Sarah Lacy, a longtime tech journalist and columnist, knows the things she says can be controversial. Not that it’s stopped her from building two companies, or standing up for what she believes in.
“There’s a reason that every time I raise money, it’s oversubscribed,” Lacy said at a Female Founders Alliance event in Seattle on Wednesday. “It’s because people know I won’t fucking be cowed.”
She continued: “And it’s like, that’s the thing about being polarizing. It really is clarifying. And you’re not going to waste your time, pitching all those people who hate you.”
At the event, Lacy spoke with FFA founder and CEO Leslie Feinzaig about her career, her two companies, and her 2017 book A Uterus Is a Feature, Not a Bug. Lacy, the founder and editor of Silicon Valley news site Pando, has long been a strong but sometimes combative voice in the tech industry.
Lacy is known for standing her ground, including in an ordeal involving Uber and her coverage of the company in 2014. As reported by BuzzFeed at the time, then-Uber senior vice president Emil Michael suggested at a dinner that Uber should hire opposition researchers and essentially dig up dirt on its critics. He reportedly especially focused on Lacy, who had written a Pando column about Uber’s culture of misogyny and sexism.
Lacy said she needed to get armed guards after the incident, fearing for herself and for her family.
Still, Lacy knows what she’s fighting for. Her new company, Chairman Mom, a subscription-based site that lets women ask and answer questions regarding motherhood, and her book both champion working mothers by calling them to action and providing a support system. In the book, Lacy discusses a phenomenon called the Maternal Wall, which she says often prohibits or makes it harder for mothers to get back to work.
She said she started Chairman Mom because she believes social media is toxic and abusive towards women in particular, noting that many women often feel worse about themselves after being on social media. She wanted Chairman Mom to be different.
“We’ve legitimately built a site where women leave feeling better about themselves every single time they use it, and the big eff-ing aha was it needs to be subscription not ad-based,” Lacy said. “Because when it’s ad-based, it’s toxic. Period. It’s so easy. All these Silicon Valley companies will tell you it’s so hard, ‘It’s so hard to find other black women to hire, it’s so hard to figure out what’s fake news, it’s so hard to ban trolls on Twitter.’ None of this is hard, they just don’t care. And from the get go, we cared.”
Lacy also spoke about the difficulties of pitching her company and getting capital as a woman. She had an easier time pitching Pando than Chairman Mom, even though she believed Chairman Mom to be much more scalable as a business than Pando, an investigative news site.
“Ironically, although Chairman Mom was a more scalable business, I experienced more bias in fundraising because men don’t want to use Chairman Mom and men wanted to read Pando,” Lacy said.
Her pitching anecdotes, from bringing her son to meetings to dealing with investors who wouldn’t look her in the eye, struck a chord with the audience, many of whom are part of the Female Founders Alliance. The organization this week announced a new program called Ready Set Raise to help female founders pitch and raise funding for their startups.
For Lacy, the best way for young women to get ahead is simply to invest in their careers and to make connections. Lacy brought up the invite-only, secretive conference called The Lobby she has been attending for years that she cites as helping her make connections in the industry. She noted that she gets frustrated when invited women don’t go because of the price tag (Lacy says it has cost her $6,000 to $10,000 in years past.)
“It’s like, well, you’re not going to get fucking deals,” Lacy said. “I know it’s hard and I’m still paying off that debt and may never pay off that debt, but you’ve got to invest in yourself. Because we’re women. No one else is going to do it for you. And if you don’t believe in yourself that much, no one else is going to.”
Lacy is scheduled to join GeekWire this week on our Week in Geek podcast. Check it out on Saturday, July 14.