hackNY Summer Series: Joanne Wilson (a.k.a. Gotham Gal)

In this post 2012 hackNY Fellow Cheryl Wu describes the hackNY Summer Series lecture by Joanne Wilson (a.k.a gotham gal).

Thank You for Existing

hackNY had the pleasure of having Joanne Wilson speak to us two weeks ago. Immaculately dressed and articulate, yet brutally frank, Joanne is an indispensable angel investor in the New York tech scene who’s helped many startups take off. Even though she’s a shrewd businessperson who doesn’t take any bullshit, she invests and mentors startups without the extreme self-interest of others in the angel and venture capital field. She’s also an inspiration for all women.

Joanne gave us incredible information about different ways of raising capital as well as personal case studies of startups’ early-stage problems. She spoke honestly about what is required in creating a startup (blood, sweat, and bulletproof legal documents) as well as her experience as a businessperson. This is especially cool because we’re all ambitious, inexperienced young adults and therefore highly exploitable. Her work ethic is amazing; being an angel investor is her 18th career, she’s a wife and a mother, and yet she mentors every startup she invests in and helps set them up for success by assembling an advisory board and even helping with documents. Unlike other investors who invest in many billion dollar ideas, hoping for one success and disregarding all others, Joanne isn’t predatory in her investments. She funds businesses of all levels, and she wants every startup she invests in to succeed, rather than building in failure.

However, more formidable than her sheer accomplishments and knowledge is her position as a female in the male-dominated business and technology worlds. She proves that being a powerful woman and operating in a still-inequitable space need not be the ordeal that it currently mostly remains. Joanne is a remarkable role model to any woman with interest in entering “boys’ clubs” such as the two she’s professionally affiliated with, business and technology. With her successes, she validates (and reiterates) that women in these fields don’t need to sacrifice their femininity nor succumb to male paradigms such as bro culture. Nonetheless, she doesn’t buy the sophistry of saying femininity is the only selling point of women entrepreneurs. We can be strong alpha females without needing to be subordinate to men. On the other hand, we do not need to be scared into only working in “feminine” or “ladylike” spaces, such as building only for other women like marriage or fashion sites. While these are vital, important communities for the women involved, we as a gender do not need to be pigeonholed into these limited ambitions. It’s important that we are women, and it’s important that women bond together, but it’s no longer relevant for us to ONLY be noted for being women. Women may think differently than men, but that should be viewed as valuable, not dismissed as “women being women” or supplanted with period or kitchen jokes.

As an aspiring entrepreneur and a woman myself, I don’t want to conflate the two anymore. We need recognition in the tech world not just for having two X chromosomes. The whole “oh cute look at this girl doing tech things awww that’s adorable” perspective that women are faced with nowadays comes with incredibly painful condescension that is really not needed or appreciated. We don’t need to be coddled nor even treated better: women just need to be treated equally to men, without any preconceptions. I think Joanne believes in the same dream—that women can have it all, someday—and she is a shining, valuable example that this ideal is possible. Thank you, Joanne.