After she made an embarrassing spelling mistake in a text message that she couldn’t unsend, Maci Peterson, 28, had an epiphany: To develop an app that can recall our technological gaffes. The idea got the tech crowd’s attention and won Peterson first place in a 2014 South by South-west (SXSW) start-up competition. Her app, On Second Thought, which allows users to take back SMS and MMS messages after they’re sent and before they’re delivered, is a hit with Android users and launches on iPhones this spring. We caught up with the budding entrepreneur to find out what goes into changing the technology landscape.
ESSENCE: Have you always been interested in technology?
Maci Peterson: I tried to teach myself how to code by reading HTML for Dummies. I also got involved with D.C.’s tech community—going to conferences and meet-ups. Talking to other entrepreneurs about our products was extremely helpful. But I never thought I would have an app. It’s something I fell into. Winning first place in the pitch competition at SXSW was the catalyst for everything.
ESSENCE: What goes into developing an app?
M.P.: It took us about six weeks to build. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing. Our chief creative officer produced the entire visual identity for the app. Then we spent our own money and capital we raised from friends and family to bring on a development firm. The app launched on Android on December 23, and we have 2,000 users to date. About 80 percent of the messages recalled with our app have been recovered suc-cessfully, which is a really good retention rate.
ESSENCE: A National Center for Women & Information Technology report revealed that Black women make up just 3 percent of the tech workforce. What are your thoughts on this?
M.P.: The numbers are small now, but I think there’s going to be a significant change. Not only are Black women looking to create a greater pres-ence in the industry but venture funds have also launched initiatives to invest in more women-owned, minority-owned businesses.
ESSENCE: Have you ever felt underestimated because you’re a Black woman?
M.P.: When I pitched at SXSW, there were about 21 competitors, all at various stages in their prod-uct development. At the time, On Second Thought was just an idea. I was one of two women in the competition. Before I pitched, people weren’t engaging me. I’d say, “Hi,” and they’d be like, “Hey,” and keep moving. But then once I won, all of a sudden they were paying attention to me. The guys were like, “What? Her?”
ESSENCE: How can our youth get more involved in STEM fields?
M.P.: I tell high school students I meet that they need to learn how to code. In the world we’re becoming, every position will require some level of technical knowledge. A lot of incubators (work spaces where tech entrepreneurs can con-vene) have programs for high school kids or kids who live in the area. There are also programs like Girls Who Code and Code 2040. Khan Academy is great, and so is Skillshare. Every young woman should try to maximize as many of those oppor-tunities as possible, even if it’s just for exposure. You don’t have to become a coding expert. Just have a general sense of how to build something technological—it will take you a long way.