A startup tech exec, a tattoo artist, and a video game developer walk into male-dominated professions. Think it's a joke? It's not. Men may still be the predominate gender in many occupations, but women with the guts, brains, and vision to launch ideas and companies are proving that breaking down stereotypes is only a blip of what they're able to do.
Kellee Khalil is the CEO and Founder of Lover.ly, the first bridal search engine that set out to solve the inefficiencies of the wedding industry for a new generation of brides. Founded in 2012 the site is like a cross between Google and Pinterest, with opportunities for advertisers and integrated content. Though the focus may be beauty and bridal focussed, the backend is straight data, numbers, and hardcore tech-- but what else would you expect from a CEO that's been coding since high school?
How have you seen the industry change over the last five years?
The most unprecedented change is marriage equality. In the last year, we witnessed a monumental step forward for our country, and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it. From the very beginning at Loverly, we’ve strived to be as inclusive as possible with our content, and the industry is finally catching up. Barbie and Ken-looking couples aren’t the only representation of love and marriage these days, and it’s about time we start embracing that.
How does it feel to be a woman in a male-dominated industry?
The tech space is predominantly run by men (with less than 5 percent of all venture-backed business run by women). The most successful companies in the wedding industry have been businesses run by men. And the community of people writing checks is mostly men. So, it’s challenging to drum up interest and capital from investors who don’t identify with the pain points of our industry’s primary consumer.
On the flip side, I believe being a woman building this product for other women is actually a competitive advantage. I have empathy for our users and understand their psychology as they are going through the ups and downs of planning their weddings. My mission is to alleviate the frustration and inefficiencies by simplifying the wedding planning process. :)
What do you think are the most common myths about women in tech?
Women in tech is a hot topic that media is covering. Because so few women are in the space, you often see only a few get a lot of media attention. This creates a perception that the world is glamorous and easily maneuverable. The reality is, being successful in the tech industry (as a woman) isn’t always smooth sailing. There are lots of challenges along the way.
How do you work to disprove those?
By continuing to make progress, grow our business, and innovate year over year to great reception from our audience, we prove that we are viable player in our space. Additionally, a big win was bringing on a President and COO, Peggy Fry, a digital media exec with 20+ years experience She too comes from a world traditionally run by men digital media and (advertising), and has held inspiring positions at some of the biggest names in digital media (AddThis, Netflix, AOL). The two of us have a crazy enthusiasm about our product and consumers which is reflected in the business.
Do you think it’s different being a women in tech in NY, as opposed to Silicon Valley?
There are some major differences between East and West Coast women-run technology businesses.. Women in tech in the Silicon Valley do statistically raise more capital. I believe this is due to the pure number of active angel and VC’s in the valley. Access is key. There’s also a preconception that businesses in the SV are more hardcore technology-focused, whereas in New York they tend to be more influenced by the surrounding industries (beauty, fashion, content, etc).
Lina Chen is the CEO of Nix Hydra, a VC-backed company that makes colorful and friendly mobile games popular among women. Chen and partner Naomi Ladizinsky established Nix Hydra in 2012, with the debut game Egg Baby. The game quickly became a massive phenomenon in the U.S. among teen girls and currently touts 14 million downloads with zero marketing spend and an impressive 4.5/5 average score from more than 430k reviews on the App Store. Both founders are Yale graduates and are showing no signs of letting the sexism of the gaming industry slow them down.
What is it like to work in a male-dominated industry?
We have been embracing it because it's a huge opportunity for us! If the industry wasn't so male- dominated, we probably would have had more trouble making a hit game on our first try (because there would be so much more competition in this space) and in fact, our company probably wouldn't even exist. Actually, right now we are mostly ignored by the gaming industry, presumably because what we are doing doesn't interest most people in it, and that is great because it gives us more time to figure things out and grow to an unstoppable size (haha).
More so, what is it like to work in a male-dominated industry where there is a ton of backlash against female gamers/developers. How do you deal with the pressure of both?
Like I said above, we have been mostly ignored because our games are nothing like the games that lots of more masculine developers are interested in playing or making. So we aren't competing with them and I think if someone is neither a threat to you nor doing anything that's of interest to you, your most natural response is to ignore them or be like 'that's nice, girls' and move on.
What made you decide to take on such a challenge in an industry known for its sexism?
Profit. Haha. No but actually when we started this company we were clueless. We had no idea what the industry was like or how to make a game and we didn't know anyone who was even a game maker. The first few game makers (male) we met were super kind, supportive and welcoming and no one warned us about anything negative. We started this whole thing because we couldn't find games we really wanted to play on our mobile phones and figured a lot of other young women probably felt the same.
Where do you hope to see the gaming industry go in the future?
To be a more magical, colorful and friendly place! We love diversity (obviously), but actually not so much for moral reasons as much as practical reasons - it just improves the ecosystem, speeds up progress and leads to more awesome products. So we'd love to see a more diverse industry in every way and we'd like to have had a huge impact on bringing about that change.
How do you see the gaming world changing?
The optimistic entrepreneur in me says it will change in the direction I've described in your previous question!
Mira Keras is a fashion school grad (FIT) and artist currently finishing a tattoo apprenticeship at a shop in Brooklyn called Tattoo Wonderland. According to Mira, the shop goes above and beyond in its commitment to serve everyone, and be inclusive-- which is more than in line with a boss blog post she wrote calling out fat-shaming and Instagram's ban of #curvy. Just last week she tattooed one of our favorite bloggers Christina Caradona of Trop Rogue, who spoke at the latest Create & Cultivate Dallas (check it out on Tattoo Wonderland's Instagram).
How do you feel as a woman in an industry that's heavily dominated by men?
I love being a woman tattooist. Female interest in tattoo culture is rapidly expanding, and I think that it is important to have tattoo artists that are women who understand and collaborate to reach their vision.
Have you had any days that really surprised you as a woman in the tattoo industry?
When I realized that I wanted to tattoo, it was so hard to find a tattooist to mentor, or even tattoo me. Some artists had this no girls allowed attitude, and some did not want to tattoo someone who didn't already have tattoos. Luckily, I found an awesome feminist mentor who has taken me under his wing.
How have you seen your industry change since you became a part of it?
My lifetime is seeing tattooing become way less taboo. It is finding its way to becoming a respected art. I love seeing more women become interested in tattoos, and tattooing. Femme-Only and pro feminist shops are popping up all the time, which is really exciting. There are so many amazing and inventive women changing the former rigid and exclusive rules, and inventing many new genres of tattoos.
What are your predictions for your industry's future?
The future will bring more women tattooing, and more developing in what is to come as far as technology and tattooing. I am always day dreaming of the day there are metallic and glitter inks, women's interest in tattooing is sure to bring in demand for these inventions.