By Tania Rojas (Co-Founder, JetFreely)
Recently, an interesting thing happened to me during a demo at a large tech meet up. A gentleman waited patiently for me to finish my conversation with someone else. I approached him, prepared to make a stance on how my startup planned to make money or acquire customers. “Miss, you must tell me,” he said with eager eyes, “Where did you get your tan?”
Being a Mexican-American woman in Silicon Valley has its advantages. When you don’t know my name you can just call me Maria, as some gentleman did at a conference (“you’re all called Maria, right?”). Or ask me to tell the cooks in the back how you really want your food, as co-workers have in the past. Or you can joke around and call me a janitor, which has happened more than once since I tend to carry a sizeable portion of keys on my Stanford lanyard.
So to embark on this path of entrepreneurship, as a Latina startup co-founder and CEO, has been almost comical. I wasn’t a good programmer, but I knew I could sell an idea and had a good sense of humor. I was fortunate enough to meet my co-founder, a technical wiz, when he was unable to resist my business card – featuring a hippo chasing a man – so we could talk further. Five months later, we’ve launched our product, have become good friends, and I’ve managed to convince him to do a triathlon with me. Imagine, an engineer of all things, waking up at 6am to go swimming.
Like many immigrants in the US, I came from a hard-working family. My dad grew up a street kid in Mexico who fought his way here so we could all have better lives. His favorite super hero was El Kid Olmeca, a humble wrestler who faces much bigger foes in the ring and never backs down. That’s the mantra I’ve adopted – being dropkicked, half-nelsoned, or even having a big corn in the cob stuck in your eye (Mexican wrestling is pretty dramatic), I’ll keep on swinging.
And this forms one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in Silicon Valley, which I call “the Great Equalizer:” Different types of entrepreneurs from all walks of life have succeeded by picking their strengths and fighting the good fight. I am humbled by other colleagues I meet – male, female, minority, Caucasian, you name it members of our own tech community – who came from backgrounds much more marginalized than mine, who didn’t graduate from college, didn’t have a supportive network, or faced many more insurmountable challenges… And succeeded. They just kept on swinging.
So I understand ladies, that there is some gender and minority discrimination out there – but take it in stride and don’t let it define your success, especially when you’re becoming your own entrepreneur. Maybe I should have listened to the naysayers about how difficult it is to start a company, especially as a woman, or that I should just learn to be a good programmer, or that rotund animals make for bad marketing collateral. But I didn’t. I show up to that ring fair and square like everybody else to showcase my own best moves, and doors continue to open!
And in the case that perhaps, you still feel that you can’t do it or are not good enough, do what El Kid Olmeca does best, just get up again. That’s how you’ll find me. Still swinging, with my tan and all.
About the guest blogger: Tania Rojas is a co-founder of JetFreely, an iPad app that helps users find guided vacations based on their budget and purpose. She is a graduate of Stanford, where she caught the startup bug and then worked for several startups building e-commerce sites, games, and video applications for hundreds of thousands of users. During her free time, she volunteers at Friends for Youth, an organization that helps transform lives through the power of mentorship. Follow her on Twitter at @thetanrojas.