23Sep

Lesbians Who Tech Summit SF // Kathryn Finney

The first line of Kathryn Finney’s personal website says, “I invest, advise, and support awesome people doing great things.” We here at Lesbians who Tech think she is one of the awesome people doing great things she is talking about. Finney is the founder and managing director of digitalundivided, a social enterprise that develops programs that increase the active participation of urban communities, especially women, in the digital space. Prior to founding digitalundivided she served as Editor-At-Large at BlogHer and was also one of the first lifestyle bloggers and the CEO of TBF Group, LLC, parent company of the highly influential The Budget Fashionista Brand, which reaches a global audience of more than 13 million+ unique visitors a year.

Needless to say, she is a powerhouse of a woman. Finney begins her talk with the words “I have never been normal.” She shares a personal narrative of her childhood from growing up in Minnesota to finding her way to Yale University to study epidemiology. In 2003 Finney started a small fashion blog called The Budget Fashionista with zero expectations of how it would run its course. It quickly gained popularity and following both online, on television shows such as the TODAY show and Good Morning America, and in print. She recalls her desire to transform The Budget Fashionista from simply a lifestyle brand to a more substantial enterprise and in pursuing this desire she joined a tech incubator in NYC. Finney points out that in the forty plus person incubator only four of them were women and she was the only person of color. In recounting the experience she calls it “one of the most harrowing experiences of my whole life.” One of the pivotal moments for her was a realization that she had never been called on to do a pitch, a requirement of being in the incubator; “It was completely isolating. For someone like myself it was really difficult, I grew up in Minnesota where talking is a sport.”

Her experiences led her to many realizations, the primary one being that she felt invisible. She wondered about the other people who felt invisible and when she joined BlogHer as the Editor-at- large she started hosting events for people of color and those who felt underrepresented in the tech world. She hosted the events against many of her colleagues doubts and when over one hundred and thirty people showed up to the first event, Finney realized she was on to something. While the demographic of those who continually showed up to events and engaged in community was outside the realm of “normal” for the tech world it proved to be valuable and of great worth; “Diverse communities spend over 30% of the total US purchasing power.” She continues on to note that women control a large majority of the private wealth in the US and in doing so it will be women who will be the next investors.

She concludes by saying that everyone who is outside of the demographic of white males 24-44 years old will be part of a category that is creating “the new normal.” In order to succeed, Finney believes that companies will need to tap the demographic of people that is inside “the new normal.” She closes with a short pep talk, “Stop asking for permission. We learn that when we stop asking for permission, and thats a really important point. We learned at digitalundivided that if we would have asked for permission to do our first focus we wouldn’t have done our first focus… Stop asking for permission and do the damn thing!”