A slightly late, slightly truncated update this week. I’m in Malibu (pictured above, at its best) on a work trip, racing to write the newsletter in the bar of a Sheraton, sheltering from a combination of lightning storms, flooding and mudslides, exacerbated by the recent wild fires.
Question One: Why would anybody, let alone anybody rich, choose to live in this fucking hellscape? One element conspiring against you might be a sign it’s time to move – but all of them?
I’ve had a busy week. Before flying to LA, Sarah and I hosted the employees of Chairman Mom for a “team retreat” at Cavallo Point in Sausalito. We used to host similar retreats for the Pando team, and they were always productive, and fun. There’s something about being out of the office that helps focus, and encourages big ideas. Also, the food is better.
Chairman Mom is the company Sarah and I started a year or so ago to help working women (in particular working mothers) get help with the hardest problems they face. If you’ve read Sarah’s book, you’ll understand the genesis of the idea. What you might not know is how well it’s going: The millions of dollars of venture capital raised, the thousands of paying users, and thousands more tough questions answered.
I deliberately haven’t written much about Chairman Mom in the newsletter, or anywhere else. Similarly, even when I do talk about the company, you won’t hear me describe myself as co-founder.
There’s a reason for that.
When Sarah and I decided to start the company (the first company we have actually founded together), I knew two things for absolute certain: It was going to be the biggest, and most important startup I’ve ever helped build. And two: A company called Chairman Mom absolutely can’t have a male co-founder.
If you know how Silicon Valley works, you know how much bullshit female co-founders face. How they’re diminished and overlooked. How investors only direct their questions at the guy in the room. In the case of Chairman Mom, that’s less of an issue: Only the dumbest of investors could fail to grasp that Sarah is the CEO, or that the ideas described in A Uterus Is A Feature Not A Bug are the driving principles behind everything we do.
Still: It’s important to send the message loud and clear: From the top down, this is a women-led company.
But that’s not the only reason I rejected the co-founder title.
Post-#metoo, men – particularly straight white men – find ourselves divided into two camps. In the first camp are those of us who recognize it’s high time for women to take the microphone; for female CEOs to be funded; for more qualified women to be hired and promoted. If that means fewer opportunities and less stage time for we poor downtrodden dudes, then okey dokey. We’ve had hundreds of years to take advantage of the biases in our favor and it’s our fault if missed our chance.
The second camp – well, you know the second camp. The men’s rights activists, the whiny Lindsey Grahams, the sadsack mediocre middle managers who huff and puff and sulk about how promotions should go to the “best candidate,” regardless of gender – oblivious to the fact that if “meritocracy” was ever actually a thing, then those same sadsacks wouldn’t have deserved even a millionth s of their current middling, bitter station in life.
Y’know, Trump supporters.
I’m assuming, if you’re a man reading this, you fit into that first camp. So what’s a white dude to do? Stop trying to be a founder, or a CEO? Stop going for that next promotion, or applying for that new job?
That question hit twice as hard for me. My entire career has been one long cry of LOOK AT ME. From writing memoirs to founding NSFWCORP to… well… this newsletter, I’ve put myself and my ego to the forefront and profited handsomely from it. How should that change if I no longer want to be that guy but still want to do my job?
Should I not start (or co-found) another company?
Right question: How should I start (or co-found) another company?
The answer was obvious: Work alongside Sarah to build Chairman Mom, a company where I can apply everything I know about building community, and subscription businesses, to solving an honest to god huge problem… but where putting myself in the spotlight would be an honest to God disadvantage.
It isn’t just a moral imperative, and it certainly isn’t some noble chivalric gesture: It’s sound business. As Sarah outlines in her book, female-founded companies (especially those with diverse teams) consistently outperform male-founded, less diverse companies. Who doesn’t want to jump on that statistical freight train?
There are, of course, downsides to this approach. For example, the fact that Sarah is currently at the “Upfront Ventures Summit,” snacking on hors d’oeuvres and listening to speakers like Stacey Abrams and Deray McKesson and the freaking dude from Bird scooters, while I, her invisible, non-invited co-founder, am left to trundle around Malibu in a rental car, hunting for a Soul Cycle studio in the pissing rain.
And, yeah, it’s hard for an egocentric memoirist to rendered invisible in the press, especially after NSFWCORP where I was front and center for three years. (Amusingly, the one article in which I’m mentioned as a co-founder of Chairman Mom, the interviewer focuses more on my role as Sarah’s boyfriend.)
The upsides, though, far outweigh the downsides. With all that NSFWCORP attention came constant fights, the need to be on Twitter or behind a microphone, throwing punches and absorbing jabs aimed at our writers. As the face of Chairman Mom, it’s poor Sarah who has to deal with all that bullshit, just as she has to respond to the endless press requests and go to (hopefully not endless) investor pitch meetings. Meantime, I get to spend time actually building the product and managing our otherwise 100% female team. Which is to say, doing my job.
And here’s the best part: If all goes according to plan (/a miracle occurs) and Chairman Mom becomes Silicon Valley’s next billion dollar company, I’ll still get just as unspeakably rich as I would have done with “co-founder” on my business card.
Then I can use all that money to buy a gigantic house in anywhere but fucking Malibu.