This June, NVP is celebrating PRIDE alongside many of our partners, founders and friends. As always, we find that one of the best ways to celebrate and amplify the voices of our community is by handing the mic over and allowing people to tell their own story. This month we spoke to two of our incredible founders, Eden Full Goh, Founder and CEO of Mobot, and Newark-based Jessica Gonzalez, Founder and CEO of InCharged, VendX and LUXDisinfect. Aside from being badass women in tech, both Jessica and Eden are part of the LGBTQ+ community and offered to chat with us about their entrepreneurial experiences through a rainbow-colored lens. Below are some highlights from that conversation (with the full audio version available soon, for your listening pleasure)!
One of the first topics we touched on was intersectionality. Jessica is Latina and Eden is Chinese-Canadian, with family roots in Vietnam. Both women spoke about the need to blend when they first started out, and a feeling that they had to hide the things that made them “different” in order to succeed in the American business world.
Jessica said, “In the early days I never talked about my sexuality at all… I kept it very hidden and only select people knew. That was a challenge for me because I wasn’t being my true self – and everyone assumed I had a husband or boyfriend. Being a woman and a Latina as well, you don’t get a seat at the table. You have to plow your way through or make your own table most of the time. It’s been a challenge these last 10 years navigating through the business landscape trying to be taken seriously.”
Eden addressed the influence of family and how one’s history can impact your perspective. Her family immigrated to Canada as refugees from Vietnam and that background influenced her world view early on. She said, “Growing up it was instilled in me that it’s already hard enough to be an immigrant. Don’t do anything else that will make you stand out even more. Just lay low, do what you gotta do, keep your head down and work really, really hard.”
But the impact of family didn’t end there for Eden. She went on to talk about her wife, and how getting married – and choosing to add a new person to your family -- was a turning point in her ability to embrace her full self and fully merge her work and home life.
She continued, “How do you not talk about your wife in everyday conversations? She’s the person who gave me the courage to quit my job and gave me all this positive reinforcement that I could actually start my own company and that I should follow through with my own vision. A lot of that early encouragement came from her, so it was important to me to be able to talk about that freely with other people, investors, my employees, our customers and just be unapologetically myself.”
We also talked about the relationship between business success and being fully in touch with and accepting of who you are. As the old chicken-and-the-egg question goes, which came first?
Both agreed that in some ways their sexuality was a non-issue in the grand scheme of startup life.
Jess said, “In the journey of building something – your head is down, you're focused on trying to build something really awesome and kick something off. My sexuality and who I am wasn’t really prevalent. I’m just a person, and at the end of the day, I’m just Jessica trying to get through this and trying to build a really cool company and really cool products.”
Jessica continued to say that while her company went on to grow regardless of her relationship status or awareness of her sexuality, it was “propelled” once she embraced who she was. “I realized that if people were uncomfortable that was their problem, not mine. That’s when I was able to start doing more speaking engagements and my personality and everything was able to shine through. I’m just me now. It’s nice to walk into a room and not have to worry about hiding or feeling any sort of shame or being judged for who I am.”
Eden described her success as a founder and her self-acceptance as two things that fed each other: “Having the courage to be different actually gave me the courage to continue being even more different -- to quit my job, drop out of college and start my company. I think it all culminates together but it’s a pattern and part of my identity that I started embracing: I am different - so I may as well do what I want.”
She also drew a parallel between learning to accept her own differences and selling a product that is new and unfamiliar to people. “What we do – where we use robots to do QA is so weird. People think it’s a gimmick sometimes- they get confused – and having to overcome that initial resistance and be like – ‘No we really use robots and genuinely believe that this approach to doing QA is fundamentally more accurate and has better results than if you were doing it with an emulator.’ I think there are a lot of parallels to that and my comfort in embracing myself personally.”
On the topic of organizational support within the worlds of VC and tech, both Jessica and Eden relayed optimism in the increased resources for marginalized communities and the general tone of public conversation around diversity and acceptance. They also both agreed that organizations and institutions continuing to allocate capital can help level the playing field for those who may have felt left out of traditional circles. Eden spoke about the need to pay attention to both visible and invisible minorities, and the idea that just because you can’t see someone’s differences (i.e. religious, gender identity, sexuality, neurodivergent, etc.) doesn’t mean they don’t feel excluded or “closeted” in some way.
When we discussed allyship on a more individual level, Eden was quick to shout out the NVP team and the diversity within its portfolio. “Having investors that believe in you when you are still questioning your own imposter syndrome can give you that extra boost of confidence to actually go out there and execute. I think that’s what being an ally really means – not just giving advice or support – but really wholeheartedly backing the person.”
Jessica added, “It’s all about the inclusion factor. Not just saying ‘we are an ally’ but including us at the table and in those conversations. Making sure there are seats available for us to be able to give input and share things that can make life easier or better. That’s what I love to see.”
As we wrapped up both women spoke about how their personal journeys have influenced how they lead their teams. Eden talked about a strategic decision to subtly introduce her personal life by talking about weekend activities with her wife as early as first interviews with candidates. For Mobot, it’s all about signaling early and often that the team is inclusive and open-minded, and that they welcome everyone to be themselves. “It’s not about having a grand proclamation that you are a lesbian or something. It’s just dropping it into everyday conversation – because if you make it feel normal – the other person will perceive it as normal -and then it’s just normal! Some people are single, some people have a partner, some people like to ride bikes, and some people have cats! It’s just another fun fact about someone that helps you understand who they are.”
Jessica talked about visually representing her identity and her allyship with a PRIDE flag displayed on her desk. Now she estimates that a quarter of her employees identify as LGBTQ+. “We make it an open conversation. Growing up, it was like ‘when do I say this?’ and there was all this anxiety about saying ‘my wife’ but now it’s a normal conversation. If it’s something being talked about openly, people will add to it. They will feel more comfortable themselves if they feel you are who you are and it's ok for them to be who they are.”