series at KGB Bar in NYC, and can be found on twitter @HillaryAdler.
Ting Guo is co-founder of Emmy, a platform that provides trusted “emmys” to accompany people to and from their ambulatory procedures. She has worked with several startups throughout her career, and holds an MBA from Columbia University in New York City.