These Founders Invented A Fake Male Cofounder, Because Sexism

These Founders Invented A Fake Male Cofounder, Because Sexism

How belittling comments and sexist attitudes prompted two ecommerce founders to create a fake guy called “Keith” to bat for them in business.

Kate Dwyer and Penelope Gazin are the LA-based badasses behind Witchsy, a commerce platform that lets artists sell their beautifully weird work directly to their loyal customers.

Starting with a few thousand bucks and not a great deal of tech-spertise, the pair set out to provide artists a platform where they pocketed 80 percent of the money from work they sold. One year later, they’re collaborating with Rick and Morty’s Justin Roiland on exclusive merch and have sold $200,000 worth of adorable art. But it wasn’t without some struggles and more than a little sexism.

“We started noticing pretty early on that people weren’t initially taking us seriously, and within our first two months we had Keith hired full-time,” says Dwyer. By the way, “Keith” is a totally made-up guy.

“Keith Mann” (lol) is the creation of Dwyer and Gazin, designed to make their lives easier after they encountered sexism while getting Witchsy off the ground.

For instance, there was a web developer who deleted everything when Gazin said she didn’t want to date him. Then there was the condescending email tone of third party developers and graphic designers. There was one guy who started his email with “Okay, girls…”

And so “Keith” was born, and he took over their email correspondence. The response? The parties they were dealing with were suddenly less short and more responsive in their dealings with Witchsy.

“It was just a funny idea we had, but then it actually ‘worked’ which caused us to take a step back think ‘whoa…this is so wrong,’” says Dwyer. Yes. Yes, it is. “Seeing the contrast of our conversations and Keith’s conversations was eye opening,” she adds. “It’s made us realize how important it is to keep pushing and supporting other women in business.”

Likewise, Gazin was not surprised by the change in communication style “Keith” elicited from other d00ds. “We used a stock image from the internet as Keith’s email photo and we purposefully chose a very kind but testosterone-y looking man,” she says. “Even over email, I feel like men are more likely to respect someone who could beat them up.”

And indeed, most young women in business won’t be shocked at all by the power of “Keith,” nor will anyone who’s been following the shitstorm that is Silicon Valley’s pervasive culture of sexism and discrimination. We’ve got a long way to go. What advice would the women of Witchsy offer to startup founders in similar, sexist boats?

Gazin says, “Work with another great woman! That way you have someone to laugh with it about. Also pro insider tip: Never work with coders who are magicians on the side.”

And for Swyer? “There will always be external forces judging or making you feel like you can’t. Hear them, but don’t let them affect your fire. Show what you want to do through actions more than words; it’s the best way to shine on the haters.”

[h/t Fast Company]