Navigating Silicon Valley can be a daunting task for any entrepreneur. And queer founders face an even greater uphill challenge. That’s why it’s important for those who’ve blazed a path to share the secrets of their success with the rest of the community.
Tracy Benson, former professional athlete and the CEO and co-founder of sports technology startup Obsesh, did just that when she took to the Growth Quarters stage at TNW Conference 2022 this Friday.
Her talk, entitled “How to navigate Silicon Valley as a queer person,” was a frank and spirited jaunt through the founder experience from a severely underrepresented point of view.
Benson essentially broke the challenge down to two simple concepts, “VCs want to make money,” and “less than one percent … have outwardly identified as queer.”
“Yet,” as she puts it, “most of the venture community still invest in people just like them.”
The conversation around diversity in STEM is far too often focused solely on semantics and metrics. But diversity and inclusion start at the top. That’s why we need more queer founders, CEOs, and executives.
According to Benson, that begins by understanding the reality of the situation. While she gave several tips at the conference — making it another can’t miss talk! — the following advice stood out the most:
“Own your story.” This is generally good advice for any entrepreneur, as Benson explains, you should be ready to explain your backstory (why are you the person who should be doing this?) and your company’s reason for being.
But, for queer executives, the invisible margins of error can be even slimmer.
“Focus your energy on the right outcomes.” Benson explains that there are myriad resources available but, when you’re the one in charge, there’s nobody to tell you exactly which choices to make at any given time. Per her experience, successful startup leaders will prioritize where they invest time pitching and networking in order to maximize the potential to land the right VCs at the right time.
Perhaps the most direct and poignant advice Benson had for queer entrepreneurs was to find the right accelerator. “We’ve done two,” she told the audience, “and I’m seriously considering a third.” For queer founders, this means seeking out queer accelerators or those that are explicitly LGBTQPIA-friendly.
It’s obvious that times are changing in Silicon Valley. As Benson told the crowd: “the future is non-binary.”
But, for those still trying to bushwhack a path to that future, there are challenges that need to be overcome today before we can achieve a better tomorrow. And the only way to do that is to disturb the status quo to such a degree that queer representation in STEM becomes more than just a distant hope.